This morning I had the privilege of preaching at First Artesia Christian Reformed Church. We took some time to look at the Cities of Refuge found in the Old Testament and the amazing picture of Jesus they paint for us.
He is gone! Jesus is no longer here because He has ascended. There are tensions in the Christian life we are meant to feel, and the ascension presents us with one of them. It is true that Jesus said He would be with us always, even to the end of the age, but He did not mean that He would always be with us bodily. Though He is with us in one sense, His absence is something with which every believer must wrestle.
We feel His absence daily as we look at this world. He has left us with His word which speaks authoritatively to everything we need to know regarding faith and practice, but if we could see Him, some of our concerns would begin to fade. Though there are those who claim to have taken His place while He is gone, their fraudulent claims are evident by how far they fall short.
While we are left to wrestle with the truth of His absence, we begin to get a glimpse of how important the ascension is to Christian life and doctrine, and while His absence is painful, we must also remember that it is good. Jesus Himself said it was to our benefit that He go away.
Why is the ascension important, and how does it benefit us? Here are four reasons it is good that Jesus has left us.
1.) We receive the Holy Spirit.
After the ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). Though we are consciously aware of the absence of Jesus, the Holy Spirit comforts us in our distress. The Spirit continually points us to Jesus and His word. He guides, convicts, and keeps us at all times. It is the Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our salvation. He never leaves us. In this way, we are never truly alone, even while we long for Christ’s return.
2.) We see Jesus properly crowned as king.
When He took on flesh and came to walk among us, He emptied Himself of His rightful glory to do so. The ascension returns Him to His glorious state, seated at His Father’s right hand. From there He rules and reigns over all things until His enemies are made his footstool (Hebrews 10:12-13). We live during the time when the Kingdom has been established but not yet fulfilled, and we are to march on with the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, and as we march as citizens of His kingdom, the gates of hell will not prevail. Our King is on His throne and will reign forever.
3.) We see our acceptance with the Father.
We long to be with the Father, and through the ascension, Jesus enters the presence of His Father on our behalf. We see this in the fact that Jesus is seated with the Father. His sitting down shows us that the atonement He made for our sins is complete, for no other high-priest in the old covenant was ever allowed to sit in the holy place. Since we are in Christ, we see our acceptance before the Father as well.
4.) He is preparing a place for us.
He has gone to prepare a place for us, and He will come back for us as well. At that point all things will be set right, the kingdom will reach its full expression, and we will spend eternity with our Savior. Though His absence has its difficulties, those difficulties find their comfort in the Holy spirit and they cannot outweigh the glory that awaits. As believers, this tension should move us to worship. We glory in His ascension while longing for His return.
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” – Acts 1:6-11
“Then the crowds who went ahead of Him and those who followed kept shouting: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Matthew 21:9
It was only five days before the crucifixion. This day Jesus was the people’s idol. Was He Himself deceived by this popular outpouring and acclaim? Did He suppose that at last, after their rejection of Him for so long—they were now going to accept Him as their Messiah? No! He knew it was only the outburst of a day. He knew this was but the first stage of His last journey to the cross. As he heard the cries of the throng, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” there was an undertone ringing in His ear, and the words of the undertone were—
“Ride on, ride on in majesty, In lowly pomp—ride on to die!”
There must have been a deep spiritual meaning in the triumphal entry, since Jesus Himself planned it! It was a declaration of His Messiahship. The prophet had foretold that the Messiah would come in this very way. “Behold, your King comes unto you: He is just, and having salvation; lowly, riding upon an donkey.” In thus claiming that He was the person to whom the prophet referred, and in thus bringing about the fulfillment in Himself, Jesus clearly proclaimed to the rulers that He was the Messiah!
There was also in the manner of this triumphal entry—an announcement of the character of His kingdom. If it had been an earthly royalty that He was proclaiming, He would have come riding in a war chariot.The donkey suggested lowliness and peace. He was the king of love—not of strife. He came to fill the world with blessing—not with carnage!
As we look at the people in their enthusiasm and hear their rejoicings, we cannot forget that in five days the Passover throngs cried “Crucify Him!” and we learn how fickle worldly enthusiasm is. A picture by Tintoretto gives the scene of the Crucifixion after all was over. It is evening. The multitude has dispersed. The crown of thorns is lying near by. Then in the background an donkey is nibbling at some withered palm leaves. That tells the story of the fickleness of the world’s honor.
