How to Know When to Say No

There aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week to say “yes” to everything comes along. We know we should say “no” to temptation and sin, but it’s much harder to say “no” to good things, especially gospel opportunities.

Jen Wilkin, Jackie Hill Perry, and Jen Michel talk about how they’ve learned to use discernment in evaluating the requests and opportunities that come their way. Each of these busy women has realized the toll that overcommitting takes on them, their families, and their local church community—and so they no longer say “yes” to every good opportunity. “If you’re constantly over-capacity in terms of the workload that you have, you don’t have the time to just continue to encounter Jesus,” Jackie Hill Perry says. “What we give away [when we overcommit] is our life with Jesus.”

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast or watch a video.

Visit TGC The Gospel Coalition US

Why Did Jesus Heal the Sick?

There are so many fascinating, intriguing, and appealing things about Jesus that one hardly knows where to begin. But let me try.

When I peruse the gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus, several things virtually leap off the page. For example, I try to envision what it would have been like to sit under the teaching of Jesus. How would I have responded? My sincere hope is that I would have responded the way the multitude did after Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount: “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:28-29).

Not long after they marveled at his authority as a teacher, the disciples found themselves on the Sea of Galilee, in the midst of a raging storm. Jesus powerfully rebukes the wind and the waves and reduces the sea to a placid and peaceful calm. Perhaps, then, it is this display of power that impresses you most. Those in the boat with him certainly took notice: “And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’” (Matt. 8:27).

If the Pharisees were stunned by anything in the ministry of Jesus it was his knowledge, his insight into their hearts and motivation. You may remember the incident where Jesus healed the paralytic and forgave him his sins. The religious leaders were wondering quietly, in their hearts, how he could do this since only God can forgive sins. “And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, ‘Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk?’” (Mark 2:8-9).

We could go on seemingly forever highlighting the unique characteristics of our Savior: his patience with his followers, in spite of their ignorance and some of the incredibly dumb things they (Peter!) said; his perseverance or endurance when opposed; his overflowing joy, etc.

But there is one thing that has always stood out to me about Jesus: his compassion. And when I take note of the numerous times his compassion is mentioned, it almost always occurs in the context of his healing the people or ministering to their needs. Time and time again, we read something like: “And moved by compassion” . . . Jesus healed their sick or touched a leper or responded in some manner so desperately needed by those who were with him.

When a man virtually eaten up with leprosy approached him, and said: “If you will, you can make me clean,” Jesus, “moved with pity [or compassion], stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean” (Mark 1:40-42).

According to Mark 9:22, it was to Christ’s compassion that the father of a demonized boy appealed, hoping that he might be delivered. And it was because of his deep and unfathomable compassion that Jesus proceeded to set free that little boy.

Luke 7 records for us yet another instance. Jesus approached the city of Nain and came across a funeral procession. The only son of a widow had died and was about to be buried. “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep’” (Luke 7:13). Jesus then addressed himself to the dead boy: “Young man, I say to you, arise” (Luke 7:14). And he sat up and began to speak, all because of the compassion of our Lord.

When Jesus set his eyes on the 4,000 who had nothing to eat, Matthew tells us that “Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way’” (Matt. 15:32). We all know what happened next. He multiplied seven loaves of bread and a few fish into enough food to satisfy them all.

In the incident where Jesus encountered the crowd of 5,000, once again “he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matt. 14:14).

Two blind men were sitting beside the road when they heard that Jesus was passing by. They cried out for mercy, and mercy they received. But why? “And Jesus in pity [compassion] touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him” (Matt. 20:29-34).

Again and again, we read that “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them” and fed them and healed them and set them free from demonic oppression (Matt. 9:35-38).

Yes, Jesus performed healing miracles and multiplied food for the crowd in order to glorify God and to confirm his messianic identity and to make clear that the kingdom of God was now present. But above all else, the singular motivation in his heart that prompted him to heal the sick and to minister to their needs was his compassion.

Simply put, he healed people because he loved them. He cared deeply for them. When they hurt, he hurt. When they grieved, his heart was moved with pity and concern. It simply wasn’t in the character of Christ to remain indifferent in the presence of human suffering.

Is Jesus less compassionate or less loving today than he was in the first century? Surely not. So, if you are hurting or in need of healing or lack guidance and are tormented by the enemy, come to Christ! Come to the one in whom heartfelt compassion finds its consummate expression.

“O Savior, we are blind and dumb,
To thee for sight and speech we come;
Touch thou our eyes with truth’s bright rays,
Teach thou our lips to sing thy praise.
Help us to feel our mournful night,
And seek, through all things, for thy light,
Till the glad sentence we receive,
‘Be it to you as you believe.’
Then swift the dumb to thee we’ll bring,
Till all thy grace shall see, and sing.”

George Lansing Taylor

Visit Sam Storm’s Enjoying God

On My Shelf: Life and Books with Kathryn Butler

On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.

I asked Kathryn Butler—a trauma and critical-care surgeon who recently left clinical practice to homeschool her children and author of a book on end-of-life care through a Christian lens, Between Life and Death—about what’s on her nightstand, her favorite fiction, books that have most influenced her thinking about faith and medicine, and more.


What books are on your nightstand?

This will be fodder for my husband. The piles have gotten out of control.

I actively read about four books at a time: something to teach, something to write about, something to help my child with special needs, and something to indulge my love for words. Right now that amalgamation looks like this:

Other titles heaped on the nightstand in various phases of completion include:

What are your favorite fiction books?

