Christ Loved Us, the Ugly Sister, and He’s Making Us Beautiful

(this post is a follow up to my post yesterday on Jacob’s not so fun experience with God’s providence through his Uncle Laban, while wandering outside the promised land)

Like Jacob’s wilderness wanderings in Padan-Aram, Christ experienced his own wilderness wanderings on earth and suffered greatly because of our sins. He took on the form of a servant and was obedient to the point of death on a cross to win us as his bride (Phil. 2:5-11; Eph. 5:25-32).

But unlike Jacob, he loved the unlovely. We weren’t pretty like Rachel, we were the ugly ones who were sinners by nature and hated God (Rom. 3:10-18; Eph. 2:1-3). And yet, he loved us, unlovely sinners that we are, and died on the cross, experiencing the greatest exile of all (Isa. 53:8; Matt. 27:46). But he rose from the dead and ascended to the Father’s right hand in glory and we are united to him forever through faith and by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 15:3-4; Phil. 2:9-11).

And we look forward to the consummation of our marriage in the new heavens and new earth at the wedding supper of the lamb, where we will be arrayed in bright white garments like a beautiful bride, remade in his image (2 Cor. 3:18; Rev. 19:6-9). And he will not look upon us with regret or despise us, like Jacob did Leah. Rather, He will be so happy to see us face to face and we will weep tears of joy and ask ourselves why did he choose us to be his bride?! Such AMAZING grace and love!!!

Beloved, let us gladly love and serve him out of hearts filled with gratitude and strengthened by His Spirit! For these light and momentary afflictions are nothing in comparison to the eternal weight of glory that awaits us with Christ in heaven (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17).

In the words of Iain Duguid, “God takes only bent instruments and slowly begins to straighten them. He takes only untuned hearts and slowly begins to tune them to his praise. It all takes time, but God is not in a hurry. God’s consistent purpose, during whatever times of exile and disappointment he takes you through, is to prepare you for future service and a deepened appreciation of his grace. Submit to his loving purpose, therefore, willingly and ungrudgingly. The wilderness years are indeed hard. Ask Jacob! But the wilderness is not our home. Laban’s house is not Jacob’s place, as he reminds Jacob. Laban’s house is his temporary address. Jacob’s place is at Bethel, the place where God first revealed himself to Jacob by his grace. Home, for Jacob and for you and me, is on the other side of the wilderness, where we shall be in God’s house forever, tuned with perfect pitch. In the meantime, we listen intently for the sounds of home, and the faint strains of that foreign song summon us on through the weary desert. The reminders of God’s grace fill us with renewed vigor and grateful, thankful, longing hearts.” Amen!

(This post is taken from a sermon on Genesis 29:1-30 that I preached at Redeemer Reformation Church. If you’d like to hear the whole sermon, you can listen here.)

Why the Ascension of Jesus Christ is So Important

Happy Ascension Day! Here is why the ascension of Christ is so important:

“What benefit do we receive from Christ’s ascension into heaven? First, that He is our Advocate in the presence of His Father in heaven. Second, that we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge, that He as the Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself. Third, that He sends us His Spirit as an earnest, by whose power we seek those things which are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God, and not things on the earth.” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 49)

To learn more of why the ascension is so important here are two FREE resources on the ascension of Jesus:

The Ascension of Christ (a Sunday school lecture by Michael Horton)

The Ascension (a sermon by Timothy Keller)

Lead Me To the Rock That Is Higher Than I

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“Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!” (Psalm 61:1-4).

You can cry out to God and cling to these images of God in the Psalm because of what Christ has done for us. The same God that David knew we know in a much more intimate and powerful way, because we know him in the Lord Jesus Christ who fulfills every image of this Psalm: In the words of James Montgomery Boice: 

“Jesus is our refuge, but not only a refuge from human enemies and foes. He is a refuge from the wrath of God to be poured out at the final judgment. He is our tower that we can run into and be safe. He is our tabernacle. The apostle John used this very word when he wrote, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). In the Greek the words “made his dwelling” are literally “tabernacled.” Jesus is the one who said of the city of Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37).

JESUS IS THE ROCK THAT IS HIGHER THAN I! Jesus is the Rock of Ages. He is very God of very God as we confess. And he fulfills every image of this Psalm. But he is also the rock that was cleft for you and me as we sing: “Rock of ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee, let the water and the blood from thy riven side which flowed, be of sin the double cure, save from wrath and make me pure.”

Jesus was the rock that was broken for you and me. He is the one who was truly brought to an end of the earth experience on the cross where he cried out “my God, my God, O why have you forsaken me” (Matt. 27:46) i.e. why are you so far from me! And he prayed “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46), trusting his Father to the end. And God heard his cries for deliverance and raised him from the dead and seated him at His right hand. And because of Jesus’ end of the earth experience we will never truly be distant from God. It may feel that way at times but in fact God dwells within us. In Jesus, God tabernacled among us and by His Spirit he tabernacles within us (John 1:14; 1 Cor. 6:19). And Jesus promised us, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). So you see, no matter how distant we feel from God, the truth is he will never leave us or forsake us. He is as near to us as the Word that is preached and he dwells within us by His Holy Spirit (Rom. 10:8; Gal. 4:6).

