“As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18)
Christmas is a model for missions. Missions is a mirror of Christmas. As I, so you.
For example, danger. Christ came to his own and his own received him not. So you also. They plotted against him. So you. He had no permanent home. So you. They trumped up false charges against him. So you. They whipped and mocked him. So you. He died after three years of ministry. So you.
But there is a worse danger than any of these which Jesus escaped. So you!!
In the mid-16th century the missionary Francis Xavier (1506–1552), wrote to Father Perez of Malacca (today part of Malaysia) about the perils of his mission to China. He said,
The danger of all dangers would be to lose trust and confidence in the mercy of God. . . . To distrust him would be a far more terrible thing than any physical evil which all the enemies of God put together could inflict on us, for without God’s permission neither the devils nor their human ministers could hinder us in the slightest degree.
The greatest danger a missionary faces is not death but to distrust the mercy of God. If that danger is avoided, then all other dangers lose their sting.
In the end God makes every dagger a scepter in our hand. As J.W. Alexander says, “Each instant of present labor is to be graciously repaid with a million ages of glory.”
Christ escaped this danger — the danger of distrusting God. Therefore God has highly exalted him! As he, so you.
Remember this Advent that Christmas is a model for missions. As I, so you. And that mission means danger. And the greatest danger is distrusting God’s mercy. Succumb to this and all is lost. Conquer here and nothing can harm you for a million ages.
The fight for joy in God isn’t just for us, but a battle to bring others along with us on the road to satisfaction in Jesus.
The week after my infant son Paul died, I went to pick up my two-year-old daughter from preschool. No one said a word to me other than “Here she is.” I realize they felt awkward, but the silence was crushing. I barely made it out the door before bursting into tears.
It’s hard knowing what to say when someone has experienced a great loss. Saying “I’m so sorry” feels trite, so it’s easier just to say nothing. But for those who are suffering, silence hammers the hurt even deeper, especially during the Christmas season when the ache of loss is intensified. The weight of tragedies — the death of a loved one, divorce, disease, divided families, depression, and disaster — can all feel heavier at the holidays, as the festivities acutely remind us of what we have lost.
I have buried a child, endured four miscarriages, gone through an unwanted divorce, parented troubled teenagers, and continue to deal with a painful deteriorating disability — so I understand how difficult this time of year can be. While each person and each loss is unique, from my experience, here are five suggestions for caring for those who are suffering at Christmas.1. Acknowledge the loss.
Having someone simply acknowledge your grief can be a gift in itself. Though our suffering friends may never mention it, the sadness of the situation will be a constant backdrop throughout the season. When we verbally recognize their loss, it shows we notice and care. Our words need not be deep or profound; just recognizing the ever-present reality of their pain can be encouraging.
- “I know this season is particularly hard. I wish you weren’t dealing with this agonizing family situation and all of the fallout.”
- “Losing your wife will understandably overshadow everything else that is happening this Christmas. We miss her too, and we know your pain is even deeper.”
- “I’m guessing these health struggles make it harder to enjoy Christmas because you can’t do the things you loved and did before. I’m so sorry about that.”
Our friends who are reeling from loss this hoiday may not be able to do things they did in years past. Since it may be harder to buy gifts, they may not participate in the usual gift-giving. Social events may be too emotionally or physically demanding to attend. Include your friends and offer to go with them to functions, but be understanding if they cancel at the last minute. Suffering people often don’t know what they can do until right before the event.
Also, extend grace when they are down or depressed. Tears may appear unexpectedly and so can irritability. You don’t need to cheer them up, but understand that their emotions may be constantly on edge. The impact of your support and encouragement is appreciated more than you realize.3. Actively offer assistance.
Deliberately look for ways to help, and then offer specific suggestions. It’s hard to follow up on vague offers, so don’t just say, “If you need anything, call me,” because they won’t call. If you do offer specific support, be sure to follow through. They know it’s a busy time of year, but if you have committed to help, they are likely depending on it.
Some things that may be helpful are:
- Offer to help with Christmas shopping, decorating, or even gift-wrapping.
- Since food is a big part of the holidays, offer to cook or bake something, or even invite their family for dinner. After my first husband left, it was a priceless gift to be invited to friends’ homes where we were able to form new memories.
- Offer to run errands like grocery shopping, going to the post office, or picking up children from school.
- Keeping their children for the afternoon can be a huge help, giving them time to be alone, rest, or get needed things done.
Even though everyone at a gathering may know them well and share concern for them, it is difficult to be put on the spot with more than a few people present — so ask in private. I have felt awkward and even embarrassed to be asked how I am really doing in front of a group; it’s harder to be authentic when everyone is looking at me.
Regularly call or come by to check in with them. The question, “How are you doing today?” can open the door to conversation since it acknowledges that grieving and suffering changes from day to day. It also lets them answer the question without feeling they need to summarize everything that has happened over the month. But don’t ask prying, personal questions or speak in hushed, mournful tones. That often makes people feel uncomfortable, and like a project more than a friend.5. Allow them to grieve and don’t try to fix them.
Instead, point them to Christ and remind them of his faithfulness.
I am still indebted to the friends who let me weep and vent without analyzing or judging me. Trying to fix people only deepens their grief. Unsolicited advice feels like criticism. It hurts to be told that others are thriving under the same circumstances and then to get suggestions on what to do differently. Everyone’s healing is unique. Negative comparison makes the wound even deeper.
