March 31, 2015

The Oil Press

Such is the meaning of the name of that garden where Jesus went and prayed “in the night in which He was betrayed” – Gethsemane; or, in English, oil press.

John Broadus, in his Commentary on Matthew, says that Gethsemane was perhaps “a small public garden or park” or that it may have been “owned by a public-spirited man who allowed visitors to enter at will.” And this little garden, situated somewhere on the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem’s gates, seems to have been a favorite place of respite for the Lord Jesus. On more than one occasion we find Him out on the Mount of Olives, probably to be alone with His Father. And it is quite possible that this little garden on that mountain was His particularly preferred quiet place.

But the name of this quiet little spot seems to hint that it was not always so quiet. The name Gethsemane, or oil press, suggests (as the preacher Hugh Ferrier* points out) that there was just such a piece of machinery located on these grounds as well – a press which would bear down upon and crush these locally grown fruits, extracting oil from them for a variety of purposes. And, as a lover of history, and of local color, I’d be quite interested to see a modern re-enactment of just how such presses worked.

Furthermore, as a lover of Jesus, I think I’d also like the machine operator to open things back up after the job was done, to allow me to see just what those olives looked like after going through the press. Because it seems to me no accident that the name of the place where Jesus went to pray on that night of His betrayal was called the oil press. For, as Frederick Leahy* points out, Jesus (like those olives) “was crushed and bruised without mercy” – even in the garden (and before the cross).

Now, of course, the press got even tighter as Jesus was brutalized at the home of the high priest; and its work was completed upon that cruel Roman cross. But, as Leahy points out from Matthew 26:36-37, it was in the oil-press-garden that the crushing began; it was in Gethsemane, Leahy says, when the weight of our sin, and the fierceness of the wrath that He would absorb because of it, and the bitterness of the cup that He would have to drink began to press most heavily upon the Lord. It was here in Gethsemane, the oil press, that Jesus’ soul began to be “deeply grieved, to the point of death.” It was here, in other words, that the press began to turn, and to press down, and to crush the choicest fruit ever to spring up from the womb of woman. And, as Ferrier puts it, referring to Luke 22:44, “the pressure is so great that He sweats those great drops of blood.” And it is no accident, I say, that all of this was taking place in a place called the oil press!

Before Jesus ever made it to the cross, the oil press was already squeezing out of Him agony, and sweat, and blood, and “loud crying and tears” (Hebrews 5:7). Such was His anguish at what lay before Him, and at what was already weighing down upon His head – namely the guilt of our sin, and the wrath of God against it!

But He went through with it! From Gethsemane to Golgotha, He went through with it! For the love of His Father, and for the love of poor sinners like us, He went through with it!

Think about that the next time you juice an orange, or make fresh squeezed lemonade, or cook with olive oil. The blessings that flow from the fruit come at great cost to the flesh from which they come. And so it was with both the body and the soul of Jesus. “He was crushed for our iniquities.”


*It was Leahy’s book The Cross He Bore and Ferrier’s sermon “Jesus in Gethsemane” that not only informed this article, but inspired me to write it.

March 24, 2015

"Who has despised the day of small things?" - Thoughts on the Life of John Broadus

Unless you are a preacher, or an aficionado of Baptist history, you may never have heard the name of John Broadus.

But you’ve probably heard of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – which is, today, one of the leading evangelical seminaries in the entire world. And I sincerely hope you know the name of Lottie Moon “whose fame” – because of her sacrificial service to the gospel in China, and because of the Christmastime offering named after her – “has spread through all the churches” (2 Corinthians 8:18).

