The Gift Promised

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Have you ever seen kids tearing into a Christmas present and then being disappointed that what they got wasn’t what they wanted? They may say something like, “This isn’t what I put on my wish list!” 

From the response of the religious leaders in the Gospels, it appears that the gift of Jesus on that original “Christmas morning” was very similar. It’s almost like they were saying, “This isn’t the type of Messiah we wanted!” They wanted someone to give them freedom from the Romans, but their Heavenly Father wanted them to have something far bigger and greater: Eternal freedom from the penalty of sin. 

The first humans had the joy of being innocent in God’s presence, where they had everything they needed. But satan got Adam and Eve to focus on something they wanted, and that sin of disobedience brought an immediate separation. They now feared the nearness of God. 

There were immediate and painful consequences for their sin, but God wanted the heaviest of penalties to fall on Himself. To foreshadow this, God sacrificed an innocent animal to cover their nakedness, showing us what the gift of Jesus would do for us (Genesis 3:1-21). 

In The Holy War, John Bunyan tells the story of the town of Mansoul enslaved to Diabolus. The crafty serpent plays on their fears by reminding them how terrible it would be if they allowed Holy God to come near them while they were in their sinful state: 

“‘Gentlemen,’ quoth he, ‘and my faithful subjects, if it is true that this summoner hath said concerning the greatness of their King, by His terror you will always be kept in bondage, and so be made to sneak. Yea, how can you now, though He is at a distance, endure to think of such a Mighty One? And if not to think of Him while at a distance, how can you endure to be in His presence?’” 

Diabolus even tried to make their slavery to sin look like freedom: “I, your prince, am familiar with you, and you may play with me as you would with a grasshopper. Consider, therefore, what is for your profit, and remember the immunities that I have granted you.’”  

As John Piper reminds us, “Christmas is for freedom.” Indeed, that’s just what we see on the first “Christmas morning” in words like salvation, no fear, and great joy (Matthew 1:21; Luke 2:10-11). 

Turning again to The Holy War, here’s what the Father said to His Son: “Wherefore the King called to Him Emmanuel, His Son, who said, ‘Here am I, My Father.’ Then said the King, ‘Thou knowest, as I do Myself, the condition of the town of Mansoul, and what We have purposed, and what Thou hast done to redeem it. Come now, therefore, My Son, and prepare Thyself.’”  

Immanuel (or the Romanized spelling Emmanuel) is the One who removes the separation caused by our sin, and rejoins us to God. That prefix “im” means with, and the suffix “El” means God. The root word means God’s kinsmen. Immanuel comes to repair what was severed by taking sin’s penalty on Himself, and allowing us to once again enjoy the closeness of kinship with our Heavenly Father (Matthew 1:22-23; Galatians 4:4-7). 

When the people saw this Gift on Christmas morning, they said, “This isn’t what we wanted! We wanted a rich, powerful, conquering King. One who would send the Romans running in fear!” As a result, very few unwrapped this Heavenly Gift. But God reminded them, “That may be what you wanted, but I have given what you need. I want you to have not just temporary freedom from the Romans, but eternal freedom from your sin so that you can be forever in My presence!” 

This is what Jesus rejoiced to do for us with the Gift of His life, death, and resurrection. One more passage from The Holy War tells us, “Then said the King’s Son, ‘Thy law is within My heart: I delight to do Thy will. This is the day that I have longed for, and the work that I have waited for all this while. … I will go and will deliver from Diabolus, and from his power, Thy perishing town of Mansoul. My heart has been often pained within Me for the miserable town of Mansoul; but now it is rejoiced, but now it is glad.’” (The timing for the Incarnation of Jesus and even these words of Immanuel Himself are found in Hebrews 2:14-15; 10:5-7). 

God’s love is too great to be limited to just meeting our wants because in our immaturity and sinfulness we don’t know what we really need—but He does. So His love sent Immanuel to us. 

The Gift was given to us at Christmas, but in our immaturity and shortsightedness, we didn’t realize the full impact of this Gift until Jesus rose victoriously from the grave! Now by placing our faith in His completed work, we can be rejoined to God and live in unshakable hope of an eternity with Him! 

If you would like to follow along with all of the messages in this series called Christmas Unwrapped At Easter, please check out the links I’ve shared here.

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Letting Go To Hold On

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In Stephen’s sermon, he notes something interesting about Abraham: “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still living in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you’” (Acts 7:2-3). 

That word “before” especially caught my attention—“before he lived in Haran.” 

In Genesis 11:31, we read that Terah (who is Abraham’s father) is the one who takes Abraham and Lot to set out for Canaan, but that they only made it as far as Haran. Could it be that God did speak to Abraham in the land of Ur, and that his influence on his father was so deep that Terah decided to answer the call too? Yet God called Abraham—not Terah—so Terah apparently was not as committed to obey God’s call. 

Terah’s youngest son Haran died before they began the journey. Terah didn’t get very far into their journey toward Canaan until in grief over his dead son, he stopped and he settled. 