Instead, we can remind our friends that the real joy of Christmas is not in family or friends or gift-giving or parties, but in the incredible fact that God Incarnate came to earth and dwelt among us. Jesus took on flesh for us so that we would have life eternal in him.
Remind them that God’s grace is sufficient and his word revives the soul. But do not bludgeon them with mini-sermons or pepper them with platitudes. God’s ways are mysterious, and we do not understand why calamity comes.
Remind them that our faithful Savior will never fail or forsake them. That Jesus walks with them and he weeps with them. Remind them that he knows every detail of their struggle. Remind them that for all of us, the unshakeable hope of Christmas lies solely in Emmanuel, for our God has come to us and will forevermore be with us.
Jesus is one hundred percent God, one hundred percent man. This union of divinity and humanity may be mysterious, but it’s the only hope for sinners.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah . . . ” (Jeremiah 31:31)
God is just and holy and separated from sinners like us. This is our main problem at Christmas — and every other season. How shall we get right with a just and holy God?
Nevertheless, God is merciful and has promised in Jeremiah 31 (five hundred years before Christ) that someday he would do something new. He would replace shadows with the Reality of the Messiah. And he would powerfully move into our lives and write his will on our hearts so that we are not constrained from outside, but are willing from inside, to love him and trust him and follow him.
That would be the greatest salvation imaginable — if God should offer us the greatest Reality in the universe to enjoy and then move in us to know that Reality in such a way that we could enjoy it with the greatest freedom and the greatest pleasure possible. That would be a Christmas gift worth singing about.
That is, in fact, what he promised in the new covenant. But there was a huge obstacle. Our sin. Our separation from God because of our unrighteousness.
How shall a holy and just God treat us sinners with so much kindness as to give us the greatest Reality in the universe (his Son) to enjoy with the greatest possible joy?
The answer is that God put our sins on his Son, and judged them there, so that he could put them out of his mind, and deal with us mercifully and remain just and holy at the same time. Hebrews 9:28 says Christ was “offered once to bear the sins of many.”
Christ bore our sins in his own body when he died (1 Peter 2:24). He took our judgment (Romans 8:3). He canceled our guilt (Romans 8:1). And that means our sins are gone (Acts 10:43). They do not remain in God’s mind as a basis for condemnation. In that sense, he “forgets” them (Jeremiah 31:34). They are consumed in the death of Christ.
Which means that God is now free, in his justice, to lavish us with the all the unspeakably great new covenant promises. He gives us Christ, the greatest Reality in the universe, for our enjoyment. And he writes his own will — his own heart — on our hearts so that we can love Christ and trust Christ and follow Christ from the inside out, with freedom and joy.
Try to imagine the Bible without the Psalms. What a different book it would be! What a different place the church would be. And what a different person I would be.
It’s not as though the rest of the Bible does not teach truth and awaken emotions. I learn things and feel things everywhere I read in the Bible. But it’s not the same. The Psalms do not just awaken the affections of the heart; they put the expression of those affections in the foreground. They feature the emotional experience of the psalmist intentionally against the backdrop of divine truth.Emotion on Display
They do not just invite the emotion of the heart in response to revealed truth. They put the emotion on display. They are not just commanding; they are contagious. We are not just listening to profound ideas and expressed affections. We are living among them in their overflow. We are walking in the counsel of God-besotted wisdom, and standing in the way of amazed holiness, and sitting in the seat of jubilant admiration.
We touch pillows wet with tears. We hear and feel the unabashed cries of affliction and shame and regret and grief and anger and discouragement and turmoil. But what makes all this stunningly different from the sorrows of the world is that all of it — absolutely all of it — is experienced in relation to the totally sovereign God.God at the Bottom of It All
None of these emotions rises from a heart that has rejected the all-governing God.
- “Your waves have gone over me” (Psalm 42:7).
- “You have made my days a few handbreadths” (Psalm 39:5).
- “You have rejected us and disgraced us and have not gone out with our armies” (Psalm 44:9).
- “You have made us like sheep for slaughter and have scattered us among the nations” (Psalm 44:11).
- “You have made your people see hard things” (Psalm 60:3).
- And in it all, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me!” (Psalm 139:1).
God is behind everything. This is the great difference between the Psalms of Scripture and the laments, complaints, and sorrows of the world. For the psalmists, God is a rock-solid, unshakeable, undeniable, omnipotent Reality. Their emotional experiences get their meaning not by denying him or his power or his wisdom, but by dealing with him as he is: absolutely sovereign. “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6). This was the psalmists’ unshakeable conviction — all of them: “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3).Taste and See That He Is Good
They never turned against God and rejected him because of their calamities. The fool says in his heart there is no God (Psalm 14:1), but not the psalmist. It was unthinkable to the psalmists that their sorrows should drive them away from God. Where would they go? “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Psalm 139:8). If God is God, then all emotional life is lived in his presence. He makes sense of it. Or there is no sense.
But sheer omnipotence is not the main reason the psalmists never forsake their God. The psalmists know from experience that he is good and faithful. They know that, if they trust him, he will act on their behalf (Psalm 37:5). They testify again and again,
- “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us” (Psalm 40:5).
- “You have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me” (Psalm 30:1).
