Sovereign Love

Jesus is on His passionate journey toward the Cross. Every step on this journey is a step of love. 

After Jesus finished His last supper with His disciples, they all went to one of their favorite places to pray—the Garden of Gethsemane. It was a place they all knew well. Including Judas, who had been looking for an opportunity to turn Jesus over to the religious authorities when He was out of the public eye. 

Jesus knew this time was coming (Matthew 10:33-34; John 13:1, 3; 18:4), and His knowing prompted His serving. So we can say that His foot-washing service was as much a reminder to Himself as it was to His followers. 

After they entered the garden to pray, events began to unfold at a fast pace, ultimately culminating in Jesus being crucified. 

But let us never forget that through all of this horrific, inhumane mistreatment and torture, Jesus remains the King of kings, the Son of God. In fact, very God Himself.

The Jewish religious leaders knew this too (John 8:54-59; 10:31-33). And without “knowing it” the soldiers that came to arrest Jesus knew it as well.

Just look at the absolute authority of the King of kings. Grown men—religious leaders and hardened soldiers—fall to their knees at just three words: “I am He.” 

Christ’s kingdom has overruling authority. It collects no taxes, it has no standing army, it requires no checks-and-balances because its Sovereign IS Truth and Love. This unequaled, unrivaled power was contained in Jesus—“You would have no authority over Me unless it was given you from above.” 

Which makes His submission to Pilate and others even more amazing! One word from Him could have crushed legions and toppled governments—yet for love’s sake, He submitted. Let that sink in—Sovereignty submitted.

What appeared to be the cruelty of man was the sovereignty of God. 

No one can take My life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what My Father has commanded. (John 10:18) 

“Christ’s death was not the death of a martyr, who sinks at last overwhelmed by enemies, but the death of a triumphant conqueror, who knows that even in dying He wins for Himself and His people a kingdom and a crown of glory.” —J.C. Ryle 

Christ has bought us out from under the doom of that impossible system by taking the curse for our wrongdoing upon Himself. For it is written in the Scripture, “Anyone who is hanged on a tree is cursed” (as Jesus was hung upon a wooden cross). (Galatians 3:13 TLB) 

Sovereign love submitted to the cruelty of man SO THAT you and I could be saved from the inescapable doom that will inevitably crash down on us. Jesus loved us so much that He allowed the Cross to happen to Him. 

The question now remains—what are you doing with this sovereign love? 

Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Have you received this gift He willingly, lovingly purchased for you on the Cross? 

If you have, let me ask you another question: Christian, are you living in a way that leads others to this sovereign love too (John 13:34-35)?

Anytime you see the Cross, remember what sovereign love did there for you. 

What Are You Doing With God’s Story?

…You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above… (John 19:11)

As Daniel says, “The Most High is sovereign over all the kingdoms of the earth, and He gives them to whom He pleases.” 

God is sovereign. All of History is His story!

Pilate tried to change the story—twice he said, “I find no fault in Him” (vv. 4, 6). But still his caving in to the chief priests fulfilled His story.

The soldiers were looking for personal gain (v. 24), and yet their greed unwittingly fulfilled His story.

Jesus knew what was happening, and purposely let people treat Him a certain way to fulfill His story (vv. 28-30, 36-37). 

God is still telling His story today.

The question is—am I willfully fighting against it (like Pilate), or ignorantly fulfilling it (like the soldiers), or obediently submitting to it (like Jesus)?

Thursdays With Oswald—Jeremiah 5

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

Jeremiah 5

[These are notes from Oswald Chambers’ lecture on Jeremiah 5.] 

     The Bible is not so much a revelation about God as a revelation of God who is adequate to deal with the worst. …  

     The tumbling and turmoil in human history is caused everywhere by the consuming fire of God rather than by the futile rage of the devil. In reading history the saint sees that the great presence and power is God, not the devil. …

     Hordes of barbarians and powers of worldly dominion are unconscious of God, but God uses them for His own purpose. Nothing happens by chance. When our Lord stood before Pilate He said, “You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11). The tyranny of the Roman Empire over God’s people was the providential order of God, and Jesus recognized that this was so, He did not start a revolution, or say, “We must fight against this” (John 18:36). Perils are clear to God’s mind alone, but they mean panic to everyone who does not know the mind of God. …  

     We learn the marvelous truth that we may become more than conquerors through our right relationship to God over everything that may come against us. …  

     In order to make proper changes in a nation’s life, you must change the people’s wants. 

