April 24, 2012

Four Smooth Stones

‘I thought it was five smooth stones’ you say. ‘In fact, I’m almost sure of it – young David picked up five stones, not four … one of which brought down mighty Goliath.’ True. But there is another collection of stones in Scripture that ought to be just as memorable to us – the four stones of 1 Peter chapter 2. Peruse verses 4-8 and you will see that, four different times, the apostle compares the Lord Jesus to certain kinds of stones …

Jesus is a living stone (v.4a). In other words, while Peter is about to spend five verses calling Jesus a stone, he wants to remind us that the Savior is, in one way, quite different from marble and quartz. He’s alive! He is no longer in that tomb! He is not stoic or inanimate among the world of men, like a rock in your garden. He is living and active, at work in our lives all the time – a “living stone”; a stone that can pour forth blessings, like the rock that gave water in the Old Testament! This Jesus is not sitting in heaven, stone-faced to His people’s needs and cries … but is ever ready to move into action, and to pour forth living waters upon us! Therefore, you can call on Him in your time of need, even today! He is a living stone!

Jesus is a precious stone (v.4b). Jesus is the “pearl of great price.” He is the diamond in the rough of this sinful world. He is the treasure that we seek when we begin digging into the scriptures! That’s right – when we mine the scriptures for spiritual nuggets, the most precious stone of them all is when we find Jesus. All the law and the prophets speak of Him! And so, as we read along in the book of Ezra, or 1 Samuel, or Revelation – we ought to be hunting, more than anything else, for this stone that is “choice and precious in the sight of God.” He ought to be precious to us, too! More precious than silver and more costly than gold, Jesus is a precious stone!

Jesus is a cornerstone (v.6). He is the first piece of granite that God put in place when building the household of faith that is the church. He is the foundation for it all. If God were to pull this cornerstone out from under the rest of the building, one stone would not be left upon another! The church would entirely collapse! For only upon Jesus can we build the life of faith. He is the bedrock of all that we are. If we build on the shifting sands of our own good works or religious merit, the house will fall. If we build in the mud of superstition or tradition, our faith will collapse. But if we, like the wise man, build our house on the rock; if we mortar our little stones in place atop the chief cornerstone, we “will not be disappointed”, says Peter! Jesus is our cornerstone!

Jesus is a stumbling stone (v.8). As I.H. Marshall points out in his IVP New Testament Commentary on 1 Peter (p.72), choosing to ignore the cornerstone doesn’t mean it will go away! Those people who disbelieve; those people who walk right past the cornerstone, on their way to building their lives on some other foundation, will soon find the cornerstone standing in their way. But, refusing to build their lives on it, and trying to step over it and go their own way, they will catch the toe of their shoe on the stumbling stone … tumble headlong into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels! You cannot be neutral to Jesus! Either you will build on him as a cornerstone, and He will lift you up to heaven; or you will stumble over Him, straight into hell. Your eternal destiny hinges entirely on what you do with Jesus. If you disbelieve, He will be to you a stumbling stone.

So there they are – four stones, gathered from the brook of 1 Peter 2. Pick them up, like David so long ago, and store them away. There is no doubt these truths will prove as useful to you as those smooth stones in David’s pouch!

April 23, 2012

Sermon: "Weary yet pursuing"

Because I know so many Christians live with discouragement and weariness of various kinds ... I thought I'd drop this sermon on Judges 8.4 out into the blogosphere.  May God keep you pursuing Him!

April 12, 2012


Every now and again, in place of a Wednesday night sermon, I ask our congregation to turn in biblical or theological questions they've been pondering (a few days in advance), and I try and tackle a handful of them during our Wednesday worship.  Last night one of the questions was:

Does the battle of Armageddon actually take place?

The simplest answer to this question is ‘yes’ … and ‘no.’ Allow me to explain:

Turn to Revelation 16, and you will find yourself at the very end of the world. The final trumpet of the great tribulation has sounded (chapter 11), Christ has returned at the end of that tribulation (chapter 14) and taken His church out of the world. And, in chapter 16, God’s final judgments are unleashed on the world, by means of “the seven bowls of the wrath of God” which are poured out on the earth, beginning in verse 1. And, when the sixth of those seven bowls is upturned, a great company of demons and men gathers to make war against our God, and against His Lamb. Read about these events in verses 12-16:

The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. (“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”) And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.

So yes, there is this gathering together for the great battle of Armageddon, or “Har-Magedon”, as the NASB translates it. This is evidently a reference to a battlefield near the Israelite town of Megiddo, where a couple of key Old Testament battles were fought. Here, in the place where Satan had so often tried to destroy God’s people, he takes up arms against God Himself! Here, in the place where the good King Josiah was slain by his enemy, the Enemy of the great King Jesus rides out with the same intentions in mind – in this Hebrew place called “Har-Megedon.”

