Thursdays With Spurgeon—The Plan Of The Cross

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.

The Plan Of The Cross

What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. (1 Corinthians 2:12) 

     The course of our fallen race has been a succession of failures. Whenever there has been an apparent rise, it has been followed by a real fall. Into ever-increasing darkness the human mind seems resolved to plunge itself in its struggles after a false light. When men have been fools, they have danced in a delirium of sin. When they have been sober, they have given themselves up to a phantom wisdom of their own that has revealed their folly more than ever. It is a sad story, the story of mankind! Read it in the light of God’s Word and it will bring tears from your very heart.

     The only hope for man was that God should interpose. And He has interposed, as though He began a new creation or worked a resurrection out of the kingdom of death. God has come into human history and here the bright lights begin. … See yonder avalanche rushing down the steep mountainside? Such is humanity left to itself. Lo, God in Christ Jesus throws Himself in the way. He so interposes as to be crushed beneath the descending rocks. But beloved, He rises from the dreadful burial. He stops the avalanche in its terrible path. He hurls back the tremendous mass and changes the whole aspect of history. … 

     The plan of the Cross is to conquer death by death, to remove sin by the endurance of the penalty, to work mightily by suffering terribly, and to glorify Christ by shame.

From Grace For Grace

This sermon reminds me of the poignant words from Isaac Watts—

When I survey the wondrous Cross 
On which the Prince of Glory died, 
My richest gain I count but loss, 
And pour contempt on all my pride. 
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, 
Save in the death of Christ my God! 
All the vain things that charm me most, 
I sacrifice them to His blood.
 

All of man’s attempts to control his universe, or determine his fate, or even make himself acceptable to God have been an abysmal failure. So God Himself stepped in, but He came in a way that no one could have imagined and no one could claim as their idea. The prophet Isaiah said it this way, “The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, He was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so His own arm achieved salvation for Him, and His own righteousness sustained Him” (Isaiah 59:15-16). 

It is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone that we have hope of our salvation. And for that we give all glory to God alone. Sola Deo gloria!

 

Why We Pray For Government Leaders

…the Lord filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel (Ezra 6:22).

King Darius didn’t just allow the Israelites to worship God at the temple, he assisted them in reestablishing worship at the temple! He did this because God changed his attitude. 

Nearly 60 years later, King Artaxerxes did the same thing for Ezra: “the king had granted him everything he asked for, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him” (7:6). Artaxerxes gave Ezra and the returning Israelite exiles…

  • … authority 
  • … provisions 
  • … tax exemptions (vv. 14, 20-22, 24) 

Ezra says again that this was all due to God putting this in Artaxerxes’ heart: Praise be to the Lord, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem this way (vv. 27-28).

Daniel declares that all of the world leaders are in that position of leadership because God placed them there. The apostle Paul teaches us that government officials are God’s servants and that we are to pray for them (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-2). 

God can change the attitude of even the most hard-hearted, godless leader. Not just change their attitude, but give God’s people favor with that leader. 

Don’t become frustrated—pray. 

Don’t get discouraged—pray. 

Pray, pray, pray for all of God’s servants who are in leadership over us. God has a plan. All of history is His story, and He will change attitudes so that His servants fulfill His plan. 

King And Commoner

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus… (Ezra 1:1). 

Ezra begins as 2 Chronicles ends: with the proclamation of Cyrus allowing the Israelites to return to Jerusalem. 

The Babylonians defeated the Assyrians, who were then defeated by the Medes, who were themselves defeated by the Persians under Cyrus II. This was a powerful man who claimed “all the kingdoms of the earth” as his possession. (v. 2). 

Yet this conquering king who was called Cyrus the Great had his heart directed by God. 

Among the Israelite exiles that returned to Jerusalem were princes, priests, Levites, servants, and common people of every stripe. These exiles were rulers of nothing. 

Yet these people also had their hearts moved by God (v. 5)—42,360 of them, to be precise. 

The same God who moved the heart of the most powerful king on earth also moved the hearts of common people. God had a plan to fulfill and He knew exactly which hearts to move at the precise time to bring about His purpose. God is sovereignly in control. All of history—including all the people in history—is His story. 

The king is not too powerful and the common citizen is not too small to be used by God. 

Let me make that statement more personal: All of the “great” people on earth today are not too powerful to be used by God, nor are you too small to be used by Him. 

Will you say “yes” when He moves your heart to action?

They Came For Freedom (book review)

I was first introduced to Jay Milbrandt through his book The Daring Heart Of David Livingston. I was so captivated by Jay’s writing style that I had to seek out more of his books. They Came For Freedom is the story of the first pilgrims that came to this land we now call the United States of America. 