- “You have given me the shield of your salvation” (Psalm 18:35).
- “You have given me relief when I was in distress” (Psalm 4:1).
- “You have healed me” (Psalm 30:2).
- “You have been the helper of the fatherless” (Psalm 10:14).
- “You have maintained my just cause” (Psalm 9:4).
- “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing” (Psalm 30:11).
- “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Psalm 4:7).
In great mercy and wisdom, God has chosen to give us the Psalms. He has put them at the very center of his inspired word. Surely this is no accident. The heart is the center of our emotional life. And God’s heart-book is at the center of his word. How easy it is to find!
This is an invitation. God wants our hearts. He will take them as he finds them. And then, with the healing balm of the Psalms, he will shape them. Accept his invitation to come. On the front door, he has promised, Enter here. Find your delight in lingering here in meditation.
You will be “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:3).
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)
Christmas marked the beginning of God’s most successful setback. He has always delighted to show his power through apparent defeat. He makes tactical retreats in order to win strategic victories.
In the Old Testament, Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, was promised glory and power in his dream (Genesis 37:5–11). But to achieve that victory he had to become a slave in Egypt. And, as if that were not enough, when his conditions improved because of his integrity, he was made worse than a slave: a prisoner.
But it was all planned. Planned by God for his good and the good of his family, and eventually for the good of the whole world! For there in prison he met Pharaoh’s butler, who eventually brought him to Pharaoh, who put him over Egypt. And finally, his dream came true. His brothers bowed before him, and he saved them from starvation. What an unlikely route to glory!
But that is God’s way — even for his Son. He emptied himself and took the form of a slave. Worse than a slave — a prisoner — and was executed. But like Joseph, he kept his integrity. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Philippians 2:9–10).
And this is God’s way for us too. We are promised glory — if we will suffer with him as it says in Romans 8:17. The way up is down. The way forward is backward. The way to success is through divinely appointed setbacks. They will always look and feel like failure.
But if Joseph and Jesus teach us anything this Christmas it is this: What Satan and sinful men meant for evil, “God meant it for good!” (Genesis 50:20).
You fearful saints fresh courage take
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and will break
In blessings on your head.
Today is a day of reckoning. A wave of judgment is sweeping leaders from their high positions of cultural, political, corporate, and religious power because they used those positions to indulge their self-centered sexual appetites on subordinates.
Things that in the dim, hidden realms of their imagination and control looked deceptively like perks of privilege and sexual entertainment — pleasures they pursued without giving serious thought to how the human objects they used would be damaged — now look lurid, foul, abusive, pathetic, and shameful when dragged out into the bright light of public exposure.
Victims are speaking out, many for the first time. Their anger is justified and palpable, and their words are carrying real consequences to their once-insulated abusers. So far this has been a very good thing. It would be a great mercy if lasting cultural intolerance resulted in the balance of power changing between lecherous leaders and vulnerable subordinates.Is Your Heart Being Hardened?
But God is doing far more than exposing the sin of leaders. He is showing again how deceitful and desperately sick the human heart is (Jeremiah 17:9) apart from Christ, and reminding us that we have such evil blood still coursing in our veins, so prone to be “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
And for those who will hear it, God is offering us total forgiveness and freedom. He has sent his Son into the world precisely to liberate us from our sick hearts and sin’s slavery, no matter how lurid and shameful. There is an escape; there is a safe place.
But the time is urgent and short. God can turn a day of reckoning into a day of amnesty. But he’s calling today, “Today, if [we] hear his voice, [let us not] harden [our] hearts” (Hebrews 3:15).Christians in Bondage
God makes this offer to both Christians and non-Christians. Obviously non-Christians remain in sin bondage. But many Christians are also in the bondage to a secret sin they fear to expose. They were offered a forbidden fruit, they listened to their deceitful desires, and they ate. They didn’t fully realize they were enslaving themselves to sin (Romans 6:16), but having been snared by enticement, they have discovered sin to be a ruthless slave master.
The Bible is very clear (and our experience confirms) that we who are new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) still endure the strange experience of having inside us remnants of the “old self, which belongs to [our] former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22).
Therefore, we must choose to “put off your old self” and “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22, 24). We live with a regenerated nature and a corrupt nature, a new heart but an old disease still infecting our beings. And we are called to direct our regenerated heart to follow Jesus (Proverbs 23:19) and to die to the sinful desires and directives still in us.
That’s why the warnings in Hebrews about sin’s deceitfulness and responding “today” are addressed to Christians.Insidious Deceitfulness
So, it is to our deceitful, sinful desires that this proverb is addressed: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12). This describes the deceitful nature of all sin, not just the sexual kind dominating the news.
But the sexual kind is a prime example of how sin ensnares us into slavery. It entices us with a promise of forbidden pleasure by making the way of death appear “right” to us. In the soft, hazy light of seductive temptation in the unreal world of our fallen imagination, we appear autonomous, others appear soulless, and sin appears consequence-less — all of which are lethal lies.
Then, having believed the promise and obeyed sin, we find ourselves ruled by condemnation and fear. Guilt brings down its hammer blows against us, and our sin’s exposure threatens to destroy our reputation, relationships, and perhaps far more. Meanwhile, weakened by indulgence and shame, sin re-entices us as a poisonous form of seeking comfort, and the cycle keeps repeating till escape seems hopeless.