But what actually becomes of the combat? What takes place after the armies gather in Revelation16.16? Does an epic, Lord-of-the-Rings-type of battle scene unfold, with men of faith valor, perhaps joined by good angels, holding out against this one final assault of the dark forces? That’s not what unfolds at all, is it? No! In verse 16.17, far from giving a description of a great battle, we are simply told that the seventh angel pours out his bowl upon the earth, that God pronounces “It is done,” and that the already ravaged earth begins to come apart at the seams. These final events of planet earth are expanded upon in chapter 19.19-21:

And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.

Note that when we pick up the storyline, there in Revelation 19.19, the battle of Armageddon has not yet begun. The beast and the kings of the earth are still gathered in order to make war, but shots have not been fired yet. And how does the battle finally commence? As no battle at all! The rider on the white horse (19.11); the one on whose thigh is written “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords” (v.16); the Son of God simply plucks up the beast and the false prophet and throws them alive into hell! And the rest of the gathered armies of Armageddon are wiped away, it would seem, with a single blow of His sword!

Do you see? While it is true that a great army of demons and men will assemble against the Lord in the last day; and while it is true (Rev. 19.14) that He will have the armies of heaven riding behind Him onto the field of battle … it does not appear that either of the armies even so much as get their shoes muddy in the battle! No arrows fly; no advances are made; and no swords clash! The King of Kings simply wields His scepter and flashes His sword, such that the hosts of hell and the armies of men are swept away in a moment! Such is the power of our great King!

And so I ask you: Can this Jesus not defend you against all the wiles of the devil? You have nothing to fear if you are following behind the rider on the white horse! No weapon formed against you shall prosper. “Now power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck you from His hand”*! No persecution can ultimately destroy you. No Satanic temptation can ultimately defeat you. And no demonic power can get the better of you, so long as you continue riding on the coattails of the rider on the white horse! “He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world.” And He who is in you says, at the end of this book, “I am coming quickly.”

*From the hymn by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, "In Christ Alone."  Copyright 2001, Kingsway's Thankyou Music.

April 10, 2012

Jesus is Still Alive!

Another Easter has come and gone. And now we wait 51 more weeks before returning, once more, to what is often called ‘the most important Sunday of the year.’

I understand why people think of Easter in that way – ‘the most important Sunday of the year’. It is, after all, the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, without which there would be no Christianity! That is what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15.14. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” So it’s no wonder Christians everywhere make a big deal out of Easter. The whole of Christianity rests on the fact of what happened on that glorious Sunday so long ago! And so it is right that we hail that day with glad songs, and special services, and a particular focus on the emptiness of the tomb!

And yet, in all our particular emphasis on this particular Sunday, we run the risk of doing exactly the opposite of what we intend. That is, if we leave our resurrection celebrations primarily to Easter Sunday, we miss 51 other opportunities for remembering that Christ is risen indeed. That’s right! According to the New Testament way of doing things, there are actually 52 Easter Sundays every year. That is to say that, while we have no evidence that New Testament Christians had a special resurrection celebration on a particular Sunday each spring, we have ample evidence that they celebrated the risen Jesus every Sunday of the year!

As you read the New Testament, it becomes fairly clear that the apostles and their contemporaries began observing their sabbaths, no longer on Saturdays, but on the first day of the week (see 1 Corinthians 16.2 and Acts 20.7), which they began calling “the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1.10). That was a major departure from Old Testament Judaism – worshipping on Sunday rather than Saturday! But why would the early Christians have made such a radical change? Almost certainly because it was on the first day of the week (Sunday) that Christ had risen from the dead! Sunday was (and is) “the Lord’s Day” because it was the day on which Jesus conquered death once and for all!

So what am I saying? The early Christians celebrated Jesus’ resurrection, not just once a year, but every single Sunday! And we should too!

That is not to say there is anything wrong with having a special celebration on what we call Easter Sunday. In fact, there is at least one unparalleled benefit to this national festival – we get more visitors in church on Easter Sunday morning than on any other day of the year! So I am grateful for Easter Sunday! And yet I want to remind you that Jesus is still alive and well, even now that Easter Sunday is past! The resurrection is just as glorious a fact today as it was this past Sunday! Men and women ought to stream into church on April 15 the same way they did on April 8. And we ought to be just as eager to invite friends this Sunday (and every Sunday) as we were last week!

Every Sunday Jesus deserves our best efforts and our maximum praise! Every Sunday He is risen and reigning! Every Sunday is a resurrection day! Let us, therefore, give our best efforts to make sure that we live like it is so!

