My favorite New Year’s hymn is Frances Ridley Havergal’s “Another Year Is Dawning.” Like many of Frances’s hymns, this one is a wonderful declaration of Christian consecration to living for the Lord.
Frances Havergal (1836-1879) was an English poet and hymnwriter. Many of her poems and hymns emphasized devotional closeness to Christ and dedicated service of Him. Those were primary emphases Frances sought to cultivate in her own life and to promote to other believers.
Such consecration is clearly seen in her best-known hymn, “Take My Life and Let It Be,” as well as in some of her other well-known songs: “Lord, Speak to Me,” “I Gave My Life for Thee” and “Who Is on the Lord’s Side?”
Each New Year’s Day Frances reconsecrated herself to living for Jesus. As a result, she wrote several New Year’s hymns, “Another Year Is Dawning” being the most popular of those. She composed this particular poem near the end of 1873 as a prayer for New Year’s 1874. She had it printed on a greeting card to be sent to friends. The card’s caption read, “A Happy New Year! Ever Such May It Be!”
As circumstances turned out, Frances herself ended up needing this prayer, for just a few days later she experienced a stunning setback. She was looking forward to being launched as an author in America, and her agent in New York had made reassuring promises. Then a letter came which she thought would bring a royalty check, perhaps the first of many. It instead brought the intelligence that her publisher had gone bankrupt in the Stock Market crash of 1873.
Frances had only recently entrusted all her affairs to the Lord. As a result, she was able to bear this sudden reversal of her prospects with peace. She wrote of this to a friend:
“I have just had such a blessing in the shape of what would have been only two months ago a really bitter blow to me. … I was expecting a letter from America, enclosing thirty-five pounds now due me, and possibly news that [my book] was going on like steam. The letter has come and, instead of all this, my publisher has failed in the universal crash. He holds my written promise to publish only with him as the condition of his launching me, so this is not simply a little loss, but an end of all my American prospects. …
“I really had not expected that He [God] would do for me so much above all I asked [Ephesians 3:20], as not merely to help me to acquiesce in this, but positively not to feel it at all, and only to rejoice in it as a clear test of the reality of victorious faith which I do find brightening almost daily. Two months ago this would have been a real trial to me, for I had built a good deal on my American prospects; now ‘Thy will be done’ is not a sigh but only a song.”
By God’s grace working in her life, on this occasion Frances certainly lived up to the sincere consecrated sentiments she had not long before penned in “Another Year Is Dawning.”
Whether or not you are familiar with this hymn, I would encourage you to spend a few minutes contemplating and perhaps even singing it. (It is set to the tune of another well-known hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation.”) May the Lord help all of us to live lives that are deeply devoted to Him in the coming year.
“Another Year Is Dawning”
1. Another year is dawning: Dear Father, let it be, In working or in waiting, Another year with Thee; Another year of Progress, Another year of praise, Another year of proving Thy presence all the days.
2. Another year of mercies, Of faithfulness and grace; Another year of gladness In the shining of Thy face; Another year of leaning Upon Thy loving breast; Another year of trusting, Of quiet, happy rest.
3. Another year of service, Of witness for Thy love; Another year of training For holier work above. Another year is dawning: Dear Father, let it be, On earth or else in heaven, Another year for Thee.
John and Charles Wesley are commonly considered the primary founders and promoters of Methodism in the eighteenth century Church of England. Both brothers were not only powerful evangelists but also skilled hymnwriters. Together they produced several hymnbooks.
Charles was especially gifted as a poet and hymnist, composing nearly 9,000 poems and over 6,000 hymns. His hymns are characterized by not only poetic beauty but also theological brawn. They are packed with biblical allusions and doctrinal truths. Charles’ best-known Christmas hymns are “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
Charles was happy to share his songs freely with the public. But he did not appreciate people amending them. In one of his hymnals he wrote:
“I beg leave to mention a thought which has been long upon my mind, and which I should long ago have inserted in the public papers, had I not been unwilling to stir up a nest of hornets. Many gentlemen have done my brother and me (though without naming us) the honor to reprint many of our hymns. Now they are perfectly welcome to do so, provided they print them just as they are. But I desire they would not attempt to mend them, for they are really not able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse. Therefore, I must beg of them these two favors: either let them stand just as they are, to take things for better or worse, or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page, that we may no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or for the doggerel of other men.”
But Charles’ friend, the eminent evangelist George Whitefield, appears to have done the Christian Church a favor by ignoring Charles’ request and polishing up one of his hymns. At age thirty-two Charles wrote a Christmas hymn that began:
Hark, how all the welkin rings,
“Glory to the King of kings;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
Universal nature say,
“Christ the Lord is born today!”
