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The Humble King Who Rules the Nations: A Christmas Meditation

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(by Dr. J. Mark Beach, professor of Dogmatics and Ministerial Studies at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, author of "Piety's Wisdom: A Summary of Calvin's Institute" and "Christ and the Covenant")

Christmas hardly has a chance nowadays! The community of unbelief has trampled underfoot the meaning of Immanuel - God with us. The community of faith, of course, still knows the meaning of Christmas. Luke 2 - the more earthly perspective on Christmas - shows us David's descendants (Mary and Joseph) scurrying off to Bethlehem because the Roman king ordered them to do so. Caesar taxes them to oppress them. It's a story of humiliation and obscurity which highlights the ordinary humanness of Christ's birth, of God come in the flesh, even amidst the stench of a barn.

By contrast, Revelation 12 - the more heavenly perspective on Christmas - presents David's descendents (the woman about to give birth) shining forth with the glory of the celestial bodies a…

The Gain of Godliness

by Terry Johnson (a Tabletalk article on August 2009 available at http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/gain-godliness/)

Rich people are materialistic. We all know it. All they care about is their money and things. Or so I thought. My background consists of a blue-collar neighborhood and an inner-city high school in Southern California. My quick judgment of wealthy people, when first I encountered them, was that they were superficial, worldly, and materialistic. They were caught up in things and appearances. They lacked the simplicity of the virtuous poor, the salt of the earth, among whom I numbered myself.

“The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil,” says the apostle (1 Tim. 6:10, NASB). He warns not of money per se, but the “love of money,” and “longing for it.” He addresses not the rich so much as “those who want to get rich” (v. 9), among whom we could add those desperate to hang on to their money or multiply their money and become richer yet.

The money problem that the…

God's Indescribable Gift - Part 3

God's Indescribable Gift - Part 3

(Another meditation on 2 Corinthians 9:15. Thanks once again to Rev. Andy Spriensma for the seed thought of the series of these meditations.)

I would like to add that there is a great encouragement in this passage. There is great comfort in what Paul is saying that God’s gift, Jesus Christ, is indescribable, because it makes us think that Paul could identify with us – whether we are a lay person, a Bible teacher, a pastor or preacher.

If you are a Bible teacher or preacher and, for example, in the middle of the week you are working on a certain passage trying to understand its message and the Spirit illumines the text on your desk in front of you and the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ begins to shine brilliantly, so you end your study with a prayer of thanksgiving.

But then the next part comes, when you have to write your lecture or sermon and you have to do so in such a way that the gospel shines just as beautifully as it did earlier to you,…

God’s Indescribable Gift - Part 2

(part 2 of my meditation on 2 Corinthians 9:15 "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" Thanks to my friend Andy Spriensma, whose thoughts I have borrowed a lot here.)

God’s indescribable gift does not only make us generous. It also keeps us humble. Here we are going to focus on that word “indescribable.”

We need to understand that when Paul mentioned about God’s indescribable gift, he was referring to none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. He is God’s ‘indescribable gift.’

In preaching and teaching the Word of God, what is it that we do but tell of this gift. We describe this gift. And that is the proclamation of the gospel, the preaching of the good news.

Pastors like me have been trained to be preachers of God's holy Word in the pages of the Bible. The whole Bible reveals this gift of salvation. Preaching is especially the telling of that gift!

Probably no one understands this better than the apostle Paul himself. He has traveled vast portions of the known w…

God's Indescribable Gift

2 Corinthians 9:15: "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

There is much that is said in this verse. Certainly, in the overall context of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 the central focus is on giving and Christian charity. As you may remember, the church in Jerusalem was in need and the apostle Paul called upon the other churches to help.

The Macedonian churches had already helped, giving more than they could really afford. As 8:3 says, “…they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.”

Now the Corinthian believers had begun the work already a year ago, but had lapsed in completing the collection (see 2 Cor 9:2). They pledged to give to the poor Jerusalem church a year ago but there had been a problem of collecting the money that was pledged!

So in this letter Paul exhorts the Christians to give what they have promised. Paul is sending a team ahead of him to collect their pledge, knowing that they are ready and eager to fulfill what they have promised (2 Cor 9:…

God's Judgment of Man's Senseless Life

(a meditation on Luke 12:20-21)

Luke 12:20-21
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

In v. 20, we can see God’s action in the parable. He looks at the man’s life and His judgment is quite sobering. It's very serious. God calls the man “fool!” The word fool here is not the same word which Jesus forbids His disciple to call a brother (Mt. 5:22). Rather, this word is similar to that term which the book of Proverbs likes to use in contrast of people who are wise. The word fool here therefore may also carry an immoral kind of life.