April 9, 2012

Behold your God: Sermons from Isaiah

Nine sermons.  Nine passages in the prophecy of Isaiah.  Nine attributes of God.  Listen in ... and enjoy:

Isaiah 40.9 -  Behold your God - MP3
Isaiah 40.25 -  Behold your Incomparable God - MP3
Isaiah 46.9-10 -  Behold your Sovereign God - MP3
Isaiah 6.3 -  Behold your Holy God - MP3
Isaiah 45.19 -  Behold your Conspicuous God - MP3
Isaiah 5.4 -  Behold your Diligent God - MP3
Isaiah 42.8 -  Behold your Jealous God - MP3
Isaiah 55.1 -  Behold your Welcoming God - MP3
Isaiah 1.18 -  Behold your Merciful God - MP3

April 5, 2012

Sermon Series: Ezra

We've just completed a Wednesday evening study of the book of Ezra.  Enjoy!

Ezra 1 - Restoration
Ezra 2 - Return
Ezra 3 - Rebuilding
Ezra 4-5 - Resistance
Ezra 6 - Refreshing
Ezra 7-8 - Reinforcements
Ezra 9-10 - Repentance

April 2, 2012

Ten Reasons Jesus Rose from the Dead

Jesus died the most excruciating of deaths – hanging on a cross, suffocating to death as His dangling body gasped for every breath. And He did it for us sinners – to save us from our sins! But, of course, that was not the end of the story. No! On the third day, this same Jesus rose from the dead. Really! He bodily, physically rose from the grave where He lay, and now He reigns forever at the right hand of God! And that resurrection, while being a happy ending to Jesus’ life on this earth, was surely far more than just a happy ending. His resurrection unleashed so many of the blessings that come to God’s believing people … blessings we would not possess were Jesus not literally, bodily resurrected.

So, I say, the resurrection is not just the Bible’s version of ‘they all lived happily ever after.’ It’s a vital fact of history, and serves as the fountainhead for so much of what Christians hold most dear. Think it out with me. The resurrection of Jesus ...

1. Reminds us that Jesus really was dead. He did not merely appear dead. He literally, physically died ... therefore we are surely forgiven!

2. Proves that Jesus really was who He said He was (Romans 1.4). Not just a great religious leader; not merely a great teacher … but the very Son of God! There have been many great men. But they are all dead, proving themselves mere mortals. Jesus, however, is alive and well, demonstrating Himself to be the very Son of God!

3. Proves that the cross worked (Romans 4.25). Remember why Jesus died? So that sin might be forgiven and death (which results from sin) might be finally defeated. But, had Jesus not risen, how could we be sure that death had been defeated? And if we’re not sure death has been defeated, how can we be sure that sin (which causes death) had really been forgiven? Thank God we do not have to long ponder those questions – for Jesus is risen indeed! See also 1 Cor. 15.17.

4. Proves that the Scripture is accurate (1 Cor. 15.3-4). The Old Testament prophesied the resurrection 700 years in advance (see Isaiah 53.10). The New Testament confirms it. The Bible is, therefore, not a book of fairy tales and false prophecies … but an amazing collection of absolute truth! See also Luke 18.31-33.

5. Proves that God is all powerful (2 Cor. 13.4a). Nothing is more irreversible than death. But God reversed it!

6. Reminds us that Christ has triumphed over the devil (Ephesians 1.20-21). Just when the devil thought he'd won, Jesus rose and held a victory parade in enemy streets!

7. Ensures that we, too, will someday rise from the dead (1 Cor. 15.23). We are one with Christ. What happens to Him happens to us ... including bodily resurrection. See also 1 Thess. 4.14, 2 Cor. 4.14, 1 Cor. 6.14.

8. Ensures that we have new life here and now (Romans 6.4-6). Christ has new life. Someday we will too. But even now, we have been given new hearts and new starts … because of the resurrection.

9. Ensures that Jesus can continue ministering to us. Because He is alive, He can intercede for us (Romans 8.34, Hebrews 7.25). Because He is alive, He can save us (Acts 3.26). Because He is alive, and appeared to Paul in Acts 9, we have all the various books we have been quoted from above (Paul's letters). Thank God we do not worship a dead Savior, but one who ever lives, and can still help us!

10. Gives us a reason to celebrate on Easter Sunday … and every Lord’s Day. The reason Christians worship and take their Sabbath rest on Sunday (as opposed to the Old Testament Saturday) is because Sunday is the greatest day of all … the day Christ rose from the dead!

So there you have it. Ten reasons to fall down and worship this (and every) Sunday!