This is the ancient serpentine strategy to imprison us in dark, damnable dungeons in order to alienate us from God and others — and, if possible, to destroy us. But as long as it is called “today,” we are not hopeless. There is an escape. But only one.Door in the Dungeon
Into the dark dungeon of sin, where we followed our desperately sick, sinful desires, came Jesus.
Our Creator knew everything about us — every sinful thought we’ve had, every sinful word we’ve said, and every sinful, despicable thing we’ve done — and came anyway to rescue us from our hearts by taking the full punishment for our sin and our unholy shame on himself, and offering us his cleanness and holiness instead.
And when he did, Jesus made a door — he became the door (John 10:9) — in the wall of our sin dungeon leading to eternal guilt-free, sin-free, joyful freedom. He became the light in our darkness, our salvation from damnation and sin’s slavery, our refuge from divine judgment, removing all real reason for fear (Psalm 27:1–2).
In Christ, God, who is the most fearsome adversary of the sinner, who has the power to throw us into hell, becomes our one safe place free from all condemnation and fear (Romans 8:1). Jesus offers us safe escape out of the dungeon.Today
But this offer — an offer made to both non-Christians and professing Christians — is made to those who will confess their sin, repent of it, and follow Jesus. This offer is made to perpetrators who have selfishly abused and damaged others and live in a cell of secret shame. It is made to their victims living in dark cells of bitterness and resentment. The full price for sin has been paid; full justice has been done. Therefore, full forgiveness and full freedom is yours, if you’ll take it.
Do not wait any longer. Stop listening to the tyrannical threats of sin and Satan. Jesus offers this gift today. Today is the day to walk out the door. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:15). “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). If you wait longer, your heart may be “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin,” and the door may close (Hebrews 3:13).
God can turn a day of reckoning into a day of amnesty. But he’s calling today. Come out of the dungeon.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
As I was about to begin this devotional, I received word that Marion Newstrum had just died. Marion and her husband Elmer had been part of our church longer than most of our members had been alive at the time. She was 87. They had been married 64 years.
When I spoke to Elmer and told him I wanted him to be strong in the Lord and not give up on life, he said, “He has been a true friend.” I pray that all Christians will be able to say at the end of life, “Christ has been a true friend.”
Each Advent I mark the anniversary of my mother’s death. She was cut off in her 56th year in a bus accident in Israel. It was December 16, 1974. Those events are incredibly real to me even today. If I allow myself, I can easily come to tears — for example, thinking that my sons never knew her. We buried her the day after Christmas. What a precious Christmas it was!
Many of you will feel your loss this Christmas more pointedly than before. Don’t block it out. Let it come. Feel it. What is love for, if not to intensify our affections — both in life and death? But oh, do not be bitter. It is tragically self-destructive to be bitter.
Jesus came at Christmas that we might have eternal life. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Elmer and Marion had discussed where they would spend their final years. Elmer said, “Marion and I agreed that our final home would be with the Lord.”
Do you feel restless for home? I have family coming home for the holidays. It feels good. I think the bottom-line reason for why it feels good is that they and I are destined in the depths of our being for an ultimate Homecoming. All other homecomings are foretastes. And foretastes are good.
Unless they become substitutes. Oh, don’t let all the sweet things of this season become substitutes of the final, great, all-satisfying Sweetness. Let every loss and every delight send your hearts a-homing after heaven.
Christmas. What is it but this: I came that they may have life? Marion Newstrum, Ruth Piper, and you and I — that we might have Life, now and forever.
Make your Now the richer and deeper this Christmas by drinking at the fountain of Forever. It is so near.
You can’t make the new birth happen on your own. If you’re alive in Christ today, you’re a miracle of God’s word.
Let’s stay close to the heart of Christmas: God took on flesh that he might die to destroy our enemies, deliver us from sin, and give us eternal life.
The impact of R.C. Sproul on my life and ministry is owing to an incomparable combination of his unashamed allegiance to the absolute sovereignty and centrality of God, his total devotion to the inerrancy and radical relevance of the Christian Scriptures, his serious and rigorous attention to the actual text of Scripture in shaping his views, and his jolting formulations of biblical truth in relation to contemporary reality.
Let me illustrate. I can remember the very room in which I was standing when this incomparable combination landed on me for the first time. It was a back room of our house, listening to a cassette tape on a Walkman, while doing some chores. The text that R.C. was preaching on was Luke 13:1–5.
I had chosen to listen to it because I was struck by the title of the message printed on the cassette: “The Misplaced Locus of Amazement” (re-preached in recent years as “The Locus of Astonishment”). I had no idea what he meant. Even when I thought about the content of Luke 13:1–5, I didn’t have the wisdom to discern what he would be getting at. Then I began to listen. And as so often happens in listening to his expository messages, I was riveted.Our Misplaced Amazement
Some people had come to Jesus and confronted him with the horror that Pilate had slaughtered some Galileans and mingled their blood with their own sacrifices. Interestingly, those who came to Jesus didn’t ask any questions. They simply expressed amazement. But inside their amazement was a question: What horrible sin had these Galileans committed that brought down such a judgment?
Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2–3). And to make sure they knew he saw such horrors in the world, he added this: “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4–5).
