Pierced for our Transgressions

Easter is early this year, coming on the last day of March. As we begin to prepare our hearts and minds to remember the sacrifice of Christ on Good Friday and to celebrate His victory over the grave on Resurrection Sunday, I thought it would be good to recommend some reading on this subject.

For this book recommendation, I will highlight two volumes. Both address the subject of penal substitution. Although that is not a term we use often, it is the central message of the cross.

Jesus’ death was penal, meaning that on the cross He paid the penalty for sin. The penalty was more than physical death. He also experienced the curse of sin, bearing in His body God’s just wrath aroused by sin.

Jesus did this as our substitute. His did not die for sins He committed, and He did not earn the wrath He bore. He acted as our substitute. He hung on the cross in our place, taking our punishment and bearing our sin so that we could be reconciled to God.

This is the central message, not just of the cross but of the entire Bible. It is what we remember (the sacrifice) and celebrate (the victory) during the Easter season.

The two books I am recommending this month focus on this subject. The first is called In My Place Condemned He Stood. This is the easier to read of the two. It functions like a beginner’s primer on the doctrine of penal substitution. In the back of the book is a list of further reading you can do on the subject if something within the volume piques your interest.

The second book is a little more academic. It is called Pierced for our Transgressions. I was introduced to this book while in seminary. It was one of my favorite books I read during that season of life. This title handles the subject of penal substitution much more thoroughly than In My Place Condemned He Stood. It traces the case of this doctrine from the Old Testament, through the Gospels, and into the Epistles, presenting a full biblical picture. Although it is a much more detailed presentation, it is still readable and understandable.

Whether you make use of one of these books or do something else to draw your mind to Christ this Easter season, my prayer is that God would impress upon us afresh the horror of the cross and the glory of the empty tomb. More than that, I pray that we would be drawn into deeper love for the One who was pierced for our transgressions, and that this love would increase our zeal to make Him known to a lost world all around us.

The Joy of Serving Together

As I watched my church family serve Christ together at BLAST tonight, I thought how thankful I am to be a part of this local church. It thrilled my heart to see so many people working together to minister the gospel to the kids in our church and community. Whether it was the faithful kitchen crew, the ladies who handle registration, the teachers, directors, verse listeners, or group facilitators, everyone was joyfully serving Christ together. It reminded me of some key biblical principles.

In God’s wisdom and goodness, He takes individual sinners, saves them, and places them in the church. From people with diverse backgrounds, gifts, interests, personalities, and passions, He builds a body of believers. Our unity in Christ despite our individual diversity displays the beauty of the gospel to a watching world.

Paul describes the phenomenon of the church in this way:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of one another. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

The beauty of the gospel is displayed when diverse people work together for the glory of Christ. That beauty was on display tonight. As I observed it, I was reminded how the logic of the gospel runs counter to the world’s thinking,

I cannot count how many times I have heard Christians say that they do not feel like they belong in the church. This always breaks my heart, because every believer should feel like they belong to the church. Yet many Christians struggle to experience this. Sometimes, this creates a critical spirit towards the church for failing to meet their needs. Since the church is failing to meet their needs, they are unwilling to commit to the church. It is normal to think, “Why should I commit if I do not belong? Why should I serve if no one cares for me?” This makes perfect sense, until our minds are renewed by the gospel.

The Scriptures teach that in committing to Christ, we commit to His people. That commitment precedes and produces the sense of belonging. If we fail to commit, we will never sense that we belong.

This gospel logic contradicts our culture in many ways. Our culture teaches us to expect service, yet the gospel calls us to sacrificially serve others at the expense of ourselves. Our culture teaches us to demand our preferences, but the gospel tells us to sacrifice our preferences for the sake of others. Our culture achieves greatness by climbing a social, political, and/or economic ladder; but in the church, greatness comes by descending into greater acts of humble service. This logic does not make sense to the worldly mind. But to the mind that is being renewed by God’s grace, it starts to make sense.

As I watched my church family serving Christ tonight, I saw the beauty and power of God on display. He takes broken and corrupt people, unites them with Christ through faith, places them in local churches, and turns them into something useful and beautiful in His hands.

