Good Friday: “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”

O sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, Thine only crown.
O sacred Head, what glory,
what bliss till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call Thee mine.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered
was all for sinners’ gain;
mine, mine was the transgression,
but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
‘Tis I deserve Thy place;
look on me with Thy favor,
vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

What language shall I borrow
to thank Thee, dearest Friend,
for this, Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever!
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never,
outlive my love for Thee.

Be near when I am dying,
O show Thy cross to me!
And, for my succor flying,
come, Lord, to set me free.
These eyes, new faith receiving,
from Thee shall never move;
for he who dies believing
dies safely in Thy love.

–Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)

Throwback Thursday: “Will You Respect My Son?”

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On this Good Friday, we come at this holy time in Holy Week to remember.  Some may find the name of this day a bit odd:  Good Friday?  How can a day that’s so bad in the killing of an innocent man on a cross be so good?

While the process was not good in our eyes, the end result was!

Turn with me to Matthew 21:33-46 (take time to read through this now).  This passage is known as the Parable of the Tenants.  Jesus used these parables during his earthly ministry as he spoke with unbelievers to both instruct and to conceal.

This parable begins with a master of the house who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants.  After this was accomplished, he left to another country.  If you read through Isaiah 5:1-2, you will see the parallel.

Let me sing for my beloved
my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes (Isaiah 5:1-2).

Jesus brings this picture into play, showing that His Father is the “master of the house” and the house of Israel is the vineyard.  He provided everything needed for it not only to bless them but to bless every tribe, tongue, people, and nation with its provision.  The fruit it bore was to be sweet to the world, but it yielded the wild grapes, sour to the taste.

God made every provision for His people. “When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit.”  These servants are the prophets that God sent—all throughout history.  And all throughout history, the ‘tenants’ (God’s people) who professed God with their mouths at their religious functions, denied His Word by their actions.  Jesus even said:

Therefore I will send you prophets and wisemen and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar (Matthew 23:34-35).

But notice what the master of the house (Yahweh) did.  Well, first look at what he didn’t do!  He could have sent an army that was at his disposal to bring retribution.  While they deserved that, He loved them enough to send them one more person—His Son.  Now, we must read what he says with the proper inflection.  “They will respect my son!”  He is not saying this in a clueless, pie-in-the-sky type of mentality.  No, He is saying, “They will respect my son.”  And if they didn’t?  Consequences will ensue.

Did they respect him?  No!  In fact, they existed as if they were the ultimate rulers of the land!  And the implication?  They acted as if God did not exist.  Everytime God sent someone to check on their condition, they beat them, killed them, or stoned them.  But God still let them press on—He loved them enough to discipline, but still maintained His patience and preserved them as a people.

With the Son?  “They took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”  Why is this so important?  Hebrews 13:12-13 says:

12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.

A boy was turning the pages of a book on religious art.  When he came to a picture of the crucifixion, he looked at it for a long time, and there came a sad look on his face.  Then he said, “If God had been there, he wouldn’t have let them do it.”

In this Parable, we must see what Jesus is doing here.  This is the earthly father who would say, “They will respect my son.”  In Isaiah 53:4-6, we read:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

The Lord laid on him our sin.  In Isaiah 53:10, Scripture tells us that “it was the will of the LORD to crush him.”  While the tenants did do Him in, God used them as an instrument of judgment, mercy, and a sacrifice for sin.

They intended to throw Him out!  But they took him outside the camp where the lambs were sacrificed for the forgiveness of the sins of His people.  He bore their reproach.  He was rejected by His own, but God used that as an instrument of both judgment against those who rejected, but also as an instrument of mercy to those who would receive him.

Remember, Jesus is telling His listeners a parable—and they were certainly caught up in it!  When Jesus asked them, “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” (v. 40).  How did they respond?  At this point, they were not totally tracking with Jesus’ point.  So their response was blunt and forceful:

“He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (v. 41).

They just condemned themselves.  They thought they would have the land as an inheritance, but the way they treated God’s messengers indicated they did not want to really be a part of the owner’s territory to begin with.  You cannot have the blessings of the Master and reject the Master.

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;[a]
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

Every person in this place and in this world will react to this “stone” in one of three ways:

  • You will stumble over it
  • You will be crushed by it
  • You will be aligned with it.

