The gospel is…

Summed up in these words from the New Testament: For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus. (1 Tim 2:5)

The gospel is—simple.
You don’t have to be a mathematician to answer this question: What is the simplest number you can think of? One, of course, the number one. This  verse gives us the simple gospel, using the number one. “For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the [one] Man Christ Jesus.”

The word gospel means “good news”. And the good news is simple.  Not trite, but simple. Profoundly so, though perhaps not at first glance. Let’s think about it together.  I’ll read the verse again, “For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the [one] Man Christ Jesus.”

First of all, the gospel is simple in its scope.
Secondly, the gospel is simple in its basic message.
And thirdly, the gospel is simple in its response, or rather, our response to it.

The gospel is simple in its scope.
The word scope means, “Who’s it for?”
It’s for everybody.  Jesus commanded his disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel (i.e., the good news) to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) To everybody.  How complicated would it all be if the gospel was only for those of a certain race, or nationality, or ethnic background. “God has made of one blood all nations of men…to dwell on all the face of the earth.” (Acts 17:26) None of us have an “in”, so to speak, where the gospel is concerned.  We are all in the same boat.  We are all creatures.  There is only one Creator. “For there is one God.”

The gospel is simple in its message.
“For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the [one] Man Christ Jesus.” Now when we think of a mediator, we usually think of a labor dispute, and a go-between person, an arbiter, someone who can bring both sides together, sit down at the same table, and work out their differences. But that’s not what is meant by the word Mediator in this context, for two reasons.  1) Our notion of a mediator is someone who comes in between two parties in conflict.  The two sides sit down at the same bargaining table, but they are “very far apart”.  Now it is certainly true that God is above us, beyond  uSo. “Transcendent” is the word the theologians use.  God is transcendent, but He is not distant.  “Am I a God near at hand, says the Lord, and not a God afar off?  Can anyone hide himself in secret places so I shall not see him? Do I not fill heaven and earth? (Jeremiah 23:23-24) Transcendent, but not distant. How complicated would it all be if we had to set out to find an infinite, transcendent God. No one could do it.  The simple message of the gospel is that He is not distant from us. We are distant from Him.  All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned every one to his own way. (Isaiah 53:6)  It might be stretching the metaphor a bit, but God is already at the bargaining table. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them. [It is as] though God were pleading through us, we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21) My God is reconciled! Wonderful words from a wonderful hymn of the faith.  “There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” There is a second reason why this Mediator, this mediation, is so different.  Think again of a labor dispute, and the need for a mediator.  Both sides bring something to the table, so to speak. Both sides have what they call bargaining chips.  But where God and our salvation is concerned, we have no bargaining chips. We are in no position to give and take with God.  We are, spiritually speaking, bankrupt. If we know ourselves at all, we know that we are self-centered, prideful, sinful. And if we don’t know that, the Scriptures point us to the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross of Jesus Christ reminds us, in stark fashion, of the love God has for sinners, and the bankruptcy of our sinful condition. Why else would the very Son of God die in our place? Bearing our sin? “[He] bore our sins in his own body on the tree.” (1 Peter 2:24)

And finally, the gospel is simple in its response, or rather, in our response to it.  “For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the [one] Man, Christ Jesus.”  So we come to the bargaining table, not to bargain, but only because we have been graciously invited.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already” (John 3:16-18)  Whoever believes in Him. How wonderful! How simple! How complicated it would all be if we had to first turn in a checklist. Or fill out an application. Or take a special test.  Or jump so high off the ground.  Or have a certain amount of money in our bank account.  None of that.  Believe.  Believe what?  That Jesus died for the sins of the world. No, that’s not enough.  Listen carefully, it is not enough to believe that He died for the sins of the world, in some general far-off way.  You must believe that He died for your sins.  Yours.  Believing means turning your back on some things.  Repentance.  Believing means asking for forgiveness, or perhaps better, receiving the forgiveness that is already there for you, for the asking. Believing means desiring to live for Jesus. Give Him your past.  Trust Him for the present.  And hope in the bright future He has promised to all who believe in Him.

