“One point only remains to be considered on the subject of sin, which I dare not pass over. That point is its deceitfulness. It is a point of most serious importance, and I venture to think it does not receive the attention which it deserves. You may see this deceitfulness in the wonderful proneness of men to regard sin as less sinful and dangerous than it is in the sight of God; and in their readiness to extenuate it, make excuses for it, and minimize its guilt.-“It is but a little one! God is merciful! God is not extreme to mark what is done amiss! We mean well! One cannot be so particular! Where is the mighty harm? We only do as others!” Who is not familiar with this kind of language?
You may see it in the long string of smooth words and phrases which men have coined in order to designate things which God calls downright wicked and ruinous to the soul. What do such expressions as “fast,” “gay,” “wild,” “unsteady,” “thoughtless,” “loose” mean? They show that men try to cheat themselves into the belief that sin is not quite so sinful as God says it is, and that they are not so bad as they really are.
You may see it in the tendency even of believers to indulge their children in questionable practices, and to bind their own eyes to the inevitable result of the love of money, of tampering with temptation, and sanctioning a low standard of family religion.
I fear we do not sufficiently realize the extreme subtlety of our soul’s disease. We are too apt to forget that temptation to sin will rarely present itself to us in its true colours, saying, “I am your deadly enemy, and I want to ruin you for ever in hell.” Oh, no! sin comes to us, like Judas, with a kiss; and like Joab, with an outstretched hand and flattering words. The forbidden fruit seemed good and desirable to Eve; yet it cast her out of Eden.
The walking idly on his palace roof seemed harmless enough to David; yet it ended in adultery and murder. Sin rarely seems sin at first beginnings. Let us then watch and pray, lest we fall into temptation. We may give wickedness smooth names, but we cannot alter its nature and character in the sight of God.”
If it makes a man happy to imagine he is a grilled cheese sandwich, is it compassionate to support and encourage his delusion? Is it more loving to seek to persuade him of his error or to find him a companion who thinks he’s a bag of potato chips?
If a man has experienced such childhood trauma that he can only find comfort and refuge in life by dreaming he is a piece of toast, is he best understood and happiness in life found for him by agreeing that, for him, life is better as a piece toast? Does compassion try to lead him into healthy, normal relationships with others or just spread jelly on him?
If a daughter decides she is really a unicorn trapped in a girl’s body, what is the loving parental response? Do the parents go all out to build her the best stable possible and give full support to her lovely new unicorn lifestyle? Do loving parents cover her with horse hide and strap a horn onto her forehead? Is it healthiest for her life if her parents buy her horseshoes or put her in front of a mirror and show her she is not a unicorn, no matter what she may feel?
If identity is really a state of mind and of personal feelings, why is any expression of personal identity off limits? If a boy is a girl because he feels like it, if a girl has no gender because she identifies with none and if a white person is black because she feels like it, why can a boy not be a wolverine because he feels like it? If biological construction is not a sufficient parameter for identifying personal identity, what is?
When Jesus stood trial before the ruling body of Israel, the High Priest demanded Jesus answer, “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” The High Priest knew the Messiah, the promised deliverer and coming king, would also be the Son of God. The leaders of Israel were familiar with Jesus’ claim.Though they did not believe His claims, no one doubted that Jesus professed to be the Messiah and the Son of God. To that question Jesus gives a powerful answer.
For Jesus to have remained silent would have been viewed as a denial of His Deity. Jesus did not remain silent. To the priest’s question Jesus first said, “I am.” I am exactly who I claimed to be. I am the Messiah. I am the Son of God. I am the promised One sent to deliver you from sin. Those who say Jesus never claimed to be God have no foundation in the Bible. Here Jesus declares, under solemn oath before God, on trial for His life, before the leaders of Israel and in no uncertain terms that He is the Messiah and the Son of God. “I am” exactly who you have accused me of being.
That answer is sufficient to declare Jesus’ deity, but it is not the fulness of the answer. Jesus went further and applied to Himself two passages from the Old Testament that foretold of the Messiah and declared His Deity. In Psalm 110:1 it says, “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool.” This verse is in fact the most often quoted Messianic prophecy in the New Testament. Jesus applies it to Himself. Peter applies it to Jesus on the day of Pentecost. The books of Ephesians and Hebrews both allude to this as fulfilled in Jesus after His resurrection. Jesus claimed to be the God of David, the God of the Old Testament.