And Jesus is coming again to usher in the fullness of God’s presence in the new heavens and new earth:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:1-4).

We may at times feel distant from God in the Christian life, but cling to Jesus by faith, for He is the rock that is higher than I. Once again in the words of James Montgomery Boice: “Sometimes we need to feel we are at “the ends of the earth” before we can discover how wonderful Jesus is. 

“Jesus is a very encouraging name to heavy-laden sinners”

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21)

Here are some comforting words by J.C. Ryle commenting on the name of “Jesus” given to Christ at his birth in Matthew 1:21:

“The name Jesus means “Saviour.” It is the same name as Joshua in the Old Testament. It is given our Lord because He saves them from the guilt of sin, by washing them in His own atoning blood. He saves them from the dominion of sin, by putting in their hearts the sanctifying Spirit. He saves them from the presence of sin, when He takes them out of this world to rest with Him. He will save them from all the consequences of sin, when He shall give them a glorious body at the last day. Blessed and holy are Christ’s people! From sorrow, cross, and conflict they are not saved. But they are saved from sin for evermore. They are cleansed from guilt by Christ’s blood, They are made meet for heaven by Christ’s Spirit. This is salvation. He who cleaves to sin is not yet saved. Jesus is a very encouraging name to heavy-laden sinners

He who is King of kings and Lord of lords might lawfully have taken some more high-sounding title. But He does not do so. The rulers of this world have often called themselves Great, Conquerors, Bold, Magnificent, and the like. The Son of God is content to call Himself Saviour. The souls which desire salvation may draw nigh to the Father with boldness, and have access with confidence through Christ. It is His office and his delight to show mercy. “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17).

Jesus is a name, which is peculiarly sweet and precious to believers. It has often done them good, when the favour of kings and princes would have been heard of with unconcern. It has given them what money cannot buy, even inward peace. It has eased their wearied consciences, and given them rest to their heavy hearts. The Song of Solomon speaks the experience of many, when it says, “thy name is as ointment poured forth” (Cant. 1:3). Happy is that person, who trusts not merely in vague notions of God’s mercy and goodness, but in “Jesus.”

Genuine Humility is Self-Forgetfulness

“The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.–C.S. Lewis

This past Sunday afternoon I preached on humility. Here is a shortened version of what I said in my sermon:

Guarding Against the Opposite of Humility: Self-Glorification

The opposite of humility is pride and pride is in essence self-glorification. We need to be on guard against pride because pride is in all of us and it’s our biggest enemy. The late New Testament scholar John Stott once wrote, “At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend. . .Pride, is more than the first of the seven deadly sins; it is itself the essence of all sin.”

Is Stott being too strong? No! It seems that when we consider the whole of the Bible indeed pride is our greatest enemy. As we said, pride is essentially self-glorification and this is what Satan tempted Adam and Eve with in the garden: “if you eat the fruit, you will be like God.” Indeed, the sin that God seems to hate the most is pride. C.J. Mahaney, in his book Humility: True Greatness, writes:

“From my study, I’m convinced there’s nothing God hates more than this. God righteously hates all sin, of course, but biblical evidence abounds for the conclusion that there’s no sin more offensive to Him than pride. When His Word reveals those things “that the LORD hates” and “that are an abomination to him,” it’s the proud man’s “haughty eyes” that head up the list (Proverbs 6:16–17). When the personified wisdom of God speaks out, these clear words are emphasized: “I hate pride and arrogance” (Proverbs 8:13, NIV). And consider the divine perspective on pride revealed in Proverbs 16:5: “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished.” Stronger language for sin simply cannot be found in Scripture.

And consider also the fact that James and Peter both tell us: 6“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6; 1Peter 5:5). Indeed, pride is in all of us, it’s our biggest enemy, and we must hate it and oppose it in ourselves as God hates it and opposes it. We need to be on guard against pride.

Guarding Against the Counterfeit of Humility: Self-Loathing

But we also have to be on guard against counterfeit humility. If the opposite of humility is pride, which is in essence self-glorification, counterfeit humility is self-loathing, hating oneself, always talking down about oneself to others, shunning or shrugging off compliments all the time. Some people confuse self-loathing with humility. But it’s a counterfeit or false humility. Because the truth is that self-loathing and self-glorification really aren’t that different. They both share the same root, namely obsession with oneself.

Genuine Humility: Self-forgetfulness

So what then is genuine humility and how do we grow in it?  Genuine humility is not self-glorification or self-loathing, which are both obsession with oneself. Genuine humility is self-forgetfulness. C.S. Lewis once wrote: “If we were to meet a truly humble person. . .we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble. They would not be always telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually a self-obsessed person). The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less” (quoted in The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulnes: The Path to True Christian Joy, by Timothy Keller).