I gravitate toward the Lost Generation writers: William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, James Joyce. I love how they all pair an unflinching eye for detail with a deftness for capturing the moment, the essence of a thing. Their realism is unsettling, but it’s also their gift: I can’t read Dubliners or The Great Gatsby or even The Sound and the Fury without thinking, Yes, that’s why the gospel is such great news!

What books have most influenced your thinking about faith and medicine?

For years the problem of suffering was a stumbling block to my faith, even driving me for a time to agnosticism and existential depression. An in-depth study of the book of Job played a crucial role in deepening my faith, giving me a biblical framework that revealed God’s goodness even in our anguish. It also shaped my thoughts on end-of-life care.

Regarding medicine specifically, Dr. Robert Orr’s Medical Ethics and the Faith Factor has been an excellent resource, as have John Dunlop’s Finishing Well to the Glory of God and David VanDrunen’s Bioethics and the Christian.

What’s the last great book you read?

For classics, The Aeneid. For modern books, I loved Prairie Fires, Caroline Fraser’s biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder (which I reviewed for TGC). Her research was excellent, and her writing was stunning.

In the past year I’ve also read some pretty amazing children’s literature with my kids around the breakfast table that I know I didn’t appreciate decades ago. I expected to cry with Charlotte’s Web and the Narnia chronicles, but the poignancy of The Cricket in Times Square took me aback.

What’s one book you wish every pastor read?

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. Gawande doesn’t write from a Christian perspective, but he does a spectacular job illustrating the skewed priorities of modern medicine and how the missions to fix and to keep safe often deprive people of what matters most in life. Our medical technology is a gift, but it comes with a steep price when wielded without discernment.

What are you learning about life and following Jesus?

For so long I didn’t understand grace. I knew my sin down to my bones, and daily dwelt on my inadequacy, but I really couldn’t comprehend that God would sacrifice anything of worth to save someone so corrupted.

The move from the hospital to homeschooling has compelled me to put aside any notion that I can redeem myself and has unveiled for me the sweetness and luminosity of grace in Christ. As I flunk daily at homemaking stuff, and as my son’s needs bring me to my knees, I’m amazed at how little we can do ourselves, how desperately we need the Lord, and how he works such wonders when we stop striving, start trusting, and come before him broken and humble. What he accomplishes far outshines anything we can do with our own awkward hands. And my heart bursts with gratitude that even when we’re so undeserving his love covers us and buoys us through.

Visit TGC The Gospel Coalition US

Book Notice: DISCOVERING THE GOOD LIFE: THE SURPRISING RICHES AVAILABLE IN CHRIST, by Tim Savage

A Brief Book Notice from Books at a Glance

We’re all searching for “the good life.”

Too often, however, we encounter discouragement, failure, broken relationships, guilt, and dashed dreams, all of which leave us yearning for more.

In this book, Tim Savage presents a renewed vision of life by examining the fullest life ever lived: the life of Jesus Christ. Savage invites us to tap into that life―and experience the riches of the joy, satisfaction, and purpose offered to us in Christ.

About the Author

Tim Savage (PhD, University of Cambridge; ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a pastor, author, international conference speaker, and founding council member of the Gospel Coalition. He has served in churches in Arizona, Great Britain, and Texas. He is married to Lesli and they have two adult sons, Matthew and Jonathan. Tim is the author of No Ordinary Marriage.

Endorsements

Timothy Keller, Founding Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City:

Tim Savage’s Discovering the Good Life is a real accomplishment. It begins with one of the most universal of questions: What is the good life? Then it answers it by taking us through the Bible, summarizing its whole story through the intercanonical theme of three trees―the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Tree of Life, and the great Branch, the shoot from the Stump of Jesse―Jesus himself―who took our curse by dying on a tree. This volume is ultimately an apologetic for the Christian life in response to a culture dedicated to seeking personal fulfillment but finding that very thing more and more elusive.

Carson Palmer, all-pro NFL quarterback; Heisman Trophy winner (2002); first overall pick in the NFL draft (2003):

Discovering the Good Life is an extraordinary book by Tim Savage on how good life can be when Christ is the center of it. Savage always has an eloquent way of teaching the Bible and showing how full our lives can be in Christ. Christian or unbeliever, this book will illustrate how you can be transformed by the unconditional love of Christ.

Alistair Begg, Senior Pastor, Parkside Church, Chagrin Falls, Ohio:

With one foot planted firmly in Scripture and the other in culture, Tim Savage unpacks the fullness of life that can be ours right now. If you have ever wondered what ‘abundant life’ should look like, here is the answer! Discovering the Good Life is poetic theology that teaches, refreshes, and, yes, surprises us with all that is available in Christ.

Melissa B. Kruger, Director of Women’s Content, The Gospel Coalition; author, In All Things: A Nine-Week Devotional Bible Study on Unshakeable Joy:

So often in our search for satisfaction, we’re like treasure hunters wandering without a map. We know what we want―joy, peace, goodness―but we seem to be searching in all the wrong places. In Discovering the Good Life, Tim Savage wisely explains the story of Scripture using three trees as guideposts. If you want to experience abundant life, this book faithfully leads you to the treasure of all treasures and the giver of all goodness: Jesus.

Jon Kyl, former United States senator (Arizona); former Senate Minority Whip:

In Discovering the Good Life, Tim Savage addresses the enduring question, How do we find fullness of life in a world full of trouble? The answer―as he shows through Scripture, stories, and practical examples―is that Christians who faithfully embrace Jesus Christ will find unbelievable fulfillment by reflecting Christ’s indwelling love in all they do. Savage’s message will inspire Christians wherever they are in their faith journey.

