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Today, the body of believers to whom we have committed ourselves, communed with each other and with our Lord Jesus over the elements of His Supper.  These days, I am trying to discipline myself to personal reflection as the elements are being passed around – to review that “I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior” (Newton).

 

I want to be mindful of the great honor I have received – “once His enemy, now seated at the table” – wonder of all wonders!  Further, this memorial meal foreshadows the meal we will share with King Jesus in eternity at his wedding feast when the Lord himself will dress himself for service… and He will come and serve those who have watched for his return (Luke 12:35-38) – what?!? how can this be?

 

My time around the Lord’s Table has been enriched by a message given by Sinclair Ferguson at the 2017 Pastors’ Basics Conference sponsored by Parkside Church, Chagrin Falls, OH, and their pastor, Alistair Begg.  Ferguson likens the Lord’s Supper to a dress rehearsal for that glorious day when we, Christ’s bride, set apart by Jesus himself, will be presented to our Bridegroom in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing – holy and without blemish, having been cleansed by Him by the washing with the Word (Ephesians 5:26-27).

 

These days it’s common for the wedding party to celebrate a joyous meal together after the rehearsal.  Ferguson points out that the rehearsal dinner or Groom’s Dinner, as we call it, is traditionally paid for by the groom’s father.  And so it is with the meal we celebrate in our churches around the Lord’s table – it is a meal paid for by our Groom’s Father…  and at the dearest of costs (John 3:16).

 

Similarly, the banquet we celebrate following a wedding is traditionally paid by the Bride’s Father… and so it will be on that resplendent Day. The bride’s Father, our Father, will have provided all for that Day – that day of rejoicing when we will glory in our beloved Groom and need never be parted from Him ever more.   No wonder we will sing and shout the victory – “Hallelujah!  All I have is Christ!”

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Many of us are mourning the loss of an American era with the passing of a man, I think we won’t soon see the likes of again.  The beloved preacher and evangelist, the Reverend Billy Graham, passed away on Wednesday, February 21, 2018, and was laid to rest in Charlotte, North Carolina, after his March 2nd funeral.  He was 99 years old.  Among other endearing terms, Rev. Graham is being remembered as God’s Ambassador and America’s Pastor, having provided spiritual counsel for every United States president since Harry S. Truman (our 33rd) right on to Barack Obama (our 44th president).

When I think of Dr. Graham, I can’t help think of my Dad who always encouraged us girls to sit and listen whenever a crusade was being televised (on network T.V. no less). I never told dad or mom, but I responded to one of those crusades, back when we lived in town (so prior to 8th grade). I sent for the follow-up material too, writing to “Billy Graham, Minneapolis, MN – that’s all the address you need” as Billy directed us from every crusade.  What came was a summary of his Steps to Peace with God and a study of the book of John.

I attribute that experience to a sensitive period in my life when God was softening my heart and mind to his, eventually leading me to receive the gospel truth.  I would not fully put it all together until my college years when God through his Word in Ephesians 2:8-9 caused me to once and for all lay down my works which I had been trying to offer all my life as an acceptable arrangement; one which I hoped would make God pleased with me and lead me to eternal life.  My plan had been Jesus + me = salvation, never realizing that the only thing I could contribute to Christ’s offering, was the sin that made it necessary.  Using the small faith God gave me for just that moment, I gave all that I knew of myself (my whole sin-saturated self and my inadequate works) to all I knew of Christ (my only rescue).

During college, Dana and I would counsel for a Billy Graham movie or two (World Wide Pictures) at the Cinema Theater in town (now the WDAZ studios).  After one particular movie, The Prodigal, Dana was completely broken and rededicated his life to the Lord.

A highlight for us was counseling for the Billy Graham live crusade in Fargo the summer of 1987 when we were expecting Ashley. We brought my cousin Paul with us one of the days (who was living in Grand Forks at the time, in the restaurant business with my Uncle Warren).  I’m sad to say, though, that I seem to recall my dad was unable to go to Fargo with us to see Billy in person, amounting to a double loss since the entertainment was another of Dad’s favorites, Johnny Cash (and his wife, Rosalind).