The Palm Sunday pageant was but a day’s spectacle. Jesus went to a cross—and not to an earthly throne. But in its deeper meaning His entry into Jerusalem was a triumph indeed. The cross was the way to His true glory. Now He is our King—and His people are with Him in His triumph.
Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed behind cried out, saying; Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!Matt. 21:9
Why is Palm Sunday important? When we celebrate the Triumphal Entry, we are celebrating a monumental occasion. As we see Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a donkey and allow the people to praise Him as king, there are many things that stand out. Here are three of the most significant things we should keep in mind.
1. Jesus was setting his crucifixion in motion
It is important to realize that the Triumphal Entry is the first time Jesus allowed the people to praise him as King. Every time before this he had forbidden them to do so because his time had not yet come. In allowing the people to praise him, he was bringing the wrath of both the Jewish and Roman leaders upon himself. He was not being pushed around by the principalities and powers; he was orchestrating them and setting things in motion for the passion week. He was coming to save us as prophesied by Zechariah.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. – Zechariah 9:9
2. Jesus was being selected as the Passover lamb according to Old Testament law
Jesus said he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and he does this in many ways. One fascinating detail he fulfilled has to do with Passover. Matthew Henry points out, “The Passover was on the fourteenth day of the month, and this [the triumphal entry] was the tenth.” The tenth day of the month was significant concerning Passover. We read this in Exodus 12:3,5-6
“Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for a house….Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.”
As Jesus was riding in and the people were crying “Hosanna in the highest,” unbeknownst to them they were selecting the paschal lamb for sacrifice; the one and only sacrifice that can take away sin and cause death to pass over us.
3. Jesus was marching to his death, and he knew it
Jesus was not merely riding into the city, but riding towards his death on the cross. He knew by the end of the week he would be spit upon, beaten, and crucified, but the thought of this torturous death was not the most grueling image he would have foreseen. It would have been thoughts of that final moment when he was to take on the sins of us who call him Lord, and his Father, whom he had obeyed perfectly, would turn his face away from his Son and pour out the justice and wrath for our sins upon him. In anguish, Jesus knew, he would cry out “Father why have you forsaken me.”
On the way to the cross, the entry must have been bittersweet. As we consider this moment, we know that nothing could have hindered him from reaching his goal because he had set his face like flint toward Jerusalem. As he rode, his mind would have first and foremost been focused on glorifying his Father. Secondarily his thoughts would have been directed to those he came to save. Maybe he saw our faces, knowing that without his death, he would have to watch us die. For we were born sinners, hopeless, and condemned already. Maybe he looked at us as a man who would look into the eyes of a child as disease steals her away. Whatever he was thinking, he was not going to let anything stand between him and his children
His desire to see his Father glorified and his love for us drove him forward, and when the time of the crucifixion arrived, he had reached his destination. Upright, between two thieves, nailed to the cross, and having a spear thrust into his side, the cleansing blood and water flowed. His final cry was “It is finished.” The purchase had been made, and the powers of hell had been broken. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “No sin of the believer can now be an arrow to mortally wound him.” All of us who have faith in Jesus and have been cleansed by his precious blood have every reason to sing,
Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed Be the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!
“This is the best clarifying juxtaposition of truth and prosperity preaching I know of. I pray millions of people around the world will watch this for the glory of Christ and his Good News.” -John Piper
American Gospel will stir even the most devout Christian to repent of not resting entirely in Jesus. For even the most sanctified among us, indwelling sin is working to turn our eyes from Christ and toward the lust of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life, and the gospel is the only answer.
American Gospel is masterfully crafted and lays out the gospel with such clarity that everyone should take note. From the interviews to the beautiful artwork and graphics, all of it is calculated to communicate the truth of the word of God. The first part of the documentary focuses on accomplishing this goal, then it moves into exposing the counterfeit gospel of the prosperity movement.
Anyone who has been told that if you are suffering, it is because you do not have enough faith, needs to hear the message of the film. Several stories of people whose lives have been harmed by such a theology appear in the documentary, but not merely to expose the errors and the harm that it caused, but, more importantly, to point people to our true hope in Jesus Christ.