There is real joy in serving Christ. Unity is found, not in everyone thinking the same thing, but in everyone serving the same King. Belonging is known, not when we are served by the church, but when we serve alongside other Christians for God’s glory.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! Romans 11:33

More than a Story

 As we kick off a new year, I want to recommend a resource that will help parents fulfill their responsibility to train their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. I have used Sally Michael’s children’s book called More than a Story for several months with my boys, and I am really impressed with it.

More than a Story is a two-volume set, with one volume for each Testament. I have worked through quite a few children’s resources during our family devotions over the years. There are several aspects to this one that I really like.

First, it is a comprehensive resource. By necessity, children’s Bibles cannot include every Bible story. This one does not either; yet as I worked through the Old Testament Volume (we are about to start the NT volume), there are several stories included that we have not covered in some of the simpler resources I used. Other stories are more detailed. This has added another layer to my sons’ Bible knowledge.

Second, Sally Michaels does a good job of using Scripture. Children’s Bibles tell the story in children’s language. Yet, I really want my sons to be familiar, not just with the stories of the Bible, but of the language. This resource does a good job of weaving Scripture into the daily lessons. The key parts of the story are usually quoted directly from the Bible. Furthermore, other scriptures are quoted when making applications or teaching a big principle.

Finally, I have really appreciated the emphasis on key theological principles and the helpful applications made that are relevant to children. It is not just telling stories. It helps children understand who God is and how He works. Furthermore, it also lays an important foundation for the gospel. This helps hchildren understand who they are as sinners and how God has provided salvation through Jesus. It calls them to first believe and then to obey.

This resource is not best suited for young children. There is a little older audience in mind. It would also be helpful to a new believer who has had minimal exposure to the Bible. It would help them learn the big picture of God’s character and how He has worked through the ages to bring salvation to mankind.

Settling Goals in 2024

Toward the end of each year, I spend time thinking and praying about goals for the coming year. The Scriptures tell us to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). If I am not intentional in my relationship with God, I will not grow spiritually. Furthermore, experience has taught me that if I am not growing, I am losing ground spiritually. There is no neutral. Setting measurable and achievable goals with a clear plan of action is necessary for my spiritual growth. 

Over the last few weeks, I have been looking at 2023’s goals to see how I have done. And I have started to pray about what God wants me to focus on in the new year. I came across a video clip of Alistair Begg challenging his church family to grow in their faith. I thought I would share his four points in hopes that you might use them to set some spiritual growth goals for 2024 as well.

Eat Up   

Each of us needs a steady diet of God’s word. Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3). We need to carve out time every day to read and meditate on God’s word. So, make a plan (or find one of the many good ones available) and track your progress.

Grow Up

Here the focus is on growing in your relationship with Christ. Perhaps there is an area of weakness you need to address. Maybe you want to grow in a spiritual discipline like prayer or evangelism. Is it time for you to be baptized? What is an aspect of your Christian life you could do better at? Once you have identified an area for growth, develop a plan for how you are going to work on it. Keep track of your progress, and do not get discouraged by setbacks.

Show Up

Here Alistair Begg focused on participating in the corporate gatherings of the church. It is good to be in the word of God individually; but it is also necessary to be under the word when it is preached. The ordinances (The Lord’s Table and baptism) are corporate activities. For some, the goal may be to consistently attend services. Perhaps your goal should be to add Sunday school to your Sunday morning routine. Maybe try consistently attending the monthly prayer meeting. How can you grow your commitment to the corporate gathering in 2024?

Step Up

Finally, what are some tangible ways you can increase serving Christ? God has placed each of us in the body just as He desires. He gives each of us Holy Spirit empowered gifts that are to be used for the common good of others. And He has appointed good works beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 4 tells us that when the entire body does its part, the whole body grows up into Christ, who is its head. But, just like when we are sick or hurt, if a portion of the body is not functioning well, the whole body suffers. How might God want you to expand your service in the year to come? 

Obviously, there are other areas one could set goals in. I thought Alistair Begg’s ideas were catchy and helpful. May each of us get alone with our God in prayer to ask Him how He would have us change and grow in the coming year. Then, may we be intentional to work in the areas the Spirit makes known to us.