Buy the books

Discovering the Good Life: The Surprising Riches Available in Christ

2019 | 176 pages

Visit Books at a Glance

Is There Any Place for Fear in the Christian Life?

Audio Transcript

God is loving. God is patient. God is kind. But is God also severe? Can we say that? Any perceptive Bible reader who believes in God’s absolute sovereignty is eventually going to ask this question, like a listener named Tyneeka.

“Hi, Pastor John. I’m wondering if it’s wrong to say that God is severe. Recently in prayer, in a train of thought, I was led to use that exact word — ‘severe’ — although it seemed to me to be sacrilegious. After looking it up in the dictionary, it appeared to me that some definitions of the word ‘severe’ are negative.

“In the prayer, I was thinking about God’s character, that he is loving, kind, patient — and I added ‘severe’ to the list. Like I said, it didn’t sound right. I wondered if ‘serious’ or ‘sober’ are better words. A few examples of ‘severe’ that I found in the dictionary would be ‘harsh,’ ‘unnecessarily extreme,’ ‘grave.’ I’d love your thoughts on this. Is God severe?”

Not Always Severe

I think maybe the reason why listing severity as one of God’s attributes or as a definition of his character sounds awkward to us is mainly because we generally expect the attributes of God or the marks of his character to be carried through continuously in all his actions.

“Severity marks God’s behavior only occasionally, in response to particular attitudes and behaviors.”

Tweet Share on Facebook

For example, if we call him wise, we don’t mean sometimes he’s wise and sometimes he’s foolish. When we call him good, we don’t mean sometimes he’s good and sometimes he’s bad. When we call him just, we don’t mean sometimes he’s just and sometimes he’s unjust. If we call him severe, that pattern won’t work. That’s why I think it sticks in her throat. What we would mean if we called God severe is that sometimes, in some circumstances, in response to some things, he is, indeed, severe. Other times, that severity is replaced by gentleness.

I would switch the question from “Is God severe?” to “Does God ever act in a severe way? Are there particular circumstances where his wisdom, his justice, his goodness is severe? Are there circumstances where he’s not severe?”

Let me give you a couple of examples from Scripture, and then you can decide how to say it in the situation you find yourself in. What we find is that whenever God is called severe in a particular circumstance, it’s described with whatever it is that called forth the severity.

Punishing Sin

Take, for example, Luke 12. Jesus told a story of several servants who knew their master’s will and some who didn’t know it. The master responds differently to different servants.

Let me read Luke 12:47 to you: “And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating.” This is a picture of the final judgment. Jesus continues, “But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48).

Yes, there will be a severity of judgment, and the severity is in proportion to the rebelliousness of the sin. Severity does not mark God’s behavior pervasively, but only occasionally in response to particular attitudes and behaviors.

Severity and Kindness

Here is, I think, the most important illustration of God’s severity in the Bible, because it is embedded in a context that gives us a sense of how relevant it is for us today. This is Romans 11:19–22: “Then you will say, ‘Branches [Jewish branches] were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’” The picture is being grafted in to the Abrahamic covenant of promise. “That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.” That is, fear falling into unbelief; fear unbelief. “For if God did not spare the natural branches [the Jewish people who did not believe in Jesus], neither will he spare you. Note then” — note is a strong word: look, behold, watch, hear — “the kindness and the severity of God.”

“Fear the failure to rest in God. Fear the failure to enjoy God. Fear not being changed by God’s kindness.“

Tweet Share on Facebook

There’s the word severity (apotomia). He’s saying to those Gentile Christians, “Hey, wake up. I want you to look at his kindness, and I want you to look at his severity.”

Now Paul continues in Romans 11:22–23: “Severity toward those who have fallen [that is, the broken-off branches of unbelief], but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness.” That is, provided you keep trusting him, keep having faith in him, keep treasuring his kindness. “Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.”

The reason this text is so important is because of two things. One, severity is contrasted with kindness so that we can see clearly that sometimes God acts with one, and other times he acts with the other. In other words, severity is not an overarching quality of all God’s action like justice or wisdom or goodness. Severity is one expression of his justice and wisdom and goodness. It’s the counterpoint of kindness. Sometimes one is appropriate, sometimes the other.

Godly Fear

Here’s the second thing that’s so important about this text. It tells us directly as Christians that we should think about God’s severity. It says, “Note well.” That is, look well. In other words, severity really matters. We should think about it. It should be part of our thinking about God.

“We should fear the kind of unbelief that God treats so severely, and then fly to the kindness that he promises to all who trust him.”

Tweet Share on Facebook

Romans 11:22 is a command: “Note then the kindness and the severity of God.” He says this right after he gives the command “Don’t become proud, but fear.” Fear there is fearing unbelief. Fear the failure to rest in God. Fear the failure to enjoy God. Fear not being changed by God’s kindness.

This is so important, and contrary to the way most people think about living the Christian life. Lots of people think there’s no place for fear in the Christian life, but Paul, in Romans 11:20, explicitly commands Christians to fear unbelief. To make it really paradoxical, we could say he commands us to fear the failure to be fearless by trusting Jesus.

Let me say that again. He commands us to fear what? The short answer is unbelief, but let’s say it like this: He commands us to fear the failure to be fearless by trusting Jesus. Fear basing your fearlessness on pride. Base your fearlessness on faith in Jesus, and fear every other kind of fearlessness.