What is the opposite of pride then? The opposite of pride is not self-loathing but the freedom of self-forgetfulness. It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit that comes from hearing the Gospel over and over and over again. We see this in Philippians 2 where Paul tells us that Christlike self-forgetfulness is the pattern of genuine humility: Phil. 2:1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Notice how the truly humble person is not one who is obsessed with oneself. The truly humble person is more concerned about other people than oneself. What does that look like? Paul says, they aren’t selfishly ambitious, they count others as more significant than themselves, and they look not only to their own interests, but also to the interests of others. I’ll leave it to you to apply these principles to your own life, or if you’d like you can listen to how I apply it in my sermon. Let me just conclude by pointing you to Christ, as Paul does.

The Cross of Christ: Gospel Motivation for Self-Forgetfulness

Christ points the Philippians to Christ as the supreme example of humble self-forgetfulness. And he doesn’t just point us to Christ he says, this is who you already are in Christ: 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 

This is the beauty of the gospel. Christ, who always was glorified in heaven and always deserved to be glorified as God, gave up His glory to save us from our vain attempts at self-glorification. And He did it through His own self-forgetfulness, by seeking and serving our interests above His own, even to the point of death on a cross! And because of His humble self-forgetfulness he was then glorified, not by Himself, but by his Father: 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This is the supreme pattern of genuine humility. It’s found in Christ! And this is who you and I already are, in Christ, by faith. And so, the Biblical exhortation is, “become who you are in Christ” knowing that God sees you in Christ and that you already have what He has.

You see, the Gospel provides both the pattern and the power to live a life of humility.How does it provide the power? The Holy Spirit speaks to you in the Gospel and says, “In Christ, you have everything you could ever want and need: In Christ, you are accepted by the God of the universe. In Christ, you have His fatherly pleasure. In Christ, you have the greatest love that anyone could ever long for. In Christ, you have the greatest name that anyone could ever seek to attain. In Christ, you have the greatest security, the greatest joy, and the greatest inheritance.” There is nothing you can selfishly grasp at in this world that isn’t already yours and more in Christ. You already have it now by faith and you will have it by sight when he returns. And it’s all a gift of free grace! And so, forget about yourself. Lose yourself to find yourself in Christ. And from the abundance that you have in Christ, magnify His worth by loving God and serving the interests of others above your own.

The opposite of humility is self-glorification. The counterfeit of humility is self-loathing. Genuine humility is self-forgetfulness and becoming who you are in Christ. How do you cultivate humility and how do you fight against pride?

Conclusion: Growing in Humble Self-Forgetfulness

There are a lot of things you can do, by God’s grace and strength, to cultivate genuine humility in your life.

  1. Use the means of grace (The Word and sacraments)
  2. Study God (“Who am I that YOU are mindful of me?”)
  3. Study sin and grace (“But for the grace of God, there go I”. . .”Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!”)
  4. Identify the grace of humility in others (We learn best by example. . .Christ is the supreme example. . .But Paul also says: “practice what you see in me, as I imitate Christ”)
  5. Encourage and serve others each day
  6. Invite and pursue and welcome correction (this is not my favorite, but still important)
  7. Every day acknowledge your dependence on God and your need for God through prayer, giving thanks at all times.
  8. Reflect on the wonder of the cross.

I could elaborate on each of these points in great detail, but this final one is probably the most important one. This is where Paul points us in Philippians 2 as noted above. And this is where other great preachers and teachers of the faith have pointed us as well. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote the following about the surest way to pursue humility:

“There is only one thing I know of that crushes me to the ground and humiliates me to the dust, and that is to look at the Son of God, and especially contemplate the cross. “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.” Nothing else can do it. When I see that I am a sinner…that nothing but the Son of God on the cross can save me, I’m humbled to the dust…. Nothing but the cross can give us this spirit of humility.”

John Stott also wrote:

“Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to be saying to us, “I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.” Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.

And may we decrease so that Christ might increase in us for the glory of God and the good of others. Amen!

“Jesus, My Great High Priest”

Here’s a great hymn text written in 1709 by Isaac Watts (Tune: Bevan)

Jesus, my great High Priest,
Offered his blood and died;
My guilty conscience seeks
No sacrifice beside.
His pow’rful blood did once atone,
And now it pleads before the Throne.

To this dear Surety’s hand
Will I commit my cause;
He answers and fulfills
His Father’s broken laws.
Behold my soul at freedom set;
My Surety paid the dreadful debt.

My Advocate appears
For my defense on high;
The Father bows his ears
And lays his thunder by.
Not all that hell or sin can say
Shall turn his heart, his love, away.

Should all the hosts of death
And pow’rs of hell unknown
Put their most dreadful forms
Of rage and mischief on,
I shall be safe, for Christ displays
His conqu’ring pow’r and guardian grace.