Then R.C. made a devastating — jolting — observation. He said that these crowds, who were so amazed that some people had been judged for their sin, had put their amazement entirely in the wrong place — “a misplaced locus of amazement.” They were amazed that something horrible had happened to a few Galileans. What they should have been amazed at was that something equally horrible hasn’t happened to everybody in Jerusalem — indeed, R.C. added, everybody in the world.
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:2–3)
The meaning of these calamities that happened to others is that I should repent. The amazing thing is that I am not now, at this moment, in hell for my sin. Jolting.Incomparable Combination
As time went by, I came to realize that the impact of such preaching was owing to R.C.’s incomparable combination of allegiances.
First, he had a serious and rigorous attention to the actual text of Scripture. He was not making his points in general, as his sermon floated in a fog above the text. He was reading the text. He was pushing my nose into the clauses. He was showing me what is really there. The shocking realities were real because they were really in the text.
Second, over time, when you heard R.C. do this kind of thing repeatedly, you realized such serious and rigorous attention to the text was owing to his total devotion to the inerrancy and radical relevance of the Scriptures. He didn’t believe that the message of biblical texts was innocuous and unexciting, and therefore in need of artificial verbal boosters to make the thunder crack. Oh no. If you take the text seriously, and you realize this is the very word of God, you may expect that its relevance will be repeatedly shocking.
Third, therefore, the jolting formulations of biblical truth that were sprinkled so liberally through R.C.’s preaching and writing were not artificially concocted to add effect, but strategically chosen to express reality. And he would say that the jolting expressions, if anything, fall short of, rather than exaggerate, the reality of the text.
Fourth, emerging from the exegesis, and rising in my heart, was an unashamed allegiance to the absolute sovereignty of God to show mercy or to judge according to his infinite wisdom. This was R.C.’s goal: a heart that is stunned and humbled and captivated by the transcendent greatness and purity of God.Holy God, Humble Man
Consider one other illustration of this kind of jolting exposition. King David decided to bring the ark of God from Kiriath-jearim to the city of David. But contrary to the law of God, it was carried on an ox-drawn cart, not on poles by the priests (Numbers 4:15). The oxen stumbled, the ark tipped, Uzzah put out his hand to steady the ark, and God struck him dead (1 Chronicles 13:10).
R.C. suggested that the issue here was deeper than a failure to follow Mosaic stipulations. It was a failure to see the depth of human defilement. Why, he asked, should Uzzah presume that his hands were cleaner than the soil on which the ark was about to fall? Soil is only ceremonially unclean. The hands of sinful men are morally and spiritually unclean — a vastly more serious uncleanness.
To the objection that this seems harsh, R.C. answered that there are, according to Jewish tradition, 23 breaches of the law that receive capital punishment in the Mosaic law. This is an absolutely astonishing and merciful limitation on God’s part since, at the beginning of human history, all sins were punishable by death!
Again and again, I heard him draw out such jolting observations from Scripture — all of it in the service of magnifying the holiness of God, and the humility of man. I marveled. The effect was to make me want to handle the Bible with blood-earnestness, to submit to it absolutely, to preach it faithfully, and to unashamedly herald the greatness of God’s sovereign grace.
For me, it was this faithfulness to biblical texts, and this high view of God’s sovereignty and holiness, that made R.C.’s fight for the imputation of Christ’s righteousness so credible and compelling. The bigger and more central and more sovereign and more holy God is in our eyes, the more clearly we see our desperate need for justification by faith alone.
Someday, when the official biography is written, and the best studies of his life and ministry are done, there will, I believe, emerge a remarkably coherent body of truth and devotion. He never allowed himself to go down marginally important rabbit trails (excluding aberrations like a devotion to the Pittsburgh Steelers!). He stayed close to the great doctrines of Scripture and their profound impact on life and ministry and church and missions. These have been the girders from which he has built a coherent, God-centered worldview.“I Love the Chair”
I close with one last personal memory that endeared R.C. to me in a special way. He had invited me to Orlando to be part of one of the Ligonier conferences. I was to preach after he had just preached on the meaning of faith. In his message, he pictured a chair on the platform and illustrated that if you trust the chair, you don’t just say so, you sit in it. That is what faith is.
In the course of my message following his, I ventured to say that there was more to faith than that: that you must love the chair — find the chair beautiful and precious. You must treasure the chair, not just sit in it — not just use it. After the message, I slipped out the back in a hurry to catch my plane home. R.C. had been watching on a monitor in the green room. He grabbed my arm, whispered his thanks, smiled, and said, “I love the chair.”
How easily he might have been miffed. But he was not that kind of man. His smile and his laughter and his affirmation were real and deep. They were not frivolous. We must embrace Christ not only as useful in holding us up, but as precious in being our all-satisfying Treasure.
I love R.C. Sproul. I am sure I owe him more than I can even recall. My reverence for the holiness of God and the truth of his word would not be the same without his influence. I will miss him (for a short while).
To be the parents of godly children is an unspeakable blessing, only to be surpassed by having godly grandchildren. Seeing your children’s children walking faithfully is a testimony to the kindness, mercy, and faithfulness of the Lord.
As Christian parents and grandparents, we have the privilege of following the pattern Moses gave the Israelites:
“That you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long..” (Deuteronomy 6:2)
As grandmothers, we are to do more than simply cheer for our children and grandchildren and buy them Christmas jammies (though we should certainly do those things and more). Our foremost duty is to fear the Lord and obey him every day of our life.
