Dark Thursday, Darkened Hearts, and the Light of the World

Dark Thursday, Darkened Hearts, and the Light of the World

Holy Week 2022

It is Thursday of the Holy Week. Sunday is coming.

It was dark that Thursday night long ago. The true light had come into the world, but men had loved the darkness and hated the light. That hatred had reached a murderous, hell-bound pitch as wicked men plotted the murder of the Son of God.

Torches and lanterns casting shadows off the spears and clubs could not penetrate the darkness in men’s hearts. The creatures, acting in accordance with their fallen nature, were in all-out rebellion against their creator.

The judgment of God would be poured out, but his flaming arrow of wrath would not be pointed at humanity, but instead at his own Son, standing in their place. Fallen humanity would be redeemed but the cost would be unspeakably high.

His soul was sorrowful unto death. He fell to the ground, crying out to God, “Abba Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” He prayed all night, saying the same words. But the time came, the betrayer was at hand, the darkness deepened. The mob came out against him as against a robber. The darkened heart of man is on full display in violence, retaliation, betrayal, and abandonment. His own disciples fled in terror, and he stood alone.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. -John 1:4

He had healed their diseases, patiently taught them, and revealed the Father to them. He demonstrated servant leadership, receiving everyone, dining with the least of them, and washing their feet. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” He called them friends and taught them that love is laying down your life for your friends. But the darkness did not comprehend the light and did not receive it and on the night of his betrayal and arrest, it appeared the darkness would prevail.

Yet, the light of the Son was not vanquished. Hope remains. What was it that he said? “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” So, all who have put their faith and trust in Christ alone, come to the supper united as one. We eat the bread and drink the wine and we remember his bloodshed for the forgiveness of our sin and his body sacrificed as the price of our redemption.

We stand in the truth and grace of the new covenant, inaugurated in his blood, our rebel hearts of stone replaced with soft hearts alive to God, and we proclaim, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Christ Came to Fulfill the Law

Christ Came to Fulfill the Law

What I Learned Last Sunday

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:17-20

I’m looking forward to next week, the mission team being home, and the family back together. Still, it was another blessed Sunday at Ridgeview and I’d like to share three things that stuck with me from Pastor Mike’s message (click here to listen):

  1. I could see how highly God regards his Word.
  2. I gained a greater appreciation for what it means that Jesus fulfilled the Law and Prophets.
  3. I was challenged to believe in Christ, follow him in obedience to his commands, and teach others to do likewise.

Jesus mentions iotas, dots, and least commandments as being significant! He said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” – John 8:31. And Paul tells Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” -2 Timothy 3:16-17.

As Mike said, “We need all of the Bible for all of life.”

Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. It was helpful for me to think about synonyms to the word fulfill. Satisfy, complete, and make whole all came to mind. So, the Law and the Prophets are satisfied in Christ, they find completion in him, and his coming has made them whole. Apart from him, the Law and the Prophets remain unfulfilled. It’s easy to see then, that the entire Old Testament is pointing us toward Jesus. The Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. That brings simplicity and clarity. We need to look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.

This text would have been one more straw on the camel’s back for me when I thought being a Christian was do’s and don’ts. Back when I mainly wanted Jesus just to escape hell. Back before I knew true freedom. Back before I understood that “this is the love of God that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” – 1 John 5:3. Back before I understood grace and the righteousness of Christ are imputed by faith. Back before I realized the most loving thing I could do for others was to teach them to follow Christ. Christianity seemed heavy to bear back then.

Not so much now.

I know I said three things stuck with me from last Sunday but there is one more. I was struck by how blessed we are as a church to have a pastor that loves God’s Word and is diligent in preaching and teaching. Two examples from Mike’s brain-breaking work last week made me think about this. First, his emphasis on the importance of Christ fulfilling the Law and the Prophets may seem like a small thing but it has massive implications. It frees me up to fully embrace the Old Testament and regard it very highly, as I should, but to do so through the lens of the life, death, resurrection, and eternal priesthood of Jesus. Second, seeing that the “commandments” in verse 19 are the commands of Jesus is so helpful to me so that I won’t be pulled back to Moses and it ensures that I won’t miss Jesus.

