Christ

It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Comin’ (S.M. Lockridge)

(HT: Thom Rainer)

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Coincidences or Course of Action?: Examining the Events Surrounding Palm Sunday

28 And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, Jerusalem 29 When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’” 32 So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. 33 And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” 35 And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.

Jesus was on his way up to Jerusalem.  This was part of Jesus’ work—He did not go up by accident.  His entire ministry was on a heavenly timetable.  We may say to ourselves, “Wow, it is such a coincidence that Jesus came to Jerusalem at such a time as this—right at the week of the Passover—right at the time when Jesus’ was prophecied to be crucified.”  But this was part of the work of the King.

He came to Bethphage and Bethany—east of the city, just southeast of the Mount of Olives.  There, Jesus commissioned the disciples to do something rather odd.  In verse 30, Jesus tells them, ““Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here.”  And what happened?  Verse 32:  “So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them.”  Was this coincidence?  Are we saying, “Wow, Jesus got it right again!  He’s two-for-two!”  But no, this was part of the work of the King, putting the plan into motion.

Was there any significance that Jesus sent them for a colt, and that they found a colt?  Yes, actually, there was significance.  Five hundred years earlier, God sent a prophet named Zechariah who prophecied in the ninth verse of the ninth chapter:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Another coincidence?  No!  God ordained and foretold what would happen (showing His sovereignty) and how specific Jesus was in making sure this was fulfilled (His responsibility in being obedience to the plan).  This is a king at work, rolling out His plant.  Let’s move along—no coincidence to see here.

Let’s look deeper.  Was there any significance to the colt being tied—other than him being tied so he wouldn’t get away?  Believe it or not, yes!  In Genesis 49:10-11, we see over 1400 years ago, God gave Moses an account that happened 700 years prior to that (that’s 2,100 years prior to the time of Jesus)—and it reads as follows:

10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11 Binding his foal to the vine
and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
and his vesture in the blood of grapes.

Who do “scepters” belong to?  Kings!  And the peoples shall listen to their king, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.  In verse 11, this king’s foal was binded (tied) to the vine.  So, another coincidence that Jesus came to this tiny village in Bethany and Bethphage to find this colt tied up?  No coincidence–this is the work and the plan of a king!

One more for you.  Was there any reason behind this colt being one on whom no one had ever sat?  Even though no prophecy occurred regarding this, in that tradition if something is used for sacred purposed, it must be unused or untested.  Was there coincidence that this colt that Jesus sent his disciples to retrieve had never been ridden?   Not at all.

You see, God is moving and working His plan. Never underestimate the sovereignty of God in rolling out His plan–regardless of how issues and situations may look around us.

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Resurrection Sunday Prayer: Thy Resurrection My Peace

O GOD OF MY EXODUS,
Great was the joy of Israel’s sons
     when Egypt died upon the shore,
     Far greater the joy
     when the Redeemer’s foe lay crushed in the dust.
Jesus strides forth as the victor,
     conqueror of death, hell, and all opposing might;
He bursts the bands of death,
     tramples the powers of darkness down,
     and lives for ever.
He, my gracious surety,
     apprehended for payment of my debt,
     comes forth from the prison house of the grave
     free, and triumphant over sin, Satan, and death.
Show me herein the proof that his vicarious offering is accepted,
     that the claims of justice are satisfied,
     that the devil’s sceptre is shivered,
     that his wrongful throne is levelled.
Give me the assurance that in Christ I died, in Him I rose,
     in His life I live, in His victory I triumph,
     in His ascension I shall be glorified.
Adorable Redeemer,
Thou who wast lifted up upon a cross
     art ascended to highest heaven.
Thou, who as man of sorrows wast crowned with thorns,
     art now as Lord of life wreathed with glory.
Once, no shame more deep than Thine,
     no agony more bitter, no death more cruel.
Now, no exaltation more high,
     no life more glorious, no advocate more effective.
Thou art in the triumph car leading captive Thine enemies behind Thee.
What more could be done than Thou hast done!
     Thy death is my life, Thy resurrection my peace,
     Thy ascension my hope, Thy prayers my comfort.

(From The Valley of Vision)

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Distinctives of the Gospel (from 1 Corinthians 15:1-2)

In the resurrection chapter, also known as 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul gives a defense of the necessity of the resurrection to not only the church but also the world.  In the first two verses, Paul gives four distinctives of not only how the gospel affects believers as well. 