The word “welkin” was an old English term for “the vault of heaven.” When Whitefield published this song in his 1753 hymnal, he changed the words to the now-beloved “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
For those who are interested in tracing out the numerous Scriptural references and truths included in “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”: Verse 1 is based on Luke 2:8-14; Verse 2 reflects Matthew 1:19-23 and John 1:1, 14, 18; Verse 3 refers to Isaiah 9:6, Malachi 4:2 and John 1:4, 9, 12-13. I’d encourage you to take some time this Christmas season to read through the verses of this hymn and reflect on the related Scriptures.
May all of us come to know and appreciate much more fully both who Christ Jesus is and the many spiritual blessings He has brought to us. As a result, may our hearts overflow with exalted worship of Christ, as Charles Wesley’s heart did when he wrote this classic Christmas hymn.
In 2 Corinthians 5:15 the Apostle Paul states a principle that rightly applies to all Christians: “And Christ died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.”
Every Christian should ask himself or herself, “Is that true of me?” Here’s the true story of a committed Christian young man who, after being confronted with that question, went on to intentionally live a life fully dedicated to serving Jesus his Savior.
Nicolaus Zinzendorf was born in 1700 into a German family of wealth and nobility. Influenced by the Lutheran Pietism of some of his relatives and of his boyhood education, Zinzendorf grew up with personal faith in Jesus and warm devotion to Him. After studying law it was expected that Zinzendorf would have a career in state service, which was considered the only acceptable vocation for a nobleman. He instead longed to enter vocational Christian ministry.
In 1719-1720 Zinzendorf had his Wanderjahr, a year of traveling abroad to complete his education. While at the magnificent art gallery in Dusseldorf he viewed many masterpieces. The painting that impacted him the most was of the thorn-crowned Christ after he had been flogged by Pontius Pilate. Beneath it was the Latin inscription: “This I have suffered for you, but what have you done for me?” Zinzendorf thought his honest answer to that question would have to be: “Very little.” He prayed to his Savior to draw him into the “fellowship of His suffering” (Philippians 3:10) whenever he was inclined to wander from it.
When Zinzendorf arrived at Utrecht on his nineteenth birthday, he marked the occasion with a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for the gracious preservation of his life to that point. He also expressed his desire not to live longer than he would serve his Savior.
Zinzendorf’s opportunity to become involved in meaningful Christian service began three years later when a group of Protestant refugees from Moravia (in the eastern region of the Czech Republic) sought shelter on his estate at Berthelsdorf, Germany. As word of the young count’s generosity spread, religious refugees continued to arrive, and soon a thriving new community named Herrnhut (meaning “the Lord’s watch”) sprung up near Berthelsdorf.
Five years later, in 1727, a period of spiritual renewal ushered in a great revival at Herrnhut. A primary abiding manifestation of the revival was a passion for missions, which became the chief characteristic of the Christian Moravian movement. Within the next several years the Moravians planted mission stations in the Caribbean, Greenland, North America, Lapland (northern Finland), South America and South Africa.
Zinzendorf not only became the spiritual leader at Herrnhut but for thirty-three years oversaw the Moravians’ worldwide network of missionaries who looked to him for leadership. Missiologist Ruth Tucker describes Zinzendorf as “one of the greatest missionary statesmen of all times and the individual who did the most to advance the cause of Protestant missions during the course of the eighteenth century.” Tucker further relates of Zinzendorf: “He pioneered ecumenical evangelism, founded the Moravian church, and authored scores of hymns. But above all else he launched a worldwide missionary movement that set the stage for … the ‘Great Century’ of missions that would follow.”
From a human perspective the death of Jonathan Edwards, Colonial America’s preeminent pastor-theologian, was untimely. But Edwards did not adopt such an outlook as his earthly life came to a previously-unforeseen and rather abrupt end. Instead, he manifested remarkable trust in God’s watchcare over himself and his family, as well as submission to the Lord’s will.
Edwards’ responses in those ways flowed out of decades of intimate fellowship with, and intense devotion to, God and Christ. Edwards’ example has much to teach us about living with and for the Lord in such a way that we come to trust Him in what He ordains in our life and death.
Edwards pastored for twenty-three years (1727-1750) in the town of Northampton, Massachusetts, then for seven years (1751-1758) in the frontier village of Stockbridge, also in the Massachusetts Colony. During those years he gained great prominence as a highly-respected minister, leader in America’s Great Awakening, and writer of numerous devotional and theological treatises.
Edwards’ son-in-law Aaron Burr served as the second president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) from 1748 to 1757. After Burr unexpectedly died of illness at age forty-one in September 1757, Edwards was promptly asked to become the college’s third president. At first, Edwards declined but, at the urging of a council of fellow ministers, later accepted the call.
Edwards moved to Princeton, New Jersey, in January 1758, to begin his presidential duties at the college. He left his wife Sarah with some of their children in Stockbridge, planning to move them to Princeton after the winter passed. Edwards was then fifty-four years old. His ongoing outstanding ministry career appeared to stretch out brightly before him.