Indeed, I dare say that the Seminary in Louisville and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® are perhaps the two best things we Southern Baptists have going for us. And both of them owe much of what they are (under God) to that man at the beginning of the article whose name you may never have heard. And, as I listened to a lecture about him this week (“The Spurgeon of Charlottesville” by Nathan Finn, at, I was intrigued enough by Broadus’s story to pass on just a bit of Finn’s information to you, with some application.  I’d encourage you to listen to the full 45-minute lecture. But here are just a few items:

In the mid-1800’s, John Broadus was Lottie Moon’s pastor in Charlottesville, Virginia. She was converted to Christ under his ministry, and trained at a school for women that he began in those days when women didn’t go to university. And she went on to become the most famous missionary the Southern Baptists have ever had, and the driving force behind that massive missions offering which today supports thousands of missionaries all over the globe. And I wonder – would we be able to send out nearly so many missionaries without that Christmas offering? And would we have begun collecting the offering, in the first place, without Lottie Moon’s boldness to call for greater missionary support? And would Lottie Moon have been the missionary that she was without her old pastor, John Broadus? Humanly speaking, who knows how different things might have been without Lottie Moon’s pastor!

And what about Southern Seminary? Praise God for its current president, Albert Mohler, who has led the school, in recent decades, from the brink of near death at the hands of liberal theology to amazing heights of fruitfulness. But would there have even been a seminary to revive had not John Broadus and a few other men gotten it off the ground in the 1850’s? And had they not committed to keeping it open when it nearly died of financial strain after the Civil War? Speaking from a human vantage point, the answer would seem to be ‘no’.

And so the two (in my opinion) greatest Southern Baptist institutions of the present day both owe much of their human origin to this pastor-turned-seminary-professor named John Broadus.

And then there was this nugget from Finn’s lecture – namely that John Broadus’s book, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, became one of the most influential textbooks to be written on the subject of preaching. Some schools were still using it as a textbook 140 years later, when Finn gave his lecture in 2010! But here, to me, is the most intriguing part of Finn’s nugget: The book was written based on Broadus’s seminary lecture notes from the fall of 1865 – the first semester after the devastation of the Civil War, when Broadus only had one student in his preaching class … and that student was blind! And yet Broadus evidently gave that one student his best just the same – and out of those lectures to one blind student, he penned one of the best preaching books ever written!

And I say to you, from Zechariah 4:10, “who has despised the day of small things?”

Now, make no mistake, Broadus was one of the most gifted preachers of his day. And much of what he did and was involved in cannot rightly be filed under the heading of “small things.” Charles Spurgeon, who actually was the greatest preacher of the 19th century, called Broadus “the greatest of living preachers.” That’s high praise! And Broadus’s great gifts were greatly blessed in his day to the conversion of many souls.

But I have just noted for you that Broadus’s impact continues to be felt by people in our day who will never hear him preach, and many of whom will never know his name – because of his influence on one college-aged girl in his church; because he and his friends determined to save a fledgling seminary when most people would have understood them letting it go; and because when he had an audience of one (instead of the thousands who sometimes sat before him), he still gave his best. And there is something to be learned there for those of us who are much less gifted!

Yes, God used Broadus’s extraordinary gifts! And few, if any, who read this little column will ever possess the like. But Broadus’s influence has come down to us, in large part because he did not despise “the day of small things.” I doubt, in other words, that Broadus ever dreamed what Lottie Moon would blossom into (much less how many millions of dollars would be raised for missions under the Lottie Moon offering all these years later)! And yet he invested in her (and many other young women in his church and school) just the same. I think he might be astonished to see that fledgling little seminary, nearly decimated by the financial repercussions of the Civil War, now humming with a couple of thousand students and a world-class faculty. But he worked to save her anyway, even when talking of such success would have seemed like pie-in-the-sky. And could he have imagined that the content of his lectures to that one blind student would still be in print and blessing preachers a century-and-a-half-later? But he still gave his best!

So I conclude that surely Broadus must have begun all these ventures, not because he was certain that they would be great things, but because they were the right things, even if they were small! And I say there is a lesson in that!

Who knows what impact you may make if you will continue to do what is right, even though it may be small? Who knows what will come – in 150 years – of your winning that one young woman to Christ, or of your faithfully teaching a Sunday School class with one student, or of your helping keep a small church or school’s doors open, or a thousand other seemingly small acts of faithfulness? And even if you don’t spawn a Lottie Moon or a Southern Seminary … God is pleased with faithfulness!

