Episode 20: Love at Its Utmost

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As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.–John 15:9

Sermon text

This week’s song: This is Love For God by The Loverlies

I actually forgot that this was Valentine’s weekend when I chose this sermon.  However, I think that simply makes this all the more appropriate to talk about.  The love of God, and its outworking in Jesus’ incarnation and atoning work on the cross, is an oft-misunderstood and twisted concept.  Love in general is a rather abused concept in modern Western culture.  But I don’t really want to spend a lot of time talking about that specifically.  Nor do I intend to rehash many of the things you commonly hear in sermons on the subject, including the (actually incorrect) discussion of Greek words like αγάπη and φιλέω.*

No, instead I want to remind you, my listeners, of the importance of reflecting this great love to those around us.  I especially want to make this imperative in the face of the changing dynamics of the world right now.  As I record this, the news has just broken that Justice Antonin Scalia, who had long been a voice for truth on the US Supreme Court, has passed away suddenly.  This has naturally sparked a lot of commentary as well as worry.  Add this on top of everything happening in both parties with the upcoming presidential election, growing fears of more economic instability, wars and rumors of wars, and so forth.

There is a tendency, when hearing the news and the state of the world, to feel a sense of dread.  There is a thought that we should worry, that something could go wrong and things could turn bad very quickly…and then, who knows what might happen next?  But I want to remind you all, those of you listening who are in Christ and believe that He is indeed on the throne, that we have no cause for fear.  Our anxiety will not change anything, nor does it serve well to remind us of the truth: that God does love us, that He did send His Son to atone for our sins, and that His will is being accomplished perfectly in all things.

Why should the nations say,
    “Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens;
    he does all that he pleases.–Psalm 115:2-3

This is the God we worship, and we should demonstrate our love for God by obeying His Word, by loving each other well and giving as we can to those who are hurting.  Do not mistake me: the opposite of anxiety is not apathy.  It is action, driven by the truth of the Gospel: those who are in Christ have been saved from the wrath of God for their sins by the work of Jesus, and therefore we are free to live knowing that He provides perfectly for us!  Not in some kind of “name it and claim it,” prosperity gospel nonsense–that is not Christianity.  That is idolatry of the worst kind, dishonoring to God and destructive to the body of Christ.

No, I am talking about knowing that I can obey God faithfully, knowing that He provides what I need to do so, even when things seem bleak.  I can live in a country and participate in a political process that seems to be heading to a darker and darker place, knowing that no matter who wins an election, God is the one who appoints and casts down kings, all for His purposes and the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

So let us take this time when love is the word of the day and do exactly what believers should do in all times and all seasons:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.–Romans 12:9-21

*For a full discussion of these terms and the reality of claims that “this word means unconditional love” and “this word means brotherly love!” as well as a thorough but highly readable discussion of God’s love, I highly recommend D.A. Carson’s book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God.


Episode 19: Justification by Faith

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Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.-Romans 5:1

Sermon text
This week’s song: My Soul Thirsts by The Loverlies

I was excited to read this sermon for two reasons.  Firstly, I am going to be teaching on this in two weeks as a part of a group in my church that is going through Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. (By the way, anyone who would be interested in joining us, we meet Saturdays at 9:30 am at the West Oak Coffee Bar on the Square in Denton, TX.)  This subject is near and dear to me, as I believe it should be to all believers: Paul spends so long setting out his case for this truth because it must be understood in light of both the gravity of man’s sinfulness, as well as the great mercy being shown by God and the love with which He gives it.

Knowing this is true, is what broke me of so many years of pride and selfishness, and the Holy Spirit used the teaching of this truth to turn me from loving my sin to hating it.  I pray that I love God more every day for this simple fact among so many: that I, a man who was guilty of so much sin, so many ways I had wronged both God and others around me, could find forgiveness at the cross and life in the resurrection.

I was also excited to read it because it is a central truth in my ongoing response to Dr. Ken Boa’s paper that I’ve been posting on the blog.  I’ve got 3 parts up, but the part I’m currently writing is taking a while to complete and I want to make sure that I treat this with full fairness and with an eye to exegeting the text faithfully in response to what I see to be arguments seriously deficient in their approach to Scripture.  I won’t rehash everything here, but suffice it to say: our responsibility before God in the face of His sovereignty is no mystery, but is a function of our nature as creatures who will stand before our Creator and give account to what we’ve done with His gifts.