In his first sermon at Princeton Edwards preached from Hebrews 13:8 on “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” When he concluded the message it is said his hearers were surprised to discover that two hours had passed so quickly!
Around that time there was an outbreak of smallpox in Princeton. Since Edwards had never had the disease, he was advised to be inoculated. He received the vaccine the last week of February. The inoculation at first appeared to be successful and all danger was thought to have passed. But then pustules developed in Edwards’ mouth and throat, preventing him from swallowing. He was unable to drink sufficiently and developed a secondary fever. His condition quickly deteriorated and recovery became increasingly unlikely.
Shortly before Edwards’ death on March 22 he spoke briefly with his younger daughter Lucy who was then living with his daughter Esther (Burr’s widow) in Princeton: “Dear Lucy, it seems to me to be the will of God that I must shortly leave you. Therefore give my kindest love to my dear wife … And I hope she will be supported under so great a trial and submit cheerfully to the will of God. And as to my children, you are now like to be left fatherless, which I hope will be an inducement to you all, to seek a Father who will never fail you.”
A little while later Edwards looked around the room and asked, “Now where is Jesus of Nazareth, my true and never-failing Friend?” Still later those at his bedside thought he was unconscious and expressed grief at what his absence would mean both to the college and to the church at large. Presently they were surprised when he suddenly uttered his last earthly words: “Trust in God, and you need not fear.”
As we exercise faith in the Lord and come to know Him as our ever-reliable, never-failing God, Helper and Companion, we learn to trust Him even in the hardest trials of life. And we’ll be able to fully trust Him when we face our own death and prepare to step into eternity, even if our earthly end and heavenly beginning come sooner than expected.
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Much of the historical information for this Perspective was drawn from Iain Murray’s Jonathan Edwards, A New Biography(Banner of Truth), an outstanding full-length account of Edwards’ life and ministry.
The church I have had the privilege of pastoring for over twenty-three years graciously grants me a two-week writing sabbatical each year. I recently returned from this year’s writing retreat and wanted to express some heartfelt thanks to the Lord and a number of people who have blessed me with this tremendous opportunity.
Some pastors are granted a sabbatical every several years by their churches to get away for a few months to rest, be refreshed and pursue some line of study to strengthen their future ministry. With my ongoing sidelight writing ministry (which is secondary to my primary pastoral ministry), a few years ago I proposed and our congregation kindly approved my taking a mini writing sabbatical annually, rather than being away for a more extended sabbatical all at one time.
This arrangement, it seems to me, works out advantageously for our church and myself. On the one hand, I’m not away from my pastoral responsibilities for a long period of time, a situation that can sometimes prove challenging for a smaller church like ours to manage. But on the other hand, each year I can get away and make a significant leap of progress on the writing project I’m pursuing at the time. I find that I can accomplish in an intensely-focused, two-week retreat what it normally takes me a quarter of a year to complete, while writing very part time in the midst of the normal responsibilities and activities of life and ministry back home.
I cannot adequately express my appreciation to our congregation for granting me this annual writing retreat (and advance! J). In doing so they are affirming and supporting an important sidelight ministry that God allows me to have to the larger Body of Christ that extends far beyond our local church and community. Without such support that broader ministry would be considerably curtailed.
In recent years my writing sabbatical has taken place at an attractive ministry retreat setting called Prairie School Retreat, located several miles out in the country from Sidney, Nebraska, in the state’s western panhandle region. You can check out that ministry’s website at www.prairieschoolretreat.com for much fuller information about it. This retreat home used to be a two-classroom rural school building, and it retains that look from the outside. But the inside of the building has been entirely refurbished into an appealing, comfortable modern home, which looks and feels nothing like a schoolhouse.
The sizeable schoolyard, lined on two sides with bushy evergreens, has playground equipment for guest families with younger kids, and is home to an assortment of wildlife including rabbits, pheasants and several other types of birds. The landscape on all sides of the retreat home is surrounded by scenic sloping farm fields and an occasional farmstead. One can see for miles in almost every direction. About the only outdoor noises to be heard in this tranquil setting are birds, a few vehicles passing on a paved and a gravel road, and an occasional train in the distance.
Don and Nancy Cruise are the founders and operators of the Prairie School Retreat. They established the retreat several years ago as a secluded, peaceful place for individuals or families involved in vocational Christian ministry to come to rest, relax and be refreshed. The Cruises have a great interest in and heart for the welfare of people. I have always benefited from their kind, generous hospitality and service.