So press on, brothers and sisters! And do not despise “the day of small things”!


For more on Broadus, see a brief intro to him at Southern Seminary's website, or pick up a book about Broadus's life and ministry edited by David Dockery and Roger Duke.

March 17, 2015

Recommended Reading

As a pastor, one of my hopes is to see my people reading more. More Bible, of course, should always be paramount. But there are other books which help us flesh out and understand and apply the Bible to our own lives – and these can be quite helpful, too. Let me mention just a few fairly brief reads that you might consider picking up from a bookstore or online, and having a look. All but the last are available at

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by D.A. Carson. Carson is one of the leading New Testament scholars of our day, and a brilliant academic. But this down-to-earth little book is not an effort in great New Testament scholarship, but a recounting of how the author’s dad – not a leading scholar or brilliant academic, but an ordinary pastor – put the principles of the New Testament into practice as an averagely gifted pastor serving all his life in small churches. Even if you are not a pastor, your heart will be encouraged by the story of this man who was. And you’ll probably get a little more insight into what a pastor’s life is like, and be helped to pray for your own. 

Amy Carmichael: Beauty for Ashes by Iain Murray. Everything that Iain Murray writes is well worth whatever time and money you will spend on it. This book (which I am currently reading) is no exception. Murray’s easy style, coupled with the life of one of the most remarkable Christian women of the 20th century, makes for an encouraging read. I’m finding myself challenged already by Amy’s disciplined life of service to Christ and to the at-risk children of India whom she so loved.

The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit by Charles Spurgeon. If you enjoy sitting down and reading sermons (and you probably should!), there is no better collection than those of Charles Spurgeon, the greatest English language preacher of the 19th century. Simple yet profound, Christ-centered, and marvelously illustrated … you cannot but be blessed by delving into the preaching of Spurgeon. The sermons are available in 63 large volumes. Just pick up one volume and work your way through it on Sunday evenings. You’ll be blessed.

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. This is not a Christian book, but is immensely helpful to Christians nonetheless. Postman gives incredible insight into how the media through which we receive information greatly affect the way we take in, think about, and apply that information. The television, for instance, has greatly affected our present-day capacities for listening comprehension; which, in turn, greatly (and adversely) affects how deeply we are able to think about important subjects. Compare the depth of modern political debates with those of Lincoln and Douglas, says Postman. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Written in the era when TV was the primary multimedia device, Postman’s insights are all the more valuable in our era of multiplying media access. I highly recommend it as a good look in the mirror of your own technology habits … and what effect they have on the way you think. 

So there you have just a few books that might be encouraging to you. Pick one of them up (or some other volume of good theology or church history), and you will be blessed by becoming a reader.

March 10, 2015

"Locusts and wild honey"

Such was the diet of John the Baptist (Mark 1:6 and Matthew 3:4) as he preached in the wilderness in the days leading up to the coming of Christ – “locusts and wild honey”!

Wait … whaaat? “Locusts and wild honey”? Why that?

Well, the commentators William Hendriksen and R.T. France inform us that, if you were going to live in the Ancient Near Eastern wilderness, this was the sort of culinary fare that would be available to you! Evidently pastas and pestos were not on the desert menu! But “locusts and wild honey” could be gathered here and there. And so John, needing to eat, scared up what vittles he could find!

But why was John out in the wilderness – and thus limited to such a diet – in the first place? Well, John, having come in the prophetic tradition of Elijah, was necessarily roughhewn. He had not been sent to deliver fine speeches in royal courts … but to preach against sin! And his rough clothing and wilderness diet were symbolic of that calling.