I would conclude with Tyneeka that when we are giving a list of God’s overarching attributes, including severity would probably be misleading. In other words, don’t include severity in that list. But we should say it’s one of the ways that God acts in some circumstances, and it underlines the need for Christians to fear unbelief. One of the main reasons for us to know his severity is so that we should fear the kind of unbelief that God treats so severely, and then fly to the kindness that he promises to all who trust him.

Visit Desiring God

The Triumphal Entry before Jesus

Every year on Palm Sunday, children enter our worship service with palm branches, delightfully waving to the congregation (or devilishly whipping one another) in celebration of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. Many know the story of the Lord Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey to the adulation of the crowds.

But not everyone knows that long before Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey—hundreds of years before he was even born—another man rode a donkey into Jerusalem. And in that first triumphal entry, we uncover precious truth about the second.

Cold King, Conniving Prince, Ruthless Partnership

Our story begins in 1 Kings. Here, King David—the boy who defeated giants as a child and who conquered armies as a youth—is an old man too sick and weak to warm himself (1:1–4). It’s clear to everyone that David’s life is almost over. Soon there will be a new king.

One of David’s sons, Adonijah, decides he wants to be king (1:5–10). He starts by forging two strategic relationships—one with the military leader, Joab, and one with the priestly leader, Abiathar. He gathers them for a private coronation party.

Alert readers know David had already appointed Solomon to be the next king (1 Chron. 23:1; 29:22). Adonijah’s power play, then, was a hostile takeover and a murderous threat to his rivals—his royal brother, Solomon, and his queen mother, Bathsheba. But even more, it was a threat to God’s promises. The Lord had promised David would have an enduring royal dynasty (2 Sam. 7:12–13), specifically through Solomon (1 Chron. 22:9–10).

This family crisis was a life-and-death struggle for the kingdom of God.

Brave Woman, Faithful Prophet, Rightful King

Bathsheba enters our story to alert the clueless King David about what’s happening in his kingdom (1 Kings 1:11–27). Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan remind David of the oath he made in response to God’s covenantal promises (Bathseba’s name actually means “daughter of the oath”).

David affirms his plans to crown Solomon (1:28–31) and moves into action (1:32–37). He summons Nathan, Zadok, and Benaiah—a godly prophet, a godly priest, and a godly adviser to the king.

David gives his royal mule (a sort of ancient Air Force One) to Solomon and parades him into Jerusalem from the Gihon Spring across the Kidron Valley. Solomon was anointed and enthroned in public with triumphant celebration. This is no secret self-exaltation like Adonijah’s private party, but God’s people publicly celebrating God’s king with a loud cheer (1:38–40). The private party for Adonijah dissolves as the cheers for Solomon drown out the imposter coronation (1:41–49).

First Triumphal Entry Points to Second

Solomon’s entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey across the Kidron Valley and the Gihon Spring (1:33, 38) declares the true king. It announces that the priestly leader Abiathar—and all the religious leaders following him—are phonies. It announces that the military leader Joab—and all his military powers—aren’t in charge. This one, this king on a donkey, is the true son of David.

On Palm Sunday, we celebrate Jesus retracing Solomon’s path across the Kidron Valley and entering Jerusalem on a donkey (Matt. 21:1–10). It’s certainly a picture of humility—entering on a donkey instead of a war horse (Zech. 9:9). And it certainly evokes a contrast between God’s kingdom and the sort of entrance that Herod or Pilate would’ve received as they entered the city that week.

But as a reflection of Solomon’s coronation, Jesus’s triumphal entry teaches us even more. It testifies that the scribes and Pharisees—the religious leaders who opposed him—are phonies. Like the sons of Eli, they are disqualified from representing the true and living God (1 Sam. 2:31ff). And it also says that Rome with all its military might isn’t in charge. Even the blind could see (Matt. 20:30–31) that Jesus, this king on a donkey, is the true son of David (Matt. 21:9, 15).

Here, at last, is the true king.

Greater-Than-Solomon Is Here

Thankfully, Jesus’s kingship is unlike Solomon’s in many ways.

Solomon disbelieved God and trusted in idols; Jesus never did. Even while suffocating to death on the cross, Jesus committed his spirit into the Father’s hands (Luke 23:46).

Solomon sinfully took for himself foreign queens to bolster his own status (1 Kings 11:1–4), but Jesus gave himself up for his bride, the church. Solomon was polluted by his foreign wives (Neh. 13:26), but Jesus cleansed and sanctified his bride, “so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27).

Solomon built a temple, but then he led his people to worship foreign idols. Jesus established a new temple and is the worship leader for his assembled people: “I will tell of [the Lord’s] name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise” (Ps. 22:22; Heb. 2:12). Solomon led his people down the path to exile; Jesus becomes the path to God—the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

Solomon died, just like David died (1 Kings 11:43). But Jesus rose from the dead to give everlasting life—not only to David and Solomon but to all his royal sons and daughters (Heb. 2:10).

This Palm Sunday, we celebrate the triumph of the second king to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. He enters to the praise of children and adults, unmasking all pretenders to his throne and reminding us that he—and he alone—is the only king worth following.

Visit TGC The Gospel Coalition US

He Wept as They Welcomed Him: The Hope and Sorrow of Palm Sunday

Save us, we pray, O Lord! . . . Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! (Psalm 118:25–26)

When Jesus approached Jerusalem on what history remembers as Palm Sunday, he wept over her. To a casual observer, it might have seemed like Jesus wept at strange times.