Our grandchildren should remember us as faithful, God-fearing grandmothers, and all our loving and giving should flow from a desire to be a source of material and spiritual blessing to our grandkids. It is natural and obvious that we should expect to have an active role in passing on our faith to them.Your Grandchildren’s Spiritual Asset
Timothy’s grandmother Lois clearly had a hand in passing on her faith to her grandson. Otherwise, why would Paul mention her, as well as Timothy’s mother, Eunice, in his second letter to Timothy?
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. (2 Timothy 1:5)
Clearly, Grandma Lois impressed Paul as a woman whose faith was the real deal. She was staunch. And though our own lives are vastly different from this first-century Jewish woman, surely we can be a spiritual asset to our own grandchildren in our own generation.
With seventeen grandchildren of my own, ranging in age from two years old to nineteen, this is something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while. And though your household is different from mine, I hope I can still offer you a few suggestions.Don’t Get in the Way
Grandchildren are easy to admire. What grandmother hasn’t been immediately smitten with delight and joy over a newborn child? I think loving the grandkids is the easy part. It comes naturally and abundantly. So much so that sometimes we even have to rein it in. That’s the first thing. Don’t let your affection for your grandchildren get in the way of their spiritual growth. How can that happen?
When my son-in-law would take our first grandson down the hall for some much-needed discipline, I would find myself offering excuses for his misbehavior (I would apologize to Ben afterwards). But I remember the turning point, when instead of cringing when this happened, I said something like this: “I bless you, Ben. I want godly and happy grandchildren!” And my first grandson has grown up to be a very fine young man. Thanks be to God!Honor Their Father and Mother
Though we want to be resources in the discipleship of our grandkids, we must not try to do the parents’ job for them. Grandmothers are to be a help, not a hindrance — and not running interference. God has called the parents to raise up their own children in the Lord, and our role as grandmothers is to be a support in all their efforts. Even (and especially) when we might disagree with how they are doing it. And we will.
Remember, your children have done the leaving and cleaving. You have had your chance to raise them up to be faithful Christians. Now your job is to encourage them; it is no longer to teach and admonish them. If you have a good relationship with your grown children, they will welcome your input. But it’s always better if we wait until we are asked.
I’ve had to do a fair bit of counseling over the years with young mothers who are having a difficult time with their mothers or mothers-in-law. I would say the top issues are criticism and interference.
For example, the parents don’t want the children to have a certain kind of toy, but the grandparents buy it for them anyway. Or the grandparents buy way too much stuff for the kids. Or the grandparents criticize the way the parents are doing their job. All this criticism and interference will only succeed in chasing your children away. You can differ with their decisions without telling them about it.
It is far more fruitful to tell God about it, and he will either show you where you are reading the situation wrong, or he will give you the patience to hold your tongue. Remember how you felt as a young mother. Did you appreciate criticism from your parents? I doubt it!Open Homes and Unceasing Prayers
Make your home a hospitable place for your married children and your grandchildren. Don’t greet them with a list of rules. What is more important?
My beautiful dining room table has many scratches and flaws. But it makes me smile when I think of all the happy hours around that table. There is even a smiley face carved out in one spot! I don’t even want to know which grandchild (or guest) did that. But at least it’s a smiley face and not a frowny face. You might think I’m weird, but I treasure that little piece of art in my table.
Finally, pray for your grandchildren, and take every opportunity to encourage and bless them in Christ. Your actions speak much louder than any words!
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children. (Psalm 103:17)
Christ was born on earth that you might be born again to heaven.
Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (Hebrews 8:6)
Christ is the Mediator of a new covenant, according to Hebrews 8:6. What does that mean? It means that his blood — the blood of the covenant (Luke 22:20; Hebrews 13:20) — finally and decisively purchased and secured the fulfillment of God’s promises for us.
It means that God, according to the new covenant promises, brings about our inner transformation by the Spirit of Christ.
And it means that God works this transformation in us through faith — faith in all that God is for us in Christ.
The new covenant is purchased by the blood of Christ, effected by the Spirit of Christ, and appropriated by faith in Christ.
The best place to see Christ working as the Mediator of the new covenant is in Hebrews 13:20–21:
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
The words “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight” describe what happens when God writes the law on our hearts in accord with the new covenant. And the words “through Jesus Christ” describe Jesus as the Mediator of this glorious work of sovereign grace.
So, the meaning of Christmas is not only that God replaces shadows with Reality, but also that he takes the Reality and makes it real to his people. He writes it on our hearts. He does not lay his Christmas gift of salvation and transformation under the tree, so to speak, for you to pick up in your own strength. He picks it up and puts it in your heart and in your mind and gives you the seal of assurance that you are a child of God.
Words are the secret of Christmas. Even more important than the gifts we purchase, and the packages we wrap, are the letters we write, and the syllables we mouth. And once you discover the secret, you might even spend less time sweating what to buy, and give more energy to crafting what to say.
Jesus’s own words are what would make us pause and ponder the power of words at Christmas, and all year long. In John 15:11, he says to his followers,
“I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
It’s one thing to feel happy for a fleeting moment. It’s quite another to have Jesus’s own joy burning inside of you — to not only taste joy, but experience fullness of joy. How does that happen? How does Jesus’s own delight — dwelling in him, empowering him, filling his own soul — become ours? How does his own happiness come to dwell in and empower and fill us?
