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The healing that comes from the cross (Isaiah 53:4-5)

The Unlimited Plan

If you spend any time watching television, you’re bound to have seen commercials from the major phone networks offering unlimited plans

What an attractive offer. No restrictions, no limits, nothing to get in between you and the way you want to use your device. Maybe that works for a smartphone. But if you want to live realistically and productively as a sinful human being in a fallen world, it’s absolutely critical that you humbly admit your limits. Every person is subject to three foundational limits: wisdom, power, and righteousness.

1. Limited Wisdom

The Apostle Paul speaks to our limited wisdom when he says, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

The Bible is reminding us that if God were capable of being foolish, his most foolish moment would be infinitely wiser than our moment of greatest, deepest, fullest insight.

Think of everything that you do not know. Consider all that you have not figured out and do not yet understand. Look back on all those moments when you thought you understood, only to be corrected. Your wisdom and understanding is frustratingly finite.

2. Limited Power

James calls us to accept the limits of our power with these direct and pastoral words:

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (see James 4:13-17).

Think of everything that you couldn’t control thus far in 2018. How much were you actually in control of last week’s events? Has today already slipped beyond your controlling grasp?

We all like to be in control, but accepting that there is actually very little in life that we do control is a very important spiritual step.

3. Limited Righteousness

Not only is our intellectual capacity limited, but so is our moral capacity. No matter how hard we try, no matter how mature we have become, sin still reduces us all to fools.

Isaiah 64:6 quickly humbles us: “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”

Yes, the power of sin has been broken, and by the grace of God, we are becoming more like Christ every day.

But you must remember: you and I have no independent righteousness at all. All our righteousness has been given to us by Christ. He is our righteousness.

Don’t Be Discouraged!

I’ll be the first to admit – I want to place my identity, security, and pride in my wisdom, power, and righteousness. But that’s a dangerous delusion! As sons and daughters of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, why don’t we joyfully and humbly accept the limits of our wisdom, power, and righteousness? He is unlimited, we are not, and that’s exactly as it should be.

By Paul David Tripp

Jesus is our Eternal God

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He [Jesus] was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  John 1:1–3 

If you were to sit down and write a book, how would you begin? Would you start by introducing yourself, letting the reader get to know a bit about you and what you hope to accomplish for them? That is precisely how many books of the Bible begin. But, the Gospel of John is not like many other books of the Bible. 

The opening of John’s Gospel reminds me of a drag race. I grew up in a family of motor heads firmly committed to classic American muscle cars. My pops is currently restoring a classic Chevy. One uncle was a stock car driver, and I spent nights growing up hearing the engines roar from the pits. My brother is a stock car driver as well. 

There is very little that matches the thrill of being behind the wheel when a race starts and the force of gravity throws you back into the seat as the car lunges forward from a standstill. John’s letter starts like that. He opens by echoing Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning…” The point is that the same God who made the world has entered the world and brings with Him new beginnings. Everything and everyone, including your life, can get a fresh start and new beginning with Jesus Christ. 

Jesus is our eternal God. That is the basic point of the opening lines of John. Before anything was created, Jesus existed. Jesus is not a created being, but rather our Creator God. He was with God the Father in eternity past and “was God.” That last line is as clear as the Bible could possibly be about the deity of Jesus Christ as God. If Jesus were at your company holiday party, He would have written “God” on His nametag. It’s that clear. By referring to Jesus as the eternal Word of God, the Bible is here showing that Jesus is the hope and longing of both Hebrew and Greek cultures, which dominated that day. For the Hebrew, God’s speech and action were one and the same. If you know the biblical account of creation, it says over and over that God spoke creation into existence by the sheer power of His Word (Genesis 1:3, 6, 11). This is because God’s Word is all-powerful and nothing can thwart or stop it from accomplishing its goal (Isaiah 55:11). 

