Jesus Gives Us Good Gifts

People naturally love to receive gifts. A well-chosen gift has the power to make us feel special, valued, and deeply loved. Perhaps that’s why we tend to delight in God the most when we are most cognizant of the blessings He has given us. Either way, our heavenly Father is generous and gracious, and delights to give us good things: 

“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Again it is written, 

“You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.” 

But when hardship and suffering are apportioned for us, days of calamity and pain, we too often forget the goodness of God. We become like Jonah who groaned in unbelief:

“O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

We grow faint of heart, and at times even desire to curse God and die. But Job rightly dismisses such talk as utter foolishness:

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”

Shall we? Shall we assume that we will escape pain and suffering when so many of our brothers and sisters are enduring it graciously in God’s sight? Shall we desire long life and see good days by denying the inevitability of the sorrows that were promised to us?

“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Shall we forget the counter-intuitive logic of the gospel that tells us our suffering is a gift?

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”

And shall we forget the example of the supreme sufferer who blessed God in His trials and kissed the very hand that smote Him?

Lord, your sufferings—the deepest, most evil sufferings ever endured in all creation—are the greatest gift ever given to humankind. Thank you for leaving us an example of suffering well, and also for giving us Your Holy Spirit so that our suffering might bring you glory!

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

Jesus Is Redemptively Jealous

Most “jealousy” is simply avarice turned outward, an anger born of greed and nursed in contempt:

“You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.”

But true righteous jealousy—redemptive jealousy—is as fierce as a bolt of lighting:

“For jealousy makes a man furious, and he will not spare when he takes revenge. He will accept no compensation; he will refuse though you multiply gifts.”

And just as a good husband will tolerate no rivals for his wife’s affections, so God resists our idols. We are by nature spiritual adulterers who cheat on our Heavenly Husband:

“I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.”

He is unequivocal in calling us to purity and faithfulness:

“You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.”

But our idols are not easily defeated:

“It is hopeless, for I have loved foreigners, and after them I will go.”

Like Joseph, God is righteous and would be justified in writing us a decree and sending us away. But instead He has chosen to do what no earthly husband could ever do—He changes our hearts!

“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her.”

He rends our souls by tearing us away from our illicit and idolatrous lovers, but then clothes us in unparalleled splendor and binds us up in His love:

“All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold. In many-colored robes she is led to the king.”

“He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.”

Thank you, Lord, that you love us and will never allow our hearts to be held captive by another! Fill me with the same jealousy that you have for Your holy name that I might love you forever:

“You shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”

“You shall have no other gods before Me.”

Jesus is Our Hope

Hope is essential to life. Without it our health declines, our hearts wither within us, and we say,

“Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.”

For this reason, we are constantly looking for sources of hope to buoy our spirits and sustain us in times of trial or difficulty. Many are false hopes, offering counterfeit assurance and fraudulent predictions which appeal to our sinful hearts. We often seek out messages of ease and comfort without the unpalatable constraints of reality:

“If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,’ he would be the preacher for this people!”

We delude ourselves into thinking that we are in charge of our own destiny, not God:

“The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill.”

We put our hope in our money, our jobs, our friends, our children, our homes, our leaders, our doctors, and ourselves, but all of these will fail us in the end:

“The hope of the godless shall perish.”

The only true source of hope is Jesus. Only He knows the beginning from the end because He is both. Only He has the power to accomplish all that we could ever ask or imagine, and only He cares for us enough to carry all our anxieties and bear all of our burdens. His is a living hope:

“He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

God thus commands that we turn away from all other sources of hope and focus on Him:

“Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Thank You, Lord, for being the sure and steadfast anchor of my soul, the Rock in whom no one will ever be put to shame! Be my portion forever, and my hope of eternal life!

“Though he slay me, I will hope in him.”

“Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Jesus Sustains Our Life

Even in the best of circumstances, life is a fleeting and fragile commodity.

“What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

When our bodies are strong and health is abundant, it can be easy to forget that we were made from dust:

“The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

But dust we are, and our bodies crumble the very moment God’s breath leaves us.

“O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!”

Again, God says to all of us who imagine that life is long and death is far away:

“Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish.”

But there is profound hope contained in this blessed promise:

“Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

This refers to Christ, the very Word of God. He alone is the One who sustains our lives, who keeps our hearts pumping and our life-blood flowing through us. He is more essential to our continued existence than air:

“In him we live and move and have our being.”

And while this is true of all creatures, those of us who have believed in Him have a different kind of life coursing through our veins:

“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Thank you, Jesus, for sustaining my life and the lives of those I hold dear. Teach us to let go of our earthly desires, that we may be filled with Your Spirit and live forever!

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

“Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you.”

Jesus Is The Firstborn From The Dead

Easter Day! Today we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, the crown of all our joys and the bedrock on which our faith rests. As it is written,

“He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”

This phrase, “firstborn from the dead,” does not mean that Jesus’ resurrection chronologically preceded all others; indeed, many preludes to the ultimate Resurrection have been recorded in Scripture for our benefit. Elisha breathed life into the body of a young child, and he awoke and was restored to his mother. Ezekiel prophesied to a valley strewn with dry bones, and at God’s command they were clothed with flesh and stood on their feet, a mighty army ready to do His bidding. Jesus Himself raised Lazarus from his tomb of decay and Jairus’ daughter from her deathbed, both by the irresistible power of His divine call.

However, Jesus’ resurrection is preeminent because it surpasses these shadow-examples in every way. Jesus was the first to rise in eternal victory over death:

“We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again;  death no longer has dominion over him.”

