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resolved: student ministries went to Camp Barakel for winter retreat two weekends ago. On the drive north Friday evening, it started to snow and it didn’t stop until a foot of fresh snow had fallen. It was a wet, heavy snow that knocked out power across the northeast Lower Pennisula. The storm caused camp to lose power early Saturday morning and that, in turn, caused our winter retreat to be cut short because they could not heat the cabins in the near zero temperatures. But in all of the chaos of a Michigan blizzard and the changing retreat plans, I stepped outside the back of the East Side dining hall and was confronted with a beautiful sight. Green pines and tall brown oaks were totally white. It looked as if every tree and its branches were not real trees, but were made completely of snow. An iPhone camera just does not do it justice.

The chills that went up my back were not from the cold. It was a powerful reminder of the gospel-pointing beauty of God’s snow in Isaiah 1.18: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Because of the blood Jesus shed on the cross, the guilt of the sins of God’s people is effectively cleansed. But not only that, as Alec Motyer comments, “the Lord’s promise is not only to deal with the stain of sin but with the nature from which it springs.” That’s why the picture above was simply a gospel-pointing reminder. The trees were still there under all that snow… they were covered, but they were still trees. But if anyone is in Christ Jesus, they are a new creations (2 Corinthians 5.17). Jesus didn’t just cover our sins, He gave us new life in Him. Oh the powerful blood of our glorious Savior! As winter gives way to spring, may we remember the new life that springs forth in those who are in Christ. The cold grip in which death once held us is broken. Though our sins were like scarlet, they are white as snow.

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“But God’s firm foundation stands . . .” 2 Timothy 2:19

The foundation upon which our faith rests is that “Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). The great facts on which genuine faith relies is, that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), that “for Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18), and that “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24).

In one word, the great pillar of the Christian’s hope is substitution. The vicarious sacrifice of Christ for the guilty, Christ being made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him, Christ offering up a true and proper expiatory and substitutionary sacrifice in the room, place, and stead of as many as the Father gave him, who are known to God by name, and are recognized in their own hearts by their trusting in Jesus—this is the cardinal fact of the gospel. If this foundation were removed, what could we do? But it stands firm as the throne of God.

We know it, we rest on it, we rejoice in it, and our delight is to hold it, to meditate upon it, and to proclaim it while we desire to be actuated and moved by gratitude for it in every part of our life and conversation.

In these days a direct attack is made upon the doctrine of the atonement. Men cannot bear substitution. They gnash their teeth at the thought of the Lamb of God bearing the sin of man.

But we, who know by experience the preciousness of this truth, will proclaim it in defiance of them confidently and unceasingly. We will neither dilute it nor change it, nor fritter it away in any shape or fashion. It shall still be Christ, a positive substitute, bearing human guilt and suffering in the stead of men. We cannot, dare not, give it up, for it is our life, and despite every controversy we feel that “God’s firm foundation stands.”

~ Charles Spurgeon

(HT: The Resurgence)

“Having made Jesus your all, you shall find all in Jesus.”

Charles Spurgeon

Through the Gospel, you begin to find that the more you put your energy into knowing and loving Jesus, the more satisfying He becomes and the more the things of this world taste like the death they are. Colossians 2.9-10 says, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” We are filled in Christ! All your heart desires, all you think you want to find in this life, everything you hope the things of this world like your possessions, your looks, your friends, your family, your job, your achievements, you accolades… everything you hope to find satisfaction in is already yours in Christ. It’s already yours!! Praise be to the amazing grace of God who made us “alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:13-15).

After yesterday’s sermon by Pastor Brent from Mark 1, I went to the gospels this morning to see Jesus’ call of the first disciples (Matthew 4, Luke 5, Mark 1) and to hear His words again. I was helped by both the sermon and by one commentators conclusion.

Grant Osborne, Matthew:

“Mark and Matthew say the first four disciples surrendered both occupation and family, and Luke 5:11 says they ‘left everything’ to follow Christ. The problem today is so many want to give Christ virtually a “tithe” of their life, that is, one-tenth to him and 90 percent for themselves. Jesus makes it clear that such will not do. ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9:62). As [Don] Hagner says, ‘The call of God through Jesus is sovereign and absolute in its authority; the response of those who are called is to be both immediate and absolute, involving a complete break with old loyalties.’ This will look different for each of us; but the truth is the same. Everything we hold back from God will hamper the quality of our life and keep us from realizing our true potential for him.”

The immediacy and the surrender will look different for different men, women and families, but the truth is the same.  Discipleship for Jesus was a total, radical surrender.

“Affliction can sometimes prove a blessing to a person’s soul… There is nothing that shows our ignorance more than impatience under troubles. We forget that every cross is a message from God and intended to do us good in the end. Trials are intended to make us think, to wean us from the world, to send us to the Bible, to drive us to our knees. Health is a good thing, but sickness is far better if it drives us to God. Anything, anything is better than living in carelessness and dying in sin.”

