The Not So Hidden Treasure That Is Christ

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A couple weeks ago, our family vacationed at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and of course, we had a great time. One morning, Steph and I up were up early doing devotions and enjoying a spectacular sunrise when we saw a funny sight. A guy with a metal detector was walking very slowly and was clearly searching for treasure on the beach. If you are a beach-goer, you will know that seeing that kind of thing on the beach is not out of the ordinary. It’s pretty common actually, but what struck me was that he was headed in the direction of the rising sun. Now, anytime you can see a sunrise, it is amazing (see Psalm 19:4b-6). We often take it for granted, but it is even more amazing when you see it rising over the ocean, like we did that morning. We had a most remarkable backdrop, but it was almost as if he missed it. He was searching for little gadgets and trinkets that might be worth something, but missed something truly priceless.

 

Now, if you are one of those people who like to use your metal detector to find hidden treasure, don’t hear me the wrong way. Don’t give up your hobby. Keep enjoying what you do and maybe you will strike it rich some day….lol. There is obviously nothing wrong with what that guy on the beach was doing. It is just a hobby that he (along with thousands of other people) does and enjoys. But for me this served as an illustration pertaining to our value system. We all have values. There are things that we value greatly while there are other things we don’t value at all. You have heard the saying, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” I’ve said to people before, “why would you spent that much money on that thing?” I’ve had other people say the same to me. In the study of economics, this is called “The Subjective Theory of Value.” That is a fancy title but it has to do with a rather simple concept – values are subjective and not objective. In other words, one person places more value on certain things than another person and vice versa.

 

As Christians, however, we recognize that there values that are beyond the category of subjective. As we study the Scriptures, we come to see that we must align our value system with God’s value system. We must love the things He loves and hate the things He hates. We must treasure what He treasures and forsake what He forsakes. The apostle Paul wrote, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10). What this tells us is that not everything is subjective. There is an objective value system that is beyond question. It’s not about – I like this and you like that. No, it is more like – God values this and therefore, that trumps our subjective opinions. Just like that, we have moved from a subjective value system to an objective value system and that transition happens through Holy Scripture. God’s word shows us what is truly valuable, excellent, praiseworthy, lovely, commendable, etc (see Philippians 4:8).

 

In the gospels, there are a couple of short parables that illustrate what I am saying. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46). In the ancient world, there weren’t banks like we have today. Often people would gather up their treasures and valuables, dig a hole, and leave them there for safekeeping. Eventually, they would go the way of the world and die, with no one knowing where the buried treasure lay. Fast forward a few decades or even centuries later, and perhaps someone would be working in the field, planting their crops when….you guessed it….they stumble upon the buried treasure. That is the basic idea with the first parable and the second is related.

 

Friend, if you knew the secret of hidden treasure what would you do to acquire it? What lengths would you go in order to lay claim to that treasure? I want you to know that the greatest treasure in all the world is the Lord Jesus Christ. To find Him is to find life itself (John 14:6). What is so amazing is that Jesus has not hid himself from us (Romans 10:6-13) but has revealed himself in a most remarkable way. He has made Himself available to all who would call upon His name.

 

Getting back to my opening illustration, the sun serves as a pointer to the Son – the Son of Righteousness. How sad to think that there are scores of people who are searching for treasure in this world when the greatest treasure is right there in front of them – the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

 

We live in a world with a very skewed value system. We value and treasure the things of the world (what the Bible calls transient and passing away), while laying aside that which is of infinite value, namely Christ Himself. Like the sun rising over the ocean, Christ is in no way hiding himself from us. Through His spoken Word and through the created world, God has revealed Himself most clearly and unmistakably. The question is, do we have eyes to see and hearts that are willing to receive the One who is more beautiful, more glorious, more excellent than anyone or anything? Of course, that question remains to be answered.

 

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17).

The Suffering Son

I can’t imagine anything harder than watching your child suffer. A couple years ago our son John got a serious case of the hives and Steph and I were forced to watch John suffer in agony for several days. There was little we could do to relieve his itch and pain, except to pray for him and let it run its course. That was a hard time for us, but God brought us through and I am sure many parents can relate to our feeling of helplessness as we watched our son suffer.