At this point, some in his audience believed in aspects of him, but rejected other aspects.  He’s a great teacher, they would say, but is he a political king that will overthrow?  Where’s his army?  Where’s his ambition?  They stumbled.  They had created a Messiah in their own thinking influence by the culture around them—rather than the Word and the Spirit informing and transforming their thinking.

Some will be crushed by it.  Whether they were an atheist who outright rejected, or a faithful church attender who is going not to get to know Christ better but to simply be seen—both will be crushed!  Both are aligning themselves up with their own thoughts, wanting even God’s things for selfish reasons.

But the rejected stone becomes the cornerstone.  We can only see it when the Lord marvelously opens our eyes to receive it.  By this new people, these nations, these Gentiles—they would produce fruit thanks to the Spirit who produces fruit through them.  This can happen if Christ is the cornerstone of your life—with the foundation of the Word of God, and we being the living stones.

The cross of Christ shows us the heinousness of our sin that caused him to writhe in agony!

The cross of Christ shows us the love of God who was patience enough not to leave us in our rebellious, sinful condition.

The cross of Christ is necessary—for without His death, we would die.  Without His death, there would be no resurrection.  Without His resurrection, there would be no resurrection for us!

Stumbling?  Crushed?  Or aligned?  Either way, God’s Word still speaks:  They will respect My Son.  What will you do with the Son today?

What’s Up Wednesday: Know the Difference Between These When Planning

Plans. How many times have we made plans, whether it’s for the day or plans for our lives, sometimes they come together the way we want, and other times they do not. I just finished reading David Allen’s book Getting Things Done.  He spent time talking about ways to be more productive, leaning on capturing your ideas and remembrances with Post-It Notes, calendaring, and lists. I usually take time every evening to plan out what I’m going to do for the next day.

But what do you do when you get that phone call that one of your parents is sick or has died? That your child got into trouble at school? That you’re overdrawn on your checking? That your boss wants to talk to you, and the conversation lasts for about 30 seconds because you’ve been informed you’ve been fired? Or that argument that happened that just wasn’t on your list of things to do? Or a misunderstanding that has made you lose a friend? We don’t plan for these things. We can plan all we want, but there’s just some things that we do not expect.

As we look at this passage depicting why we observe this day known as Palm Sunday, we need to recognize this litany:

God has a plan.
We can know that plan.
It may not be your plan.
Know the difference!

Three Dog Night sang a song called “Sure As I’m Sitting Here” back in the early 70s which has the line, “You don’t have to look for God, he’s just sitting here. And I think he’s got a plan, but it’s not too clear.” Well, we may not know the details, but we know enough to where we can move.

God has a plan to do exactly what we ask, and we ask because we know that is His plan! But at times we come along and believe we have a bead on His plan or know how He will fulfill it.

We see this in Matthew 21:1-11, we are most familiar with this if we’ve been in church world any amount of time. But in this passage, we see Jesus interested retrieving a donkey and her colt for some purpose. Later on, we see that as Jesus rode this donkey into Jerusalem where folks threw their coats on the ground and waved palm branches, and started shouting, “Hosanna!”–which means, “Save us!”

But as we read this, we see a number of things:

  • Jesus was sent into the world “to save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) and by going to Jerusalem, we see the end of his three year ministry and the climax of his redemptive work.
  • This fulfilled a plan that God initiated not just from before the world, but was specifically spoken of in Zechariah 9:9 (quoted in that passage).
  • When Jesus instructed two of his disciples to fetch those two animals, it happened just as He said it would.
  • He was initiating his own coronation by these actions, and He would be their King, especially on the other side of the cross and empty tomb!

But there are times when we do not know the difference between God’s plan and ours, assuming His plan is ours and ours is His. We must know the difference.

When the crowd shouted, “Save us!” it was from Rome. When the Father sent His Son to save us, it was from our sins! Inside them was an enemy greater than Rome. Inside us is an enemy greater than North Korea, Russia, Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton (depending on your political persuasion).

The enemy is sin which takes us away from God’s design and into brokenness. In the Israelites brokenness in Jesus’ time, they thought the way to rescue and restoration was a revolutionary coming along to kick Rome to the curb. But their enemy would still be there–their sin and brokenness before God! Only the good news of Jesus who came to rescue us from our sin and restore us to God’s purpose.