Was Terah angry at God? Was he fearful about what may happen to the rest of his family on the long journey? Was he so wrapped up in his grief over his youngest son that he couldn’t move forward? 

Whatever the case, not only did Terah stop, but so did Abraham. 

But God, in His incredible graciousness, spoke to Abraham again, renewing the call to follow Him. 

Stephen said that Abraham left Haran “after the death of his father” (Acts 7:4). But let’s do the math: Terah was 70 years old when Abraham was born and lived to be 205 years old (Genesis 11:26), but Abraham arrived in Canaan when he was 76 years old (Genesis 16:3, 16). That means that Terah was still physically alive when Abraham left him. 

In other words, Abraham had to love God more than his grief-stricken, grief-paralyzed father, to the point that he had to consider his father as dead. He had to do this in order to follow God. 

Jesus says something similar to those who would be His followers today: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father… he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). 

That’s a sobering word! We have to value obedience to God above all else. We have to believe that God is our supreme reward, and that absolutely nothing on this earth compares to the surpassing greatness of knowing Him. 

Jesus gave us this promise—

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for My sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:28-29)

Abraham shows us the principle that we should all realize: Following the call of God is so worth it! Letting go of this world so that you can hold on to your Savior is the best decision you could ever make! 

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Poetry Saturday—Not Divided

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E’en for the dead, I will not bind
My soul to grief,
Death cannot long divide,
For it is not as though the rose
that
Climbed my garden wall,
Had blossomed on the other side?
Death doth hide,
But not divide!
Thou art but on Christ’s other side,
Thou art with Christ
Christ with me;
In Him united still are we. —Alice Frodsham

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Poetry Saturday—Thou Didst Leave Thy Royal Throne

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Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth,
And in great humility.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree;
But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God,
In the deserts of Galilee.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee

Thou camest, O Lord, with the living word
That should set Thy people free;
But with mocking scorn, and with crown of thorn,
They bore Thee to Calvary.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

When the heavens shall ring, and the angels sing,
At Thy coming to victory,
Let Thy voice call me home, saying “Yet there is room,
There is room at My side for thee.”
My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus,
When Thou comest and callest for me. —E.S. Elliot

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Poetry Saturday—Day By Day

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Day by day and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best—
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Ev’ry day the Lord Himself is near me
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear, and cheer me,
He whose name is Counselor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then in eve’ry tribulation
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till I reach the promised land. —Lina Sandell

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Faultless

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

Faultless  

To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude 24-25) 

     I would rather turn to the blessings of which Jude speaks. He seems to ascribe in this doxology three blessings, at least, to the power of the Lord Jesus. The first is the ability to keep you from stumbling, and for this, I am sure, the highest praise is due when you consider for a moment the dangerous way. In some respects, the path to heaven is very safe. It is so as God made it. But in other respects, there is no road as dangerous as the road to eternal life. It is beset with difficulties. … One false step (and how easy it is to take that if divine grace is absent), and down we go! …  

     Only Christ has the power to take us into heaven. … Christ preserves His people though they have offended God and daily provoke His justice. And He does more, for He presents them to the King of kings in the high court of heaven itself! …  

     We proceed to notice the condition in which the saints are to be when presented—they are to be faultless—for our Lord never stops short of perfection in His work of love. … Our Savior will carry His people through this life, safe from falling, and He will present them, how?—faultless! … The righteousness of Jesus Christ will make the saint who wears it so fair that he will be positively faultless! Yes, perfect in the sight of God!

From Christians Kept In Time And Glorified In Eternity

Reading these stirring words from Charles Spurgeon, I cannot help but recall the equally stirring lyrics of this Edward Mote hymn:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name

When darkness veils His lovely face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood
When all around my soul gives way
He then is all my hope and stay

When He shall come with trumpet sound
O may I then in Him be found
Dressed in His righteousness alone
Faultless to stand before the throne

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Secure Forever

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

Secure Forever  

     Our first parent, Adam, lived in the midst of happiness and peace in the garden. Unlike ourselves he had no depravity, no bias toward evil. God made him upright. He was perfectly pure, and it was in his own will whether he should sin or not. The balance hung evenly in his hands. 

     But have you forgotten how on that sad day he took of the forbidden fruit and ate and thereby cursed himself and all of us! … When you recollect the paradise he left, the happiness and peace that have forever passed away through his sin, do you not hear the voice that says to you, as a depraved and fallen creature, ‘Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall’ (1 Corinthians 10:12)? Conscious of your own weakness as compared with your parent Adam, you are ready to cry out, ‘O my God, how can I stand where Adam falls?’ 

     But here comes the joyous thought that Christ, who has begun with you, will never cease till He has perfected you! Can you help singing with Jude, ‘Now to Him who is able to keep us from stumbling’?”

From Christians Kept In Time And Glorified In Eternity

When the devil says, “Your most recent sin made your salvation iffy,” you remind him what God says: “The strong love of My Son will hold you secure forever!” 