Sickness, sorrow, and death all part of living in a Genesis 3 fallen world. Life is downright hard at times. But we can take comfort in knowing that as sin and death entered into the world, the living God did not sit back and let things simply play out. No, the Triune God launched a rescue plan. Remarkably, this plan involved the Son of God suffering in an unthinkable manner on the cross. Centuries before the time of Christ, the prophet Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, uttered these words found in Isaiah 53:

He was despised and rejected by men;

a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their faces

he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his wounds we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—every one—to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

yet he opened not his mouth;

like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,

and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,

so he opened not his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away;

and as for his generation, who considered

that he was cut off out of the land of the living,

stricken for the transgression of my people?

And they made his grave with the wicked

and with a rich man in his death,

although he had done no violence,

and there was no deceit in his mouth.

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Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;

 

This past Easter we were reminded of the costliness of the cross. We were reminded of the immense sufferings of Christ that were required in order to purchase redemption for all God’s people. Without question, it must have been horrific for God the Father to watch the Son suffer and die on the cross. As He heard the Son cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” we can only imagine how hard that must have been. What is even more remarkable, however, is that all along, this was the Father’s plan. “It was the will of the Lord to crush Him.”

 

Earlier on, before his arrest and trial, Jesus knew what awaited Him. In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). If there had been any possible alternative to the cross, no doubt the Father would have taken it. He would have removed “the cup” so that His precious Son would not have had to suffer in such a manner. But there was no alternative. Jesus would have to walk the Calvary road in order to complete the atonement. As 1 Peter 2:24 explains it, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” Friends, we have now moved beyond the season of Easter, but may we ever keep ourselves near the cross. May we never lose sight of the love of God and the costliness of salvation and may we “live to righteousness.”

 

Was Christ’s Death Just an Inspiring Example?

John Stott: “the death of Jesus is more than an inspiring example. If this was all there is to it, much of what we find in the Gospels would make no sense. There are those strange sayings, for instance, in which Jesus said he would ‘give his life as a ransom for many’ and shed his blood….. ‘for the forgiveness of sins’. There is no redemption in an example. A pattern cannot secure our pardon.

Besides, why was he weighed down with such heavy and anxious apprehension as the cross approached? How shall we explain the dreadful agony in the garden, his tears and cries and bloody sweat? ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Again, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’ Was the ‘cup’ that he hesitated to drink from the symbol of death by crucifixion? Was he then afraid of pain and death? If so, his example may have been one of submission and patience, but it was hardly one of courage. Plato tells us that Socrates drank his cup of hemlock in the prison cell in Athens ‘quite readily and cheerfully.’ Was Socrates braver than Jesus? Or is it that their cups contained different poisons? And what is the meaning of the darkness, and the cry of abandonment, and the tearing from top to bottom of the Temple curtain in front of the Holy of Holies? There is no way of understanding these things if Jesus died only as an example. Indeed some of them would seem to make his example less commendable.

Not only would much in the Gospels remain mysterious if Christ’s death were purely an example, but our human need would remain unsatisfied. We need more than an example; we need a Savior. An example can stir our imagination, kindle our idealism and strengthen our resolve, but it cannot remove the stains of our past sins, bring peace to our troubled conscience or restore our relationship with God.

In any case, the apostles leave us in no doubt about the matter. They repeatedly associate Christ’s coming and death with our sins:

Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18).

You know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins (1 John 3:5).

Here are the three great writers of the New Testament, the apostles Paul, Peter and John unanimous in linking his death with our sins.”

Quoted from pages 109-110 of John Stott’s classic Basic Christianity, (2008).

Finding the Gospel in the Story of David and Goliath

When we read a bible story such as David and Goliath, we want to think of ourselves as being like David, don’t we? We like to think of ourselves as underdogs in this big bad world who have the courage and ingenuity to defeat anyone that comes against us. In our family library, we have dozens of children’s bible books and they all seem to feature this story. After all, it is a classic and kids love it. Even our 3-year-old daughter Elizabeth was reading the story of David and Goliath to her “baby” just the other day. But most of these children’s books end up having the wrong application. Most of them end up saying – you can do anything you want if you just set your mind to it – you can beat the giants of this world. That’s the kind of message that the reader is left with and it’s the same message kids get in the public school system. The problem is, it’s a message void of the gospel.