The answer, he says, is the wonder of words. Words are God’s vessel for passing joy from one soul to another.Jesus’s Own Joy in Us
Our lives are awash in words. We encounter (and produce) literally tens of thousands of them every day. We’re prone to take their function and power for granted, when we should regularly marvel. Jesus’s own joy in us through words! How can we not exclaim with John Wesley, “Oh, give me that Book”?
And Jesus has more to say. In John 17:13, he turns to his Father and prays about his disciples,
“Now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”
Jesus said what he did in the world to be captured and preserved for us in the Gospels, not just that we would have joy, but that his own joy in his Father might be in us. It’s almost too precious to say. If Jesus himself had not said it, we would not presume to walk on such holy ground.
But Jesus means to share his own joy with us. And he does so through words. He designs that his followers hear and receive his words, and feed their souls on them, like the prophet Jeremiah, and taste them as their joy and delight (Jeremiah 15:16).
And in doing so, Jesus models for us how we can pass his joy on to others, at Christmas and year-round. As joy fills and expands in a soul, it rises to the level of expression. The voice box sounds, the lips and teeth form invisible words, which pass through the air and then into these open holes in the sides of our head called ears. Invisible words pass into the open receptacles, and down into our souls, and one person’s joy feeds another’s. Not just from Jesus to us, but from others to us — and from us to others. All through words.“Magic” Words of Joy
If we weren’t so familiar with words, and were to learn about their power for the first time, it might all sound like magic. You mean someone with a full heart of priceless joy in God can exhale, sound and shape these invisible vessels of joy (which pass through the air, into my head, and down into my soul), and by faith give me real and lasting joy? Yes, it is amazing.
And it gets even better. As we draw from a full tank of joy, to transmit into words our joy to fill another’s tank, our own joy doesn’t go down but up! “Praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment,” as C.S. Lewis famously said.
When we stay quiet about what makes us happiest, we don’t preserve our happiness. Hearts don’t stay full by keeping the lid on them. Our joy dwindles when we stay quiet. But when our joy inspires us to expend energy to express it in understandable words — which can be hard work — our joy actually ripens, deepens, expands, and “completes the enjoyment.” Giving ourselves to the effort it takes to carefully say it (or write it) both sweetens our delight and makes it more contagious. Others can share in it when they hear about it.
Which makes us want to tell others not just that we’re happy but why. What is the fuel on our fire? Instead of just saying, “I’m happy,” say instead, “Messiah has come.” Instead of just saying, “I’m hopeful,” say why you have hope. Instead of just saying, “Jesus is my treasure,” say what specifically makes him feel so valuable.God’s Own Joy in His Word
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that words hold such power — not just for spreading discontent and ruining Christmas, but also for passing joy and making it what it is.
After all, when God himself reaches into our world, in human language, to communicate to us a vital aspect of his relationship with his Son, he calls him “the Word” (John 1:1). God’s Word in Jesus to us is so rich and deep and full and personal, that it is not just a word-thing, but he is a Word-person. God has spoken to us, not just through prophets and apostles, but “by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1–2). Jesus’s person and work is the very embodiment and climactic expression of what God has to say to humanity — and the grace, and joy, he has to offer.
In his first advent, the Word became flesh that the very joy of God — eternal, indomitable, unassailable, unshakable — might become our joy. That Word, his words, and our words about him are the greatest gifts of Christmas. Let’s learn the secret. Even more valuable than anything we can wrap in paper is the joy we can capture in words, whether spoken or written, to help fill others with the sweetest delight a soul can taste: Jesus’s own fullness of joy.
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. . . . They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” (Hebrews 8:1–2, 5)
We’ve seen it before. But there’s more. Christmas is the replacement of shadows with the real thing.
Hebrews 8:1–2, 5 is a kind of summary statement. The point is that the one priest who goes between us and God, and makes us right with God, and prays for us to God is not an ordinary, weak, sinful, dying priest as in the Old Testament days. He is the Son of God — strong, sinless, with an indestructible life.
Not only that, he is not ministering in an earthly tabernacle with all its limitations of place and size while getting worn out and being moth-eaten and being soaked and burned and torn and stolen. No, Hebrews 8:2 says that Christ is ministering for us in a “true tent that the Lord set up, not man.” This is not the shadow. It’s the real thing in heaven. This is the reality that cast a shadow on Mount Sinai for Moses to copy.
According to Hebrews 8:1, another great thing about the reality which is greater than the shadow is that our High Priest is seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. No Old Testament priest could ever say that.
Jesus deals directly with God the Father. He has a place of honor beside God. He is loved and respected infinitely by God. He is constantly with God. This is not shadow-reality like curtains and bowls and tables and candles and robes and tassels and sheep and goats and pigeons. This is final, ultimate reality: God and his Son interacting in love and holiness for our eternal salvation.
Ultimate reality is the Persons of the Godhead in relationship, dealing with each other concerning how their majesty and holiness and love and justice and goodness and truth shall be manifest in a redeemed people.
If we serve the Lord without gladness, we serve him as if he is not the true source of delight and satisfaction.