He also claimed to be the Son of Man who will return in judgment and victory. Daniel 7:13-14 says, I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” Did Jesus ever claim to be God? Yes! A resounding, powerful yes. He claimed it repeatedly throughout His ministry and He declares it again at the most solemn of moments. He announces He is God though He knows it will bring on Him the wrath and judgment of the Sanhedrin.
Jesus does more than just declare He is God. He declares He is the One who will hold these judges under judgment. They will stand accused and condemned by the one they now accuse and condemn. Though Jesus is the defendant on trial before these unjust judges, He binds them over to a higher court where they will receive eternal condemnation. He tells them there is coming a time when the judges would be judged and the condemners be condemned. Jesus is God, the God who reigns eternally and the God who will judge all men.
I want to add some clarifying remarks to an article from a couple weeks ago about how America arrived at the moral position it now holds. In no way do I think or intend to suggest that America has reached it’s current position because of the malicious efforts of a small group of people. The immoral movement in America has not been one of a few people forcing the many to accept something contrary to their will. Instead, the majority have accepted ungodly behaviors and ideas because those ideaologies matched the longing of the individual’s heart.
For example when Alfred Kinsey published his spurious studies on human sexuality, those studies were eagerly accepted across the nation. Though the irregularities of the testing procedures were revealed a few years later, most people did not care. Kinsey’s surveys supported a view of sexuality that gave people the freedom to do what they wanted to do anyway. When Elvis surged on the scene his stardom had little to do with skillful marketing. He was quickly accepted because he offered something in a style that appealed to the heart’s of his listeners. Each moral step downward has been taken because it appealed to the desires of the heart’s.
The decline of America has not followed a revolutionary path. Her downfall follows the course described in Romans 1. Those who have rejected God, suppress the truth of God with wickedness. Marriage cannot only be between one man and one woman because to admit that truth is to admit an objective truth greater than the desires of the individual. Right and wrong must be subjective to the person and the situation. A right and wrong that do not change means the individual is not the standard and determiner of morality and righteousness. The process by which America has reached this appalling moral sewer has been long and included a wide range of external factors. Nevertheless, the process by which America has reached this dismal place of depravity has been a simple one. The wicked heart of man has continued to rebel against his Creator. As a result of that rebellion, God has given the individual and the nation over to the desires it worships. We are here because when Americans knew God they refused to acknowledge Him as God.
This bleak assessment leads to the only hope available to America. The wicked heart can be transformed. The promises of the Bible are still true. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18) Though we find ourselves in a nation languishing under the judgment of God, there is great hope. God’s condemnation and judgment is an act of mercy. He mercifully brings suffering on men now that they may see the wages of their sin and repent. He condemns men in unbelief that He might have mercy upon those who will forsake their folly and trust in Him. “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.” (Romans 11:32) The condemnation of this nation undeniable, and the mercy of God is still abundantly available.
At the base of the Mount of Olives, only a couple miles from the western gates of Jerusalem, was a grove of olive trees known as the Garden of the Oil Press. Into the dark quiet of the passover night Jesus led His disciple into the city. On that night the city of Jerusalem was absolutely still. Though filled with hundreds of thousands of people, very few were out on that sacred night. Jesus and His disciples left the quiet city and ventured to one of His common retreats, the Garden known as Gethsemane. The grove was arranged with walkways and restful places, a retreat set aside for the refreshment and rest of the people. There in the garden Jesus began to feel the extreme weight of the task before Him. In the garden Jesus prayed, alone.
Jesus left all but three of the disciples at the gates of the garden. He took Peter, James and John into the garden to join with Him in prayer. Once inside Jesus began to be “sore amazed and very heavy.” In that peaceful garden where many looked for serenity Jesus was surrounded with sorrow and nearly crushed with great grief. The language of the gospels is most expressive. Jesus was practically overwhelmed by the terrors that lay before Him. As He walked into the garden, Jesus was assaulted by intense emotional distress. Feeling the sudden surge of fear and sorrow, He left the three men with instructions to wait for him and watch with Him in prayer.