 

Some time ago, it was refreshing to encounter something different as I was reading the Gospel Story Bible to our kids. The author, Marty Machowski, suggested that we are more like the Israelite soldiers than we are like David. If you remember near the beginning of the story, Goliath said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man that we may fight together. When Saul and all Israel heard these words, they were dismayed and greatly afraid” (1 Samuel 17:10-11). Isn’t it true that when our enemies and the storms of life come our way, more often than not we are fearful, dismayed, and anything but courageous? It would be great if we could all say we were like David and met the enemies of life head on but that’s usually not true.

 

What we need to hear is that there is a Hero who has come to save and rescue us from our plight. The enemies of life (namely, sin) are far too big for us to face alone. The Bible tells us that, “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Left to ourselves, we would be like the Israelite soldiers without David – hopeless and afraid. Thankfully, however, we have not been left to ourselves.

 

The shepherd boy David was actually what is often called a “type” of Christ. He wasn’t “the Christ” but he was a type of the One to come. Without David’s courage and faith, eventually Saul and the Israelite army would have succumbed to Goliath and the Philistines. But in their weakness and in their time of need, God used David in an incredible way. What is interesting is that as 1 and 2 Samuel unfold, we come to see that David was weak and sinful too, and was in need of the grace of God every bit as much as we are. And no matter what the circumstance – whether it be the highest high (defeating Goliath, military victories, his coronation as King, etc.) – or the lowest low (on the run from Saul, committing adultery with Bathsheba, murdering a Uriah, taking the census, etc.) David was in desperate need for the rescuing grace of God and for the most part, he knew this (see Psalm 51).

 

Friends, it’s not about us being like David. It’s not about us taking on a savior mentality and thinking we can defeat the enemy of sin and the other giants in our lives. We can’t! Therefore, we must look to the One who can. We must look to Christ. True faith forces us to look away from self, and unto God. Two thousand years ago Jesus died on the cross and He paid the price for our sins. He bore the wrath of God (1 Peter 2:24) and the Scripture tells us that by His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). Apart from Christ, we would just be like those Israelite soldiers – fearful, afraid, hopeless, purposeless, and weak. Maybe for some of you, that’s where you are at today and you need to humble yourself before God. But the gospel tells us that if you have Christ in your life, all of that changes. The weak become strong, the lost are found, the blind can see, the orphans are adopted, the timid become courageous, and those who are weeping shout for joy! That’s what God does for the humble at heart – for those who admit their need for Christ. You see, it’s only when we have Christ in our lives that we can be like David, courageously facing the giants of life.

 

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

In Essentials Unity, in Non-Essentials Liberty, in All Things Charity

I live in Waverly, NY, which sits right on the New York – Pennsylvania state border. Rarely a day goes by in which I don’t cross into Pennsylvania for one reason or another. I am also a Canadian citizen and with most of my family still living there, at least once or twice a year, passport in hand, I journey back to my homeland. Border crossing is nothing new for me – it’s just a regular part of life.

 

This got me to thinking about a famous quote. “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” Originally, I thought this quote came from the Puritan Richard Baxter, but I was wrong. It is actually from a German Lutheran theologian of the early seventeenth century, Rupertus Meldenius. Having set the record straight, lets talk about its significance and how it connects with my opening illustration.

 

As Christians, there are things that separate us, just as borders separate states and countries and territories. I am part of a denomination (the Christian & Missionary Alliance) and just like every denomination, we have distinctives. While I love my Southern Baptist friends and have learned much from them, we hail from two different tribes. We share much in common, but there are some elements of emphasis and doctrine that separate us. The same could be said about other denominations too.

 

I also have some non-denominational blood in my background. The first church I pastored was an independent church in Ohio. When it comes to my theological training, I have attended three non-denominational schools – Briercrest College and Seminary, Regent College, and currently Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. Each of these schools draw students from literally dozens of denominational and non-denominational backgrounds. I thank God for these experiences, which I believe have broadened by perspective.

