I can barely stand it that I don’t get to preach anywhere tomorrow, on Easter Sunday. So instead I’m going to blog today and attend church tomorrow to hear someone else preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The church I plan to take my family to tomorrow is Crossway Community Church in Langley, BC (www.crossway.ca). They are a Sovereign Grace Ministries church (www.sovereigngraceministries.org). Their pastors preach the Gospel. And I need to hear the Gospel because of what is going on in my heart in light of what next week represents to me. One week from now will mark the anniversary of our departure from Hague, Saskatchewan, where I had been serving as pastor for a small church there for a few years. Though the story of why we left Hague is best left for another time, suffice it to say that we did not leave of our own accord, primarily. My family and myself were hurt by friends who turned on us, having believed untrue things spoken by people who did not have the best interest of the Gospel at heart. This past year has seen my wife, myself and our three children all struggle to learn forgiveness and trust in the God we know is somehow working sovereignly for our good. During the past few months we have found a refuge at Crossway. Every service we have attended there, when obligations did not take us elsewhere, has been a true time of nourishment and worship.
Last night, for Good Friday, my mom joined us at Crossway. It was another time of refuge—this kind of refuge though was in a person, as Jesus Christ was held up gloriously as the divine object of our faith in His great atoning sacrifice.
The music last night at Crossway was wonderful. The movement of the Spirit was palpable. The fellowship of worshipping surrounded by brothers and sisters also reveling in the cross of Christ was sweet indeed. There was no sermon per se. But several readings of Isaiah 53 were interspersed throughout the hour-long service. I found myself longing to preach through that marvelous chapter of Scripture. I can’t wait to see what ministry the Lord has in store for me—maybe I’ll get to preach Isaiah 53 yet? But regardless, as I found last night, the Gospel according to this chapter of Isaiah is good food for my sin-weary soul. This morning, my daughter Bethany (12) posted the entirety of Isaiah 53 on her Facebook status. (How cool is that?) And I thought to myself, “Good idea!”
"Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 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.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
6 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.
7 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.
8 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?
9 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.
10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors." (Isa 53:1-12 ESV)
What refuge believers have in Christ! Have we sinned? Yes.
“…We esteemed him not… we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”
Is there any excuse for our sin? No.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way…”
What is the penalty for sin? Death.
“…He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement… the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Who died for our sin? Jesus.
“…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… It was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring…”
Are believers still guilty? No.
“Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”
I don’t think my experience is uncommon. Believers suffer criticism, sometimes unjustly, sometimes well-deserved. I have suffered both kinds. And there’s the thing: all of the unjust criticism I have received, and for which my family and I have suffered, pales in comparison to my actual sin-guilt before God. So when I feel the urge to defend myself, I need to hear the Gospel: Christ already did. And when I feel the weight of my guilt, I need to hear the Gospel: Christ already died. And when I feel hopeless, I need to hear the Gospel: Christ already rose.
What a Refuge! The pastor who planted Crossway 13 years ago, Pat Sczebel, is a gifted hymn writer and musician. Last night we sang one of the hymns he has reworked and adapted from the original. Tears welled-up in my eyes as I sang one verse in particular.
Jesus, friend of sinners
I love to tell the story
Redeeming love has been my theme
And will be when in glory – Pat Sczebel [source]
I can’t preach tomorrow, but I can pray for all the other men preparing to preach tomorrow in pulpits around the globe, that they will preach the Gospel, the very Word of God, as the grace of God for which there is no other response than obedient faith.