This is a difficult time for many of us. Yet in the LORD we find comfort that transcends our earthly struggles. What hope do we have in the midst of this time of difficulty?
Zephaniah recounts for us a lot of really difficult things. Zephaniah is not a lighthearted read. It is heavy. If Zephaniah was a painter, he wouldn’t have used pastel colors. Instead, the canvas would be filled mainly with black and red.
Yet, there would be a glimmer of light, a glimmer of hope in the darkness. What hope is that and who is it for?
It is when we weep and howl in the agonies of distress that our rescue is all the more rejoiced in. When we see the contrast of our mourning turned into dancing and our ashes replaced with a crown, it gives us a picture of where we came from and what we deserve and what we get through the free salvation of Christ Jesus.
Ash Wednesday is a day of penitence but it leads to a party—new life in Jesus! We see our dire state and we see our sweet salvation!
Ash Wednesday is a type of looking down. Looking at ourselves, the state that we’re in. But we look down so we can have the right perspective as we look up and out to Jesus.
Ash Wednesday is a tangible and powerful symbol of our need. And when we know our need we rejoice in the One that comes for the poor and needy.
Jesus purchased His people (Jn. 6:36, 39; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). He showed God’s amazing love (Jn. 3:16; 15:13; 1 Jn. 3:16). He brought justification to all who would place their faith in Him (Rom. 5:18) by dying for their sins, in their place (1 Cor. 15:3; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18; Is. 53). He absorbed the wrath of God (1 Jn. 2:2). He became sin and made all who trust in Him the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). He canceled debt (Col. 2:14). He brought reconciliation (Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20-22). He defeated Satan, sin, and death and brought victory (Gen. 2:15; 1 Cor. 15; Col. 2:11-15; Heb. 2:14; Is. 53).
Jesus knew no sin, yet He became sin. We see the idea of someone bearing sin in the place of others attested to in both the Old Testament and New Testament (cf. Lev. 10:17; 16:21-22; Is. 53:6, 11-12; Jn. 1:29). Jesus is the Lamb without blemish that takes away our sin by dying in our place but He also rises; priest and lamb are not His only office. Jesus is also the coming King who reigns eternally. Consequently, the salvation that Christ brings through His work on the cross brings not only appeasement from wrath but also entrance back into the true Promised Land, the Garden of Eden. So, “the gospel is the good news of the Kingdom through the cross,” as Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert say. The New City Catechism says, “Christ’s death is the beginning of the redemption and renewal of every part of fallen creation, as he powerfully directs all things for his own glory and creation’s good” (Q. 26).
Christ’s work and resurrection propels on this world new creation (cf. Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18), it is the inevitable avalanche that will eventually encompass the whole earth (Ps. 72:19; Is. 11:9; Hab. 2:14) and those in Christ will be swallowed up in the effulgence of its glory, there to bask in eternal joy. Christ’s work on the cross and resurrection is the dawn, the first light, but soon the full splendor of the sun.
If we have the New Testament why do we need the Old Testament?
- All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable (2 Tim. 3:16), not just the texts we like to read.
- All the promises of God find their answer in Jesus so it is important that we understand what the promises are (2 Cor. 1:20).
- When Paul preached to the Ephesian church he preached the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) and the whole counsel of God points us to Jesus (Lk. 24:27).
- When Stephen preached in Acts chapter seven he preached the Old Testament (see also the other sermons recorded in the New Testament) which demonstrates the vital importance of the Old Testament.
- The things in the Old Testament serve to instruct us and set an example for us (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11).
- When Paul ministered to churches one of his ministries was proving that Jesus was the Promised One, the Christ (Acts 9:22). Paul demonstrated the amazing truth that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah by teaching the Old Testament. We see this all through Acts (Acts 9:22; 13:16ff; 16:13; 17:3, 17; 18:4-5, 19; 19:8ff; 24:25; 26:6, 22-26; 28:23, 31 cf. 18:28). We too must understand what it means that Jesus is the Messiah and that will require learning from the Old Testament.
- Much of the New Testament assumes knowledge of the Old Testament.