And then the great commentator William Hendriksen makes this observation about John the Baptist as well:
By means of his simple mode of life, evident with respect to both his food and his clothing, he was a living protest against all selfishness and self-indulgence, hence also against that frivolousness, carelessness, and false security with which many people were rushing toward their doom. (New Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark, pp.39-40).
And that is probably the bottom line of John’s dietary habits. They were meant as a silent sermon against the sins of his day. And our lives ought also – in various ways – to be the same.

But as I read, this week, about John’s wilderness menu … it also occurred to me that the simplicity with which he chose to live might also have been quite a help to his own sanctification. The biblical writers don’t, of course, say that this is why John did what he did. But as I think about my own life … and then look at John’s … it occurs to me how many things he probably didn’t have to worry about, living as simply as he did. Life was simpler back then to begin with! But, by choosing to live even more simply than the norm, John perhaps was even more able to “set [his] mind on things above”. By uncluttering his life, perhaps John was able also to unclutter his soul.

Now again, I do not argue that this was John’s primary goal … or even that this was necessarily on his mind at all as he went out into the wilderness. He seems to have gone out there for the sake of others, not himself. But I can’t help but think that the “locusts and wild honey”, and the simple lifestyle that they represent, were perhaps good for John as well. And, even if he didn’t need the help … I can’t help but think that a little more John-like simplicity would be good for you and me!

Am I arguing that we all need to become ascetics, living in monasteries, and eating only bread and water? Absolutely not! John was called to a very unique ministry at a very unique time. And neither of the biblical Testaments require such a lifestyle of the bulk of God’s people. In fact, the New Testament has a lot to say about feasting!

But what if we were even just a little more like John? What if we disentangled ourselves from some commitments, and gadgets, and habits that only serve to make us more distracted, more tired, more nerve-wracked … and which decrease our attention spans, and our ability to be generous, and our desire for the word of God? What if some of us simplified our digital intake the way John simplified his diet? And what if we cleared our schedules so as not to be spending 5-6 evenings a week going to this meeting, and that extra-curricular, and so on? What if we streamlined our spending and cut out some of the waste? What, in other words, if our personal devotions were not rushed through before jetting off to work, or slept through because we tried to cram them in at the end of a too-busy day? What if we had time to eat our meals together as families, and to engage in meaningful (rather than hurried) family devotions? What if we had time to read good books, and even, frankly, to get a little more sleep? What if we had just a little more of a “locusts and wild honey” lifestyle?

Again, I’m not saying we must all go the way of John, wholesale. I don’t believe God calls most of us to do so! Nor am I ignorant of the fact that some levels of busy-ness simply cannot be avoided. There are seasons in life when the best we can do is just hang on, and perhaps listen to the scriptures on our phones as we drive to work. But let’s not settle for that as the long-term norm! Let’s streamline our lives a little bit more – eat a little more “locusts and wild honey”, as it were – and make room for that which is most important.

March 9, 2015

Behold your (Incarnate) God!

A little over two weeks ago, I echoed the prophet Isaiah’s call to “Behold your God” (Isaiah 40.9, ESV) … particularly in His incomparability (vv.12-31). I hope the vision of God that we saw in that sermon is still rattling around in some hearts and minds … and doing good! But as I prepared for the opportunity I had to preach (and further expand upon) Isaiah 40 this past weekend at First Baptist Church, Huber Heights … I was reminded that, for us New Testament believers, one of the chief ways in which we must behold our God is in the face of His Son! Jesus is “the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father” and who has “explained Him [God] to us” (John 1.18). “In these last days” God “has spoken to us in His Son” (Hebrews 1.1, emphasis added).

This is one of the most profound truths in the Bible – the incarnation of Christ! God becoming fully man without leaving behind any of His deity! And this man, Jesus, being fully God without sacrificing anything that is essential to human nature!

And so, even as we read an Old Testament passage like Isaiah 40, we cannot adequately behold our God without beholding Him in His incarnate Son! For instance, the incarnation is what makes final perfect sense out of the forgiveness of sins that is announced in verse 2. How can a just God take away the sins of death-deserving sinners? “The blood of bulls and goats” was no final solution, says Hebrews 10! But if God has become man, and has been “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4) … well then He, the God-man, can be our substitute! He can be our lamb – “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1.29, emphasis added). It is the incarnation that makes it so!