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.

We must understand that the world ‘gospel’ means in essence “good news.”  I’ve been reminded that the gospel is not ‘good advice,’ telling us how we are to live in the future.  It is good news, telling us what has already been accomplished for us in Christ Jesus!

The gospel is preached to us 

Good news is heralded!  Too often, we are looking for a conversation about this in our times of corporate worship—but there are times when we need to stop and listen to what has already been done.  No conversation is necessary as to whether this is true or not.  Truth is absolute—never-changing.  Truth is not relative to the individual (“Well, that’s true for you, but it’s not true for me.”) 

Regardless of what others may say, the gospel is that which is heralded and proclaimed.  Paul says, “Him [being Jesus—see Colossians 1:27] we proclaim.”  There are times to talk about it, to field questions, to engage skeptics, and to strengthen believers in this.  But through it all, we do not waver in the fact that Jesus is alive—this is the essence of the good news!

The gospel is received by us.

When the gospel is received, no indication is given that we receive it based upon anything we do to earn it.   No, it is a gift we receive (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8 ).  This must be the language used when it comes to the gospel.  We hear much about ‘accepting’ the gospel, but this terminology is not found in Scripture.  We receive it as a gift from our Lord Jesus who purchased our salvation and provided forgiveness to God on our behalf.  We were objects of His wrath, “but God made us alive” (Ephesians 2:4). 

The gospel is that in which we stand

The resurrection matters because, without it, we have nothing on which to hang our hope.  The reality of the resurrection is that Christ accomplished that which makes us stand righteous before God—an imputed righteousness granted by Christ on our behalf (Romans 3:24-26).  Without this Good News, we can only rely on good advice to fuel our good works—neither of which will do our fallen selves any good at all. 

The gospel is that by which we are being saved.

The gospel not only justifies, removing the penalty of sin that was against us and putting that penalty on Christ—it sanctifies by progressively removing the power of sin by killing the flesh and empowering the Spirit! 

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Sermon Series for December 2011 at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church: Christmas is All About. . .

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December 2011 starts my ministry at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in Centennial, Colorado.  With that comes the question that arises in the minds of all new pastors: what should I preach on when I first arrive?  With ARBC, not only will we celebrate the Incarnation of Christ (Christ taking on human form) but also have our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.  So with this, I am starting a series entitled, “Christmas is All About … .”  Below is the description on the flyer at ARBC.

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Winter wonderlands. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose! And don’t forget about bells jingling, halls being decked, and Santa watching every move you make! This is what Christmas is all about—at least that’s what most of the songs say! We know that Christmas is ultimately not about weather, terrific traffic, or presents under the tree. It’s about Christ coming on a rescue mission to save His people from their sins!

Sunday, December 4: Christmas is About a Rescue Mission by Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25)

Wednesday, December 7: Christmas is About Exposing Rebellion against Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12)

Sunday, December 11: Christmas is About a Relationship with Jesus (Galatians 3:23-4:7)

Wednesday, December 14: Christmas is About Recognizing Christ’s Work (Luke 1:5-38)

Sunday, December 18: Christmas is About Rejoicing in Christ (Luke 2:1-20)

Sunday, December 18 (PM): Christmas is About Receiving Christ (John 1:1-18)

Invite your FRANs (friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors) so they will know what Christmas is all about—it’s all about Jesus!

You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us) (Matthew 1:21-23, ESV).

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The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches (A.W. Tozer)

HERE IS THE BURDEN of my heart; and while I claim for myself no special inspiration I yet feel that this is also the burden of the Spirit.

If I know my own heart it is love alone that moves me to write this. What I write here is not the sour ferment of a mind agitated by contentions with my fellow Christians. There have been no such contentions. I have not been abused, mistreated or attacked by anyone. Nor have these observations grown out of any unpleasant experiences that I have had in my association with others. My relations with my own church as well as with Christians of other denominations have been friendly, courteous and pleasant. My grief is simply the result of a condition which I believe to be almost universally prevalent among the churches. I think also that I should acknowledge that I am myself very much involved in the situation I here deplore. As Ezra in his mighty prayer of intercession included himself among the wrongdoers, so do I. “0 my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens.” Any hard word spoken here against others must in simple honesty return upon my own head. I too have been guilty. This is written with the hope that we all may turn unto the Lord our God and sin no more against Him.