We need to repent and trust in the One who can deliver us from our primary enemy. His work on the cross is that instrument of rescue that covers our sin. His resurrection proclaims the victory that the plan was executed to perfection!

God has his plans.
We can know his plans.
They may be different that ours.
Know the difference!

From Doubter to Devoted–the Apostle Thomas’ Conversion

Apostle Thomas in the Bible
‘The Incredulity of Saint Thomas’ by Caravaggio. Public Domain

 

On the first day of the week when Jesus rose from the dead, word got out that the women had not only seen the empty tomb (complete with the stone rolled back, knocked out guards, and an angel asking them why they were seeking the dead among the living—“He is not here, for He is risen!”—Luke 24:5).  Peter and John came to the tomb, and Peter even went inside.

In John 20:19-23, they all saw Jesus—except for Thomas.  When Jesus appeared to them, what were they doing?  In verse 19, it says that the doors were locked.  Why?  If we were writing a story, the heroes of the story would be brave and strong!  Here, the disciples—who had been with Jesus for three plus years, seen him do miracle after miracle and stand up to the opponents—had seen this man brutally executed on a Roman cross.  Why?  Simply because they did not like His influence.  He had been sent from God as promised to deliver them from their sin and to give them life, but as another Scripture said, “He came unto His own, and His own did not receive Him.”

One of the disciples was not with the others—his name was Thomas.  If you’ve been in church world any amount of time, he has one particular moniker attached to his name:  “Doubting Thomas.”  But I believe he was just like the others—they locked themselves up even after they saw Jesus (see 20:26).

Yet, in reality, Thomas’ problem was not doubting, but unbelief—for Jesus told him as much (v. 27).  But what was Thomas’ issue:  “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (v. 25).  Thomas wasn’t a doubter in the sense where he said, “I won’t believe—I cannot believe.”  He said, “I need some proof on this!  I saw him arrested by the authorities, delivered to the crowds, and die!  Unless I see those marks, that is the only way that I will know that this is Jesus and not some imposter.”

A number of things to look at here.

First, he should have been with the apostles before when they saw the Lord God commands us not to neglect meeting together as is the habit of some, but to stir up one another to love and good works as the Day is approaching” (Heb. 10:25).   Another way to put it is this way:  you don’t want to miss our times together when God shows up!  And when they saw the Lord Jesus, God showed up!

So a week later (yes, it says eight days later in v. 26, but they count the day they are in as well, so it was from Sunday to Sunday), they gathered and Thomas was with them.  As Jesus had done before, he did again:  the doors were locked, and Jesus came and stood among them.  In another passage, we see that he even ate among them—so He was in an actual body.

Did Jesus walk up to Thomas and chastise him for his unbelief?  Did he shove His teachings down His throat, saying, “Thomas, I told you over and over and over again!”  Thomas heard the witnesses, He remembered  the teachings—but He needed an encounter with the One to whom they bore witness, the One who spoke those teachings!  But who initiated the encounter?

Verse 27:  “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.’”  Jesus came to Thomas, and without having any interaction with Thomas, went right to the very issue with which Thomas was struggling—the very issue that He dealt with Jesus confronted him with.

Did Thomas even put his hand in the scars?  Maybe, maybe not—we don’t know.  But we do know it’s not recorded.  But Thomas responded in a way that may surprise us!  Thomas went from doubter to devoted.  He went from unbelief to fully committed believer.  “My Lord and my God!”  Whenever any other supernatural being was worshiped by another, that heavenly being would stop them from worshiping—“I’m not Deity—stand up!  Worship God!”  Jesus, as God the Son, received that worship.

… and then He speaks to us!  “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believed.”  This is for us.  We do not question whether Abraham Lincoln exists, but I doubt anyone here is over 148 years old.  Same with Washington, who died 214 years ago.  Historians know that Jesus existed, whether they were believers or not.

But it’s not about whether Jesus existed—it’s about whether you’re exalting Him.  Do you believe?  John 20:31 says that by believing, you may have life!  Christ died as an atonement for your sins, loving you enough to remove the separation that our sin put between us and God for all who would believe.  There’s no lock so tight, whether in a door or in our heart that can keep him out.  Thomas Watson said, “We are more sure in Christ to rise from the grave than to rise from our bed.”  Do you have that confidence?  The cross is bloody, and the tomb is empty!  What is the condition of your soul?  Surrender to the risen Lord Jesus today!