 

As I said earlier, there are always going to be things that separate us. Take, for example, the first church I pastored. Even as an independent, non-denominational church, we still had distinctives. We had a doctrinal statement and a mission statement along with other elements that made us unique. This is true for every church. No two churches are the same, even those that hail from the same denomination or network. I think it would be fair to say that most churches and church leaders understand this and try not to let it hinder cooperation with other bible-believing, gospel-centered churches. We realize that even though we have distinctives and unique emphases, there is a place and a need to come together for the furtherance of the gospel.

 

With that being said, let me also say there is a place for separation. The Bible clearly teaches separation (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1) from the non-believing and the apostate. There are going to be times where it is unprofitable (and even damaging) to align ourselves with those who reject the gospel of Christ. So how do we know when to separate? When is it ok to extend the right hand of fellowship and when is it not? This takes us back to our opening quotation – In essentials unity, non-essentials liberty, in all things charity. We all long for unity, but what are the non-negotiables of the Christian faith that when violated would force separation?

 

Recently, I heard John MacArthur talk about what he calls “the drivetrain of the gospel.” By this he means the essentials of the Christian faith. MacArthur defines these as belief in “a Triune God, deity of Christ, deity of the Holy Spirit, deity of God the Father, the virgin birth, the sinless life of Christ, substitutionary atonement, literal resurrection, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.” These essentials, along with a belief in the Bible as the Word of God, have formed the core of historic Christian doctrine for centuries. And where there is a denial of these core doctrinal elements, there can be no cooperation and there must be separation. I would also add that these are the doctrinal issues we must unite around as Christians. If there is anything we should be rallying around, it is these foundational biblical truths.

 

What about non-essentials? What would be a doctrinal issue where two Christians (or Churches) may differ on but liberty should be granted? I would suggest things like eschatology (views on the last things) and ecclesiology (views on church governance/baptism) just to name a couple, are matters that would fit into this category. It would be unhelpful and unwise to separate from a brother in Christ just because he doesn’t share your particular view on the millennium, for example. As a footnote, I would also add differences in ministry methodology to this list of non-essentials.

 

What my experience has taught me is that we need to collaborate and work together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Surely we are better together than apart. I don’t think anyone wins when all our energies are being poured into non-essentials that separate instead of essentials that should unite us. Is there a place for standing for the truth? Absolutely! But let’s make sure we are fighting the right battles. Let’s make sure we are armed and prepared to stand against he enemy of our souls. And let’s do everything we can to unite and cooperate with our brothers and sisters in Christ for the cause of the gospel.

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

“Gordon and Emma met at a church function. She was an admirable young woman, and he was a fairly new pastor. Their wedding day seemed to be the launch of a godly couple in the promise of fruitful ministry in the decades ahead. But just a few days into their honeymoon, all of Emma’s dreams for her life were crushed. Gordon made it clear that he didn’t love Emma, and that he had married her simply because there were more opportunities for married pastors than single ones.

 

For forty years, through the birth of six children, and the while functioning as a pastor, Gordon made no meaningful attempt to kindle love for his wife. Freely admitting to an adulterous affair that began after the birth of their fourth child, Gordon insisted he must remain married – divorce would derail his pastoral career. Marriage for Emma became a life of secret shame. She was relegated to sharing a room with their two daughters, while her husband stayed in a separate room, and their four sons in another.

 

Gordon’s disregard for Emma permeated almost every facet of their marriage. While she continued to live under the same roof, she never experienced life under his care. Seemingly normal on the outside, Gordon’s disdain for his marriage created a home ruled by his hypocrisy and indifference to his wife’s well-being. His children grew up with a clear sense of the difference in their family and others, but little grasp on the fundamental wrong being done to their mother on a daily basis.

 

But Emma loved the Savior who was merciful to her and clung to him through the trials and years. Bereft of human love from the man she had wed, she threw herself on the mercy of God. The gospel reminded her that she needed a Savior – and that her principal need was not to be saved from a cruel twist of fate, or the evil of the man who shared her home, but from her own profound sinfulness before God. Emma understood the mercy and forgiveness of God for her sin, and accepted the Father’s call to extend mercy toward her husband. Emma never allowed bitterness to take root in her heart. Instead she learned how to stand with dignity by entrusting her welfare to Christ.

 

For four decades, mercy defined her actions, thoughts, and words toward the man whose very purpose in life seemed to be to crush her spirit. Knowing that her response to her husband would testify to her children about the God she served, Emma was resolutely determined to draw on Christ for grace and to honor Christ in her actions.