I have spoken against the dangerous heresies of the prosperity preachers for quite some time, so the information presented in the film was not new to me, but what I was not expecting, was how much the Holy Spirit used the film to stir my heart to repentance. Christ is our everything, yet too often, the American Gospel of health, wealth, notoriety, and prosperity seeps into the hearts of us all. American Gospel is indeed a must-see film.
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out,” that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.-Acts 3:19
Has your life grown dim and stale because you are no longer walking closely with the Lord? Our God is so gracious that even after we have rebelled against him, he not only wipes out our sins, but he also goes on to give us times of refreshing. This phrase, “times of refreshing,” encompasses quite a bit, including the return of our Lord, but it also seems to include a sense of spiritual refreshment that comes to the individual believer. Think back to when you first came to know the Lord. The burden of your sin was heavy upon you as you felt the curse and judgment it demanded. Then someone pointed you to Christ, and through faith, your sins were washed away. Then, do you remember what followed? Do you remember being refreshed as the Joy of the Lord became your strength? The world was just a little brighter, the mountains where a bit more majestic, and the burdens of the world seemed lighter, because you knew nothing could separate you from his love.
What we experienced during these times was the Holy Spirit’s work, as he bore witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16). As Paul told us, even if the outward man is perishing, the inward man is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16) because even in this fallen world, the Spirit has been given to us as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Cor. 5:5). As he works in our lives, our spirits are refreshed knowing that our sins can no longer condemn us because of Christ’s work, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever when this life is through.
There are, however, times in the believer’s life when this refreshing may fade. If we begin to turn our focus to the things of this world, whether its vanities or trials, there is an intimacy with Christ that can be lost; much like when Peter was walking on the water and turned his eyes away from Jesus. Maybe you are finding yourself in that place right now. Something has caught your eye that is luring you away from the Lord and seeking first the kingdom of God is no longer your main desire. Maybe the straight and narrow is not as appealing to you anymore because some lesser light has stolen your heart as it offers you more than it can actually provide. The problem with this is that you are being tempted by your own evil desires, and when it is conceived it will give birth to sin, and sin, when it is full-grown gives birth to death (James 1:15). As this process is taking place the Holy Spirit grieves within you, and there can be a dimness that can come back to your eyes as you once again try to shoulder the weight of this world without Christ’s abiding presence. So much so, that at times you can begin to wonder if you were ever a child of God to begin with.
It is at this point, that the enemy begins to mock you for taking the bait, and begins to tell you that you’ve gone too far and that you have never been his child. But the Spirit of God, who has never left you, has many ways of stirring you to a remembrance of the times of refreshing you once had. He moves you to recall the former times for at least two reasons. First, to remind you that you are his child and give you strength as you deal with the sin in which you now find yourself entangled, and second, to call you to repentance because the times of refreshing can be experienced again.
If you find yourself in this situation, and the joy of your salvation has been eclipsed by the cares and sins of this life, remember the times you once had with your Savior. By doing so you can be confirmed that you are his child, and you will hear the call to repentance saying, come back to your First Love, and as you “draw near to me and I will draw near to you” (James 4:8). And if you have never come to Christ for the forgiveness of sins, you too can have your sins wiped out, that times of refreshing may come.
“Set up waymarks, make guideposts–set your heart toward the highway, even the way which you went–turn again, O virgin of Israel, turn again to these your cities.” –Jeremiah 31:21
To look at the past is often a blessed encouragement for the future. If we are travelers in the way Zionward, we shall have our various waymarks. A conspicuous call, or a signal deliverance, or a gracious manifestation of Christ; a promise applied here, or a marked answer to prayer there; a special blessing under the preached word; a soft and unexpected assurance of an interest in the blood of the Lamb; a breaking in of divine light when walking in great darkness; a sweet sip of consolation in a season of sorrow and trouble; a calming down of the winds and waves without and within by, “It is I, be not afraid”–such and similar waymarks it is most blessed to be able to set up as evidences that we are in the road.