Rev. Graham’s gravestone briefly summarizes his life – Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ – and then makes reference to John 14:6, “Jesus said to [Thomas], ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.'” One of my favorite Billy Graham quotes was printed on his funeral brochure:  “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now.”  I pray God will enable me to be faithful and about the King’s work to the end – in whatever capacity I am able – just as the world has observed in the life of God’s good and faithful servant, Billy Graham.

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Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God,
and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
Anyone who does not love does not know God,
because God is love. 


In this the love of God was made manifest among us,

that God sent his only Son into the world,
so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we have loved God

but that he loved us
and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 


Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
No one has ever seen God;

if we love one another, God abides in us
and his love is perfected in us.

1 John 4:7-12

– – – – –

 

 

In this well-known passage on God’s love, we see in the ESV that John uses love (or the beloved) no less than 15 times in six verses.  It is love, love, love all over this passage – “love one another”; “love is from God”; “God is love”; “if we love one another… his love is perfected in us”; etc.

 

But in the midst of this treatise on the love of God, we find in v10 the reason God can love us – “In this is love… [He] sent his Son to be the propitiation (satisfaction) for our sins.”  Propitiation – “a sacrifice that turns away the wrath of God and thereby makes God propitious (or favorable) toward us” (Grudem, p.575)a.

 

Those who have placed their sins under the blood of Jesus find God propitious toward them.  His just wrath on their sin has been fully satisfied by the sacrifice of his pure Son.  The modern hymn Before the Throne of God Above gets it right, “God, the Just, was satisfied to look on Him and pardon me.”

 

There is absolutely no trace of wrath left in the Father toward those who approach his throne, clothed now in Christ’s righteousness, not their impotent own.  Every last drop of wrath toward the believer was spent entirely on the Son.  What remains is only love, love, love toward his people.  Even when we don’t walk in our new natures, but instead give into the influence of our old man – when we sin against God – we can turn to Him in repentance and be assured of his Fatherly love toward us.  He may chasten us, true, but it is always done redemptively as we might with our own children – with our greater good in mind, coming from his all-knowing wisdom.

 

In this truth, the child of God can find assurance that what the sovereign God allows in his or her life is born solely from God’s unfailing love for them.  Our circumstances may prove hard to bear, but that is not the same thing as loss; God wastes nothing.  Under his watchful care, it can only work us good in our earthly lives or in eternity to come.

 

Of course, it must be mentioned that those whose lives are not hidden in Christ – who have not, by repentance and faith, applied Christ’s blood to the doorpost of their sinful hearts (cf. Exodus 12:13) – must bear the wrath of God in their own bodies.

 

Oh, but for the child of God – what a sweet and cherished doctrine is that of Christ’s propitiation which won the Father’s favor for us.

 

Ah… this is love.

 

 

a “Systematic Theology.” Systematic Theology, by Wayne A. Grudem and K. Erik. Thoennes, Zondervan, 2008, p. 575.

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Surely, this is the time between times… our dear pastor calls it “the dawn.” After centuries and centuries of darkness, it is a time of hope rising, a new day has most-assuredly broken upon history now that God has walked among us.

 

Jesus alone did what we could not.  He lived righteously all his days on the earth.  He became our sin and bore its eternal penalty.  When all God’s wrath was spent on our sin, death had no further claim on Jesus and the grave could not hold him – He lives and has been given His promised place of eternal honor.  O yes, there is an enemy in the camp, but he is fatally wounded and his end is sure.  Even now the King makes preparation to come again in power and rightness.

 

Just as we are often unaware when dawn ends and day begins, so many move about unaware of the King’s sure coming.  Full Day will soon be upon us; soon Jesus will gloriously come again to set all things right.