 

The marriage ended sadly and painfully after forty years – an apparent ministry call squandered, a financially destitute family shattered by the unrepentant sin of one man. In the years following their divorce, Emma sent Gordon birthday cards and periodic letters, calling the lonely and rebellious man to God. She was tasting the sweet joy of a deep relationship with the Father, and increasingly longed for Gordon to know that for himself.

 

Somewhere in that time, the mercy of God broke in on Gordon and he responded to the gospel call in saving faith. The children, now adult Christians, lovingly confronted him on his past sins, and for the first time Gordon took responsibility for the destruction of his family. Gordon wrote a letter to Emma confessing his sin against God and against her. Emma was faced with the test of forgiveness. Can it be that easy? Can mercy cover forty years of wrong? We have Emma’s choice preserved in the note she wrote back to her former husband:

 

It is with mixed emotions that I read your letter. Sad, as I was reminded of many difficult years, but also glad for the work the Spirit of God is doing in your life. Glad to hear you share your failures so frankly and ask for my forgiveness. And glad to hear you share them with your children. Gordon, I forgive you. I forgive you for not loving me as Christ loved the church and for your disregard of our marriage vows. Though I am saddened by many marriage memories, I have released them to the Lord and have guarded my heart from the ravages of bitterness. I rejoice in the mercy of God, that in spite of our failed marriage, our children all serve the Lord faithfully….God uses confession and forgiveness to bring healing. I’m trusting God that will be true for both of us.

 

Both Emma and Gordon have gone on to be with the Savior, who wove restoration into a torn family with the strong threads of mercy. All of their children love the Savior and now see the mysterious purpose of God as they look back. Though Emma and Gordon were never restored as husband and wife, Gordon was laid to rest in old age, no longer alone, surrounded not only by his family but by the friends of his church with whom he had knit his life. Emma’s body gave in over time to stroke, but her spirit and story define a work of God that transcends the failure of marriage and touched many lives.

 

For Emma, mercy had triumphed over judgment decades before Gordon repented. Mercy triumphed with every prayer cast heavenward, every sin covered in love, every refusal to grow bitter. For Gordon, mercy meant getting what he didn’t deserve – the forgiveness of his sins, the love of his family, a home with the Savior, six God-honoring children, Emma’s life-long love of Christ. Each of these remarkable outcomes point to the triumphant sweetening effect of mercy – the remarkable mercy Emma received from God and lavished on her family.”

 

Taken from Dave Harvey’s book When Sinner’s Say I Do: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage (pages 77-78, 94-96).

Not Ashamed

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)

There is a gospel that is being preached today, but it is not the true gospel. It’s not that everything about this gospel is inaccurate, but it’s just not the “whole” gospel. And when you preach a half gospel, you are not really preaching the gospel at all (Galatians 1:6-7). This gospel offers a God who is loving, but not demanding; a God who gives “Your best life now,” a God who is simple, light, fun, engaging, and uplifting, but not the Lord of the universe; a God who can give a band-aid to any problem; but not the One who can truly transform your life. So the question that begs an answer is why has the Gospel been adjusted? The reason is that many churches and Christian leaders today are “ashamed of the gospel.”

We are very aware that the world finds the gospel offensive. Christianity makes exclusive claims even though we live in a very inclusive world. To claim that Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved from your sins is not a very attractive message in our post-modern world, but that’s what the Bible teaches. We are also aware that generally speaking, our churches are declining and do not hold the same influence they once held. So with an unpopular message and sagging attendance figures, church leaders have felt the pressure to adjust the message and adapt it to our changing world. Many churches reasoned that they had no other option – either we change or face extinction.

In my estimation church leaders have over-estimated the importance of the methods and means of communicating the gospel and underestimated the importance of the message itself. I am not suggesting methods and means are not important, but they are secondary to the message of the gospel. We have to remember that the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes in Jesus. If Jesus Christ is Lord of the world then that means He is also Lord of the Christian Church and we need to let Him do the work that only God can do. Our responsibility remains what it has always been – to preach the Word – to faithfully proclaim the gospel message, no matter how unpopular that message might be, and let God take care of the results.

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believed.” (1 Corinthians 1:21)