And if many who really fear God cannot set up these conspicuous waymarks, yet they are not without their testimonies equally sure, if not equally satisfying. The fear of God in a tender conscience, the spirit of grace and of supplications in their breast, their cleaving to the people of God in warm affection, their love for the truth in its purity and power, their earnest desires, their budding hopes, their anxious fears, their honesty and simplicity making them jealous over themselves lest they be deceived or deluded, their separation from the world, their humility, meekness, quietness, and general consistency often putting to shame louder profession and higher pretensions–these and similar evidences mark many as children of God who cannot read their title clear to such a privilege and such a blessing.
But whether the waymarks be high or low, shining in the sun or obscure in the dawn, the virgin of Israel is still bidden to “set them up,” and to “set also her heart toward the highway, even the way by which she came.”
The lights glow softly, the Christmas music plays, and wondrous thoughts of the birth of our Savior fill our minds. What a blessing it is for the believer who still finds childlike joy at this time of year. Being “grown-up” is a bit over-rated, because being “grown-up,” according to the world, usually entails a constant stiff upper lip and a cynical heart. Now there are times to be stout, to conceal your emotion, and be a bit guarded, but too often these virtues can be turned into vices. Just as there is a time to be immovable, there is also a time to be moved. There are events that should stir our hearts and move us to childlike wonder, and the birth of Jesus is one of those things. Especially when we consider it in light of the curse and the resulting pain of childbirth.
Sin is our greatest enemy, and it has been ever since the fall. In our natural condition, with hard hearts, we are the makers of our own demise. We despise what is good, and we love that which will hurt us; we are prone to our own destruction. What is worse, is that we are continually heaping upon ourselves the wrath of a holy and just God who will not let any sin go unpunished. The thought of such things should cause us to tremble.
If this was where the story ended, there would be no hope for any of us, but as we know, in the garden after the fall, God promised that He was going to provide a seed who would be the remedy for our sin (Gen 3:15). What is often missed is the fact that right after this promise, He also pronounced a curse upon mankind for their sinful act of rebellion. One aspect of that curse was that God Himself was going to cause children to be brought forth in sorrow (Gen. 3:16). Why would God do such a thing after such an incredible promise? Of all the female creatures upon this earth, it seems that humans have the greatest sorrow during childbirth, but this sorrow is not without hope. Every time a woman grieves during the pain of childbirth, it is to be a reminder of the curse and the seriousness of sin. The same applies when we experience the pain in our work (Gen. 3:17). It is a proclamation of our depraved condition, but that is not all it is. It is also a gesture of God’s love for His people because He does not want us to evade the knowledge of our sinful condition and neglect the promised seed.
As Mary gave birth that night in a dusty stable, she undoubtedly lamented in pain. Any of us who have spent time pondering that night and have thought of the cold ground upon which she lay, without comforts of home, have heard her proclamation of the tyranny of sin. In sorrow she gave birth, but the Child was to be the death of her sorrow, and even the death of death itself. Like Rachel giving birth to Benjamin, she may have had the desire to call Him Benoni, the son of her sorrow, but the Father, God Himself, had already declared Him to be the Son of His Right Hand. His name was to be Jesus, for He was to save His people from their sins.
Christ, God incarnate, had entered our sin-riddled world. From his first breath, He was to be known as the Man of Sorrows, and He would endure it all because of His great love for us. All we like sheep have gone astray, but as Christ suffered the sorrows of this fallen world, He never faltered in His righteousness. He then, like a lamb, went willingly to the slaughter, never once opening His mouth in protest. Without fail, He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by His stripes, we are healed.
If this Christmas season is passing you by, and the thoughts of our Savior have not yet moved your heart to adoration through the Spirit’s work, may the meditation of our great God and His gospel invigorate our sin embattled hearts and produce once again the childlike wonder of the Christmas season. Through faith, He is the joy of our salvation. Though sorrow may still be a part of living in this fallen world, you can have joy in the knowledge that any sins over which you mourn, and any sorrows you face, have been conquered by the child who was born in the manger: Jesus Christ the Lord.
The movie Bohemian Rhapsody has hit the theaters to chronicle the life of Freddie Mercury and his untimely death to aids. To reflect on such a life as a believer is sobering. To reflect on the life and death of anyone would do the same, but there seems to be something more significant when we think about the death of someone like Freddie Mercury. To imagine that rock royalty, Queen, will one day stand before the King of kings, should cause us all to pause and reflect on our lives for a moment.