Let me state the cause of my burden. It is this: Jesus Christ has today almost no authority at all among the groups that call themselves by His name. By these I mean not the Roman Catholics nor the liberals, nor the various quasi-Christian cults. I do mean Protestant churches generally, and I include those that protest the loudest that they are in spiritual descent from our Lord and His apostles, namely, the evangelicals.

It is a basic doctrine of the New Testament that after His resurrection the Man Jesus was declared by God to be both Lord and Christ, and that He was invested by the Father with absolute Lordship over the church which is His Body. All authority is His in heaven and in earth. In His own proper time He will exert it to the full, but during this period in history He allows this authority to be challenged or ignored. And just now it is being challenged by the world and ignored by the church.

The present position of Christ in the gospel churches may be likened to that of a king in a limited, constitutional monarchy. The king (sometimes depersonalized by the term “the Crown”) is in such a country no more than a traditional rallying point, a pleasant symbol of unity and loyalty much like a flag or a national anthem. He is lauded, feted and supported, but his real authority is small.

Nominally he is head over all, but in every crisis someone else makes the decisions. On formal occasions he appears in his royal attire to deliver the tame, colorless speech put into his mouth by the real rulers of the country. The whole thing may be no more than good-natured make-believe, but it is rooted in antiquity, it is a lot of fun and no one wants to give it up.

Among the gospel churches Christ is now in fact little more than a beloved symbol. “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” is the church’s national anthem and the cross is her official flag, but in the week-by-week services of the church and the day-by-day conduct of her members someone else, not Christ, makes the decisions.

Under proper circumstances Christ is allowed to say “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden” or “Let not your heart be troubled,” but when the speech is finished someone else takes over. Those in actual authority decide the moral standards of the church, as well as all objectives and all methods employed to achieve them. Because of long and meticulous organization it is now possible for the youngest pastor just out of seminary to have more actual authority in a church than Jesus Christ has.

Not only does Christ have little or no authority; His influence also is becoming less and less. I would not say that He has none, only that it is small and diminishing. A fair parallel would be the influence of Abraham Lincoln over the American people. Honest Abe is still the idol of the country. The likeness of his kind, rugged face, so homely that it is beautiful, appears everywhere. It is easy to grow misty-eyed over him. Children are brought up on stories of his love, his honesty and his humility.

But after we have gotten control over our tender emotions what have we left? No more than a good example which, as it recedes into the past, becomes more and more unreal and exercises less and less real influence. Every scoundrel is ready to wrap Lincoln’s long black coat around him. In the cold light of political facts in the United States the constant appeal to Lincoln by the politicians is a cynical joke.

The Lordship of Jesus is not quite forgotten among Christians, but it has been relegated to the hymnal where all responsibility toward it may be comfortably discharged in a glow of pleasant religious emotion. Or if it is taught as a theory in the classroom it is rarely applied to practical living. The idea that the Man Christ Jesus has absolute and final authority over the whole church and over all of its members in every detail of their lives is simply not now accepted as true by the rank and file of evangelical Christians.

What we do is this: We accept the Christianity of our group as being identical with that of Christ and His apostles. The beliefs, the practices, the ethics, the activities of our group are equated with the Christianity of the New Testament. Whatever the group thinks or says or does is scriptural, no questions asked. It is assumed that all our Lord expects of us is that we busy ourselves with the activities of the group. In so doing we are keeping the commandments of Christ.

To avoid the hard necessity of either obeying or rejecting the plain instructions of our Lord in the New Testament we take refuge in a liberal interpretation of them. Casuistry is not the possession of Roman Catholic theologians alone. We evangelicals also know how to avoid the sharp point of obedience by means of fine and intricate explanations. These are tailor-made for the flesh. They excuse disobedience, comfort carnality and make the words of Christ of none effect. And the essence of it all is that Christ simply could not have meant what He said. His teachings are accepted even theoretically only after they have been weakened by interpretation.

Yet Christ is consulted by increasing numbers of persons with “problems” and sought after by those who long for peace of mind. He is widely recommended as a kind of spiritual psychiatrist with remarkable powers to straighten people out. He is able to deliver them from their guilt complexes and to help them to avoid serious psychic traumas by making a smooth and easy adjustment to society and to their own ids. Of course this strange Christ has no relation whatever to the Christ of the New Testament. The true Christ is also Lord, but this accommodating Christ is little more than the servant of the people.