Jesus went a little farther and collapsed to the ground in prayer. There in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus began to feel the heavy weight of the penalty of sin. Jesus’ agony in the garden shows the horrible cost of sin. On the eve of His crucifixion, His suffering has just begun and Jesus anticipates the horrible death that awaits Him. In the garden we see just how this death affected Jesus. He was not stoic towards it. He did not put on a happy face to endure it as best He could. He was terrorized by the impending death. Not that He was afraid of Satan or fearful of failure. He knew the depth of suffering He was about to undergo. He knew the physical pain that was coming. He knew the emotional trauma that was approaching. Most importantly, He knew the horrible wages of sin. Do not mistake His fear for cowardice. Do not read this as the craven’s desire to escape difficulty for ease. This is the legitimate fear of a fearful event. It is proper to fear the wrath of God. Only a fool would make a show of bravery in the face of Divine judgment. Jesus was in anguish because He was about to endure the undiluted wrath of God for the sin of all humanity. In the garden we see the soul wrenching agony of sin. In the garden we see the heart rending anguish of the Son about to be separated from the Father. In the garden we see an echo of the measureless depths of the horrors of sin. In the garden we see the magnificence of God’s love.
On the eve of His crucifxion, Jesus celebrated passover with His disciples. At the end of the meal, He gave to His closest disciples a new memorial. What Jesus instituted hours before His death continues to be celebrated by His disciples today. The Lord’s Supper is a perpetual memorial of what Jesus has done to purchase salvation and of what Jesus is doing to bring to full fruition the salvation He purchased with His blood.
During the meal, Jesus announces His blood is the blood of a new covenant. A covenant is a binding, eternal agreement often accompanied by solemn oaths to God to perform certain defines duties. The blood of Jesus is the seal and certification of a new covenant for all who trust Him.
This Lord’s supper is a sign of this covenant between the Christian and God. This bread and juice is a continual rerminderr that the child of God is now party in a new covenant. The Christian is a benefactor of a new covenant. He is entered into a covenant relationship with God, a covenant which shall never be broken. That which is done in the Lord’s Supper is a memorial that the Christian is now the recipient of God’s new covenant with those who turn to Jesus for forgiveness of sin.
What is this covenant? The covenant is described in Jeremiah and Hebrews. It is the covenant that we will be God’s people and He will be our God. The covenant is a covenant of a new, intimate and permanent relationship with God.
The covenant is a covenant of a new heart. The heart is cleansed and into that new heart are inscribed the laws of God. The Holy Spirit works in the heart of the believer so they can know and obey the commands of God.
This covenant is a covenant of full forgiveness. Sin is forgiven, offering is made, guilt is removed and God remembers His child’s sin no more. Never again will God look at the Christian and think about his sin. Never again will He will look at the believer’s life and consider him guilty. Never again will He see the crimes have committed against Him. Such forgiveness is unfathomable! The Christian is not guilty because God knows of nothing sinful done by Him. Jesus blood has washed away every blot of sin and purchased a full pardon to those who turn to Him. The pardon given to those who believe is free and full. No sin is left for which to pay. No sin yet to be committed must still be atoned for. No obscure sin unnoticed and unrepented must be paid off. Every sin committed, being committed or to be committed was pardoned through the blood of Jesus.
This covenant that God makes is not a covenant between man and God. The covenant is a covenant by God with Himself. The new covenant is a covenant initiated by God, whose terms are written by God, whose payment is paid by God, whose duties are performed by God and whose security is safeguarded by God. The blood of Jesus brings the Christian into the new covenant, but not as promisor. The Christian is not a co-signer, partner or investor in the new covenant. The Christian is the beneficiary of the new covenant. Those who are saved are brought into God’s covenant and reap all the benefits of that which God has fully accomplished.
The radical shifts of legal opinions regarding marriage in the last five years are surprising. Though the storm has been building for many years, most noticeably since the mid-90’s, the sudden upheaval of long established norms regarding marriage and sexuality is causing many to wonder, how did we get here so fast? What happened that caused the sudden, near overnight turn around of marriage morals?
The events of the last few years have certainly happened at a rapid pace, but they can be traced back through a long sequence of decisions reaching back through American history. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the path to today’s depravity was cleared with the ascendancy of theological liberalism in many denominations. The trajectory to godless immorality was set in the years after the second World War and continued on one step at a time until reaching the point. The major milestones of this course include the popular acceptance of Alfred Kinsey’s pseudo-scientific reports on human sexuality, the increasing acceptance of pornography, the growth of anti-religious sentiment, the forced, faked morals of the McCarthy era, the materialism of the 50’s, Elvis, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the rise of radical feminism, the rebellion against the establishment of the 60’s and the complete breakdown of trust in governmental authority in the 70’s. Even the positive moral rebound during the Reagan years resulted in a backlash during the 90’s. The ubiquity of entertainment media, starting with radio, then movies and television, the advance of cable networks, the success of the internet and the proliferation of internet capable smartphones have all had significant roles in this process of moral decline. America has not reached her current moral morass overnight. A long process of rejecting Biblical truth and righteousness for human wisdom and reason has ended in an utter inability to tell the difference between male and female or between marriage and fornication.