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A heart surgeon 

May He grant you according to your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your purpose. Ps 20.4.

God is for me. That is a comforting truth. But it is also a sobering truth. God is a Surgeon. A heart surgeon. He will surely grant us our heart’s desire—after He operates.

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An Irreducible Statement of Faith

  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe that God created the universe freely, and out of nothing.
  • We believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word of God.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that all mankind are sinners, inherently from Adam and individually by choice, and are therefore subject to God’s wrath and condemnation.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is essential. Justification is by grace alone through faith alone in our Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross alone.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit to empower the Christian for witness and service.
  • We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
  • We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female. These two distinct, complementary genders together reflect the image and nature of God. Rejection of one’s biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person.
  • We believe that the term “marriage” has only one meaning: the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union, as delineated in Scripture. We believe that God intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other.
  • We believe that any form of sexual immorality (including adultery, fornication, homosexual behavior, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, and use of pornography) is sinful and offensive to God.
  • We believe that all human life is sacred and created by God in His image. Human life is of inestimable worth in all its dimensions, including pre-born babies, the aged, the physically or mentally challenged, and every other stage or condition from conception through natural death. We are therefore called to defend, protect, and value all human life.

This statement of faith does not exhaust the extent of our beliefs, but rather identifies those doctrines that merit greater attention. The Bible itself, as the inspired and infallible Word of God that speaks with final authority concerning truth, morality, and the proper conduct of mankind, is the sole and final source of all that we believe.

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Behold on Christmas a new and wondrous reality

Behold on Christmas a new and wondrous reality….He Who is above now for our redemption dwells here below, and we who are lowly are by divine mercy raised up. Bethlehem this day resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices. Ask not how. For where God wills, nature yields. For He willed. He had the power. He descended. He redeemed.

St. John Chrysostom

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How can I keep from singing?

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho’ far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro’ all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What tho’ my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho’ the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it,
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his—
How can I keep from singing?

Author: “Pauline T.”
19th century

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Our Confidence in Christ

Confidence in Christ’s presence with us.  Confidence in Christ’s purposes for us. Confidence in Christ’s protection over us.

A couple weeks ago I came across a verse from Proverbs 3:26 “For the Lord will be your confidence”, and it got me to thinking.

What kind of confidence is this? Is this a kind of holy self-confidence? Is this just another way of  saying that there is power in positive thinking? Oh no, it surely can’t be. There has to be more to it than that.

In the first place, we read that the Lord will be your confidence. The Lord. Who are we dealing with here? The psalmist writes in one place, “Let all the earth fear the Lord, Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.  For He spoke and it was done. He commanded and it stood fast.” The Lord, our Creator. It is a dogma of the Christian faith that the eternal God created everything there is out of nothing. Ex nihilo is the Latin term for it. And in the book of Hebrews we read that “the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible”. But, really, how could it be otherwise? Unless you want to say that stuff, that is matter, has always existed—always—in which case we are all living in an idiot universe. And if that is true, what is the point of talking about confidence at all?

We read from Psalm 139 this morning, a Psalm of David. “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You [even] know my sitting down and my rising up. [Why] there is not a word on my tongue but behold O Lord, you know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before.” Do these verses make you uncomfortable? They seemed to have made David, at least initially, uncomfortable. Look how he goes on in verse 7 to say, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee?” I need to get away.  How did Billy Joel put it, I don’t care what you say anymore this is my life. Go ahead with your own life and leave me alone.

But we are not alone. One of my favorite Bible verses is from the prophet Jeremiah, in chapter 23. “Am I a God near at hand, says the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places so I shall not see him, says the Lord? Do I not fill heaven and earth, says the Lord?”