Jay uses his training as an attorney to sift through the voluminous historical documentation that was available for him to use in the writing of this book. Just as an attorney is trained to evaluate the evidence to be presented in court in light of the biases of a witness, Jay does the same thing with the many people who documented the story of the pilgrims. 

What Jay really wanted to try to capture in this history was the reasons why people wanted to come to this new world. Were there religious motivations? Were there commercial considerations? Were they just adventurers or maybe malcontents? So Jay goes back further into history to set the stage and give us some of the motivations that went into the decision to make such an arduous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. 

In reading this book, undoubtedly you will hear some names of people and places that sound familiar to you. But I’ll bet you are going to see these people and places in a way that your school history books never presented. I found this book absolutely fascinating! I felt about They Came For Freedom the same way I did about Jay’s book on Dr. David Livingston: This is history that reads like a novel. 

You may think the story of the first pilgrims coming to these shores is so well known that this book isn’t going to be worth your time, but I can assure you that you are guaranteed to learn something you never knew before. Well done, Jay! 

Five Presidents (book review)

Some of my favorite books to read are in the categories of history and leadership. Five Presidents by Clint Hill is a treasure-trove of both history and leadership, giving us a front-row seat to the leadership styles of five United States presidents. 

Mr. Hill was on the presidential protection detail for Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford. During his time, America experienced several “firsts” and Mr. Hill was right there to see them firsthand. During this time in our country’s history, only one of these presidents was elected, reelected, and finished both of his terms as president: Dwight Eisenhower. President Kennedy was assassinated, President Johnson finished JFK’s term but withdrew from running for reelection, President Nixon resigned during his second term, and President Ford became the only president to serve as both president and vice president without being elected to either office and then was defeated in his reelection bid. 

Five Presidents is not only an eye-opening, behind-the-scenes look at key historical events during the 1960s and ’70s, but it is also an informative study on the different leadership styles of these five unique men. Eisenhower ran the executive branch like a general, Kennedy was an idealist, Johnson used brute force, Nixon started off well and allowed his own insecurities to derail him, and Ford served as the “ordinary man” trying to clean up the mess left by his predecessor. 

Mr. Hill also documents the changes in the operations of the Secret Service. When he began his assignment, there were no bullet-proof presidential vehicles, no protection for presidential candidates (only elected officials), no permanent residence for the vice president, and no Air Force Two. By the time he retired, all of these things—and many more—had been implemented. 

Whether you enjoy history, leadership, or presidential biographies, Five Presidents will be a highly enjoyable and informative book for you. 

Poetry Saturday—My Country

America! my own dear land,
O, ‘tis a lovely land to me;
I thank my God that I was born
Where man is free!

Our land—it is a glorious land—
And wide it spreads from sea to sea,
And sister States in Union join
And all are free.

And equal laws we all obey, 
To kings we never bend the knee;
We may not own any Lord but God
Where all are free.

We’ve lofty hills and sunny vales
And streams that roll to either sea,
And through this large and varied land
Alike we’re free.

You hear the sounds of healthful toil,
And youth’s gay shout and childhood’s glee,
And every one in safety dwells 
And all are free.

We’re brothers all from South to North,
One bond will draw us to agree;
We love this country of our birth,
We love the free. 

We love the name of Washington,
I lisped it on my father’s knee,
And we shall ne’er forget the name 
While we are free.

My Land, my own dear native Land,
Thou art a lovely land to me;
I bless my God that I was born
Where man is free! —Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (1788–1879) 

Faith Of Our Fathers (book review)

I almost want to quote George Santayana every time I post a review about an historical book, but for Faith Of Our Fathers compiled by Eric Buehrer it is especially appropriate. So allow me to quote two sage pieces of wisdom from Santayana—

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” —AND—  “A child educated only in school is an uneducated child.” 

I am flabbergasted at how little time is spent in public schools educating our kids on the founding of our country. And frequently when it is taught, the lessons seem to go out of their way to not mention the biblical principles that went into crafting our nation’s founding documents. 

I have become a big fan of Gateways To Better Education. The founder of Gateways, Eric Buehrer, has put together a very helpful book for parents to help their children learn about the Christian faith of our Founding Fathers. 

Eric has given us a very short biography of our Founders, a quote attributed to them, Bible verses that undergird that Founder’s quote, and then some discussion questions for the family. Parents, please make full use of this great resource! 

And best of all: You can download the PDF version of this book FREE by clicking this link.

Warnings To The Churches (book review)

J.C. Ryle died in 1900, placing his writings two centuries before our own. And yet his Warnings To The Churches sound an alarm that is just as relevant to the Church and her leaders as if it were written last week! 

Bishop Ryle spoke and wrote with an authority that sounded much like the Old Testament prophets thundering, “Thus saith the Lord!” And at the same time, you can also hear his ardent love for Christ’s Bride as tenderly as the beloved disciple John, who called himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Taken together, that means Ryle’s words are steeped in authoritative, loving Scripture. 