This generation is just the latest in a string of generations to reject the morals professed by its parents. The changes of today have much the same moral motivation as the counter-culture of the 60’s. How do we correct the long series of mistakes? No sufficient answer can be given in one hundred words, but the basics of the solution are straightforward. The church must repent and return to an absolute commitment to the authority and sufficiency of the Word. Just like in the days of the King Josiah, the Word of God has been lost. Scriptures has been stashed in the church basement because it is not relevant enough, not edgy enough and not sensitive enough. The Word must be recovered, weep before it’s precepts and beauty and submit to its dictates. The church must reject the shows, the spectacles, the puerile pastors, the promises of good living and the pseudo-psychological garbage that has been the mainstay of popular Christianity for the last hundred plus years. The church must preach the Word in its fullness and power. The church must train it’s people to go into a dark world and preach the light of the gospel to those enslaved in darkness. Only when the wicked heart of men are turned to Christ will the culture change. The promise of the gospel is that even though the fall of our nation’s morals has been a long, steady decline ending in a precipitous plummet, righteousness can be restored swiftly through the salvation of the lost.
A week before His crucifixion, Jesus sat in the house of Simon in Bethany. While He ate supper Mary, the sister of Lazarus, came to where Jesus was reclining beside the table. She brought with her a container made out of alabaster, a beautiful stone carved and polished into a fitting vessel for an expensive ointment. She broke the seal on the box and began to anoint Jesus’ head and feet with the ointment. The ointment of spikenard was a precious oil imported from India that gave off a pleasing aroma. The gospel of Mark goes to some lengths to stress the price and purity of this ointment. She did not bring a cheap imitation of spikenard. She did not have a diluted version of spikenard. What Mary brought was the very best, the pure and genuine article. Hers was a very expensive ointment to be reserved for only the most important of purposes. Mary gave of her costly ointment to anoint Jesus.
Anointing with oil served a couple purposes in Jesus’ day. Anointing oil was used in cleansing. When one bathed he would rub himself with oil as a perfuming agent. When a very special guest came into a house, the master would have servants wash the guest and anoint with oil, essentially massaging him with oil to refresh the weary traveler. Mary anointed Jesus with oil to refresh Him after His journey. Simon probably had servants that washed Jesus’ feet, but Mary wanted to do something extra, something special for Jesus. After watching Jesus restore life to her brother, no gift was too great to express her love to her Lord. She took the expensive, perfumed oil and rubbed it into his feet and scalp. Her act was one of rich kindness and humility. Her deep love for her Savior prompted her to take the role of a lowly slave and sacrifice what was probably her most valued treasure in an act of extravagant devotion to her Lord. Mary’s gift was a glorious expression of her great love for her Savior. What a beautiful picture of service and worship to God!
Jesus is God the Son and the Savior of men. All throughout history men have shown honor to great men with lavish gifts and expensive displays. It is very fitting that God who became man receive great praise. It is right to give extravagant praise to the Son of God. Mary recognized the infinite worht of Jesus. Her rich worship was right and praiseworthy. I speak often of glorifying God. To glorify God is to live a way shows other God is most important and that He is wonderful beyond all wonders. Mary’s act of praise does that. Her love and devotion held nothing back from her Lord. By her sacrifice she powerfully declares, without saying a word, that Jesus is worth everything. He is more important even than a rare and expensive ointment. He is worth pouring out the most precious treasure one possesses for Him. He is worth a life poured out in His service.
Ministry to those near death is often very informative. The conversation with ones drawings near to the close of life often looks back on how their life was spent. Fond memories, fascinating bits of personal history, disappointments faced and difficulties overcome give a deeper look into a life of which I have often only known a small part. As death approaches, many will speak of the things that give them comfort and peace in their dying hours. Many look back across their lives and find comfort in the things they had accomplished.
Some may speak of their work as Sunday School teachers, some may speak of their many years of service in a church and some may speak of how much money they gave in support of a church or other ministry. Some speak of how well their kids turned out and how many were serving in ministry capacity. The details varied, but many times the comfort found at the end of life was the comfort of a life well lived. Many find comfort in death from a good life, a life of obedience and service to the Lord. At first glance, this sounds very good. The Christian should live a life of faithful service to the Lord in all capacities of life and such a life does offer a measure of peace in the waning days of life. A life of sin, laziness and disobedience should cause a professing Christian concern about the genuineness of his profession, but a life well lived is not the believer’s ultimate comfort in death. For a Christian to find dying comfort in one’s life work reveals a significant problem. In fact, such comfort is little better than the one who comforts himself with the knowledge that he is going to heaven because he has been a good person.