Truly, what he says in this sermon is true: I desire, and I think all believers should desire, to know this truth as an innermost part of our beings.  It should drive the way we live, the way we work, the way we love God and love the people around us.  And it should define that very word: love.  We, most unlovable creatures, rebelling against God and pursuing everything that is hateful to Him, spitting in His face even as we breathe His air and eat His food He gave us, absolutely worthy of condemnation.  And yet, even as we lived in sin and loved it, He sent His Son to die and pay the penalty for sin for all His people.

But here’s the important reality: no matter how heartfelt I or Charles Spurgeon can be, nothing can move the heart of the person dead in their sin except the Holy Spirit.  If you have actually made your way to the end of this podcast as an unbeliever and find yourself unmoved, it is you that I pray for most of all, because you are in the greatest danger.  God’s people will stand before Him justified by faith, and there is no one who has engaged in sin so great that the blood of Christ is not enough to cover it.  But to use one of my favorite phrases from an early episode: God justifies the ungodly.  He does not justify the self-righteous.  Those who would stand on their self-righteousness, who would do life apart from the only real source of life, will reap exactly what that sort of living does: death, real and eternal.

So my prayer, then, is that God would be glorified, and that hearts would be broken for Him.  Mine was, by His mercy, so that I could tell you this now, and I pray earnestly that this world full of darkness and hard hearts would be blown open by the power of the Holy Spirit touching one heart at a time.  God is love, and we should run to that love.

Episode 12: Comfort for the Tempted (1 Corinthians 10:13)

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Sermon text here.

The passage that has been a constant theme in my life the last few months has been 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Not that I have been some kind of recepient of any deeper revelation than God’s Word, but that in spite of all the amazing things God has done in my life, He has not lifted trials and temptations to sin from me. Lately I have been very conscious of the truth of this, and have had on my mind the separation that sin brings in.  It has caused me to despise my own sin all the more, and to cry out to the Lord for rest and restoration in areas that my sin has brought damage to my life and the lives of others.

Thankfully the enemy is woefully uncreative in his assaults.  The Preacher writes in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”  I have found that to be very true, and the temptations that come to me seem to recur from earlier sins.  My desire is to shore up the areas that are weak like this, to prepare for the return of the desire to pursue wickedness, but I find that my weakness is still great.  I’m not strong enough, I’m not smart enough, and I have to find my escape elsewhere.

I always turn to Romans 7 in times like this, to Paul’s great cry of “Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord!”  My only hope is to turn to the power of Christ to overcome my sin.  And that need is one that I have to exercise, to make war on desires of the flesh and nail them to the cross day after day.  The greatest frustration comes in those times when my heart longs to run the opposite direction, to return to things I have cast off as though they have some sort of value.

So this sermon is as much directly to me as to anyone else who might listen to it.  It is a passionate cry to the parts of me that harbor doubt and fear, and that want to run to find comfort in those broken cisterns that will never hold water, empty objects of worship that can do nothing but create that wall of separation that sin creates between myself and God, my family and my friends.  In it I pray to the Spirit to preach fervently to my heart of the glory of Christ, and say to myself to pull my gaze away from my sin, and fix it on Jesus, and Him alone.

Christ is my hope, and my strength.  Let all other things serve that truth and direct my eyes to the cross.

Episode 11: The Panting Deer (Psalm 42)

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Sermon text here.

I have decided to try, as a new addition to the podcast, a portion after the sermon which will serve as sort of a devotional time of my own, to talk about what led me to choose this sermon and to give my own thoughts on the subject.  This will not supplant discussion episodes, but I wanted to try doing this to begin generating my own original thoughts on Spurgeon’s words and the Scriptures at hand.

By the way, the transition music is a new arrangement of A Mighty Fortress is Our God by Jarod Grice, whom you may recall from discussion episode 8A.  You can download his song and many others he’s written at his Bandcamp page.