But I suppose I should offer some concrete proof to support my charge that Christ has little or no authority today among the churches. Well, let me put a few questions and let the answers be the evidence.

What church board consults our Lord’s words to decide matters under discussion? Let anyone reading this who has had experience on a church board try to recall the times or time when any board member read from the Scriptures to make a point, or when any chairman suggested that the brethren should see what instructions the Lord had for them on a particular question. Board meetings are habitually opened with a formal prayer or “a season of prayer”; after that the Head of the Church is respectfully silent while the real rulers take over. Let anyone who denies this bring forth evidence to refute it. I for one will be glad to hear it.

What Sunday school committee goes to the Word for directions? Do not the members invariably assume that they already know what they are supposed to do and that their only problem is to find effective means to get it done? Plans, rules, “operations” and new methodological techniques absorb all their time and attention. The prayer before the meeting is for divine help to carry out their plans. Apparently the idea that the Lord might have some instructions for them never so much as enters their heads.

Who remembers when a conference chairman brought his Bible to the table with him for the purpose of using it? Minutes, regulations, rules of order, yes. The sacred commandments of the Lord, no. An absolute dichotomy exists between the devotional period and the business session. The first has no relation to the second.

What foreign mission board actually seeks to follow the guidance of the Lord as provided by His Word and His Spirit? They all think they do, but what they do in fact is to assume the scripturalness of their ends and then ask for help to find ways to achieve them. They may pray all night for God to give success to their enterprises, but Christ is desired as their helper, not as their Lord. Human means are devised to achieve ends assumed to be divine. These harden into policy, and thereafter the Lord doesn’t even have a vote.
In the conduct of our public worship where is the authority of Christ to be found? The truth is that today the Lord rarely controls a service, and the influence He exerts is very small. We sing of Him and preach about Him, but He must not interfere; we worship our way, and it must be right because we have always done it that way, as have the other churches in our group.

What Christian when faced with a moral problem goes straight to the Sermon on the Mount or other New Testament Scripture for the authoritative answer? Who lets the words of Christ be final on giving, birth control, the bringing up of a family, personal habits, tithing, entertainment, buying, selling and other such important matters?

What theological school, from the lowly Bible institute up, could continue to operate if it were to make Christ Lord of its every policy? There may be some, and I hope there are, but I believe I am right when I say that most such schools” to stay in business are forced to adopt procedures which find no justification in the Bible they profess to teach. So we have this strange anomaly: the authority of Christ is ignored in order to maintain a school to teach among other things the authority of Christ.

The causes back of the decline in our Lord’s authority are many. I name only two.

One is the power of custom, precedent and tradition within the older religious groups. These like gravitation affect every particle of religious practice within the group, exerting a steady and constant pressure in one direction. Of course that direction is toward conformity to the status quo. Not Christ but custom is lord in this situation. And the same thing has passed over (possibly to a slightly lesser degree) into the other groups such as the full gospel tabernacles, the holiness churches, the pentecostal and fundamental churches and the many independent and undenominational churches found everywhere throughout the North American continent.

The second cause is the revival of intellectualism among the evangelicals. This, if I sense the situation correctly, is not so much a thirst for learning as a desire for a reputation of being learned. Because of it good men who ought to know better are being put in the position of collaborating with the enemy. I’ll explain.

Our evangelical faith (which I believe to be the true faith of Christ and His apostles) is being attacked these days from many different directions. In the Western world the enemy has forsworn violence. He comes against us no more with sword and fagot; he now comes smiling, bearing gifts. He raises his eyes to heaven and swears that he too believes in the faith of our fathers, but his real purpose is to destroy that faith, or at least to modify it to such an extent that it is no longer the supernatural thing it once was. He comes in the name of philosophy or psychology or anthropology, and with sweet reasonableness urges us to rethink our historic position, to be less rigid, more tolerant, more broadly understanding.

He speaks in the sacred jargon of the schools, and many of our half-educated evangelicals run to fawn on him. He tosses academic degrees to the scrambling sons of the prophets as Rockefeller used to toss dimes to the children of the peasants. The evangelicals who, with some justification, have been accused of lacking true scholarship, now grab for these status symbols with shining eyes, and when they get them they are scarcely able to believe their eyes. They walk about in a kind of ecstatic unbelief, much as the soloist of the neighborhood church choir might were she to be invited to sing at La Scala.