Furthermore, the incarnation also brought to full and final fruition the coming of the Lord to redeem His people, which is described in Isaiah 40.3-5! It is through the coming of Jesus that “the glory of the LORD” was fully and finally revealed!

And the incarnation is all the more amazing to us when we consider, in Isaiah 40.6-8, that “all flesh is grass” which withers and dies! And by taking on our humanity, and eventually bearing our sins in it, this is the flesh which Jesus took upon Himself! In His humanity, Christ became a member of those nations that are “like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales” (v.15). In His humanity Jesus became one of those inhabitants of earth who are “like grasshoppers” in comparison to the scale of His own deity!

And finally, brothers and sisters, it is the incarnation that gives full and final shape to the encouragement to “wait for the Lord” in Isaiah 40.31! We wait for His various deliverances here and now, of course! But ultimately, we are waiting for His bodily return from heaven! “BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him” (Revelation 1.7) … because when He returns, “this Jesus … will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1.11). He will return – just as He left – as one of us!

Here is the incarnation of Christ! Fully divine … yet fully human; and with nail-prints in His hands and feet! And, brothers and sisters, this is the most fantastic thing in the world!

We said a couple of Sundays ago that, because “God is spirit”, He does not have a body; and that we cannot rightly describe Him, even, as having a certain size, or taking up a certain space! In His divine essence, God is so utterly different from us! But when He comes “with the clouds” we will “see His face” (Revelation 22.4). His face? How? Because “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1.14); because Jesus was “made like His brethren in all things” (Hebrews 2.17); because “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2.9)!

And so, brothers and sisters, I say to you in closing: fix your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12.2). “Consider Jesus” (Hebrews 3.1). Gaze upon Jesus. Get to know Jesus. Understand Jesus. Be amazed at Jesus.  Behold Jesus … and behold your God!

March 2, 2015

The Luck of the Irish? - The Real-Life Story of St. Patrick

Do you ever ask yourself the really difficult questions? You know, those deep philosophical queries that take you all the way to the core of the meaning of life? Questions like: Why does everybody wear green on St. Patrick’s Day? And why do I get pinched if I don’t? And why are the Irish so lucky, anyway? Well, this little leaflet may not fully answer those questions. But I can say this: there is no such thing as luck! God is orchestrating everything in this universe—from the orbit of the planets (Isaiah 40.22) to the exact time when a sparrow falls out of a tree (Matthew 10.29). He controls it all! And the story of St. Patrick is an example of this truth—a great illustration of God’s loving hand designing our days for good …

Contrary to our childhood imaginations, Patrick of Ireland was not a quirky little Irishman who went around pinching people and searching for four-leafed clovers! It is also highly unlikely that he wore a funny green suit. In fact, Patrick wasn’t even Irish! So who was this man who has a holiday named for him?*

Patrick was a modestly educated boy who lived in late 4th century Britain. Though his father was a deacon, and his grandfather a pastor in the local church, Patrick was unimpressed with Christianity, unconcerned with eternity, and unacquainted with Jesus Christ. That is, until he was sixteen. That was when he was captured by pirates and ferried across the Irish Sea to become a slave of those ‘barbarian’ people called the Irish.

For six years Patrick served as an enslaved farm-hand. But there on the Irish hillsides, desperate and alone, he began to call out to the living Christ whom his grandfather had preached. There, in the midst of harsh slavery in a pagan land, Patrick became a committed follower of Jesus! Gone were the trappings of mere outward religion; and in their place came a genuine trust in the life and death of the historical God-man, Jesus Christ. God allowed this young man to hit rock bottom, so that he might finally turn his eyes heavenward!

Isn’t that a wonderful illustration of how “God causes all things”—even the lowest moments of suffering—“to work together for good to those who love God” and are “called according to His purpose” (Romans 8.28**)?