I make such a strong statement because of the truths of salvation. If we are saved by the grace of God alone, if we are fully forgiven by the work of Jesus on the cross, if I add nothing to my justification by any work I do before or after salvation, if I will stand before God stripped of all my filthy rags and robed only in the righteousness of Jesus, then the greatest comfort of life and death will be the work that Jesus has done. True comfort is found in the death of Jesus and its full efficacy to cover all sin and bring the child of God joyfully into the presence of the Father for reward instead of retribution. The believer’s comfort in death is found in the one who has conquered death, not the work He has enabled him to do.
In times of severity, when our heart quakes and our eyes falter, we naturally turn to those things which bring us greatest comfort. We don’t look to secondary comforts in those times (which is why I have never had anyone on their death beds tell me how much time they spent watching TV), we look to the source of greatest comfort. If the greatest comfort in life is a life well lived our theology is off. We don’t really believe salvation is completed in Jesus. We don’t really believe one will stand guiltless before the throne because, and only because, he is covered in the blood of the Lamb. We believe Jesus did the saving and then my good deeds showed I was worthy of it. Don’t try to earn your salvation. Don’t try to be worthy of it. You’ll never earn it. You’re never worthy of it. Instead, live it out. Live now in a fashion fitting to your great salvation, but put no trust, no comfort and no faith in your subsequent obedience. Put all your hopes, security and comfort i n the eternally finished work of God the Son.
If you follow popular authors and speakers about prophecy you might be tempted to think the Christian’s watchfulness as he waits for the return of Jesus consists in knowing when all the right political, geological and meteorological events are going to come together in the proper combination to finish the preparations for Jesus’ return. Jesus does not say this. The New Testament does not tell Christians to study today’s newspapers to know the times and seasons. The fascination with correlating the headlines with Revelation has the tragic tendency to distract from the true watchfulness Christ commands His servants to maintain.
The New Testament is consistent in its descriptions of what makes up Christian watchfulness. 1 Peter 4 says the soon return of Jesus should drive the believer to sober-mindedness, prayerfulness, sacrificial love and hospitality. Revelation 3 connects watchfulness with repentance of sin and steadfastness in faith. 1 Thessalonians 5 connects watching with sober-mindedness, steadfast faith, righteousness, sacrificial love, comfort in salvation, edifying relationships in the church and holiness in all relationships with men and God.
In His parable in Mark 13 Jesus uses three examples to illustrate the Christian’s watchfulness for His return. The first is that of a steward given power to act on behalf of his master. The steward is given authority to do the work of His master in the name of His master. Christ empowers His servants to do the work of the master’s household. A watchful Christian is faithful with the Master’s work and always acts for the increase of the Master’s interests.
The second is that of a servant diligent in the work assigned to him. Every Christian has a task assigned to him. The supreme task given to all believers is to glorify God. All other tasks are subservient to this one overarching end, exalt the glory of God. To paraphrase the words of Jesus, the prime task of every Christian is to love God supremely. Second to loving God supremely is the command to love others sacrificially. These two statements summarize all Christian duties. Diligent service in preparation for the return of the Lord is the way of obedience to His commands and ministry to others.
The servant is to be faithful, diligent and vigilant. Many of wealthy land owners were surrounded by heavy stone and block walls. They were fortified against roving bands of robbers. Men were assigned to stand watch at the gates, restricting access, announcing special guests and warning of approaching threats. The watchman’s job was not an easy one of dozing beside the front door. His job was a challenging job of being always on the alert, always ready, always watchful to not miss a thing. Christians are to be standing in constant readiness, watching he will not caught by surprise when Jesus returns. This watchfulness is not trying to figure out when He is going to return so the Christian can scramble and get everything ready in time. The watchful Christian is always in a state of readiness. Be vigilant that everything be prepared and we not be caught by surprise. Vigilance is not easy, but it is necessary.
The right response to the sorrows of this world, the coming tribulations and the certain return of our Savior is not stock piling food, selling all one’s belongings or fearing the end of the world. The right response is faithful, diligent service that the Christian may be always ready for the moment of Jesus’ return. Heed the words of Matthew Henry, “Learn to look forward in a right manner.”