From Notes On Jeremiah 

All over the globe, it appears that evil is holding sway and that sin is running rampant. It could appear as if the devil is winning, and Christians are just desperately trying to hold on to the end. But is that what it means when the Bible says that we are more than conquerors? 

Let’s be clear about this—God is in control. 

God may use barbarians, dictators, and evil people to accomplish His purposes, but they are all under His control. These forces have bounds past which they may not go. Any power they have has been give to them from above. 

If we forget this, we can easily fall into a hand-wringing panic. But let’s remind ourselves again and again that God is in control! If our relationship with Him is right, then we truly soar over these temporal upheavals; we become more than conquerors through Him Who loves us!

Thursdays With Oswald—The Hardy Annuals

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

The Hardy Annuals

     By “hardy annuals” I mean the healthy-minded sinners. … How are we to get these irreligious people who are quite happy and healthy-minded to the place where they want Jesus? … 

     I want us to look at three types of pagans—Gallio, Herod and Pilate. …. 

     “And Gallio cared for none of those things” [Acts 18:12-15]. He said in effect, “I have nothing whatever to do with your religious quarrels, I am not here to decide questions of your law for you.” The opponents of Christianity are not weak, they are opponents who are able to ignore us; so the first thing to do is to examine and see what kind of Gospel we are preaching. … Have I a pet doctrine I am lifting up? If I have, then these healthy-minded folk will simply heap ridicule on me; but immediately I preach Christ, something happens—the Spirit of God begins to work where I cannot. …

     Herod is a rare type of pagan, he is obscene; he was bad, unmentionably bad, and you will find that when he saw Jesus Christ face to face he was not the slightest bit troubled. Why? He had heard the voice of God before through John the Baptist, and he had ordered that voice to be silent [Mark 6:17-18]. Herod is the presentation of the awful possibility of a fixed character, absolutely fixed in immorality. Jesus Christ did not awaken one tremor of conscience in him….  Did you ever notice what is recorded? “Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad” [Luke 23:8-9]—why? For the same reason that people go to a picture show, they want to see things. We read that Herod questioned Jesus in many words; “but He answered him nothing.” … 

     Pilate represents the type of pagan who always seeks his own interests; that type is known to us all today. People belong to certain churches because it is better for their business; or they shift their membership to other churches because it is more convenient for business. A once-born man, who acts from this point of view is an opportunist. “If it is Jesus Christ’s Gospel that is in the ascendancy, then I will use it to serve my own ends.” You have to bring that man face to face with Christ, not with your experience, but with Jesus Christ Himself. … 

     Rely on the Holy Ghost as the most practical Being you ever knew, and live among the facts of God’s Word and among human facts, and people will recognize Jesus Christ through you. … The next time you come across a ‘hardy annual,’ see that you lay hold of God for that one until Jesus Christ is presented by the power of the Holy Ghost, and then you will see the altered face, the altered attitude, and the altered life. 

From Workmen Of God

Well said!

Good Friday—It Is Finished

Your Sorrow Will Turn To JoyThis is from a chapter in Your Sorrow Will Turn To Joy, and is probably one of the best depictions of Good Friday I have read. Jon Bloom writes—

It is Friday, April 3, A.D. 33. It is the darkest day in human history, though most humans have no clue of this. In Rome, Tiberius attends to the demanding business of the empire. Throughout the inhabited world, babies are born, people eat and drink, marry and are given in marriage, barter in marketplaces, sail merchant ships, and fight battles. Children play, old women gossip, young men lust, and people die. 

But today, one death, one brutal, gruesome death, the worst and best of all human deaths, will leave upon the canvas of human history the darkest brushstroke. In Jerusalem, God the Son, the Creator of all that is (John 1:3), will be executed. 

The Garden 

The Jewish day dawns with night, and never has it been more fitting, since today the hour has come and the power of darkness (Luke 22:53). Jesus is in Gethsemane, where He has prayed with loud cries and tears, being heard by His Father (Heb. 5:7) whose will will be done. Jesus hears noises and looks up. Torches and hushed voices signal the arrest party’s arrival. 