For the true Christian the one supreme test for the present soundness and ultimate worth of everything religious must be the place our Lord occupies in it. Is He Lord or symbol? Is He in charge of the project or merely one of the crew? Does He decide things or only help to carry out the plans of others? All religious activities, from the simplest act of an individual Christian to the ponderous and expensive operations of a whole denomination, may be proved by the answer to the question, Is Jesus Christ Lord in this act? Whether our works prove to be wood, hay and stubble or gold and silver and precious stones in that great day will depend upon the right answer to that question.

What, then, are we to do? Each one of us must decide, and there are at least three possible choices. One is to rise up in shocked indignation and accuse me of irresponsible reporting. Another is to nod general agreement with what is written here but take comfort in the fact that there are exceptions and we are among the exceptions. The other is to go down in meek humility and confess that we have grieved the Spirit and dishonored our Lord in failing to give Him the place His Father has given Him as Head and Lord of the Church.

Either the first or the second will but confirm the wrong. The third if carried out to its conclusion can remove the curse. The decision lies with us.

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This article appeared in The Alliance Witness May 15, 1963, just two days after the death of Dr. Tozer. In a sense it was his valedictory, for it expressed the concern of his heart.

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Can Anyone Tell Me What Christmas is All About?

Linus can!

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The Faith of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson

At the time of his death, Major General Thomas E. “Stonewall” Jackson was the greatest soldier of the Civil War.  Much of his accomplishment was due to his Christian beliefs.  Granted, he fought on the Confederate side which advocated the institution of slavery—and institution that Jackson disdained but did not know how to end it without chaos ensuing—he did so out of love and devotion to the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Nevertheless, history teaches us much about Jackson as a soldier and a Christian.

The clip from above is from the documentary found on the DVD “Gods and Generals” (2003), one of my all-time favorite movies.  This is an excellent clip which includes some helpful commentaries from top-flight Civil War historians. 

If you are interested in a helpful podcast from iTunes on the Civil War, subscribe to the one by Dr. James Robertson Jr.  Robertson teaches the largest Civil War history class in American higher education at the University of Virginia–with approximately 250 students enrolled each semester.  As an aspiring historian, I await eagerly for the next weekly podcast to come down the pike. 

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Players in the Christmas Drama, Part I: Zechariah and Elizabeth

In reading the Christmas story from Luke 1-2, we are first introduced to Zechariah and Elizabeth. We see what a godly occupation and pedigree they both possessed by divine providence:

5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

While I will go into more detail about this couple in an upcoming post, two things need to be mentioned here. One, just because someone is not able to have children does not mean they are necessarily cursed by God. Yes, this has happened in the Old Testament numerous times. God is just in all He does, and like the issue with the man born blind (John 9:1-3), God was going to be glorified in an amazing way.

Secondly, notice that even though God did not bless them with a child in their youth, they still remained faithful. But their faithfulness (especially Zechariah’s) would reach a limit. While Zechariah was ministering in the Holy of Holies, an angel of the Lord appeared to him that they would have a child and "he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb" (Luke 1:15).

Zechariah’s response? "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years." While Mary asked virtually the same thing in Luke 1:34, Zechariah would be held more accountable, given his status as a priest and intercessor of God’s people. He knew the Word of God better than most, and therefore knew the story of Abraham and Sarah. He knew full well that it was possible for God to accomplish such a miracle.

Since Zechariah did not believe God’s messenger, Gabriel gave him a reminder:

20And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time." 21And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute.

Not only could he not perform his priestly duties now, he could not go back and speak to others of this incredible miracle.  Could you imagine realizing that you were to have a child, but could not express your praise to God and your love for your wife/husband? 

Yet, when the child was born, Elizabeth told the family that they would name him ‘John’ (which means ‘God is gracious’), as the angel commanded them.  The family balked: “None of your relatives is called by this name” (Luke 1:61).  So, they went to Zechariah.  He wrote on a tablet, “His name is John” (Luke 1:63).  Definite, without question, without reservation.

Now look what happened:

64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 66and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, "What then will this child be?" For the hand of the Lord was with him.

Zechariah’s faith had returned!  No questioning this command here!  And in Luke 1:67-80, Zechariah made good use of his speech in giving a Spirit-filled prophecy! 