The Greeks living at the end of the first century also clung tightly to their proud heritage, a philosophical one extending from Heraclitus, to Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and a host of philosophers, poets, and playwrights. At the fountainhead of Greek philosophy was Heraclitus whose image could be found on the coins in Ephesus for several centuries following his death. In his three-volume work, On Nature, Heraclitus taught that the world was created by fire and maintains an intricate balance between constant flux and overriding stability. He illustrated this point by penning the now-famous claim that a person never steps into the same river twice because of its constant change. For Heraclitus, the creation of the world, the ordering of all of life, and the immortality of the human soul were all made possible solely by the word (or logos) that was the invisible and intelligent force behind this world. Also, it was the word through which all things were interrelated and brought into harmony, such as life and death, good and evil, darkness and light, and the gods and people. For Greek philosophy, the key to all understanding began with understanding the Logos. John’s point is simple, no matter what you want to understand it’s always good to start with Jesus! 

John begins his book with Jesus Christ. How can you begin your day with Jesus Christ this year in such things as Bible reading and prayer? How can you start your week, finances, and relationships with Jesus Christ this year ?                                                  

By Mark Driscoll 

The Boy Who is Lord: Worshiping Instead of Worrying

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
(Luke 1:46-56)

 

Unmarried. Poor. Young. Pregnant. Mary has a lot to worry about.

Rather than worrying, however, we find her worshiping in Luke 1:46–55. Mary belts out a beautiful, spontaneous, anointed, worshipful song in response to God’s goodness and long-awaited provision. Worship encompasses all of life, but it most assuredly includes singing. Mary sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

What she’s saying is that deep down, from a heart made new by the grace of God, she wants to worship the Lord. Her life may be uncertain, but she wants God to be honored and glorified because He is good even when times are hard. Her spirit and the Holy Spirit intersect to honor Jesus—the son in her womb—that God the Father might get praise.

Her song continues, and we see more of Mary’s heart. Like all of us, she is an image-bearer of God, made to mirror God. She reflects Him beautifully in her song, which highlights the love, truth, compassion, justice, selflessness, and humility of God.

Mary is a theologically astute teenage worshiper. Her lyrics are saturated with biblical language drawn from 1 and 2 Samuel, Deuteronomy, Job, the Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah—all of this despite the fact that it would have been very unusual for a woman of her age and upbringing to be formally educated. Perhaps she heard the Scriptures read to her in synagogue each Sabbath and committed them to memory. In any case, she has chosen to live her life top-down: She trusts the Scriptures, she understands who God is, and she lives her life in light of that reality in the most difficult of circumstances.

What worries or stresses do your mind drift toward throughout the day? How can you worship God and fight for joy in these moments?

Mark Driscoll

Seven Things God Hates

“There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers”. (Prov. 6:16-19).

God hates sin in any form, but Proverbs 6:17-19 lists seven that are especially loathsome to Him. First is haughty eyes (v. 17), which pictures a proud and arrogant person with his nose in the air and his eyes uplifted. The pride in his heart is reflected in his mannerisms.

Pride is perhaps listed first because it is at the heart of all rebellion against God—beginning with Lucifer himself, who cried out against God, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa. 14:13-14).

God also hates a lying tongue (v. 17). Men often toy with truth, denying or distorting it to gain some supposed advantage. But God can’t tolerate deception of any kind. He expects us to live according to His truth.

Third, He hates murderous hands (v. 17). That speaks of people whose hatred and greed are so strong they will kill rather than be denied what they want. God created life and established its sanctity. That’s why He ordained that murderers be put to death (Gen. 9:6).

God also hates a wicked heart and malevolent feet (v. 18). Sometimes people fall into sin inadvertently. But these people carefully plot their sinful activities, then hurry to execute their plans.

Finally, God hates a false witness and a divisive spirit (v. 19). Bearing false witness is telling lies about an innocent party. That can obstruct justice, destroy a reputation, and even destroy a life. A divisive spirit is one who creates divisions where there should be unity.

Those sins characterize unbelievers, but Christians aren’t immune from them. So be on guard not to stray into attitudes and actions that God hates.

By John MacArthur

Plunge Your Mind into the Ocean of God’s Sovereignty

Sometimes we need to plunge our minds into the ocean of God’s sovereignty. We need to feel the weight of it, like deep and heavy water pressing in against every pore, the deeper we go. A billion rivers of providence pour into this ocean. And God himself gathers up all his countless deeds — from eternity to eternity — and pours them into the currents of his infallible revelation. He speaks, and explains, and promises, and makes his awesome, sovereign providence the place we feel most reverent, most secure, most free.