- Scripture is so good we need as much of it as we can get, Old Testament or New. Scripture is perfect (Ps. 19:7), true (Ps. 19:9), pure (Ps. 19:8), a light (Ps. 119:105,130), a sword (Eph. 6:17), a hammer (Jer. 23:29). It is better than gold (Ps. 19:10; 119:72) and we need it to live (Ps. 119:144). Scripture gives joy (Ps. 119:111; Jer. 15:16), makes wise (Ps. 19:7), guards (Ps. 119:9), guides (Ps. 73:24; 119:105), sanctifies (Ps. 119:9, 11).
Read and study the Old Testament along with the New. 🙂
Christians often say, “He is the reason for the season,” which is true. Yet, it is easy in the “hustle and bustle” of the holidays for that not to ring true in our homes. So, here are some suggestions I have complied to help you keep Christ central this holiday season…
Give God a Gift
The notion of giving God a gift may sound funny since it is He that is the “giver of every good gift” (James 1:17 cf. 1 Cor. 4:7). Yet the Bible certainly gives us precedence for giving God gifts, from Abel offering gifts to God (Gen. 4:4) to Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12 for us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices in light of all His goodness to us.
So, this holiday season give the LORD a gift. No, He does not need it. But He does deserve it and it is thoroughly biblical. When we give gifts to God it gets our mind on God (Matt. 6:21). Here are a few ideas: Fast. Fast one of the holiday feasts. Not for the purpose of limiting your caloric intake but because you want to focus and intentionally praise the one who is “the reason for the season.” You could also give a financial gift to your church or other good ministry. Use your creativity and give a gift that you believe God would appreciate.
Read the Christmas Story on Christmas Day
Reading the Christmas story on Christmas is a super good thing to do if the whole season is supposed to be about the coming of the Messiah Jesus. I would personally chose Luke 1:5-2:20. I would also suggest singing a hymn and offering a prayer of thanks too.
Set up a Nativity Scene in your Home
This is a helpful visual representation of what the holiday season is really all about. The One who created the world—the One who was in the beginning with God—the One who made all things and holds all things together—He became flesh and dwelt among us. When we see the nativity scene we can rejoice that God waded into this broken world to redeem it.
We have already looked at many reasons why we can believe the Bible. Yet, there are still many more. Here we briefly look at the Bible being trustworthy because it is…
The Bible contains all sorts of fulfilled prophecies (see e.g. “The Prophecy of Daniel 8”), particularly about Jesus. These attest to the Bible’s uniqueness, truthfulness, and authority.
“Whatever one may think of the authority of and the message presented in the book we call the Bible, there is a world-wide agreement that in more ways than one it is the most remarkable volume that has ever been produced in these some five thousand years of writing on the part of the human race.
It is the only volume ever produced by man, or a group of men, in which is to be found a large body of prophecies relating to individual nations, to Israel, to all the peoples of the earth, to certain cities, and to the coming of One who was to be the Messiah. The ancient world had many different devices for determining the future, known as divination, but not in the entire gamut of Greek and Latin literature, even though they use the words prophet and prophecy, can we find any real specific prophecy of a great historic event to come in the distant future, nor any prophecy of a Savior to arise in the human race…”
The heavens scream out and tell us of God’s surpassing worth (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:20). God’s glory is beyond our comprehension.
Do you know how far away the closest star is (besides the sun)? It is approximately 4 light-years away. A light-year is the length that light travels in one year. Light travels fast! 186,000 miles per second and there are 31,536,000 seconds in a year. A light year is really really really far. One light year is almost 6 trillion (6,000,000,000,000) miles! So, it takes four years for the light from the closest star to get to us.
And did you know that the sun is so big that about 1,300,000 earths could fit inside of it? The universe is vast beyond comprehension.
The Astrophysicist, Hugh Ross has said, “Somewhere around 50 billion trillion stars make their home in the observable universe.” That is impossible to conceive of. “A comparison may make it more comprehensible: if that same number of dimes were packed together as densely as possible and piled 1,500 feet high (as high as some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers), they would cover the entire North American continent.”