We can’t get our minds around it, but verses like the ones we’ve read reveal to us the fact that God is actually closer to us than we are to ourselves. The overwhelming emphasis in Scripture is not that God is very far from us, but that we are far from Him. We push back.  We want to run.  It is all too natural for us not to want a God we have to answer to. A God we can’t pull one over on. A God that crowds our space. This all too natural tendency the Bible calls sin. I’ll do it my way.  And what is the middle letter in the word sin? I think you know what I’m trying to say. And in our pushing God away we cut off our nose to spite our face.  No, it is much, much worse than that.  The Bible describes sin using the metaphor of a paymaster.  “The wages of sin is death.” Physical death.  Spiritual death.

This is why our Lord Jesus Christ—of whom the apostle John declares, “all things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made”—this is why he began his earthly ministry saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent. Oh sure, I get it, Jesus.  I guess I’ve got to turn over a new leaf.  I’ve got to do better.  I’ll try not to swear quite as much.  And maybe I throw a few more back than I should now and again. I’ll clean up my act. After all, I’m basically a good person.

Well, that wasn’t the gospel the apostles preached.  Or the martyrs died for.  No, it was this—that none of us are basically good.  We read in Paul’s epistle to the Romans, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”

True repentance is the turning away from ourselves, to Christ. We all learned in Sunday School that He is the Savior of the world.  Yet it is not enough to believe that He died for the sins of the world.  It is enough to believe that He died for your sins.  It’s not really about “accepting the Lord”.  It’s more, as we sing at Christmas—“Fall on your knees!  O hear the angel voices!”  I have learned, my Lord and my God, that you are rich in mercy.  While on others Thou art calling, do not pass me by.  That’s being poor in spirit.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

For the Lord will be your confidence. Your confidence.

There is or used to be a poster in the back of the church that read, God accepts you just the way you are, but not so you’ll stay the way you are.  Our salvation is not some pie-in-the-sky thing.  It’s a life-transformation. “Old things have passed away.  Behold, all things have become new.”

Before, the thought of God’s nearness was irritating, something we’d rather not think about.  Now, it is our confidence.  We read in Psalm 91, “he who dwells in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, he is my rock and my fortress, my God in Whom I trust.” Or from Psalm 16, “I have set the Lord always before me, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore, my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices.  My flesh also will rest in hope.  For you will leave my soul in Sheol, nor will you allow your holy one to see corruption.  [This is the resurrection that we look for] You will show me the path of life.  In your presence is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Our confidence is in Christ.  We are confident of His presence with us, now and forever.  “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end.”

St Augustine is famous for having said, “We were made for God, and our hearts are restless until they can find their rest in you.“

And as good Presbyterians, we should all know the answer to the first question from the Westminster Confession, “What is the chief end of man?” To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  

Our confidence in Christ.  We can be confident of His presence with us.  We can be confident of His purposes for us.  For you and me.  Apart from Christ, life really has no path and no destination.  That is why Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Nobody comes to the Father but by Me.”

And we can be confident of Christ’s protection, too.  This last part, however, is no doubt the most challenging.  

If you listened carefully as Psalm 91 was read, and it did not raise questions, then you probably weren’t really listening. Let’s look at it again.  “Surely he shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly pestilence.  He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge.  His truth shall be your shield and buckler.  You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.  A thousand shall fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not come near you.”  Wait, stop. Isn’t the Psalmist getting carried away here?  Let’s be real.  Isn’t this hyperbole?  Verses like this used to really give me trouble, until I realized something.  Our Lord, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, when He assumed a human nature, became man, and walked among us, He went to the synagogue faithfully.  He would have read these verses.  He would have no doubt memorized them. Not just because He was a good Jewish boy, but because he knew them to be the inspired words of God, His Father.