I chose this sermon for three reasons.  Firstly, this is probably one of my favorite psalms, and there have been many days since the Holy Spirit broke my heart for Christ that I have found myself feeling exactly like King David in this psalm, aching deeply for closeness with my Lord.  My desire has been to have a heart that is fully in sync with Paul’s words of Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  But it seems like that is often beyond my grasp, and I am forced to be reminded of something else Paul wrote, a word from God in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

And that feeds into my second reason, and one that Spurgeon acknowledges early on: the deadly effects of sin on our communion with God.  Like all believers who still live, I have had to do a great deal of battle against the sins of my past, against my fleshly will to rebel and against the enemy that tempts and accuses.  I have struggled with the truth that God’s grace is sufficient for me, that the sacrifice Jesus made of Himself on the cross is truly vast enough to cover what I am guilty of.  Most of all I have had the bittersweet experience of having my eyes opened to an idol I have been holding back; over the last few years God has walked me through this same process in gentleness but with discipline, in showing me things that I am holding onto in such a way that I have made it clear that I don’t truly trust God fully.  Then in that same sense of joyful, repentant weeping that Spurgeon talks about, I have had to release my grip…and in that release, God has been faithful to bring healing, renewed life and rest, and to remind me that He loves me.  That is, after all, one of the reasons I started this podcast, to be able to share material that God has used in my life for exactly that purpose so many times.

And finally, that leads into my third reason: my wife returned from a mission trip to Asia and had amazing opportunities to share the Gospel with many and to meet people who had become believers in a place where proclaiming the name of Christ is at best, severely frowned upon, and at worst met with death.  She spoke about one man who shared his testimony; after becoming a believer his family had disowned him.  For years he had been unable to speak with them, and this in a society which is far more communal and collectivistic by nature than the West; losing contact with your family is like losing contact with your context for the world.  His father passed away and he tried to return and see him one last time, but he was kept out, unable to attend his own father’s funeral.  She recalled that his closing words were, “Christ is my only asset.”

And as I heard this, I was deeply convicted of this truth: the same is true for me.  I live in a society where we do not have this same level of persecution; becoming a believer was not something that destroyed my connections with family and friends.  Yet the truth is that even with all the things I do have here, Jesus Christ really and truly is my only asset.  If I live, it is for Christ and through Christ; if I die, I go to Christ.  Yet how many times, even in just the last few days, have I been guilty of living as though Christ were simply one of several fungible assets I can choose from?  Too many to count, enough to make me cry out to the Father just like the blind man, “Thou Son of David, have mercy on me!”

But thanks be to God, that mercy is given, and given readily.  My friends, I pray this podcast is a blessing to you.  If you know Christ, then I pray your spirit has been strengthened by this mere echo of a great preacher of years gone by.  If you don’t know Christ, then I pray you have felt a conviction that you are in need.  I hope that you are driven to ask questions, and to seek answers.  The answers are there to be had, and Jesus Christ is there to know you, to cover the sins you and I and all people are guilty of, and to give you the only real, meaningful, lasting asset any human can ever possess.

Episode 10: The Very Friend You Need (Luke 7:34)

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Christ is truly the friend of sinners, yet this idea has been maligned, twisted, and abused so much over the years.  In this sermon we discuss in depth the truth of Jesus’ friendship for the sinner in need!  Listen above and subscribe on iTunes and Soundcloud!

Sermon text is here.


After doing the episode and spending time thinking about the topic, I wanted to turn back to this and expand the subject, and have my own say on what it really means to say that Jesus is the friend of sinners, and that Jesus is my friend.  We typically think of “friend” in a very non-committal way, but when we say that Jesus is a friend of sinners in the sense that Spurgeon exegetes the text to understand, we see that we’re not thinking of “friend” in the standard American sense, where He is some acquaintance we are on generally friendly terms with and who we might invite over for a party to watch a football game.  This is a relationship that Christ takes very seriously, and furthermore, it reveals that only by realizing our deep need for that friendship, can we come to Christ in search of it.

I am very aware of my deep-seated need for that very friendship.  The Holy Spirit has been gracious enough to me to open my eyes to my nature as a broken sinner, who has nothing good to offer and who has been trying to live for so long under my own power and for my own glory.  Let’s look back at the passage in question:

“To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like?They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”–Luke 7:31-35

I’m using the fuller context to show the contrast and hypocrisy of the Pharisees, as well as to discuss how I can to understand my own deep-seated need.  There was a time, I would have been like those men, standing there looking judgmentally at these people who are doing exactly what they should be doing: coming to Christ, bringing their sins, their fears, their needs, and thought to myself “How clever am I, that I have managed to make something of myself!  Look at these screwups, I’m so much better off than them.”  All the while, like the Pharisees, hiding my sin and pretending nothing is wrong, a whitewashed tomb.