Sometimes we need to be reminded by God himself that there are no limits to his rule. We need to hear from him that he is sovereign over the whole world, and everything that happens in it. We need his own reminder that he is never helpless, never frustrated, never at a loss. We need his assurance that he reigns over ISIS, terrorism, Syria, Russia, China, India, Nigeria, France, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, and the United States of America — every nation, every people, every language, every tribe, every chief, president, king, premier, prime minister, politician, great or small.

Sometimes we need to hear specific statements from God himself about his own authority. We need God’s own words. It is the very words of God that have unusual power to settle our nerves, and make us stable, wise, and courageous.

On the one hand hearing the voice of God is like a frightened child who hears the voice downstairs, and realizes that daddy’s home. Whatever those other sounds were, it’s okay. Daddy’s home.

On the other hand it feels like the seasoned troops, dug in at the front line of battle, and about to be overrun by the enemy. But then they get word that a thousand impenetrable tanks are rushing to their aid. They are only one mile away. You will be saved and the enemy will not stand.

Vague generalizations about the power of God do not have the same effect as the very voice of God telling us specifically how strong he is, how pervasive his power, how universal his authority, how unlimited his sovereignty. And that our times are in his hands.

So let’s listen. Let’s treat the Bible as the voice of God. Let’s turn what the Bible says about God into what God says about God — which is what the Bible really is — God speaking about God. And as we listen, let us praise him. There is no other fitting way to listen to God’s exaltation of God. This is what happens to the human soul when we plunge into the ocean of God’s sovereignty.

We praise you, O God, that all authority in the universe belongs to you.

“There is no authority except from me, and those that exist have been instituted by me.” (Romans 13:1)

 

We stand in awe, O God, that in your freedom you do all that you please and all that you plan.

“Whatever I please, I do, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” (Psalm 135:6)

“I work all things according to the counsel of my will.” (Ephesians 1:11)

“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” (Isaiah 46:9–10)

 

We marvel, O God, that you share this total authority and rule completely with your Son.

“I have given all authority in heaven and on earth to my Son, Jesus.” (Matthew 28:18)

“I love my Son and have given all things into his hand.” (John 3:35)

“I raised my Son from the dead and seated him at my right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion. . . . I put all things under his feet.” (Ephesians 1:20–22)

“I welcomed my Son into heaven. He is at my right hand, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.” (1 Peter 3:22)

 

We submit with reverence to you, O God, because, through your Son, you remove and install the rulers of the world.

“Wisdom and might belong to me. I change times and seasons; I remove kings and set up kings.” (Daniel 2:20–21)

“I sent my angel and struck Herod down, because he did not give me glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” (Acts 12:23)

 

Indeed, O God, you not only raise rulers and put them down; you govern all their deeds in every age.

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in my hand, says the LORD; I turn it wherever I will.” (Proverbs 21:1)

“I will put an end to the wealth of Egypt, by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. . . . I will break the yoke of Egypt, and her proud might shall come to an end. . . . I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon and put my sword in his hand, but I will break the arms of Pharaoh.” (Ezekiel 30:101824)

“I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes. Then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave.” (Jeremiah 27:6–7)

“As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand. I will break the Assyrian in my land; and his yoke shall depart from my people.” (Isaiah 14:24–25)

“I will make the nations the inheritance of my Son, and the ends of the earth will be his possession. He shall break them with a rod of iron.” (Psalm 2:8–9)

 

We acknowledge with wonder, O God, that no plan of man succeeds but those which you, in unfathomable wisdom, permit.

“I bring the counsel of the nations to nothing; I frustrate the plans of the peoples.” (Psalm 33:10)

“No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against me.” (Proverbs 21:30)

 

And how mighty and wise you are, O God, that no man, no nation, force of nature can thwart your holy plans.

“No purpose of mine can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2)

“I do according to my will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay my hand or say to me, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35)

So, we bow, as dust in the scales, O God, and confess with joy, that we are as nothing compared to your greatness.