He recently had wept at Lazarus’s tomb, only to call him out of it moments later (John 11:35–44). Now the enthusiastic crowds who had heard of this great miracle (John 12:17–18) were escorting him royally into the city of David, crying the words of Psalm 118:25–26: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13). All Jews would have understood these words as a messianic salutation — and Jesus responded with a tearful lament.

Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you. . . . And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation. (Luke 19:42–44)

This is a response worth pausing to ponder — what a psalmist might call a selah moment. The great King wept over the city of the great King just before his “triumphal entry” through her gates, to the prophesied rejoicing of many (Luke 19:41; Zechariah 9:9).

Rejected Stone, the Lord’s Doing

Psalm 118 was much in the Savior’s ears and eyes as Holy Week began — that consummate week when all that the temple and sacrificial systems foreshadowed (Hebrews 10:1) would be fulfilled in a single, great, once-for-all sacrifice conducted by the great high priest himself (Hebrews 4:14; 9:26).

Jesus heard the psalm in the “Hosanna!” shouts of the crowds. And he saw the psalm in the murderous machinations of the Jewish leaders: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:22–23). This is what broke the heart of Jesus as he rode the donkey’s foal toward Jerusalem amid the waving palms. And it was marvelous.

It was marvelous that Jerusalem, “the joy of all the earth” (Psalm 48:2), did not recognize when the Joy of her joy arrived after her long centuries of waiting.

It was marvelous that the sovereign King of kings (1 Timothy 6:15), the Son and Lord of David (Matthew 22:44–45), who ordained from ages past that the builders would reject their cornerstone, felt profound grief over their blindness and rejection, and deeply wished they had known all he was doing to make peace (Luke 19:42).

It was marvelous that the Jewish Messiah had come to answer the “Hosanna!” cries and make peace not only for the Jewish people, but also for the Gentile peoples of the earth — a mystery “kept secret for long ages” (Romans 16:25) that would soon be proclaimed to the Gentiles by a Jewish Pharisee (Ephesians 3:1–6) who, if present as Jesus entered the city, would have zealously hated everything the procession implied.

And all this was “the Lord’s doing” (Psalm 118:23). Yes, for the Lord had said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22).

Oh, for the things that made for peace!

The Day the Lord Had Made

The marvel is not only that the builders rejected the cornerstone, but that the Blessed One had come to become a curse for all of us who would later call him blessed (Galatians 3:13).

The great psalm celebrates, “Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!” (Psalm 118:27). Who on that day of the King’s great arrival would have imagined that this King had come to be the Sacrifice of sacrifices, and that the Roman cross to which he would be bound would become the most sacred altar ever constructed?

No one but King Jesus. This was why he had come, and why his soul was so troubled in the midst of the rejoicing crowd (John 12:27).

But the crowd’s rejoicing was the right response. Indeed, the psalm called for it: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). What deeply troubled the great Deliverer was a work set before him that would atone for the sin of myriad millions of sinners (Ephesians 1:7).

This was the day that the Lord had made, a day of rejoicing and gladness for sinners. But a day of weeping for the Lord. For oh, the things that made for peace!

His Steadfast Love Endures Forever

But Jesus’s grief was not hopeless. No, he knew his weeping was only for the night, and joy would come with the morning (Psalm 30:5). He knew it was the will of his Father to crush him and put him to grief (Isaiah 53:10). He also knew that after he had made the supreme offering for sin, after he had borne the iniquities of many that they might be accounted righteous, after the anguish of his soul was past, he would see his redeemed spiritual offspring and know supreme satisfaction (Isaiah 53:10–11). Even through his tears, Jesus looked to the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2) and set his face toward what lay ahead in Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).

This was the resolve of fathomless love — a love stronger than death and fiercer than the grave — the very flame of the Lord (Song of Solomon 8:6). It was a love so good, so steadfast, so enduring, so high, so broad, so long, so deep that it requires the very strength of God even to comprehend it (Ephesians 3:18–19). It was the way God so loved the world (John 3:16), a world that had rejected him (Psalm 118:22). It was love that went to unimaginable extremes to accomplish the things that made for peace — for us.

Therefore, in honor of such a King, we join with that ancient crowd in rejoicing in the day that the Lord has made, lifting our hands, as if holding festal palms, and declaring,

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! . . . You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 118:26, 28–29)

Visit Desiring God

Is Buying Stuff the Best Way to Help the Poor?

According to what I’ve heard, improving a country’s GDP is more important than any form of aid. Does that mean that, in order to most obey Jesus’s commands to love the poor, I should buy products and services—particularly those produced by the less advantaged? Let’s say, for example, that I have $100 and I live in the Middle East. What is more helpful—to give the $100 to a charity that helps refugees in my country or to take that $100 to a locally owned-and-run supermarket and buy the desserts they make and sell there?

This question plagues me. It seems counterintuitive that the best way for me to help the poor is to buy stuff from them. That’s not intuitively how any of us interpret Jesus’s commands, but if it is the case, it raises a host of issues about what effective generosity really is.


Between 1990 and 2013, the number of people in extreme poverty fell by nearly 1.1 billion, even as the world’s total population expanded by nearly 1.9 billion. Was this the result of aid or development policy from Western governments and NGOs? No. Without a doubt, the single most important factor in lifting over a billion people out of poverty was sustained economic growth—rising Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in countries with substantial poverty.

If rising GDP has done more to decrease poverty than any charity or aid program, how does one best leverage one’s personal finances to help the poor? Is buying stuff in order to raise GDP the most faithful way to obey Jesus’s commands to love the poor? As with most important things, the answer can be complex.