It has been good for me to write this column for the last two weeks. It required that I take notes and continue to meditate on the message for a few extra days. I would encourage everyone to do something similar and make the most of the grace given to us.

That you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God… – Colossians 1:9-10

Salt & Light to Glorify God

Salt & Light to Glorify God

What I Learned Last Sunday

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:13–16

The following are my thoughts after another blessed Sunday at Ridgeview, where the worship, Pastor Mike’s message (click here to listen), a great testimony (click here to listen to that), and the remembrance of our Lord’s death through communion all came together to challenge and convict me to use words to influence others with the truth of the gospel.

The normal, dark, bland way of thinking and being might be described by simply reversing the beatitudes. Apart from Christ and his gospel, I consider myself as basically good. I might regret past mistakes but certainly nothing that rises to the level of mourning sin. My mind is continually focused on myself, and I even take the liberty of filtering God through my own standards of goodness and justice. To whatever extent that I desire righteousness, I look within. I may want to improve myself, but I will be the one doing it through my own efforts. Because I am self-focused and self-righteous, I have not experienced mercy and I have no reason beyond my own purposes to grant mercy. Purity of heart is not something I think about, my concept of purity comes from comparing myself with others. I desire peace and talk about peace but there is no true, lasting peace for me with God or with others. This is the normal, bland, dark way and it doesn’t stand out.

When I repent and believe in the gospel, all the above begins to change. Now I am fully aware of my spiritual poverty, I have nothing to commend myself to God! I’m deeply grieved by sin because of the offense it is to God and the cost it was to Jesus whom I love. My mind is now set on Christ my savior who I know to be always good, which makes me self-forgetful, humble, and gentle. I desperately desire the righteousness of Christ to flow out of a pure heart. Finally, because I have been shown such mercy and have true lasting peace, I am merciful to others and bring peace wherever I go. This way of thinking and being is abnormal, illuminating, and savory!

Because this way of living is so different, it will elicit a response from people. Sometimes it will bring hostility, persecution, and hate. And sometimes it will bring praise and glory. When praise and glory come, it might be tempting to keep that for me and let others believe that I’m a nice guy. Our text however commands that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. As Christians, keeping glory for ourselves that belongs entirely to Christ is unfitting and loathsome. One of the best safeguards to ensure God gets all the glory is by using words.

If we bear the name of Christ, the truth of Christ, and the love of Christ early and often in our words, while giving glory to Christ, then others will see and give glory to God alone as well.

If you are in Christ, you are salt and light and you have influence by the truth and power of the gospel. I loved the testimony we heard Sunday about the Paul/Timothy relationship simply being between those who are salt and light, or influencers for truth with one another. The speaker said that he doesn’t feel like a “Paul” to anyone, yet he chooses to systematically influence friends and family by sharing the word of God with them.

If you have to ask if the lights are on, then it’s not bright enough; and if you have to ask if salt has been added then it’s not salty enough.

As I listened to Pastor Mike’s sermon and the testimony that followed. I was challenged and encouraged to not waste the grace given to me by being bland and dim. And why would I settle to be a little bright and a little salty by myself when we can be very bright and very salty together?. If you have to ask if the lights are on, then it’s not bright enough; and if you have to ask if salt has been added then it’s not salty enough. I pray that together the people of Ridgeview would be like a city set on a hill shining for all to see. Let’s use illuminating, savory words of truth to influence others to follow Christ for the glory of God.

Joining in with Intercession

Joining in with Intercession

What I Learned Last Sunday

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. – 1 John 5:16-17

If you happen to be reading “Gentle and Lowly” by Dane Ortlund like I am, the message from Pastor Mike this past Sunday revealed one more layer in the kind heart of our Savior to deliver us from sin. Here he enlists the aid of our brothers and sisters that see (our stumbling), to ask for life on our behalf.