“I sit above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers. I stretch out the heavens like a curtain, and spread them like a tent to dwell in. I bring princes to nothing, and make the rulers of the earth as emptiness.” (Isaiah 40:22–23)

 

The joy of our hope, O God, is that you magnify your greatness by lifting up the low, and putting down the proud.

“I look on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand.” (Job 40:12)

 “I have scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; I have brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.” (Luke 1:51–52).

 

And so it will be forever, O God. You rule over all, with an everlasting rule, for the sake of the lowly who trust your Son.

“I live forever, for my dominion is an everlasting dominion, and my kingdom endures from generation to generation.” (Daniel 4:34)

“My Son will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:33)

 

Therefore, overflowing with praise and thanks, O precious and holy God, we rest in your absolute sovereignty over our lives. And rejoice to hear you say,

“Your times are in my hand.” (Psalm 31:15)

By Paul Tripp

Able to See, to Hear, to Say

Advent Reveals God’s Character

Have you ever accused God of being too weak? Have you ever criticized the Lord for not loving you enough?

I would like to think that I’ve always trusted in God’s omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience and eternal, unshakeable love. But I’m deeply persuaded that we, who consider ourselves “theologically sound” Christians, actually doubt the power and love of God more than we know.

Why do I think that? Because God says we do!

Read the words from Isaiah 59:1 – “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear.” (ESV)

Let me give you the quick context of this verse. Israel was suffering big time, and whether they said it audibly with their mouths or grumbled silently in their hearts, they accused God of two things:

First, being powerless in their time of need (his hand is too short), and second, being unmoved by their cries for help (his ear is too dull).

I wish I could write to you today and say that at all times, I trust in the breadth of God’s immeasurable sovereignty and the depth of his endless love. While I have experienced this type of faith on many occasions, I have to be honest with you: when the comfort and ease of life is interrupted, I wrestle with who God actually claims to be.

I know I’m not alone in my struggle. You and I are much like the Israelites. When life isn’t working out according to our plan, or when we’re suffering in some way, it’s very tempting for us to bring God into the court of our judgement and question his power, faithfulness, wisdom and love.

There were two things wrong with Israel’s faith, and two things we can correct in our own:

  1. Israel forgot God’s past acts of power and compassion.All they needed was a quick history lesson on their nation, and they would be reminded that God is all-powerful and abounding in steadfast love. How often do you revisit your history to remind yourself of God’s previous displays of power and love?
  2. Israel forgot that the love of God will visit in uncomfortable forms.Difficulty in your life is not a sign that God’s hand is too short, nor is it a sign that his ears are too dull. No, God will bring you through difficulty to strengthen your faith and deepen your love for him!

When was the last time you preached to yourself the theology of uncomfortable grace?

This Advent season, remind yourself that the greatest expression of the power and love of God is found in the sending of his Son. You don’t need to question His sovereignty and love when difficulty comes – just look at the baby in the manger!

A Transaction Makes the Kingdom Personal

“And from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44b

 

Some believers feel uncomfortable about the parables we have been considering, thinking they teach salvation can be bought. But Scripture always teaches that salvation is completely free. Salvation is “bought” only in the sense that one trusts Jesus as Lord and Savior and surrenders all to Him. The treasure and the pearl illustrate the spiritual transaction of surrender. In salvation, we exchange the old for the new. Isaiah 55: 1 describes salvation as God’s gift, yet refers to buying: “Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” As in the two parables, the sinner gives up all the worthless things he or she has while receiving all the invaluable kingdom wealth. Therefore this does not depict a buying of salvation, because with God that is totally unacceptable (cf. Isa. 64: 6). Without surrendering everything, people’s professions of faith are meaningless (cf. Matt. 19: 16–22). Jesus declared, “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 10: 39). Our Lord also said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt. 16: 24). When confronted with the true gospel, most people don’t inventory all their possessions to see if Jesus is worth following (cf. Luke 14: 28–33). When they see the infinite value of His kingdom riches, they simply yield to Him, surrender all, and faithfully follow.

 

~ Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, John Mac Arthur