The key to magnifying Christ in life and in death is to find him more precious and more satisfying than everything we lose in death.
Your address is not a coincidence.
Where you live — house, townhome, duplex, apartment, or dorm — is not ultimately a consequence of your budget, your stage of life, or your commute. You live where you live because God has deliberately, sovereignly placed you here. The long series of events, decisions, and circumstances that led you here really did lead you here. He brought you home one detail at a time.
The God who made the world, and everything in it, as Paul preached at Mars Hill, “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26–27).
God not only knit you together in your mother’s womb; he also sovereignly orchestrated all the places you would call home — the periods and boundaries of your “dwelling place.” You do not have a home by accident. Your home is an invitation from God to seek God, and a commission from God to help others seek God.Five Dreams for Our Home
Our family’s address changed in the last few weeks. We only moved three short miles away, but we have felt the weight of leaving our last (and first) home behind. And we have felt the joy of making this new house our home (even with the joys of painting and moving wearing off more quickly).
The move has given us a fresh opportunity to think and dream and pray about having a home. Why do we have a home? What do we want to happen inside these walls? What will the legacy be of our years here, however many years we end up living here? As a family who believes in Jesus, obeys Jesus, and loves Jesus above all else, how do we make the most of this home?
The questions are all too big for us on our own, so we take them to God and let him speak. The verses below are shaping how our family intends to steward our home, and inspiring us to make it an outpost for ministry, rather than a retreat from our mission.1. May we build our home on Christ and nothing less.
Of all the things that might show up on an inspection report, foundation issues are the worst. If you decide to buy a house with a bad foundation, you’re signing up to suffer a host of serious problems throughout your home, or you’re signing up to pay tens of thousands of dollars to have the foundation fixed. Most buyers simply walk away from a bad foundation, and for good reason.
If Christians are ever going to maintain and steward a home in a meaningful way, we must build our house on Christ. Regardless of whether we own or rent, whether we have lived here for 25 years or a few days, we have the opportunity to rebuild the foundation under our spiritual feet.
Jesus tells the parable,
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24–27)
If you’ve been living on sand, start pouring God’s word into the foundation underneath you and your family. As strong and secure as most modern homes may seem, many of them are quietly crumbling from the inside out because we’ve neglected the words of and about Jesus in Scripture. We subtly (or overtly) build homes on comfort, privacy, entertainment, and safety, without making room for God himself to speak. Then when the rains of various trials fall, or the floods of crises come, or the winds of life beat against us, the once strong house suddenly falls apart.
Build your home, instead, on the Rock. Allow his voice to be the regular stabilizing, guiding, shaping, correcting, and comforting foundation under your lives.2. May we hold this home loosely.
Even hours into living in our new home, the temptation emerges to idolize the familiarity, comfort, and security a home brings. We are walking into our second home with eyes wide open to the reality that God may take away this home a year from now, or he may call us away from this home at any time for the sake of his kingdom.
Just as he has graciously and lovingly given, he may graciously and lovingly take away (Job 1:21). We bless his name today, and we resolve to bless him if and when a harder day comes.
Jesus says some of us will lose houses because we decided to follow him,
“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29–30)
We may lose a house because of Christ, but we will never be losers in the process. However much we lose for his sake in this life, we receive a hundredfold now because of him — and infinitely more in eternity. For all those thousands upon thousands of years, having lost a house in this life will suddenly look and feel like having lost a favorite pen or pencil.
So, enjoy this home, but hold it loosely.3. May we make our home a home for others.
When God gives us a home, he wants to care for our immediate family, but he also has other people in mind. The New Testament makes clear that God wants every Christian home — whether we are single, married, or parents — to be a home for people outside our home. Sometimes literally and physically, often more spiritually and emotionally.
Paul charges every home owner (or renter), “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:13). Hebrews adds, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2). Show hospitality. Meaning, wherever you call home, bring people home with you — and use your home to serve the needs of others.
And do the harder, even impossible work of showing hospitality without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9) — without complaining about cleaning the home, or making extra food, or changing our plans, or being inconvenienced. Grumble-free hospitality and generosity will produce “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15–16) — the distinct and beautiful smell we all want filling our homes.4. May we prioritize our true family.
Among all the people we might bring into our home, the Bible calls us to prioritize one group above the rest — perhaps even more than our biological families. Paul says, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:9–10). Especially to other lovers of Jesus.
When asked about his biological family, Jesus says, “‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:46–50). He also tells us to honor our parents and to provide for our biological families, but with a special burden for those who love and obey him with us.
You not only live in a home, or own a home; you are being made, with lots of other believers, into a home: “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). Let your home be a catalyst for that kind of spiritual building, joining, and maturing within the family of faith.5. May we remember that this home is not our home.
While we may live here for a season — five years, 25 years, maybe even 50 years — this is a temporary living situation. Our earthly home is not our true home, because we have a better home, and an abiding one, in heaven (Hebrews 10:34). “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). If we love, follow, and serve Christ, wherever we live in this world, we know we belong somewhere else.
That does not mean we cannot treasure these four walls. God has chosen these walls, for these days, specifically for us — for the sake of his glory through us and our joy in him. It does mean that we live inside these walls and care for these walls with hearts set on our final and everlasting home. As you enjoy this dwelling place for this allotted time, prepare your heart and family to live forever at home with the Lord.