Scripture tells us that it is appointed once for a man to die, then the judgment (Heb. 9:27). All men, even those who seemed to have the world by the tail for a time, are subjected to it. What is more troubling for the Christian who considers such an event, is to see how many people are still clamoring to have what Freddie had at the height of his fame, knowing that they fail to see how quickly these kingdoms will come crashing down.
There is no doubt that the pursuit of fame has engulfed many to the point that it seems to have consumed them. Knowing this, it should not surprise us when we read in scripture that “the wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest” (Isa 57:20). Even if we end up with all that we dreamed of in this world, unless Christ is our treasure, we will be unable to find the rest that seems to be eluding us (Matt. 16:26). In fact, we often impale ourselves with many troubles as we continue the pursuit (1 Tim 6:10).
There is a restlessness in the human heart as Augustine pointed out when he said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” This restlessness comes from the fact that there is a knowledge of God written on our hearts, and in our sinfulness, we want nothing to do with it (Rom. 1:18-20). It is from this point that our pursuits for peace take us everywhere except the one place we would be able to find it.
In our sinfulness we reject God, knowing that we have violated his ways (Rom 1:32), and to cover up that knowledge, we tend to work even harder to find things that can distract us from that truth. In it, we tend to go further and further down a path of vanity, for all is vanity apart from Christ (Ecc. 1:2).
From here we create our own standards of what we think a virtuous person ought to be, but even by our own standards, we fail to measure up. Only by deceiving ourselves are we able maintain any level of self-approval. Often during these pursuits, we find ourselves engaging in all kinds of aberrant behavior merely trying to measure up to our own standards and fill our emptiness. In it, we cling to our own righteousness to appease the God we know is there and to assuage the guilt we know is ours. We, even in our suppression of the truth, will create a God to our own liking and will try to appease it (Rom 1:23), and these little gods are tyrants without mercy. On top of that, the God of scripture tells us that all our righteousness is as filthy rags, and he wants nothing to do with it (Isa. 64:6). But, praise God, He then goes on to tell us of the remedy that he has offered in Christ Jesus, for all of us have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God (Rom. 3:23). God the Father sent his son to die upon the cross to bear the punishment for all who will believe in Him (John 3:16) to bring us into a right relationship with Him and give us the peace we are seeking.
As was mentioned before, it is appointed once for a man to die then the judgment. The only way anyone will be able to stand in the judgment is if they are in Christ because he is the only one who has lived a truly righteous life and paid the penalty for our sins (Acts 4:12), and if we are not in Christ, we will have to pay our own penalty for sins. This truth applies to all men and women, whether rich or poor, famous or unknown, loved by the world or not.
To paraphrase John Donne, when we hear that someone has died and we wonder for whom the bell tolls, there is a sense in which it will always be tolling for us. It is a constant reminder of our own frailty, telling us to be cognizant of our own end, and to ponder what awaits us afterward, and whether or not we are living life the way it should be lived; to the glory of God (Psalm 39:4). In it, you will find the fulfillment, rest, and, most importantly, the forgiveness of sins, you so desperately need. It was for this reason Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).
The video below goes back almost 10 years to when I used to spend a lot of time on YouTube. It is still one of the most popular videos on my channel. Though the term “Emergent Church” has been abandoned due to the bad press it received from its logical inconsistencies, the postmodern philosophies it embraced still have a firm hold on many Christians and churches.
These 10 signs still point out the self-refuting nature of the postmodern-zone.
Their website has a statement of what they believe, and one of their statements is that they don’t hold to statements of belief.
They constantly teach against churches and Christians who engage in polemics.
They reject the commercialism of the modern church, by making their church feel more like a coffee shop.
They have a strong desire to be relevant for the sole purpose of being relevant.
The term “living incarnationally” means living less like Jesus and more like the world.
They argue that there are no metanarratives that control all other stories besides their metanarrative that there are no metanarratives.
They encourage using metaphor because propositional teaching does not work, unless, of course, they are propositionally teaching about metaphors.
They argue that the church should be more relational and less theological, and then attempt to give theological arguments why this is the case.
They use language to tell us that language is incapable of communicating truth.
To argue against a propositional understanding of scripture, they quote Jesus’ proposition from scripture where Jesus says, “I am the Truth.”