He pulls no punches in pointing out how even Church leaders have bought into a definition of “church” that doesn’t quite line up with the way Jesus defined it. He reminds pastors of their heavy responsibility to preach the Word of God in all its purity. Just like Jesus, Ryle warns church leaders of the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And he calls for loving confrontation of those leaders who have succumbed to the “leaven” just as Paul confronted Peter. 

This is a challenging book to read simply because of the gut-level honest introspection that it will require. I certainly couldn’t read through this book thinking I’ve got my act together, and I doubt few others will be able to either. If you are a church leader and you would like Ryle’s iron to sharpen your iron, Warnings To The Churches is a definite must-read for you.

All Of HIStory Is His Story

There were the kings who reigned in Edom before any Israelite king reigned (Genesis 36:31). 

When Rebecca was pregnant with twins, they jostled each other in her womb. God said this was an indication of what was to come of the two nations that would arise from her sons. God also said that the older son would serve the younger son (25:23).

The nation of Edom was a fierce but unstable people. Just take a look at the succession of their kings to see the power struggles at every transition. But eventually, King Saul would war against Edom, and King David would subjugate them—making the prophecy true that the older son served the younger son.

What went into the fulfillment of this prophecy?

  • Esau (also known as Edom) short-sightedly sold his birthright
  • Jacob and Rebecca conspired to get Isaac to bless Jacob instead of Esau
  • Esau married Canaanite wives, which disappointed his parents and strained relations with them
  • God blessed both Esau and Jacob so that Esau had to move to the region that would eventually bear his name: Edom

Along the way, Esau had a son with his Canaanite wife named Eliphaz. Eliphaz had a child with a concubine named Timna—a son that grew into one of Israel’s most deadly foes: the Amalekites!

Yet all of this was foreseen by God and fulfilled His pre-ordained plan. Once again: All of History is His story. There is never any need for us to worry about turmoil—political or otherwise—because God is in sovereign control… always! 

(By the way, this is not an isolated incident. There are countless examples in the Bible of how God’s sovereign plan is fulfilled, despite man’s best efforts to derail it. Check out another example here.) 

Is There Room In Your Heart For Jesus?

I think all of you can finish this poem: ’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. 

Haddon Sundblom’s painting for Coca-Cola

This poem was written in 1837 by Clement Moore. Most people assume the title of the poem is the first line of the poem, but Moore’s original title is actually “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” And we all know what St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) looks like, right? Actually, this well-known painting of Santa Claus is the creation of Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola in 1930, but it’s not too far off from the original St. Nicholas. 

Nicholas of Myra

Nicholas of Myra was a Christian bishop who lived in the 3rd century AD. It was discovered by some of his peers that he would anonymously throw bags of money through the open windows of the poor people in his town. Some of the coins landed in these poor families’ shoes and socks as they were drying by the fireplace. The myth grew that without your stockings hung by the fireplace you wouldn’t receive any gifts. After Nicholas died in 342 AD he was declared a saint, so his popular practice of blessing the poor spread and took on a life of its own. 

I’m struck by a contrast from the line in Moore’s poem that “the stockings were all hung by the chimney with care.” This tells us how well people prepare for the “arrival” of St. Nicholas each Christmas, but let’s contrast that with how ill-prepared—if they even know they need to prepare!—people are for the absolutely certain fact of the arrival of King Jesus! 

Just as the vast majority of Israelites weren’t prepared for the Messiah’s first Advent in Bethlehem in the 1st century, how many people are still unprepared for His second Advent which could occur at any moment? 

Think about the contrasts between the legend of St. Nicholas (i.e. Santa Claus) and the certainty of Jesus Christ:

  1. St. Nicholas was a poor monk who has now become richer than imaginable. Jesus is the King of kings who left all His riches and kingly rights to become poor. 
  2. St. Nicholas was a servant who has now been elevated to royalty status. Jesus is Absolute Royalty who became a servant. 
  3. St. Nicholas lives in a castle at the North Pole; there wasn’t even a room for Jesus at His birth, or even later in His adult life. 
  4. St. Nicholas is a fable that people venerate; Jesus is the Truth that people mock. 
  5. St. Nicholas left a legend with nothing of lasting value; Jesus is Absolute Reality and He is coming again (see Hebrews 2:14; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 2:7; Matthew 8:20; Acts 2:22-23).

There was no room in any inn, although Joseph knocked and knocked. Jesus is still knocking today, except today it’s on the door of your heart (Revelation 3:20). Will you let Him in? Or will you continue to allow your heart and mind to be dominated by myths and legends? 

Advent is a time for reflection. I don’t think we could ask a more heart-searching question than this—

Am I more prepared for St. Nicholas than I am for King Jesus?

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