 

When the dawn gives way to new Day, Jesus will draw those who are his into his marvelous safe kingdom where they will behold his beauty and know his goodness forever.  C. S. Lewis pictures for us the new Day in this way:  “All their life in this world and all their adventures… had only been the cover and the title page – now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read, which goes on for ever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

 

Still, we have this moment of time before full Day breaks.  For God says, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”  Do not waste the dawn.  When the True Light appears the gates will close in the wake of his procession.  Now is the time of favor.

 

I tell you, the Day is on its way. The King’s men will soon declare, “The term is over – the holidays have begun. The dream is ended – this is the morning” (Lewis’ The Last Battle).

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There are many today who, if they speak of God at all, refer to him almost like a folklore or something out of their childhood which still brings a bit of comfort and nostalgia, much like visiting a childhood home or finding a childhood doll or stuffed animal.  These materialists are convinced only by what they can see, smell, touch, hear, or taste although I would guess even the materialist would not deny the existence of the wind or gravity.  Although they cannot be seen, their effects are undeniable.

I am not a materialist.

I believe in both the material and the non-material world.  I know them to both be equally real even though the non-material is primarily not experienced through the senses.  Now I believe in more than this, but I do not believe less than this.  If you are unable to believe or are closed to the possibility of a non-material world created by a God we cannot see, then there is nothing that follows that will be life-giving to you.  There is only hollow cheer-leading and vain hope in the power of positive thinking.  To me, that is the best the world can offer and I find it wholly inadequate and incoherent to answer life’s questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.

Apart from Jesus Christ, there is no hope for any who wonder about these deep questions of life in the dark hours of the night.  Man is under a curse from his first breath.  There is no hope for self-salvation from this curse, though many try and many pacify their questions and fears by whistling past the grave yard as it were, attempting to make as happy a life here and now for themselves as they possibly can.  Because I believe in the one true God of the Bible, I believe the Bible’s account of this God.  If this is a bridge too far for you, then what I share will be meaningless at best and trite and silly at worst.

I believe in an eternal, self-existent, three-in-one God (Father, Son, and Spirit) who is the source and sovereign over all creatures and things that are material as well as all creatures and things that are immaterial.  His standard of right living is not a list, but the standard is He, himself.  He is the one by whom He compares all things and there is none like him, all fall short in mercy and graciousness and patience and steadfast love and faithfulness and righteousness and holiness and splendor and glory.  This is the God I know and I would be an aimless wanderer in this big world if I was not convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that this God exists and that he is ruling over all, throughout time and location, bringing all the world to a sure and certain end according to his own plans and purposes.

Growing up in the Catholic faith, I knew that my sin separated me from this holy God.  His standard is himself and it was impossible for me (or anyone) to live up to that standard.  I knew that my sin was a debt that would need to be paid for, but who can pay for such a thing?  I knew that if the debt were not paid by someone, I would pay it myself throughout eternity.  But, I also knew from my upbringing in the church, that God’s great plan was to pay that debt for me through Jesus Christ.  Since He did not carry his own burden of sin, his death was an acceptable payment for the debt of the sins of mankind.  In ancient sacrificial imagery, Jesus was identified as the lamb which takes away the sin of the world.  I just didn’t know how to appropriate his death to my personal sin.

I also didn’t understand at the time the inadequacy of my attempts to help my case before God by trying to “live a good life.”  I didn’t realize how anemic my attempts were (the Bible calls them “filthy rags”).  As if this would ever work in our physical lives – if we owed the bank a large sum of money, but asked them to forgive that debt on the promise that we would do better from here on with any future debts we might incur – ridiculous.  Instead, I came to realize that there was no object or work I could offer this great God that would be useful or needed by him.  He is self-sufficient and needs nothing from the creatures He has made.  I was under condemnation and a curse for my life that runs in rebellion to the nature of this God.  There was no recourse for me but to come to him as a beggar, longing for what He might give me – a solution to the problem of my sin which weighed me down and cut me off from union with this magnificent God.  If He would not help me, I was both lost in this life and for eternity.