So in God’s judgment, the rich man’s selfish pursuit of wealth and personal happiness, without any regard of God, is plain senselessness or vanity, a ‘striving after wind,’ as the book of Ecclesiastes calls it.

This is so because, as Jesus said in Luke 12…

Man’s Selfish Quest for Earthly Possessions

(a meditation on Luke 12:16-19)

Luke 12:16-19
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

The agricultural setting and terminologies of this parable perfectly fits the situation in Jesus’ life and time. Undoubtedly, the images Jesus presenting to His audience were understandable to them because Israel was largely a rural and agricultural community. So what’s the point of this parable?

The parable can be divided into two sections. Each section contains one major point. Each point is derived from the action of each character mentioned. The two characters are the rich man (v. 16) and God (v. 20). The division w…

Jesus' Warning Against All Kinds of Greed

(a meditation on Luke 12:13-15)

After Jesus warned His disciples about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (verses 1b-3), He started to teach them many things that pertain to Christian discipleship in the face of hard realities in life. Jesus’ ‘teaching session’ with the disciples was shortly interrupted by someone in the crowd.

The man asked Jesus to act as a judge or an arbiter in an inheritance dispute between him and his brother. The man calls Jesus a “Teacher.” This is significant because the title reflects the people’s common view of Jesus, that is, a respected rabbi.

The man’s request was not totally illegitimate because as a recognized rabbi, Jesus may do such task, as expected from any teacher of the Law. But Jesus declined this man’s request. His response to this man carries the idea of rebuke. The word He used to address the man (“Man”) is harsh in their context. Jesus also recognized that the man’s request is not in line with His mission.

We can also glean from Christ’s next…

Beware of Greed!

(a meditation on Luke 12:13-21)

Setting the Context

The Christian life is like a journey. There are road signs we need to observe and follow. Otherwise we will be in danger of accident or arrest. As followers of Jesus Christ, there are certain danger signs we need to be particularly aware of. Once ignored these danger signs can bring fatal destruction in our lives as believers.

One of these danger signs is greed or covetousness. The modern term is closely related to materialism. Sometimes we think that only rich people struggle with this problem. But greed is universal. It comes from the heart of every man (cf. Mk 7:20-23), young or old, rich or poor. It enslaves everyone whose ultimate purpose in life is to accumulate things of this world.

Once we measure success or blessed life by the number of material things we possess, by the income we receive, by the clothes we wear, by the cars we drive or by the size of our houses, greed has crept into our hearts.

The good news is, Christ has…

The Blessing of Trusting in God's Goodness

(A meditation on Psalm 84:9-12)

9 Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed!
10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
12 O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!

The psalmists here add a third blessing in this psalm. This blessing is the blessing of trusting in the Lord. Verse 9 opens with a prayer that God would see. “Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed!” The Anointed is none other than the Son of David, the king, the Messiah.

The sons of Korah declare that the Lord's anointed is their shield. Of course we sing this psalm and we say that the Anointed, the Son of David, is our Lord Jesus the Christ. He is the Good King who is our Shield and Protector until the end.

So we pray…

The Blessing of Living in God's Strength

(A meditation on Psalm 84:5-8)

5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
6 As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.
8 LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob!

There’s a second blessing that the psalmist mentions in Psalm 84. You see it in verses 5-8, and this is the blessedness of having the Lord as your strength and your desire. Notice v.5: Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

In the original language it is quite clear that the blessed one is in singular, not plural as in ESV, “Blessed are those....” Rather, it should have read, “Blessed is the man whose strength is in you, in whose heart is the highways to Zion.” So while verse 4 says blessed are those who dwell in your house, verse 5 proclaims a blessing on the one who has th…

The Blessings of Worshiping God

(A meditation on Psalm 84:1-4)

1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!
2 My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Selah


The one longing of our heart all our life is the worship of God. We were created to give honor and praise to our God and Creator. About sixteen centuries ago Saint Augustine said that God has made us in such a way that we remain restless until we find rest in Him. Until our souls find comfort and joy in the true worship of God, our deepest longing in life will remain unsatisfied.