Suppose you concluded that you should spend money to increase GDP. There are multiple ways to do that, but they aren’t all equal. Consider the following ways to spend $1:

  1. Spend $1 on ice cream and eat it yourself.
  2. Spend $1 on ice cream, then find a poor person who couldn’t afford to buy ice cream and give it to them to eat.
  3. Give $1 to that poor person and tell them, “Spend it however you want.”

Each of those options will likely increase GDP by the same amount, but in terms of generosity No. 2 is better than No. 1, and No. 3 may be best of all. In No. 3, the poor people may spend the dollar on ice cream, or they may spend it on something that is even more useful to them. Indeed, they may invest in growing their personal business, on provisions for their future, or on things that lead to better health outcomes for themselves or their families. (There is lots of research on the effectiveness of “unconditional cash transfers.”)

Spending money on ice cream will only possibly increase a country’s GDP in the short run, but the best way to help the poor is to contribute toward economic growth in the long run. Economic growth comes from broad improvements in technology, innovation, efficiency of and access to markets. (Even if you’re Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates, there’s probably not much you can do here.)

Additionally, while in general the best way to lift the most people out of poverty is through economic growth, people can remain in dire poverty even as GDP increases. In the last several decades, economic growth in many countries has increased incomes but also inequality, creating new problems for those countries. For example, the people Mother Teresa ministered to would not benefit at all from GDP growth. The best way to help those people is to serve them directly, whether doing so helps GDP or not.

In other cases, economic growth has actually hurt people. In the United States, globalization has been good for growth overall, but has also displaced many workers who used to have manufacturing jobs. Those people need to learn new skills so that they can get new jobs; helping them benefit from economic growth requires not economic investment but individual attention.

So what is the best way to leverage your personal finances? Don’t make it too complicated. Find things that effectively improve people’s lives without hurting them. The answer will be different in different contexts, so it’s helpful to refocus on the individual: Sometimes the easiest thing is giving money directly to responsible people with need. Or increasing someone’s long-term income potential by connecting them with resources, training, or access to jobs. Or seeing an organization around you that does good work and giving there.

Don’t necessarily worry about GDP. How you give needn’t contribute toward economic growth. Not everybody can contribute in that way, and that’s okay. Instead, focus on being faithful with what you’ve been given. Help the people you know need help. Give out of the resources you already have. And rest in the knowledge that God has more resources, and loves the poor, more than you ever will.

See previous installments in the Thorns & Thistles series.

Visit TGC The Gospel Coalition US

Weekly Recap, April 13

Book Summary:

PREACHING THE NEW TESTAMENT, edited by Ian Paul and David Wenham

A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance By David Dickenson   Overview Preaching is important, for through the preaching of God’s Word the church is transformed and brought into the image of God’s Son. To preach faithfully is…

Author Interview:

Part 2 of an Interview with Matthew Barrett, author of THE DOCTRINE ON WHICH THE CHURCH STANDS OR FALLS: JUSTIFICATION IN BIBLICAL, THEOLOGICAL, HISTORICAL, AND PASTORAL PERSPECTIVE

An Author Interview from Books At a Glance   Greetings, and welcome again to an Author Interview here on Books At a Glance. I’m Fred Zaspel, and today we’re continuing our conversation with Dr. Matthew Barrett about his outstanding new…

Book Review:

REFORMED PREACHING: PROCLAIMING GOD’S WORD FROM THE HEART OF THE PREACHER TO THE HEART OF HIS PEOPLE, by Joel R. Beeke

A Book Review from Books At a Glance By Ryan McGraw   Preaching is the primary means of grace. This means that preaching is the primary way that Christ speaks to us through his Word and Spirit so that we…

Our Blog:

Book Notice: DARK CLOUDS, DEEP MERCY: DISCOVERING THE GRACE OF LAMENT, by Mark Vroegop

A Brief Book Notice from Books at a Glance   Lament is how you live between the poles of a hard life and trusting God’s goodness. Lament is how we bring our sorrow to God–but it is a neglected dimension…

Book Notice: I SAW THE LORD: A BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF VISION, by Abner Chou

A Brief Book Notice from Books At a Glance Fred Zaspel   Someone just recently pointed me to this book – a delightful survey / synopsis of the visions of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Paul, and John.   Contents 1 Introduction…

Book Notice: UNTANGLING EMOTIONS: “GOD’S GIFT OF EMOTIONS,” by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith

A Brief Book Notice from Books at a Glance   Our emotions are complex. Some of us seem able to ignore our feelings, while others feel controlled by them. But most of us would admit that we don’t always know…

Book Notice: ROMANS (ZONDERVAN EXEGETICAL COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT), by Frank S. Thielman

A Brief Book Notice from Books at a Glance   This series is designed for those who know biblical languages. It is written primarily for the pastor and Bible teacher, not for the scholar. That is, the aim is not…

~ The Books At a Glance Team

Visit Books at a Glance

Does Grace Still Amaze You?

Years ago, I spoke at a large event where the vocalist sang one of my favorite songs, “Amazing Grace.” But I was taken aback when I heard the first line: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a soul like me.” The word soul was substituted for the word wretch. Why? Because the word wretch is considered by some to be demeaning to human beings.

I couldn’t help but think of John Newton, the writer of the song. He was an immoral slave trader and blasphemer — a man who knew he was a wretch and who had wept over the depth of his sins. Only because he understood that fact so profoundly could he then understand why God’s grace to him was so utterly amazing. And hence the immortal song he bequeathed to all of us.