This is how I came to him in the break room of Sears so many, many years ago.  I realized I had been trying all my life to do things right so I might be acceptable to God.  That day I realized that my striving was all meaningless and didn’t move me one iota closer to him.  My soul was dead in my sins and no amount of church attendance, confession, or good works could remove that sin and revive my dead soul.  In the break room at Sears that day, I realized as I read verses 8 and 9 of Ephesians 2 for the first time in my life, that it was only by God’s goodness to me, coming to him in simple faith, that I could have my sin debt, which I owed God, wiped clean.  My soul was dead so I could not even produce the faith I needed to come to him.  Even faith to trust and believe had to be gifted to me by God.  This took away all opportunity for me to think well of myself for “meeting God half-way” in my good works.  It had to be all him; He did it all!

I went into the break room that day with my sins on my back, and I left with my sin and its debt completely removed; I went in a dead and condemned person and I left newly awakened, alive, and free.  As promised by God, his Spirit took up residence in my once-hard heart.  Indeed He gave me a new heart to love the things that are of Him.  From that moment on through God’s Word, prayer, and meeting with God’s people as well as through God-ordained trial, He began to shave off things in my life that weren’t of him and to mold and shape me into the image of his son, Jesus.  At times this “shaving” has been very painful, but it has always produced good in my life.

This has now been about a 35-year process and He continues to use these same means (Scripture, prayer, suffering, and fellowship with other believers) to do this in my life to this very day.  I know He will see it through to completion on the day He returns.  On that day, He will establish his new, eternal kingdom with those of us who have run to him for salvation.  That Day is ever before my mind and I await longingly for it when I will actually see God face-to-face; He who is my greatest treasure.

This is all I have to give a lost and hurting world.  All other hope is just a bandaid on cancer.  Perhaps you gave up on my letter many paragraphs ago.  But if I have said anything that rings true for you, I would invite you to see what God has said about himself; see if it doesn’t awaken something in your spirit.  I’d recommend starting with the book of John where Jesus declares over and again that He is God and that He and the Father are one; here, Jesus shows us by his life the type of God He is.  There has never been another who said or did the things that Jesus did.  I would encourage you to beg God in humility on your knees with all your heart and soul, to reveal himself to you.  There is a sure day when all will meet him – either in death or when He comes in final judgment; but for now, God sits on a mercy-seat all year long to give pardon and forgiveness to those who will come to him empty-handed for salvation from their sins.

Here is a prayer from the 1600s which is a good example of what one might pray in their need:

God, be merciful to me a sinner and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ.  I see that if Christ had not died righteously to remove the sins of the world, including my sin, and if I do not have faith in his death as the only available payment for my debt to you, then I am utterly cast away.  Lord, I have heard that you are a merciful God and you have planned that your son, Jesus, should be the Savior of the world.  Moreover, I have heard that you are willing to bestow Christ upon such a poor sinner as I am (and I am a sinner indeed).  Lord, take therefore this opportunity and enlarge your grace in the salvation of my soul, through your Son Jesus Christ, Amen.

God has said, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).  Like the beggars that we are, lay hold of Him and do not let go until you receive the blessing you require – the answer to the pray for which you beg – Christ himself.

This is the only true hope that I can offer for this life and the life to come.  If you are not at the point of seeking this yet, I’d invite you to hold your hands open to it.  Consider the lives and hope of those you know who have had their burden of sin removed at the cross.  Do not judge us entirely on our works.  We do not supernaturally become sinless when we place our sins under Jesus’ blood.  We are only forgiven sinners, but by God’s power we are moving toward the likeness of Christ in us, each of us at different stages along this journey.  But evaluate the hope and the joy of those you know who walk in Christ’s righteousness, not their own.  They know beyond doubt that this world is not all there is to what is real.  And they know that they know that they know they are heading to their Father’s house and that they will be admitted into his everlasting kingdom because they wear, not the filthy rags of their good works, but the clean white robes won for them by Jesus, himself.  I’d invite you as the Bible puts it to, “taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the [one] who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8).

With regard and affection.