And God’s goodness did not end with Patrick’s conversion to Christ …

After six years of slavery, Patrick escaped and was eventually reunited with his family in Britain. It must have been a glorious reunion! His parents must surely have thought that neither they nor their son would ever have to think of those pagan, unchristian Irishmen again. But God made them think again! Patrick began to sense that God was summoning him to return to the land of his captivity … this time, not as a slave of the Irish, but as a servant of Jesus Christ—a missionary!

And that is exactly what Patrick did! He went and gave himself to the people who had so demeaned and abused him, and laid out his life in missionary labors among them—just like his Lord had done four centuries before! Within decades, under Patrick’s preaching, Ireland began to glow for Jesus! Thousands of people became followers of Jesus, and little congregations began to be planted here and there among the Irish hills!

To this day, many thousands of Irish believers can trace their history to God’s grace in sending such a man to their island. Talk about ‘the luck of the Irish’!

But what did this ancient saint teach? What message did Patrick bring to Ireland? And has it any relevance for today? Well, quite simply, Patrick taught the Bible! Indeed, his writings are chocked full of Bible quotes! Let me mention just a few of Patrick’s biblical quotations,^  expounding myself on the meaning of each verse as I go along:

  • “There is no other” God (Isaiah 45, v.5) – only one true God … who reveals Himself (as Patrick was eager to point out) in the persons of the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit.
  • “He who sins is a slave” (John 8, v.34). And I hasten to add that all of us are, by nature, thus enslaved—knowing what we ought to do and so often failing to do so; knowing that there is a God (who made us, owns us, and loves us), and yet failing to honor and obey Him as we know we should.
  • “Those who do evil … are to be damned” (Romans 1, v.32). Simple and sobering. We deserve to die for our dishonoring of God.
  • And yet, Jesus Christ “gave his own soul for [us]” on the cross (1 John, 3, v.16)—taking the death penalty that we deserve, so that we might be rescued from it ourselves; so that we might be forgiven, and granted “everlasting life which is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6, v.23).

Now that last point is really good news, isn’t it? Yes, we have sinned our way out of God’s good graces … but we do not have to earn our way back in! Jesus has done that for us – by “[laying] down His life for us”! And so forgiveness and heaven are a gift! “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6.23). That is the good news young Patrick discovered as he sat enslaved and alone on those ancient Irish hills! That is the good news he preached to the Irish in the fifth century AD. This is the good news that Jesus and the apostles preached in the first century. And this is the same good news that will rescue 21st century men and women, too!

So let me ask you: Have you recognized your Maker? Have you realized that “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God” (Isaiah 59.2)? And have you turned from those sins and placed your eternal hope squarely into the nail-scarred hands of Jesus? This is what Patrick, all those centuries ago, urged the Irish to do! And this is what I urge you to do today: stop running from God; stop hiding from God; stop ignoring God; stop defying God … and, like young Patrick so long ago, turn to Jesus for mercy. And when you do, He will forgive all your running, hiding, ignoring, and defying!

And (for us religious types), let us lay aside the idea that we must earn our way back to God with all our religious activity (penance, mass, confession, good works, etc.). And let us believe, rather, that salvation really is a “free gift”! And if we will; if we will simply trust that, by His sinless life and sacrificial death, Jesus Christ has earned our way back to God for us – then God will forgive our sins, too! For “whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3.16)!


*My sources for the life of St. Patrick are his own The Confession of Saint Patrick. Translated by John Skinner. (New York, NY: Image Books, 1998); and Philip Freeman’s Patrick of Ireland. (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2005).

**Aside from those scriptures quoted directly out of Patrick’s own writings (and placed in bold print), all other Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®. Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. Italicized emphasis within scriptural quotations is inserted by the tract’s author.

^These scripture quotations are drawn from Skinner’s The Confession of Saint Patrick (which includes both Patrick’s actual Confession, as well as a letter of rebuke he wrote to a group of barbarous soldiers).