Grace doesn’t minimize or ignore the awful reality of our sin. Grace emphasizes the depths of sin by virtue of the unthinkable price paid to redeem us from it. Paul said if men were good enough, “then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:21). If we don’t come to grips with the hideous reality of our own sin, God’s grace won’t ever seem amazing.

His Call to Sinners

God’s word tells us that Christ died for utterly unworthy people (Romans 5:7–8). The fact that he died for us is never given in Scripture as a proof of our value as wonderful people. Rather, it is a demonstration of his unfathomable and unearned love. So unfathomable that he would die for rotten people, wretches like you and me, to free us from our sin.

Because grace is so incomprehensible to us, we instinctively smuggle in conditions so we won’t look so bad and God’s offer won’t seem so counterintuitive. By the time we’re done qualifying the gospel, we’re no longer unworthy and powerless. We’re no longer wretches. And grace is no longer grace.

The worst thing we can teach people is that they’re good without Jesus. The truth is, God doesn’t offer grace to good people, any more than doctors offer lifesaving surgery to healthy people. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31–32).

Our Lord also said, “To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment” (Revelation 21:6). Without cost to us, but at unimaginable cost to himself — a cost that will be visible for eternity as we behold his nail-scarred hands and feet (John 20:24–29). Bonhoeffer was right: grace is free, but it is not cheap.

Life-Changing Grace

You and I weren’t merely sick in our sins; we were dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1). That means I’m not just unworthy of salvation; I’m utterly incapable of earning it. Corpses can’t raise themselves from the grave. What a relief to realize that my salvation is completely the result of God’s grace. It cannot be earned by good works.

True grace recognizes and deals with sin in the most radical and painful way: Christ’s redemption. There’s only one requirement for enjoying God’s grace: being broken and knowing it. That’s why Jesus said, “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!” (Matthew 5:3, GNT)

Our justification by faith in Christ satisfies the demands of God’s holiness by exchanging our sins for Christ’s righteousness (Romans 3:21–26). When Jesus saves us, we become new creatures in him (2 Corinthians 5:17). Now we can draw upon God’s power to overcome evil. We start seeing sin for what it really is: bondage, not freedom.

The old summary is correct: God’s children have been saved from the penalty of sin, we are being saved from the power of sin, and we will be saved from the presence of sin. Justification, sanctification, and glorification are all grounded solidly in exactly the same place: God’s grace.

God’s Grace Hunts Sin

The grace of Jesus isn’t an add-on or makeover that enhances our lives. It causes a radical transformation — from being sin-enslaved to being righteousness-liberated. Paul writes of the life-transforming and sin-overcoming power of grace: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (Titus 2:11–12).

Don’t ever tell yourself you may as well go ahead and sin since God will forgive you. This cheapens grace. Grace that trivializes sin is not true grace. Paul makes that clear: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1–2).

John Piper says, “Grace is not simply leniency when we have sinned. Grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power, not just pardon.” So while God forgives when we sincerely confess (1 John 1:9), we prove that sincerity by taking necessary steps to avoid temptation. As Jesus said, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act” (Matthew 7:16, NLT).

No sin is small that crucified Christ. Sin matters, yet grace has power over sin, offering not only forgiveness but also transformed character (Galatians 5:22–23). Every sin pales in comparison to God’s grace to us in Christ (Romans 5:20–21).

Proclaiming God’s Offer of Grace

There is one sense in which God’s grace is unconditional — we don’t deserve it. Yet in his kindness he offers it to us. But in another sense it is conditional, in that in order to receive it we must repent, ask forgiveness, and place our faith in him. This is a paradox — an apparent (but not actual) contradiction. If we see God as the one who does the work of convicting us and drawing us to repentance, this helps. We did not merit salvation.

But even if we fail to understand this paradox of conditional and unconditional grace, I think God calls upon us to believe it and live in it. Sinclair Ferguson says, “The spiritual life is lived between two polarities: our sin and God’s grace. The discovery of the former brings us to seek the latter; the work of the latter illuminates the depths of the former and causes us to seek yet more grace.”

When we’re acutely aware of our own sins, we’ll proclaim and exemplify God’s “good news of happiness” (Isaiah 52:7). We’ll do so not with a spirit of superiority but with the contagious excitement of a sinner saved by grace — one person rescued from starvation sharing bountiful food and drink with others. We’ll face each day and each person we see with humility, knowing that we too still desperately need God’s grace — every bit as much as those we’re offering it to.

Visit Desiring God

How to Engage Lost Loved Ones

The following is a lightly edited transcript.

1. Report the good news.

Tell unbelievers the news first. Foreground the news. Make the news prominent. The world doesn’t know the news. They think they know lots of God’s requirements. “Self-denial? You know we heard about this.” But they didn’t really get the news.

So, foreground the news. God planned, God prophesied, God performed a ransom for sinners. Jesus embraced the plan and became the performance — suffered, rejected, murdered, raised. Knowingly, intentionally, obediently, triumphantly.

Make the objective facts of the glorious, Jesus-exalting news clear. There’s no other way that the next steps of the gospel can happen if they don’t know the news, because it’s in the news that they see him. And they have to fall in love with him to be in.

2. Plead with them.

Urge them to look at Jesus in the news. Look at Jesus. Look at him suffering. Look at him being rejected. Look at him dying. Look at him rising. Look. What do you see?

That’s what you do: You urge. You plead. “Don’t you see? This is the greatest person who ever was. This is beauty. This is glory. This is value. This is everything. Don’t you see?”