But thank God for His mercy even to the prideful and foolish, and thank Christ for His friendship to the sinner.  I am a man who needs it desperately, because in Christ I have the One who made me, who knows me and is the source of my very identity and being.  In Christ I have life, a real life that leads to life beyond just pursuing my next whim.  These sinners and tax collectors who came to Christ and gathered around Him, who invited Him into their homes, were people who were very well-acquainted with sin and with pursuing their desires, and they had tasted the bitterness of unfulfillment it brings.  They had seen the death and pain it wrought in their lives.

In the church today it is important for us to keep our balance, with the fulcrum point of our lives being the Gospel first and foremost.  The Gospel brings us daily reminders of what is ultimately true: man is sinful and rebellious against God by His nature, but God is both just and merciful.  He sent His Son to pay the price for all those who believe in Him by dying on the cross, He conquered death in rising again, and He stands at the right hand of the Father as the perfect high priest who can say of His people, “I have covered their sins, I have atoned for them, they are of Me and have life in Me.”  But the desires of our flesh are always trying to pull away from this center that destroy’s man’s self-aggrandizement, and move to one of two equally wrong positions: either self-righteous Pharisaism, where behavior and moral assent are more important that repentance and faith, or simply rejecting God altogether.  Both entail a foolish belief in man’s autonomy, and both rebel against who we were made to be: created in the image of God, made to know Him and have our fullest life in knowing Him.

Jesus Christ is the friend of the sinner who cries out to Him for mercy.  He is the friend of the sinner who has had his heart broken by the Word of God taught to him by the Holy Spirit and needs to be lifted up.  He is the friend of the sinner who, like the blind man from a couple sermons ago, cries out “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  That mercy is readily and lovingly given.  Cry out for it, my friends, and know His peace.

Episode 9: Herein is Love

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Love is in the air and in the news, and I wanted to do a sermon on love with its truest center in our human experience: God’s love, and the great display of it in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Listen above, and stay tuned for our next discussion episode featuring a very special crossover!

Meanwhile, I am also posting my own writing on the subject, crossposted from my own blog.  Check it out below the fold:

Continue reading “Episode 9: Herein is Love”

Episode 7: All of Grace

Short sermon this time, but on one of the crucial truths of Christianity: sola gratia is not just a Reformation slogan, but the life-transforming truth that brings so many to their knees in repentance–myself most of all!  No matter who you are, no matter your struggle or fear or sin weighing on you, God’s grace is the path to freedom, and we can hold it firmly by faith in the work and person of Jesus Christ.  Friends, brothers, I pray that in listening to this you will be edified.

See the full text here

Episode 5 – Adoption: The Spirit and the Cry

Sorry for the delay in creating episodes, both Jon and I have had a busy couple of weeks!  But it’s here now, and it’s a request from a listener, our first!  If you have a Spurgeon writing or sermon you would like to hear as part of this podcast, please let us know and we’ll be happy to post it up as we can.

I loved reading today’s episode as an exercise in worship for myself, as the Trinity in Unity of God is glorified.  Go check out the full text here (and in fact, take a look at all of the Spurgeon Archive), and please don’t forget to subscribe to us on iTunes!  We appreciate all our listeners and hope this blesses you greatly.

Episode 4: Healing By the Stripes of Jesus

I thought for Easter Sunday, this one seemed very fitting.  It comes from the text of Isaiah 53:5: “By His stripes, we are healed,” and truly we are.  I recently ran across a blog post from a man who I would venture to say identifies as a Christian but seems to hold a great deal of contempt for Christians and Christianity as an entity.  He said that he believes the Gospel, yet he rejected the first tenet of the Gospel: man’s sinfulness.  I wrestled with how to respond, and in the end I decided to let Mr. Spurgeon make my response for me in this sermon.  This, along with the subject of episode 2, make the case clear: man cannot begin to know God, or grow close to God, without first coming to Him as a sinner in need of grace, which is lovingly and freely given.

Please listen and enjoy, and pass it along!  I hope it has an effect on listeners of turning eyes to Christ, just as much as it did to me in reading it.

Episode 1: The First Sermon in the Tabernacle

Here we go!  Please excuse my stumbling, as I find my way to the best presentation.  A thousand thanks to my brother in Christ Jon Ladner for encouraging me to do this and enabling me through his expertise.

For the first episode I couldn’t think of a better sermon to pick than Spurgeon’s first sermon in the Metropolitan Tabernacle Church.  As Jon observed after recording, “it has everything,” and most importantly, it sets the tone for what I wish to accomplish with it: namely, that Christ be glorified through this.  You can download it here.  If you encounter any technical problems, please email spurgeonaudio@gmail.com.  The text of the sermon is here.