This was originally posted at The Biblical Recorder.
All Christians have a deep problem of the soul. We are wired by nature towards self-righteousness. We tend to view our own sin in a therapeutic way. “Well, at least I am not as sinful as most people.” However, if you and I could solve our problems with sin, what difference does it make that Christ was crucified?
Ignoring the reality of sin leads to ignoring our need for a savior.
This is the problem with the religious leaders in John 8:2-11.
Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
The Pharisees saw themselves as sufficiently righteous. In fact, their self-righteousness was so great they were ready to murder a woman who had been caught in adultery.
They had failed to see the purpose of the law. For them, God’s law was a means of earning salvation. By their own standards, they were not only righteous enough to achieve God’s acceptance, but also to exact God’s punishment on those who hadn’t.
If we think we are good enough to fulfill the law ourselves, we tend to look down in judgment on others. However, Jesus looks at the Pharisees and declares, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7).
After an honest assessment, each Pharisee dropped their stones and walked away. An honest assessment of sin brings forth a good sense of humility. We realize that the law is not meant to be a means of salvation, but a means to reveal the holiness of God and our own need of salvation from the sin deeply embedded in our hearts.
Jesus’ initial coming into the world was not to cast stones of judgment, but to cast himself towards the cross for the payment of sin. Salvation is not based on our righteousness, but His. However, he will come again one day to judge.
If we believe in Him now, we are able to go and sin no more, not as a means of salvation, but in a Spirit-filled and worshipful response to His salvation. We must realize that self-righteousness is just another sinful way of rejecting Jesus as Savior.
This was originally posted at The Biblical Recorder.
I will always remember the moment that Laura and I received Solomon into our care. We were in the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Our driver came and picked us up from the guest house and drove us through the city into the hills and up to a gated house full of orphaned children. Laura and I stood outside the gate while one of the agency case workers went inside, and after a few moments, our agency worker opened the gate and walked out into the street and handed us our son.
We turned and got back into the van and got situated. As the van pulled off Solomon started screaming and crying frantically. This little child had no clue what was going on. We were pulling baby Solomon away from everything he had ever known. But after a few minutes, he reached his little arms around Laura’s neck and tightened his grip and held on for dear life.
It was moving to see Solomon hold onto Laura, but what really mattered, was Laura holding onto Solomon. Laura and I knew where we were going. We also knew that he was our son.
Solomon came to understand this reality as time went on.
Since that moment, I have never been able to read passages like 1 John 3:1-10 the same: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”
As J.I. Packer once said in his classic book, Knowing God: “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father.”
As we live the Christian life, we must realize that years may transpire before the believer who is adopted by God may know that he is adopted, have a deep sense of feeling of it. We live in the comfort and hope of our loving Father’s arms. And as we grow, that reality shapes us more and more as we head towards eternity.
Jesus Is Greater
In this video, I discuss the unique contribution that the book of Hebrews makes to the New Testament, exploring how the book weaves a beautiful tapestry of biblical theology centered on Jesus Christ.
One of my favorite accounts surrounding the birth of Christ involved a man named Simeon. Simeon was a righteous and devout man. During his life, the Holy Spirit promised him that he would not see death until he had seen the savior of the world.
In Luke 2, Simeon was lead by the Spirit into the temple. At the same time, Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the temple. It was forty days after his birth, and he was brought to the temple for circumcision as it was custom according to the law. Luke 2:28 tells us that Simeon took infant Jesus in his arms and blessed God and said;
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
What a moving moment! As Alexander Schmemann once noted, Simeon had waited his whole life for this moment. Up until this point he was restless, longing for the comfort and salvation of his people. And then, at last, the Christ child was handed to him.
In that moment, he held the life of the world in his arms.
Let us remember that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. In the birth of Jesus, God delivered on His ancient promise to provide salvation from sin, and eternal life over death.
May we all stop today and thank God that He is a promise keeping God. The Christ child that was held in the arms of Simeon, is the same Christ that would sacrifice his life in order to deliver sinners into the loving arms of a Holy God.