Jesus knew no sin, yet He became sin for us. We see the idea of someone bearing sin in the place of others attested to in both the OT and NT (cf. Lev. 10:17; 16:21-22; Is. 53:6, 11-12; Jn. 1:29). Jesus is the Lamb without blemish that takes away our sin by dying in our place but He also rises; priest and lamb are not His only office. Jesus is also the coming King who reigns eternally. Consequently, union with Christ as our corporate head not only brings appeasement from wrath but entrance back into the true Promised Land. So, the gospel is the good news of the Kingdom through the cross.
Hughes says of 2 Cor. 5:21 that “there is no sentence more profound in the whole of Scripture.” It is profound, amazing, and unexpected because although Jesus knew no sin He is treated as sin personified. What is further remarkable is that while “Christ alone in actuality suffered the penalty for sin, all are regarded as though they had suffered it themselves.” Read More…
When caring for someone who is suffering it is often best to say little. It is often best to sit in silence and just be a support by your presence. Even when people ask, “Why? …Why did this happen? …Why are we going through this?… Why?…” It is often still better to refrain from giving an answer. Instead of offering answers (that really can’t be satisfactory) we should pray and point them to our God who cares.
However, as Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us, there is a time to be silent but there is also a time to speak. When it is time to speak here are some things that I have found helpful in the midst of suffering.
Suffering is a result of sin
Suffering was not part of God’s original intention for the world. God created the world “very good” (Gen. 1:31). It was only after humanity rebelled that suffering came on the scene.
Sadly, there are all sorts of effects because of sin. The world is fallen. And we have faulty and frail bodies. We are susceptible to Lyme disease, cancer, and all sorts of other things. We all suffer, we will all die. That is sadly the way the world is because of the curse that sin brought.
The suffering we experience is not just the result of various kinds of sickness. It is also the result of being sinned against. People afflict others with emotional and physical pain and fail to love as they should. So we see, sin brings upon the world sickness as well as psychological sorrow. Sin is not good.
So, in one sense, we can give an answer to the “why?” question by saying sadly the world is broken and we as individuals are broken physically and spiritually. However, that’s not all. We, thankfully, are not left there. We also see…
God takes our suffering seriously
Our Lord is not up in the sky indifferent to suffering. God takes sin and its effects seriously. Let’s look at four ways God sympathizes with us and takes sin seriously.
First, we see Jesus sympathizes with our suffering. John 11:35 says that “Jesus wept” at the death of Lazarus. Jesus was “deeply moved” (v. 33, 38) and “greatly troubled” (v. 33). Jesus can sympathize with us and our suffering (cf. Heb. 4:15). Our Lord is not up in heaven unaware of the suffering of His servants. Our Lord is aware and He cares. He cares deeply.
Our Lord cares so much that second He comes as our Savior. We see “God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.” Jesus offers a solution to the problem of suffering, by suffering in our place. Suffering without medicine or morphine, suffering on a Roman instrument of torture. Even as we grieve over suffering and death we do not grieve as those without hope. We have hope! We have hope through Jesus!
Jesus didn’t heal everyone when He walked the earth and He doesn’t heal everyone now, but He does take care of our biggest problem. Jesus suffered, bled, and died. He was cast out by the Father so that we could be welcomed in.
God is good. Even when we cannot see His hand, we can trust His heart. God memorialized His love for us, when we see the cross, we see that God’s hands are open wide to welcome us in, comfort, and renew us.
So, dear beloved, take heart, Jesus, who is God, weeps as you weep. He feels your misery. However, He does not leave us there (as everybody else has to because they are not Lord) but offers us the solution to all pain and misery. How does He do that, what solution does He give? Jesus gives Himself, His own life. He takes the misery upon Himself on the cross. He bears the wrath we all deserve. Through what Christ did on the cross, for all those in Christ, all things will be restored, made new!
Actually, even now we, in Christ, have the Holy Spirit as a down payment of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it (Eph. 1:14). So, in the midst of suffering and difficulties, we shouldn’t project ourselves into a graceless future. Because, third, God will be there, grace will be there. The LORD will not leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6). Our Shepherd, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, is with us now and He will be with us through the storms of life (Ps. 23 cf. 121). Even in our suffering when we can’t form words to pray, the Spirit is there to intercede for us (Rom. 8:26).
Fourth, we see that Jesus will come back and set all things right. There will be no more reason to weep for He Himself will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4)! We know, as Paul says, that this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17 cf. Rom. 8:18). Read More…