Lessons from Zechariah and Elizabeth.

  1. God always keeps His promise, no matter how outlandish it may seem.
  2. Childlessness is not a result of God’s judgment necessarily—it may well be that God will get ready to be glorified in a marvelous way.
  3. As Isaac would be the son of the promise to the aged and formerly barren Abraham and Sarah (Galatians 4:28-31), so to would John the Baptist be the son of the promise to the aged and formerly barren Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Isaac perpetuated the covenant of God’s people at the root of the Old Covenant with Abraham, so too did John the Baptist perpetuate this line at the root of the New Covenant as one who would serve as the forerunner of Christ (John 1:19-31). 
  4. Saturate yourself in God’s Word, not simply in theory but in actuality. 
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Seeing the Preeminence of Christ at Christmas (Sermon)

(This sermon was preached on Sunday, December 13, 2009 at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, Kentucky.  To listen to it via mp3, click here.)

Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, wrote a book entitled Death by Love: Letters from the Cross. In this book, Driscoll includes a collection of letters in which he applies specific biblical and theological truths to their particular situation.

In the third chapter, he sets up the letter by mentioning Luke and his new wife who were new Christians. They were very eager to learn about their faith and to learn the Word. They wanted a Christ-centered life. Just weeks before the birth of their first child, Luke’s wife confessed to him her darkest and most shameful secret—she had slept with one of his good friends—much of the sin occurred in their own house and in their own bed. Filled with rage, panic and humiliation that he didn’t even notice what was going on right under his nose, he felt trapped in a marriage where his wife was seen as the enemy, plus with a child on the way.

The wife was deeply broken as she confessed her sin to Mark and another pastor. The Holy Spirit had brought deep conviction, and she was panicked that her husband may leave her. Only through a full confession could there be healing. Yet, when Mark met with Luke, he was the most furious a man as he’d ever seen. Driscoll asked Luke, “What do you want?” The answer: “I want blood.” To which Mark answered, “You deserve it—they both should die.” But notice Mark’s answer as well: “And you got blood—at the cross of Jesus.”[1]

As we read the passage of Scripture from Colossians 1:15-23, you may recall the portion from verse 20, which says, “through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross.” We must understand that Jesus, the church, the cross, and the gospel are not and cannot be separated from “real life.”

1. Christ is the Master of the Universe—Is He the Master of Yours? (Colossians 1:15-17).

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

When we understand this Christmas season where Jesus is going, we must understand where he originally came from. Verse 15 is packed: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” The word ‘image’ comes from the Greek (eikon) which means, yes, image but also means representation. “The English word image may suggest a copy that is less than perfect; the Greek original , which is a term of revelation, does not imply this. Jesus, who is perfectly like the Father, reveals who he is in all his goodness. If a person wants to know what God is like, then he or she should turn to the Scriptures and find out all about Jesus, for he shows us perfectly what the Father is like.”[2]

Hebrews 1:3: “3He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”  In John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

The firstborn of all creation (prototokos) is understood from Psalm 89:27 in this helpful parallelism:  “And I will make him the firstborn/ the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:27).  The firstborn belonged to God. Gets the lion’s share of the inheritance.  Therefore, the Son of God will receive as a love gift all that the Father has. 

The devil seeks to blind unbelievers from this knowledge.  In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul wrote: “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Edmund Clowney notes:

Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father, claims exclusive knowledge of God. There is a sense in which any son knows his father in a unique way; this human relation provides a faint analogy of what is true of the divine Trinity. Apart from the revelation of the Son, who is the eternal Image of the Father, there can be no knowledge of Him.[3]

2. This Master of the Universe is the Head of the Church—Is He the Head of This Church (Colossians 1:18-20)?

So not only was Jesus the agent of the creation of the universe, He is also the head of another creation of his: the church.

18And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Do we recognize that the church was not a creation of men, but of Christ? When Christ came as “Immanuel” which means, God with us, He sought to establish His body here on earth after His resurrection and ascension to the Father. Though we do not see his person, we see His body—led by Christ who is the head.