Jesus has already completed his work at the cross, but he hasn’t ceased in his efforts toward our holiness. He gave us his word and sent his spirit to keep us from sin. He lives forever to intercede on our behalf and if we do sin, he advocates for us. If all that wasn’t enough, he commands us to see the transgressions of one another and to ask for deliverance. He follows the command with a promise that he will answer and give life or victory over sin in response to those prayers.

A feedlot pen rider checks the cattle for sickness every day. Some calves, instead of presenting themselves as sick and in need of help, will instead hide their symptoms and attempt to blend in with the herd to not be seen. Perhaps they don’t trust the pen rider, or maybe they don’t believe the medicine will work, or maybe they don’t think they are really that sick. Whatever the reason, if they aren’t seen, they can’t be helped.

So often, when we begin to be ensnared by sin, we withdraw or hide the symptoms from our spiritual family. Perhaps we don’t believe Jesus will receive us, perhaps we don’t trust the power of prayer to deliver us, or perhaps we just don’t want to be vulnerable before our brothers and sisters. Regardless, they can’t ask for what they can’t see, and we deprive ourselves of the power and the promise for deliverance that is in this passage.

Jesus Christ came to save sinners and see them all the way to holiness and glory. It’s what he does. It is his passion. He intercedes and he has invited – no, commanded – us to join him in that work. What an honor to be part of his mission. What an enemy sin is with its power to deceive and enslave. But what a weapon prayer is! “Ask, and God Will Give Life!”

Poor Widow vs. Rich Young Ruler

Poor Widow vs. Rich Young Ruler

Word in Season

A group of us have been studying Mark’s gospel, preparing to teach it this Fall. This week we come to Chapter 12 and the well-known story of the poor widow who put two small copper coins into the temple treasury. The story is familiar and yet it still shocks us. We expect Jesus to gently stop the poor old woman by saying something like, “Trust me dear, you need this more than they do.”  After all, the spiritual leaders of the day are corrupt. Jesus had just confronted them for turning the temple into a den of robbers. We can’t think of any justifiable, responsible reason for this poor widow to give her entire livelihood, to the temple treasury. We’re surprised that Jesus accepts it and bothered that he holds her actions up as commendable.

On the surface this looks like a fulfillment of what Jesus says in Mark 12:38-40 “Beware the scribes…who devour widows’ houses…”. But this is not and cannot be reduced to just a financial transaction. Instead, this is an act of worship. This woman is putting legs to the spiritual truth that must already be well rehearsed in her mind and heart. She is, in effect, living out what she already knows to be true and that is: “Lord, I have become entirely your responsibility.”  “Lord, you are my rock and my provider.”  “Lord my faith and trust are in you alone.”

What a wonderful example of faith! What an appropriate act of worship! What a clear illustration of salvation!  Still, we have objections. This seems extreme; surely God is more practical about these matters. He doesn’t want me to sell everything and give to the poor and follow him, right?

For the rich young ruler in Mark 10 that is exactly what Jesus required. “One thing you lack; go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Mark 10:21) Unlike the poor widow, the young man was hanging on to his “stuff” so tightly that he could not be free to follow Christ. His wealth prevented him from trusting Christ, it prevented him from worshiping Christ, and it prevented him from being saved.

One question that we have started to ask ourselves at our Tuesday night Bible study is, “What is it, right now, that is preventing me from going with God?” For the rich young ruler, it was his wealth. For the poor widow, it was nothing, she was all in. The young man went away sad, the poor widow went away saved.

Living out truth in sacrificial worship is so good for us. It brings clarity and strengthens our faith and resolve. Our actions preach the gospel to our souls in ways that mere words never can. Our actions preach the gospel to those watching in ways that mere words never can. So, by faith let’s give generously and sacrificially, even when it doesn’t make sense. Let’s testify by our actions the truths we profess in the gospel.  Let’s joyfully meet pressing needs by faith knowing “God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:19).

“That in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.  For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.”  – 2 Corinthians 8:2-5