All other resurrections were accomplished by the command of another, but Jesus brought Himself back to life by the word of His own unstoppable authority:

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

“No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”

And most glorious of all, His resurrection is the wellspring of eternal life for all those who are in Christ:

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

Those of us who will be raised up at the last day and transformed into His likeness will do so because we are participants in His death and resurrection:

“Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”

Thank you, Lamb of God who was slain before the foundation of the world, that You alone give life to the dead and call into existence the things that do not exist!

“It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Jesus Suffered In Our Place

Just as there was never anyone as righteous as Christ, so there was no one who ever suffered as much as he did.

“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.”

See how we hated Him:

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.”

See how our mockery of His lordship drives cruel thorns into His head and covers Him with a mantle of shame. See how He is stricken with fists, beaten with rods, and scourged with deadly whips. See how He is made to carry the very cross that He is to die on. See the nails, the blood, the agony of gasping for breath and having only gall to drink.

But more than all of this, see His true suffering as the holy Trinity is broken. See the Father cast off the Son and slay Him; see the Holy Spirit take swift flight and leave Him. See Jesus, cut off, alone, hated, despised, tormented, having become sin, accursed, dying, in hell.

And now, see the purpose of it all:

“He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

“It was the will of the Lord to crush Him; He has put Him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for guilt, He shall see His offspring; He shall prolong His days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities.”

Thank You, Jesus, for enduring the cross, scorning the shame, passing through Hades, and sitting down at the right hand of God in eternal victory!

“We give thanks to You, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.”

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

Amen.

Jesus Burns Away Our Impurities

The only way to purify a piece of metal ore is to put it into a furnace and melt it down. There, in the fire, its corruptions are revealed in the form of dross; they float to the top where they can be removed. Is not the same is true of our stubborn, recalcitrant hearts? God says of us,

“I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass.”

Our corruptions are so deeply ingrained that we barely even notice them; they are alloyed to our souls, and inseparable from us by any common means. Only the fire of adversity can draw them out. This is why it is said that Jesus baptizes us

“with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

His love and compassion are mingled with an absolute hatred of sin:

“For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.”

But the process is unspeakably painful and deadly:

“Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?”

Our sins are like the corrosion of a copper pot that can only be cleaned by the most extreme measures. God says of it,

“Set it empty upon the coals, that it may become hot, and its copper may burn, that its uncleanness may be melted in it, its corrosion consumed.”

And yet, because of the Lord’s mercy we are not consumed. Jesus took all of our impurities upon Himself and suffered the fullness of God’s fiery wrath:

“I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy.”

And again,

“The wicked of the earth you discard like dross.”

But now that Jesus has purchased our redemption, He shines like burnished bronze, and no fire can ever harm Him. He who protected Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace will save us as well:

“When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”

Lord, purify my heart by any means necessary, and make me holy, as You are holy!

“Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.”

“Blessed are the pure, for they shall see God.”

Jesus Is The True Vine

Jesus said,

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.”

Indeed, God is like the owner of a vineyard, who planted His people Israel in good soil:

“You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.”

And yet, despite all His faithful care, His people quickly went astray. Listen to what the divine vinedresser asks them:

“I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?”

“When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?”

The answer is sin. Instead of the fruit of lips that praise His name, our unassisted hearts naturally produce wickedness.

“For their vine comes from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison; their clusters are bitter.”

We have all become cut off, useless vines that are charred on either end by our sin:

“When the fire has consumed both ends of it, and the middle of it is charred, is it useful for anything? Behold, when it was whole, it was used for nothing. How much less, when the fire has consumed it and it is charred, can it ever be used for anything!”

But Jesus is different. He is like the vines of the promised land, whose grape clusters grew so large that they had to be carried on a pole by two men. He yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness, and that in infinite abundance.

But most amazing of all is that He was plucked up and cast away in our place! Of Him it was written:

“The vine was plucked up in fury, cast down to the ground; the east wind dried up its fruit; they were stripped off and withered.”

Like Naboth, He was killed in His own vineyard, although He was the son and heir of everything. But now He lives forever, and allows even those who killed Him to be grafted into Himself and bear fruit.

Thank you, Lord, that I don’t have to be a vine, but may instead be one of your branches!

“Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Jesus Killed Death

For as long as anyone can remember, death has reigned on the earth.

“Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

Because of Adam’s transgression, everything living is held under death’s sway:

“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth… before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”

Death is not a rightful ruler, but a usurper appointed by God to curse the earth and subject it to futility. It is not a part of the way things were meant to be, but an enemy, a destroyer, an abomination that causes desolation.

But praise be to God that by His unfathomable wisdom, Jesus has defeated death by submitting Himself to it. No one took His life from Him; He laid it down of His own accord, and three days later took it back up again. His resurrection is the ruination of death’s reign, and His eternal life guarantees its ultimate destruction.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

Death itself has been sentenced to death, and one day soon that judgement will be executed:

“Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.”

Then the new heavens and the new earth will teem with indestructible life:

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

By dying on the cross, Jesus put death to death so that we might live. Praise His holy name!

“May your hearts live forever!”

Jesus Is Incomprehensible

Throughout the ages, God has been gracious to  reveal Himself to us, both in creation as well as in special revelation (the Word being chief).

But there is much about Him that we can never know. He is before all things and surpasses all things, the Rock of Ages that fills the whole earth. He dwells in the highest heavens in unapproachable light and consuming fire, and everything that comes to pass is from His hand:

“I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.”

Who is sufficient to understand this?

“Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable.”

Who can possibly claim to have explored the full depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God?

“How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”

“Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord?”

—as if such a thing were even possible!

“Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”

“The thunder of his power who can understand?”

The only satisfactory answer that can be given to these ineffable queries is worship:

“O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind.”

Jesus, I praise You that you have revealed yourself to us in a way that our shallow minds can partially contain. Expand our souls with an ever-increasing passion to know more of you, and by that knowledge constrain us to a more perfect obedience!

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”