What am I trying to say?  We need to look at these verses through the lens of Christ.  Was He protected?  More than once, when the scribes and Pharisees surrounded Him with plans to throw Him off a cliff, the Scripture says He disappeared from their midst.You can almost picture them saying,  “What the?  Where’d He go?  He was just here.”  Jesus would often say things like, “My hour has not yet come.” And yet it did finally come.  He was given over to His enemies.  He was mocked.  He was beaten.  He was crucified.  He was laid in a borrowed tomb.  His dying words were, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  And three days later His message, His life, his divinity were all gloriously vindicated when He was raised from the dead.

No, the Psalmist wasn’t getting carried away.  We can be confident of Christ’s presence, His purposes and His protection.  We don’t go through life whistling through the graveyard, so to speak.  Life is real.  Death is real.  Pain and suffering are real. But we, like the Psalmist, are to set the Lord always before us, because He is at our right hand, we shall not be moved.  Moved from our firm conviction that God is Sovereign over all things, and if He calls on us to endure hardship, His grace will be available to endure it.  “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

I can think of one case in church history where a thousand did fall, and close to ten thousand at his right hand, and yet he was spared.  It is the story of Martin Rinkart…

Christ is our confidence.  Confident of His presence, His purposes for our lives, and His protection.  These truths are summed up beautifully by the apostle Paul in the eighth chapter of his epistle to the Romans:

“What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?  Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is he who condemns?  It is Christ who died—more than that—who was raised, who is seated at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? As it is written, for your sake we are killed all day long, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And all God’s people said, Amen.

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Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense

Jesus Christ, my sure Defense
And my Savior, ever Iiveth;
Knowing this, my confidence
Rests upon the hope it giveth
Though the night of death be fraught
Still with many an anxious thought.

Jesus, my Redeemer, lives;
I, too, unto life shall waken.
Endless joy my Savior gives;
Shall my courage, then, be shaken?
Shall I fear, or could the Head
Rise and leave His members dead?

Nay, too closely am I bound
Unto Him by hope forever;
Faith’s strong hand the Rock hath found,
Grasped it, and will leave it never;
Even death now cannot part
From its Lord the trusting heart.

I am flesh and must return
Unto dust, whence I am taken;
But by faith I now discern
That from death I shall awaken
With my Savior to abide
In His glory, at His side.

Glorified, I shall anew
With this flesh then be enshrouded;
In this body I shall view
God, my Lord, with eyes unclouded;
In this flesh I then shall see
Jesus Christ eternally.

Then these eyes my Lord shall know,
My Redeemer and my Brother;
In His love my soul shall glow,–
I myself, and not another!
Then the weakness I feel here
Shall forever disappear.

They who sorrow here and moan
There in gladness shall be reigning;
Earthly here the seed is sown,
There immortal life attaining.
Here our sinful bodies die,
Glorified to dwell on high.

Then take comfort and rejoice,
For His members Christ will cherish.
Fear not, they will hear His voice;
Dying, they shall never perish;
For the very grave is stirred
When the trumpet’s blast is heard.

Laugh to scorn the gloomy grave
And at death no longer tremble;
He, the Lord, who came to save
Will at last His own assemble.
They will go their Lord to meet,
Treading death beneath their feet.

Oh, then, draw away your hearts
Now from pleasures base and hollow.
There to share what He imparts,
Here His footsteps ye must follow.
Fix your hearts beyond the skies,
Whether ye yourselves would rise.

17th century
Author unknown

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In and through all things

The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside. Psalm 14:2-3

It is as if the Lord looks expectantly, truly desiring to find one who does understand, which has not turned aside. The Lord is sovereign, yes, but sovereign in and through all things.

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Seems so foreign

The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.  Psalm 58:10

This is a michtam, a golden psalm, of David. David the shepherd-warrior.

A psalm like this seems so foreign to what we learn in the New Testament from our Lord Himself—love your enemies.

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Stubborn hearts

But My people would not heed My voice,
And Israel would have none of Me.
 So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart,
To walk in their own counsels. Psalm 81:11-12

O Lord, deliver us! We are all born with stubborn hearts.

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