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It’s very gray this morning… and windy and cool.  It should be gray on Good Friday.

All creatures should walk solemnly today as we contemplate the Savior of the world.

This Jesus, whose sinless life fulfilled all the righteous demands of the law which we were helpless to do.

This Jesus, who on this day of all dreadful days cannot restrain his love.  He gives a Gentile governor numerous opportunities to follow conscience and to know the Truth which sets men free (John 18-19).  He warns the mourners who follow him on his road to the cross – “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:27-31).  He prays from the cross for his accusers – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  He bestows forgiveness and gives eternal hope to the believing criminal crucified next to him (Luke 23:39-43) and He cares for his mother (John 19:26-27).

This Jesus, will willingly suffer torture and humiliation on this day at the hands of his creatures.  He asked, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53).  Yet, He submitted to the will of the Father to proceed with their plan crafted before the foundations of the world were laid (Luke 22:42).

Pilate’s weakness will not only lead to Jesus’ crucifixion, but add to his sufferings as he tries to appease the blood-thirsty crowd by having Jesus tortured.  He orders Jesus flogged, whipped with leather straps studded with bits of lead and pieces of bone.  Jesus is then led back before the angry crowd in this bloodied state clothed in a purple robe and crowned with thorns, the result of cruel bullying by Pilate’s soldiers.  He is cast out of the Jews’ beloved Jerusalem, bearing the disgrace of an execution “outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:13).  At the cross, He is stripped down his chiton, the garment worn next to his skin.  The attending soldiers throw lots for his clothes, judging the clothing to be of more value than its owner, the God-man who hangs nearly naked before them.

Then, of course, there comes the greatest transaction in the history of the world.  By the end of this day, all of Christ’s righteousness will appear as available credit in the accounts of sinful men.  Before this though, Jesus will become sin – my sin, your sin, the sin of all mankind.  He will absorb all the punishment for it in wave after wave as He hangs on the tree and turns away God’s wrath from rebellious mankind to himself.  By the end of this day there will remain for God’s people not a single drop of wrath left toward us, all of it spent on his Son.  There is only goodness and love left toward me, his child.

Hmmm…
ah me…

Oh look!  I see the sun has broken through!

It should be sunny on this day.

“And I beheld God’s love displayed
You suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I have is grace!”

– – – – –

Illustration by Christopher Powers, Full of Eyes, for his music video set to Sovereign Grace’s song, “All I Have is Christ.”

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Now I saw in my dream that the highway up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with a wall and that wall is called salvation (Isaiah 26:1).  Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty because of the load on his back (James 2:10).

He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross and a little below in the bottom, a sepulcher.  So I saw in my dream that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders and fell from off his back and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulcher where it fell in and I saw it no more.

Then was Christian glad and light-some and said with a merry heart, “He hath given me rest by his sorrow; and life by his death.”  Then he stood still a while to look and wonder for it was very surprising to him that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden.  He looked, therefore, and looked again even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks (Zechariah 12:10).

Now as he stood looking and weeping, behold three shining ones came to him and saluted him with, “Peace be to thee.”   So the first said to him, “Thy sins be forgiven” (Mark 2:5).  The second, stript him of his rags and clothed him with change of raiment (Zechariah 3:4).  The third also set a mark in his forehead and gave him a roll with a seal upon it which he bid him look on as he ran, and that he should give it in at the Celestial Gate (Ephesians 1:13-14).  So they went their way.  Then Christian gave three leaps for joy and went out singing:

Thus far did I come loaden with my sin,
Nor could ought ease the grief that I was in,
Till I came hither:  What a place is this!
Must here be the beginning of my bliss?
Must here the burden fall from off my back?
Must here the strings that bound it to me crack?
Blest cross!  Blest sepulcher! Blest rather be
The Man that there was put to shame for me.

– – – – – – – – – –

Bunyan, John, and Cynthia Wall. The Pilgrim’s Progress: An Authoritative Text Contexts Criticism. New York, N.Y. ; London: Norton, 2009. 32-33. Print.

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