So many writers and others seem to be teeing off on the church. Sure, some say that the church has been corrupted. Some say the church has become too organized and institutionalized. Joshua Harris even mentions how people “date the church” without committing to it. They have a “me-centered” attitude, only looking at what the church can do for them. They are independent, knowing they need to go to church but are careful not to invest too much for fear of getting hurt or having accountability. Many are critical of the church, “short on allegiance and quick to find fault. . . a consumer mentality.”[4]

But we follow Christ’s orders to preach His Word, to assemble together, to have overseers, elders, and deacons, to study the Word, to evangelize, to disciple—Christ is our head, and He gives orders. In the head is vision—and we are to see with Christ’s eyes. In the head is hearing, and we are to be sensitive with our ears to the Word and to the world around us that we may minister that word. In the head is the mouth—and we speak the Word of Christ, which is where faith comes (Romans 10:17). With our sense of taste we can “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Christ is not only the head of the body, but he is the head and lead of all who would come after in faith. Notice verse 18: “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” See, Christ gave His body, his life for the church. In 1 Corinthians 15:20, the apostle Paul said, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead—the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” You see, Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6)—and because of this he could pave the true way that leads to life.

Christ is glorious, and he is also victorious! How so? Look at verses 19-20: “19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” Christ is the Master of the Universe and also Head of the Church—as head, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Think of that: with Christ as our head as applied by the Spirit, we have the fullness of God dwelling with us! And think on this verse in Ephesians 3:10 in showing that the church is “the manifold wisdom of God [that] might now be made known to rulers and authorities in heavenly places.”

Think on that: of all the ways that God’s manifold, multi-faceted wisdom, he chose to make that wisdom known through his church made up of weak, poor, lowly, foolish, imperfect people so that no one would boast before Him and He would get all the glory!

3. … reconciled through the gospel of the cross (Colossians 1:21-23).

Friends, now it gets personal. Look with me at Colossians 1:20-23.

20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Recall how Christ is the ruler over all thrones and dominions and rulers and authorities. There is a warfare in the heavenlies over the souls of men that first manifested itself at the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3. Satan planted the seed of doubt in the women, making her to question the perfect Word of God. “Did God really say…?” And those rulers and authorities are working hard now to have us question the power, purpose, and blessing of God’s perfect Word even now—even the Word made flesh who dwelt among us (John 1:14).

One day, all will be reconciled to him. He gained victory over those dominions when he broke the power of sin at the cross and death by the resurrection. Through the blood of the cross, we have peace because Christ took our sin and our guilt upon him.

Now it gets personal! He says, “And you. . . .” Who is the ‘you’? Yes, we could say the ‘you’ is the Colossian church. But the ‘you’ stretches farther than that. The ‘you’ applies to all of us in one way or another.

The key phrase is “who once were alienated and hostile in mind.” At one time, all of us who are Christians were in this camp! But now, we have been “reconciled in his body of flesh by his death.” What is reconciling?

transitive verb 1 a : to restore to friendship or harmony <reconciled the factions> b : settle, resolve <reconcile differences>
2 : to make consistent or congruous <reconcile an ideal with reality>
3 : to cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant <was reconciled to hardship>
4 a : to check (a financial account) against another for accuracy b : to account forintransitive verb : to become reconciled[5]

Restoration. Resolution. Harmony. Reconciling an idea with reality. Making sure our accounts are accurate. The result? Christ will present you holy and blameless before Him! But don’t forget verse 23: “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” Is God saying that our salvation is conditional upon our obedience? No—he is saying your stability and steadfastness is evidence that God has sealed your hearts for salvation. In John’s first epistle, he wrote, “They went out from us, because they were not one of us.”

So we examine our own hearts, yes? In light of the cross and resurrection, what possible reason could we have for not desiring to be reconciled to God?   Timmy Brister tweeted recently, “When offended, unbelievers take matters into their own hands for vindication; believers take it into their own hands for reconciliation.”[6]


[1]Mark Driscoll and Gerry Beshears, Death By Love: Letters from the Cross (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 73-74.

[2]The New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, eds. G.J. Wenham, J.A. Motyer, D.A. Carson, R.T. France (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, first published 1953—latest printing 2003), 1266.

[3]Edmund P. Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery

[4]Joshua Harris, Stop Dating the Church: Fall in Love with the Family of God (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2004), 16-17.

[5]"reconciling." Merriam-Webster Online. 12 December 2009
<http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reconciling&gt;

[6]Timmy Brister on Twitter. Accessed 12 December 2009; available at http://www.twitter.com/timmybrister [on-line]; Internet.

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