God offers to transform our lives with grace. This simple truth is the bedrock of redemptive history. This truth is also fully evident in Jonah 3:4-5.
Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God.
It is a strikingly simple, yet an eternally significant message. With 7 words Jonah brought the great city to its knees.
The word translated overthrown/demolished is the same verb used for God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis. This is a serious call.
The people of Nineveh – going about with their hectic lives, consumed with the pressing needs of the moment – were met with the eternally significant words of the prophet. And it seems from the outcome that these 7 powerful words stopped every Ninevite in their tracks. For 3-days Jonah walked across the city, saying the same thing over and over again, until everyone heard.
There is something about God’s word that always engages people with eternal issues. It lifts our eyes from the immediate interests of our lives to the imminent and overwhelming reality of either everlasting destruction or eternal life.
“Whatever you are doing now,” Jonah was saying, “you need to realize that you will soon face the judgment of God—and that day is nearer than you think.”
And look who God sends to proclaim this eternally important message. God uses imperfect servant.
In my last church I taught a class on evangelism. In one of the classes I asked everyone to tell me why they have been anxious about evangelism in the past. Two of the answers I received were:
Once I have it all together, I’ll share. If you are able to fully get it together you wouldn’t need Jesus in the first place. We are all imperfect sinners who are trusting in, staking our eternities on a perfect savior. Our message is that God shows grace on sinners like you and I.
There are some people that I just done think would ever come to faith. If this narrative is about anything it is about a God who loves the most religious (Jonah) and the most pagan (Ninevites). God is powerful to save.
God used Jonah – a rebellious prophet in the streets of Nineveh. He will certainly use you and I in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and among our friends to proclaim the perfect message of salvation.
The message of God is simple: God intends to overthrow this broken world through His saving grace.
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it (Jonah 3:10).
God doesn’t just pass over sin. He takes it serious. Christ consumed on the cross the sins of the world. God looked forward from Nineveh, looks back from wherever you are at this moment. Thankfully, as Richard Sibbes once said, “There is more mercy in God than sin in us.”
God offers to transform our lives with grace.
“While transitioning back into pastoral ministry, how do you feel more prepared for this time around?”
I encourage you to visit the For The Church website, it is a great resource for church leaders.
A few years ago, the headline of USA Today featured an article titled “Is Sin Dead?”, where the author explored the question “has the notion of sin been lost in modern culture?” When it comes to sin we tend to think, “I am not as sinful as most people”. “I have high moral expectations of myself and others, but I know we are all human so I’m looking for an average score.” We find a comfort zone of morality, a kind of therapeutic middle ground where we think we are doing well.
But the reality is sin is bad news. There is no middle ground. But there is good news. If you can solve your problems or sins yourself, what difference does it make that Christ was crucified? We need to see our sin with honesty, but as Christians, we cannot let our distress over sin to lead us to despair. In our distress, God delivers us.
In Jonah 2, God delivers Jonah from his distress. In the text, we read that:
“…Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.”
Even as the darkness of the water surrounded him, when the bars of death were closing on him, Jonah knew that His God would deliver him. Jonah knows that God is a God who hears and delivers those who call to him.
As Christians we know that there is no pit too deep where God cannot reach. There is no sin too horrific that God cannot forgive. There is no rebellion that takes you so far that God cannot bring you home. There is no distance too far that He cannot hear you cry out in the prayer of repentance.
What we learn from this narrative is, the time for repentance is now. We don’t wait to come to God when we have our lives cleaned up. We come to God because we see that we cannot clean ourselves up. Repentance requires us to acknowledge our complete inability, in contrast to God’s complete ability.
Like God did with Jonah, Jesus came to save real people with real problems and real issues. In Christ, God has delivered you. The sins he carried to the cross were your sins and mine. Jesus sank into the deep dark depths of death on your behalf. When you cry out to God he will deliver you from your cold solitary darkness, and you will find yourself on the warm shores of his mercy and grace.
The good news of the gospel is that on the cross he heard our cry for distress. On the cross he paid the price for that sin. In the resurrection, he conquered that sin. God has answered you in Christ.