Jesus wakes His sleepy friends who are jarred alert at the sight of their brother, Judas, betraying his Rabbi with a kiss. Soldiers and servants encircle Jesus. Peter, flushed with anger, pulls out his sword and lunges at those nearest Jesus. Malchus flinches, but not enough. Blinding pain and blood surge where his ear had been. Voices speak, but Malchus only hears the screaming wound, which he’s grabbed with both hands. He feels a hand touch his hands and the pain vanishes. Under his hands is an ear. Stunned, he looks at Jesus, already being led away. Disciples are scattering. Malchus looks down at his bloody hands. 

The Sanhedrin 

Jesus is led brusquely into the house of Annas, a former High Priest, who questions Him about His teaching. Jesus knows this informal interrogation is meant to catch Him disoriented and unguarded. He is neither, and gives this manipulative leader nothing. Rather, He refers Annas to his hearers and is struck with irony by a Jewish officer for showing disrespect. Frustrated, Annas sends Jesus on to his son-in-law Caiaphas, the current High Priest. 

At Caiaphas’s house the trial gets underway quickly. Morning will come fast. The Council needs a damning verdict by daybreak. The examination proceeds as bleary-eyed Sanhedrin members continue to file in. 

The trial has been assembled hastily and witnesses haven’t been screened well. Testimonies don’t line up. Council members look disconcerted. Jesus is silent as a lamb. Irritated and impatient, Caiaphas cuts to the quick: “I adjure You by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt. 26:63). The hour has come. Charged in the name of His Father to answer, Jesus speaks the words that seal the doom for which He had come to endure (John 12:27): “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64). 

In a moment of law-breaking (Lev. 21:10) politically religious theater, Caiaphas tears his robes in feigned outrage and thinly concealed relief over Jesus’s blasphemy. He declares the trial’s end with, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from His own lips” (Luke 22:71). 

As the sun breaks over Jerusalem’s eastern ridge, Judas swings from his own belt, Peter writhes in the grief of his failure, and Jesus’s face is streaked with dried blood and saliva from the pre-dawn sport of the temple police. The Council’s verdict: guilty of blasphemy. Their sentence: death. But it’s a sentence they cannot carry out. Rome refuses to delegate capital punishment. 

The Governor 

Pilate’s mood, already sour over the Sanhedrin’s sudden insistent intrusion so early in the morning, worsens as he grasps the situation. They want him to execute a Galilean “prophet.” His seasoned instincts tell him something isn’t right. He questions Jesus and then tells the Council, “I find no guilt in this Man” (Luke 23:4). 

A game of political chess ensues between Pilate and the Sanhedrin, neither realizing that they are pawns, not kings. Pilate makes a move. As a Galilean, Jesus falls under Herod Antipas’s jurisdiction. Let Herod judge. Herod initially receives Jesus happily, hoping to see a miracle. But Jesus refuses to entertain or even respond. Antipas, disappointed, blocks the move by returning Jesus to Pilate. 

Pilate makes another move. He offers to release Jesus as this year’s annual Passover pardoned prisoner. The Council blocks the move. “Not this man, but Barabbas!” they cry (John 18:40). Pilate is astounded. The Sanhedrin prefers a thief and murderer to this peasant prophet? 

Pilate tries another move. He has Jesus severely flogged and humiliated, hoping to curb the Council’s blood thirst. Again the move is blocked when the Council insists that Jesus must be crucified because “He has made Himself the Son of God” (John 19:7). Check. Pilate’s fear grows. Jesus’s divine claim could threaten Rome. Worse, it could be true. Roman deities supposedly could take on human form. His further questioning of Jesus unnerves him. 

One last move. Pilate tries to persuade the Sanhedrin to release Jesus. One last block and trap. “If you release this Man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12). The Council has Pilate where they want him: cornered. Checkmate. 

And the triune God has the Council, Pilate, and satan where He wants them. They would have no authority over the Son at all unless it had been given them from above (John 19:11). Fallen Jews, Gentiles, and spiritual powers unwittingly collaborate in executing the only innocent death that could possibly grant the guilty life. Checkmate. 

The Cross 

Morning wanes as Jesus stumbles out of the Praetorium, horribly beaten and bleeding profusely. The Roman soldiers had been brutal in their creative cruelty. Thorns have ripped Jesus’s scalp and His back is one grotesque, oozing wound. Golgotha is barely a third of a mile through the Garden Gate, but Jesus has no strength to manage the forty-pound crossbar. Simon of Cyrene is drafted from the crowd. 