~ JC Ryle

“Since the letter to Hebrews specifically urges Christians to ‘fix your thoughts on Jesus’ (Heb. 3:1, NIV; cf. 12:2), it should not surprise us that the author describes Him in more than a dozen different ways. Jesus is:

  • “Son” (1:2)
  • “Lord” (2:3)
  • “Apostle and High Priest” (3:1)
  • “Christ” (5:5)
  • “Source of eternal salvation” (5:9)
  • A priest “according to the order of Melchizedek” (7:11)
  • A descendant of Judah (7:14)
  • “A Minister… of the true tabernacle” (8:2)
  • “The Mediator of the new covenant” (9:15; 12:24)
  • “The same yesterday, today and forever” (13:8)
  • “The Great Shepherd of the sheep” (13:20)

But perhaps the most intriguing title for Jesus in the letter is ‘author’.  He is called the ‘author… of salvation’ and the ‘author… of our faith’ (Heb. 2:10; 12:2, NIV).”

~ Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone, 29

Joel Zumaya, a hard-throwing pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, fractured his elbow pitching on Monday night against the Minnesota Twins.  This article on the Detroit Free Press talks about his injury and his thoughts after learning that though it is a season-ending injury, he will be able to pitch again.  After reading the piece, I thought of three things I would say to Joel if I had the opportunity.

First, the article’s title is “Joel Zumaya hopes to return next spring”.  To that, I say, “Joel, hope in Christ alone.”  All things in this world fade away.  There will come a spring that you will not spend in Lakeland, Florida getting ready for a season of playing baseball.  A life worth living is a life lived to display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, which is the ultimate purpose for the existence of everything. Living to that end will be the path of finding true joy, whether God allows you more seasons or not.

Second, if baseball is taken away from you, God means for it to be a way of pointing to the only thing that will truly satisfy your heart’s desires.  All the idols of this world are worthless and those who love them become like them… deaf, blind, empty and dead.  But sometimes we don’t know what we are idolizing and it takes God removing what we’ve put in His rightful place to realize how backwards we are living.  Suffering exists as a means of giving us more of God while weaning us off the idols of our hearts.  All we need in life is God.  We were made to see and enjoy and proclaim the glory of God.  Anything else we live for will always leave us empty.

Third, Joel said, “I felt like I had no one on my side.”  To that, I say, “When Jesus was taking the final steps of His path towards the cross, he was all alone.  The crowds were against him, the religious leaders were against him, his best friends had deserted him and one of them even denied knowing him.  In fact, even God The Father forsook His own Son at the cross.  Jesus knows what it is like to be utterly alone.”  1 Peter 3.18 says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God”.  Through Christ’s suffering, God’s enemies were made His sons.  Christ’s suffering enabled us to regain fellowship with God.   So, Joel, whether you are experiencing the joy of playing baseball or the pain of having it taken away, anyone who believes in Christ alone and pursues their joy in God alone are rich beyond comprehension and have so much to live for.

So, Joel, believe that Jesus Christ, the Righteous Son of God, died for all our sins and conquered death by rising eternally triumphant over all his enemies and that there is now no condemnation for those who believe, but only everlasting joy in the fellowship with the One True God, both in this life and one to come.

“‘Come unto me,’ he says, ‘and I will give you.’  You say, ‘Lord, I cannot give you anything.’  He does not want anything.  Come to Jesus, and he says, ‘I will give you.’  Not what you give to God, but what he gives to you, will be your salvation.  ‘I will give you‘ — that is the gospel in four words.

Will you come and have it?  It lies open before you.”

~ C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, 1950), I:175.  Italics original

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

Lord’s Day Evening from The Valley of Vision:

MOST HOLY GOD,
May the close of an earthly sabbath remind me that the last of them will one day end.
Animate me with joy that in heaven praise will never cease,
that adoration will continue forever,
that no flesh will grow weary,
no congregations disperse,
no affections flag,
no thoughts wander,
no will droop,
but all will be adoring love.
Guard my mind from making ordinances my stay or trust,
from hewing out broken cisterns,
from resting on outward helps.
Wing me though earthly forms to thy immediate presence;
May my feeble prayers show me the emptiness and vanity of my sins;
Deepen in me the conviction that my most fervent prayers,
and my lowly confessions, need to be repented of.
May my best services bring me nearer to the cross,
and prompt me to cry, ‘None but Jesus!’
By thy Spirit give abiding life to the lessons of this day:
May the seed sown take deep root and yield a full harvest.
Let all who see me take knowledge that I have been with thee
that thou has taught me my need as a sinner
hast revealed a finished salvation to me,
hast enriched me with all spiritual blessings,
hast chosen me to show forth Jesus to others,
hast helped me to dispel the mists of unbelief.
O great Creator, mighty Protector, gracious Preserver,
thou dost load me with loving kindnesses,
and hast made me thy purchased possession,
and redeemed me from all guilt;
I praise and bless thee for
my sabbath rest,
my calm conscience,
my peace of heart.

“Jesus’ body bore our sins on the tree, and it was a horrible, bloody, fatal, and physical reality.  The New Testament tells us this to underscore the extent of the servant’s service on our behalf (cf. Phil. 2:5-11).  Not only did he take the form of a man and humble himself to wear the garb of a servant, but he also became obedient.  He even became obedient unto the ghastly death of the cross for our sakes.  We see that the whole point was to emphasize how full, complete, and extensive was the servant’s obedience to the Father on our behalf.  Even when his body is marred beyond human semblance, he bows himself down and says, “For the sake of the salvation of sinners, my Father, let your will be done.”

~ Sinclair Ferguson; Christ, the Sin-Bearer, in Atonement, 113-114