To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude 1:24-25)

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Poetry Saturday—Sun Of My Soul

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Sun of my soul, Thou Savior dear,
It is not night if Thou be near;
Oh, may no earthborn cloud arise
To hide Thee from Thy servant’s eyes.

When the soft dews of kindly sleep
My wearied eyelids gently steep,
Be my last thought of how sweet to rest
Forever on my Savior’s breast.

Abide with me from morn till eve,
For without Thee I cannot live;
Abide with me when night is nigh,
For without Thee I dare not die.

Come near, and bless us when we wake,
Ere through the world our way we take;
Till in the ocean of Thy love
We lose ourselves in Thee above. —John Keble

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The Story Isn’t Over Yet

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One of the things I enjoy about my Apple Watch is the connection I have with others who also use an Apple Watch. For instance, I get notified when my wife has finished a workout, and one of the pre-set replies I could choose is, “I’ve got questions!” That’s a funny way of me saying, “How did you complete that workout?!” 

In Psalm 75 and Psalm 76, Asaph tells us how God will deal with the wicked. But then Psalm 77 begins with Asaph using words like, “My soul refused to be comforted, my spirit is overwhelmed,” and then he launches into the tough questions like: “How long is this going to last? Has God forgotten me? Have I fallen out of favor with God? Has His mercy dried up? Can God keep what He has promised? Is God angry with me?” When I read all this, I feel like saying, “Asaph, I’ve got questions!” 

Yet, these complaints of Asaph ring true to real life. Like when a friend called me last week and started our conversation by asking, “Why can’t things just go easy for me?”

Here’s the simple answer: The Story isn’t over yet. We are in a battle, and the enemy of our soul is still trying to take us out, or at least shut us up. 

In Psalm 77, Asaph tells his story to Jeduthun (a Levite worship leader whose name means praising) in four chapters, with a Selah for each of the breaks between the chapters. 

Chapter 1—Distress (vv. 1-3)

The word distress means confronted by an adversary. Ever been there? Every follower of God has been, so Asaph invites us to Selah: pause to contemplate things like (a) Is this distress causing me to reevaluate the foundation on which I stand? (b) What is it God is shaking in my life? When God shakes things up, it is to cause us to remember and muse about the ONLY sure foundation that can withstand any storm (see Matthew 7:24-27). 

Chapter 2—Questioning (vv. 4-9) 

Notice the words Asaph uses: thought, remembered, mused, inquired. He is asking those tough questions, but he is asking them in a way that he can carefully consider the answers. That means he is really taking a Selah pause with each question. I think he has come to this conclusion: “Aren’t all these really just rhetorical questions? And isn’t the answer to all of them a resounding ‘NO!’?” If you aren’t sure the answer to all of these questions is no, please read Romans 8:31-39.

Chapter 3—Recalling (vv. 10-15) 

Notice the continuation of the words: thought, remember, meditate, consider. He also asks another question in v. 13 which he then answers in the next two verses. His call to Selah here is another pause to reflect: “Has God lost His power? Has He changed His mind?” And once again the answer is a loud and clear, “NO!” (see Isaiah 59:1; Hebrews 13:8) 

One of the important takeaways from this stanza of Psalm 77 is this: Looking back in gratitude at what God has done allows me to look forward in hope to what He is still going to do. My remembering what God has done in the past leads to: 

  1. Release from the darkness 
  2. Renewed praise 
  3. Recovered strength 
  4. Refocused outlook 

Chapter 4—Hope (vv. 16-20) 

Asaph says, “Look what God did! And since He is the same today as He was yesterday, guess what He’s still able to do!” We know this because the Bible says, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through Him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20). 

Remember I said earlier that God isn’t done telling His story yet? God isn’t done yet, He knows His Story, and His Story is still being told. But He’s also already told us how His story will end (see Revelation 21:4-6). And the end of His story is really just the beginning of the Real Story! 

C.S. Lewis said it this way in the closing words of The Last Battle:

“And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page; now at last they were beginning Chapter 1 of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.” 

When you find yourself saying, “I’ve got questions: How long is this going to last,” Selah to remember that the Story isn’t over yet. The Storyteller knows how it ends, and He promises us: But what of that? For I consider that the sufferings of this present time—this present life—are not worth being compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us! (Romans 8:18 AMP)

If you have missed any of the messages in our Selah series, you can find the complete list by clicking here.

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Poetry Saturday—Upon A Life I Have Not Lived

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

Upon a Life I have not lived,
Upon a Death I did not die,
Another’s Life; Another’s Death,
I stake my whole eternity.

Not on the tears which I have shed,
Not on the sorrows I have known,
Another’s tears; Another’s griefs,
On these I rest, on these alone.

O Jesus, Son of God,
I build on what Thy Cross has done for me;
There both my death and life I read,
My guilt, and pardon there I see.

Lord, I believe; O deal with me,
As one who has Thy Word believed!
I take the gift, Lord, look on me,
As one who has Thy gift received. —Horatius Bonar

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