Twenty-five minutes later, Jesus is hanging in sheer agony on one of the cruelest instruments of torture ever devised. Nails have been driven through His wrists (which we only know about because of the doubt Thomas will express in a couple days—see John 20:25). A sign above Jesus declares in Greek, Latin, and Aramaic who He is: the King of the Jews. 

The King is flanked on either side by thieves and around Him are gawkers and mockers. “Let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One!” some yell (Luke 23:35). One dying thief even joins in the derision. They do not understand that if the King saves Himself, their only hope for salvation is lost. Jesus asks His Father to forgive them. The other crucified thief sees a Messiah in the mutilated man beside him, and he asks the Messiah to remember him. Jesus’s prayer is beginning to be answered. Hundreds of millions will follow. 

It is mid-afternoon now and the eerie darkness that has fallen has everyone on edge. But for Jesus, the darkness is a horror He has never known. This, more than the nails and thorns and lashings, is what made Him sweat blood in the garden. The Father’s wrath is hitting Him in full force. He is in that moment no longer the Blessed, but the Cursed (Gal. 3:13). He has become sin (2 Cor. 5:21). In terrifying isolation, cut off from His Father and all humans, He screams, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani,” Aramaic for “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46; Ps. 22:1). No greater love (John 15:13), humility (Phil. 2:8), or obedience (Heb. 5:8) has ever or will ever be displayed. 

Shortly after 3:00 P.M., Jesus whispers hoarsely for a drink. In love, He has drained the cup of His Father’s wrath to the dregs. He has born our full curse. There is no debt left to pay and He has nothing left to give. The wine moistens His mouth just enough to say one final word: “It is finished” (John 19:30). And God the Son dies. 

It is the worst and best of all human deaths. For on this tree He bears our sins in His body (1 Pet. 2:24), “the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). And now it is finished.

Misbehaving Government

Misbehaving governmentChristians are to have an “alien” response to earthly governments. Simply stated: the Bible says we should not rail against governing authorities the way Earthlings do. Christians should respond with proper submission (check this out).

But what if those earthly governors are misbehaving? What then?

We can still be in God-honoring submission to them in the way we call out their misbehavior. 

Look at some examples—

  • Daniel asked permission to go against the king’s wishes (Daniel 1:8), proposed an alternative plan (v. 12), but ultimately agreed to submit to the authority’s decision (v. 13).
  • Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego didn’t argue with King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:16-18), but respectfully took their stance for God (notice the use of the phrase “O king” as a title of respect).
  • Peter and John simply stated, “We must obey God rather than human authority” (Acts 5:29).

This is exactly what Jesus told us to do when He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Luke 20:25). Jesus said something very similar to Pilate, when that governor said, “Don’t you realize I have the power to set You free?” Jesus said, “You would have no authority over Me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:10-11).

So how do we respond to misbehaving governors?

[1] With respect to their office.

[2] With reverent fear of God (see 1 Peter 2:17). “Because we reverence God as the Lord of history, we see beyond the fear and intimidation of the moment.” —James W. Thompson

[3] Leaving the results to GodDaniel 3:26-29, 6:16-27; Acts 5:40-42.

[4] With lots of prayer1 Timothy 2:1-4.

Throughout history, Christians have always had the opportunity to confront ungodly governors. HOW they did it is what set them apart from the Earthling response, and what brought glory to God.

Here’s the video of my full message on this topic—

Next Sunday, November 8, is a day of prayer for those facing persecution for their Christian faith around the world. Join us in a time of prayer for them.

Sometimes Your Silence Says A Lot

Silence speaks“Pilate [knew] it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him” (Mark 15:9, 10).

There was no credible evidence against Jesus, and Pilate knew it! Yet, “wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified” (v. 15). Even without evidence, Pilate was still swayed by the noise of the crowd.

How eerily similar to our culture today: Noise trumps evidence; emotions trump facts; the “popular crowd” gets their way.

It was not Christ’s words at this time—but His silence—that had the lasting impact. He did not try to defend Himself of the false charges before Pilate, but committed Himself to God (John 19:11; Luke 23:46). It was this that both amazed Pilate (Mark 5:5), and prompted the centurion to say, “Surely this Man was the Son of God!” (v. 39).

When I simply share the gospel, God will confirm His Word with miracles (Mark 16:20). I don’t need to match volume levels with the crowd, nor sink to their base rhetoric, nor defend myself—I commit myself to my God and His directive for me to be His witness (16:15). He will take care of the results!

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