My hope and my prayer is that every Lord's Day, when we gather together as God's covenant people in worship, our deepest desire is fulfilled and we find rest in our soul.

There is…

Key Principles in Interpreting the Book of Revelation

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(Based on Dennis E. Johnson’s book "Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation")

1. Revelation is given to reveal. It makes its central message so clear that even those who hear it can take it to heart and receive the blessing it promises (1:1-3).

2. Revelation is a book to be seen, a book of symbols in motion. Because the appearance of individuals and institutions in everyday experience often masks their true identity, Revelation is given in visions full of symbols that paradoxically picture the true identity of the church, its enemies, and its Champion (1:11; 2:9; 3:17; 11:7; 13:7).

3. Revelation makes sense only in light of the Old Testament. Not only the visions of such prophets as Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah but also historical events such as creation, the fall, and the exodus provide the symbolic vocabulary for John’s visions. (Compare Chapters 1 and 10 with Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 9-10; Chapter 13 with Daniel 7; Chapter 11 with Zechariah 4).

4. Numbers count in Rev…

Keep On Praying!

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(A magazine article by Vern Sheridan Poythress) For about fourteen years my wife and I have prayed that God would put a stop to abortion. For fourteen years we have prayed that God would end the persecution of the house churches in Mainland China. For years we have prayed for deep revival to come to our country. In all these cases, we haven’t seen much change. Are our prayers doing any good? Will there ever be an answer?

It is easy to give up hope if God does not answer our prayers right away. Jesus knew that we were prone to become discouraged, so he told the story in Luke 18:1-8. “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”1

How Do We Respond to a Hopeless Situation?

Jesus tells about a widow who had every reason to give up. We must picture a situation where some wicked person has wronged a widow. Perhaps he had taken over her home and kicked her out.2 Whatever the details, the widow desperately needs help.

The woman’s situati…

God's Sovereign Election

"Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!"
- Psalm 33:12

The Lord God has indeed chosen us in Christ and has purposed our good and that He will not be frustrated in fulfilling that purpose. That is very clear in verse 12 as the psalmist shifts his thought from God’s active providence to God’s sovereign election.

Verse 12 reads, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance.” John Calvin captures the connection between God’s providence with His electing love that is evident in this passage when he said, “The prophet, therefore, in proclaiming that they are blessed whom God receives into his protection, reminds us that the counsel which he had just mentioned is not a secret which remains always hidden in God, but is displayed in the existence and protection of the Church, and may there be beheld.”

The providence …

God's Active Providence

"The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations."
- Psalm 33:10-11

The economic crisis is still felt by many. Others are declaring bankruptcy because of financial crisis or mismanagement. Many college graduates, board passers and other hopefuls will be added to our increasing unemployment and underemployment rates.

I understand that these stories do not bring positive note. I am no news analyst and I don't understand much of our economy. But by observing and listening to some people, I can tell that many questions cross their mind. Questions like “What else can our government do to improve our economy?” and “How long will our financial crisis last?”

Some of you might be wondering as to the future of our nation and our world with the kind of politics or the kind of politicians we have. Our country just experienced the fury of Typhoon Juan. Ot…

Prayer: Perfumed by His Blood

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(An article on prayer by Douglas F. Kelly)

It is easy to speak about Christianity and doctrine and theology and morals and ethics. But in their hearts, many people want to know, "Can God be real for me? Can I touch Him? Could He touch me? Can things in my life be different because of God’s moving and making that difference?" Let me ask you, "Would you like some things to be different? Do you have things on your mind and heart that you are not able to change?" Maybe it seems that some things that concern you are beyond any human help you can think of. If so, you are reading the right article. God has brought this to you.

The first nine verses of Revelation 8 show us how things can be different; things which seem to be beyond any human power any sort of mastery of the will, or quite beyond any worldly circumstances. God uses word images here to help us understand profound spiritual truth—He can intervene! God can change your situation! God can make it profoundly diffe…

Persistent Praying Presupposes Faith

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1Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary....And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"
- Luke 18:1-8

The main thing that we need to see in the parable and the concluding statement made by our Lord Jesus in verse 8 is that God will vindicate His elect. God will give justice to His people who have been crying out day and night for vindication. In other words, we can keep on praying for the kingdom of God to come because God will surely hear us and will deliver us from all our woes in this life.

Notice that…