3. Warn them.

Warn them that to love this world — to love its possessions and to love its praise more than they love Jesus — will cost them their lives forever. Tell them that. That’s what Jesus does.

“God planned, God prophesied, and God performed a ransom for sinners.”

Tweet Share on Facebook

Warn them that Jesus is coming back. He’s coming back, and when he comes in the glory of the Creator of the universe, and with holy, holy, holy angels — millions of them — nothing you have ever owned, no praise you have ever received will make up for any disapproval of Jesus you’ve ever shown. Your shame of Jesus will bring down shame on your head.

Warn them. We need to warn people with tears, eyeball to eyeball, at a restaurant over the table.

4. Promise them joy.

Promise them, in the name of Jesus, that whatever must be denied in this life bears no comparison to the joy of being with Jesus on the Calvary road and the glory that we will have with Jesus after the Calvary road in the new world. No comparison. Non-believers need to be told that.

Don’t let them — especially if they’ve grown up in church — fasten on the word self-denial, as if it means Christians are not capable of experiencing unspeakable joy.

What a travesty in understanding the term self-denial, right? Make it clear. Make it crystal clear from this text, Mark 8:34–38, that the self that is to be denied is the self bent on suicide. That’s the only self to be denied: the one that’s bent on eternal suicide; the one that’s bent on the insane thought that owning the world is better than belonging to the Son of Man. That’s insane.

Tell them that denying that self is wisdom, joy, everlasting hope. Make sure they know that the only self that’s being denied is the self of the utter foolishness of craving the approval of man over a million angels and the Father and the Son. Insane. Crazy. Folly.

Don’t get too loud in the restaurant. But it is possible to help them see. They’ll never forget that conversation. They won’t ever forget it. Don’t let them fasten onto self-denial anything other than what Jesus means. There is absolutely a self to be denied, but that self will kill your joy forever.

Kill it. Kill that self. Get up in the morning and say, “You’re dead!” Go to bed at night and say, “You’re dead! I won’t have you killing my joy forever.”

Fill them with the promises of Jesus. The bottom line in Mark 8:35 is: You will live.

5. Speak honestly about suffering.

Be like Jesus and be like Paul, and make sure the people that you’re evangelizing know from the start: “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom” (Acts 14:22). You will suffer in this life. Don’t do any sugarcoating or bait and switch.

“The self that is to be denied is the self bent on suicide.”

Tweet Share on Facebook

Jesus was up front all the time about suffering in the Christian life, and Paul was too. Count the cost. I don’t want you to get on the road and be surprised when the suffering comes. It will come. Count the cost. Tell them something like this:

“If the all-governing, all-controlling, sovereign, merciful God was weaving a fabric of beauty and hope out of sufferings, rejection, murder, and resurrection of the Son of Man — if he was weaving, stitching, in his sovereignty, a fabric out of horrors upon horrors of sinful rejection and sinful murder, a fabric of beauty and a fabric of hope — then don’t you think that he can and will weave out of the torn pieces of your life, and out of the tangled threads of your life, a beautiful tapestry for his glory?”

And then, when you’re done, you say, “Can I pray?”


Read, watch, or listen to the full message:

Conference Message

The Golden Stitches of Sovereignty: What Holds Our Gospel Together

The Golden Stitches of Sovereignty

What Holds Our Gospel Together

Apr 8, 2019

Visit Desiring God

Is God Anti-Gay?

“Jesus is saying the same kind of thing to everyone. When we rightly understand what he teaches about sexual ethics and about marriage, it is deeply humbling for every one of us. It’s challenging for all of us because none of us naturally lines up with what Jesus teaches. His teaching on marriage and sex has been countercultural in every single culture in one way or another. This has never been easy.” — Sam Allberry

Date: March 16, 2018

Event: TGC Arizona Regional Conference

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast. Find more audio and video from TGC Arizona regional conferences on the conference media page.

Related:

Visit TGC The Gospel Coalition US

Book Notice: ROMANS (ZONDERVAN EXEGETICAL COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT), by Frank S. Thielman

A Brief Book Notice from Books at a Glance

This series is designed for those who know biblical languages. It is written primarily for the pastor and Bible teacher, not for the scholar. That is, the aim is not to review and offer a critique of every possible interpretation that has ever been given to a passage, but to exegete each passage of Scripture succinctly in its grammatical and historical context. Each passage is interpreted in the light of its biblical setting, with a view to grammatical detail, literary context, flow of biblical argument, and historical setting. While the focus will not be on application, it is expected that the authors will offer suggestions as to the direction in which application can flow.

About the Author

Frank Thielman (PhD, Duke University) is Presbyterian professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, in Birmingham, Alabama. He is the author of Philippians in the NIV Application Commentary series.

About the Series

The aim of the series is not to review and critique every possible interpretation of a passage, but rather to exegete each passage of Scripture succinctly in its grammatical and historical context. Each passage is interpreted in the light of its biblical setting with attention to grammatical detail, literary context, flow of biblical argument, and historical setting. These texts are written primarily for pastors and Bible teachers, but its attention to contemporary issues in the church makes it a focused resource for anyone teaching, preaching, or studying these passages.

Buy the books

Romans (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)

Zondervan, 2018 | 816 pages

Visit Books at a Glance

Christ Will Not Cast Out Any Who Come To Him

God the Father gave every single Christian to Jesus, and there’s absolutely nothing that will cause Christ to get rid of any of His people who the Father gave to Him.

John 6:37 – All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.


View full sermon, “Everyone and No One“.