Throwback Thursday: “You Asked for It” Apologetics Sermon Series

Back in the summer of 2015, I completed the sermon series at ARBC called “You Asked For It” (previously named Summer Playlist). I can see this being a summer staple in the years to come. Here are the sermons (complete with links):

  1. What is the Unforgivable Sin?
  2. Why Do We Need Church Plants–Don’t We Have Enough Churches? (Kevin Hasenack of Calvary Church-Littleton preached this)
  3. How Should a Christian Think About War?
  4. How Should Christians Respond to Religious Liberty Attacks?
  5. I Don’t Reconcile Friends: Predestination and Free Will
  6. What Does the Bible Say About Cremation?
  7. What Does the Bible Say About Speaking in Tongues?
  8. What is God’s Will for My Life?

As I’ve said before, these stand as some industrial strength questions that all of you asked. What did I/we learn from this?

  1. Many of you have multi-faceted questions about the gospel and about life.
  2. You have a desire to see what the Scriptures say, increasing your assurance in the Bible’s sufficiency.
  3. Of all the sermons, the sermon on cremation generated the most interested.
  4. This gave me a chance to address issues that were/are churning in your hearts.

What were some things you learned from this series? I’d be very interested to know!

What’s Up Wednesday: A Template for Reading Scripture in a Worship Service

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Every so often, I ask some of our laypeople to read Scripture, either during the first portion, or to read the sermon Scripture right before I enter the pulpit. Below is the template I send out to them.

 


Thank you so much for your willingness to read the sermon Scripture that will lead into the preaching of the Word. Seeing laymen reading Scripture communicates that the Bible is not just for the professionals but is God communicating to everyone His saving work and, more pointed, the Savior!

 

Prepping

  1. Practice reading your assigned passage out loud in front of a mirror five times in the previous week.
  2. Read with genuine interest.  This is the most compelling Book in all the world, so let’s not read in a monotone or disengaged fashion, but read it as God’s Word–with thankfulness and urgency.
  3. Isolate and practice reading the ‘tongue twisters.’ The practice will bring to light word order that you may find tough to read at first and help you navigate through those tough spots.
  4. Read with the appropriate emotion in relation to the text.  For example, read through Matthew 25:31-46.  The first half is about the ‘sheep’ and the reward of heaven, the second half is about the ‘goats’ and the judgment of hell. Read the first part with joy over the hope we have in Jesus, but read the second part with a sadness over the judgment that those who rejected Jesus face.
  5. Read from the ESV.  This provides consistency between reader and preacher.  Plus, this is the version of our pew Bibles.  We want as few obstacles as possible when our people are reading Scripture.

During the Service

  1. During the Offertory/Special Music, make your way up to the front pew and sit next to me (in case there are any changes, which I an 99.9% sure there won’t be, but still…).
  2. When the Offertory/Special Music conclude and the choir is being dismissed, make your way to the pulpit.
  3. Here are some things you need to say:
    1. This morning’s sermon will be from ____________________.
    2. If you’re using a Pew Bible, you can find the passage on p. ______.
    3. Let’s stand as we read God’s holy and perfect Word together.
    4. [After you finish reading, say]: This is God’s Word (or some variation).
    5. Please be seated.

What practice do you use in Scripture reading in your worship gathering?

Music Monday: “Fear is a Liar” by Zack Williams

Suicide awareness is much-needed. Listen closely to Zack Williams’ lyrics. Don’t buy the lie!

Fear Is a Liar

When he told you you’re not good enough
When he told you you’re not right
When he told you you’re not strong enough
To put up a good fight
When he told you you’re not worthy
When he told you you’re not loved
When he told you you’re not beautiful
That you’ll never be enough

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
Cause fear he is a liar

When he told you were troubled
You’ll forever be alone
When he told you you should run away
You’ll never find a home
When he told you you were dirty
And you should be ashamed
When he told you you could be the one
That grace could never change

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
Cause fear he is a liar

Let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
Cause fear he is a liar

Music Video by Zach Williams performing Fear Is A Liar (Official Music Video). (C) 2018 Provident Label Group LLC, a division of Sony Music Entertainment