Another person to whom I owe a debt of gratitude when it comes to my annual writing retreat is my wife Leeta. She fully, willingly supports my getting away for this yearly time of focused writing, knowing how important it is to me. She always sends me off with more food than I can possibly eat during the two weeks away – including casseroles and other home-cooked meals which I just need to heat up in the oven or microwave. I have to be careful not to gain a pound or two while on my retreat as a result of enjoying all those nice meals a little too much!
I’m currently in the process of revising an extensive biography I’ve written on the life and ministry of David Livingstone, the eminent pioneer missionary and explorer to Africa. Revising a section of that work was the sole focus of this year’s writing retreat. The Lord greatly blessed my retreat with health and strength, travel safety, few distractions and many supportive individuals. For all those blessings I’m truly thankful.
I’d like to close this feature by sharing a special providential blessing that God granted during my recent retreat. This blessing occurred in the middle of the first week of the retreat. Here’s what I wrote about the blessing (which was clearly a “God thing”) in an email to our congregation the day after it happened:
“I tried to be careful to bring all the resource materials (research books) that I would need during this retreat. Yesterday just before noon I discovered to my chagrin that somehow I had left back in Aurora [the town where I live] one of the primary resource books which would be needed throughout the remainder of my retreat. That book is so important to this portion of the revision process I immediately concluded I would need to drive to Aurora then back here (spending nine hours of time and $40 of gas) in order to have it to use during the rest of my time here.
“The couple who own and operate this ministry retreat home had been away visiting relatives in recent weeks and were driving back home from Kansas yesterday. I phoned to let them know of my unexpected round-trip to Aurora and back, so they would know why I wasn’t here when they arrived at their home (otherwise I knew they would wonder and be concerned). This thought had not even crossed my mind, but they “just happened” to be about thirty miles from Aurora, so volunteered to pick up the book as they passed by Aurora and bring it to me. Leeta gave them the book, they dropped it off to me late yesterday afternoon, and I started using it last night. I’m so grateful to the Lord, Don & Nancy Cruise and Leeta for working all that out, thus saving me considerable time and expense which would have otherwise been spent in making a trip to Aurora and back. If I had discovered the missing book even an hour or two later than I did, this providential connection would have been missed and I would have needed to make the roundtrip.”
Might you be growing weary or discouraged in some earnest prayer request you’ve been lifting up to the Lord for quite some time, perhaps even a very long time? If so, here’s some timely encouragement from the remarkable example of George Muller, a man mighty in faith and prayer.
Muller is best known for the large faith-based orphan ministry he carried out in Bristol, England, in the nineteenth century. He was also a diligent, disciplined man of prayer. He kept an ongoing prayer notebook in which he recorded his requests on one page and the answer to each of those petitions on the facing page. By this means he persevered in praying till he received answers to thousands of specific requests.
Once while ministering in Dusseldorf, Germany, Muller was approached by a missionary to that city who was distressed because his six sons remained unconverted, though he had been praying for them many years. To the father’s query about what he should do Muller responded, “Continue to pray for your sons, and expect an answer to your prayer, and you will have to praise God.”
Six years later, in August of 1882, Muller again returned to minister in Dusseldorf. This time he was delighted to be greeted by the same missionary who testified that he had resolved to follow Muller’s advice and had given himself more earnestly to prayer for the spiritual well-being of his sons. The happy results were that two months after Muller had left in 1876, five of the man’s sons had come to faith in Christ and the sixth was now also thinking seriously about making that commitment.
Muller himself interceded for more than half a century for the salvation of a small group of men. He once wrote: “In November, 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without a single intermission, whether sick or in health, on the land or on the sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements might be. Eighteen months elapsed before the first of the five was converted. I thanked God and prayed on for the others. Five years elapsed, and then the second was converted. I thanked God for the second, and prayed on for the other three. Day by day I continued to pray for them, and six years passed before the third was converted. I thanked God for the three, and went on praying for the other two.
“These two remain unconverted. The man to whom God in the riches of His grace has given tens of thousands of answers to prayer in the self-same hour or day in which they were offered has been praying day by day for nearly thirty-six years for the conversion of these individuals, and yet they remain unconverted. But I hope in God, I pray on, and look yet for the answer. They are not converted yet, but they will be.”
Those two men, sons of a friend of Muller’s youth, were still unconverted when he died in 1897, after having prayed daily for their salvation for fifty-two years. His prayers were answered, however, when both those men came to faith in Christ a few years after the great intercessor’s death.
The present COVID-19 pandemic has a lot of Christians thinking and talking about the various ways in which God will bring significant good out of the situation. It is our confident expectation and prayer that through these threatening, stressful circumstances countless people will be drawn into a personal relationship with God or will have their Christian faith and commitment deepened.
A striking example of God using a life-threatening epidemic to play a key role in a person coming to spiritual faith and life is found in the conversion testimony of Fanny Crosby. She went on to become the world’s premiere Christian hymnwriter of the nineteenth century.
Fanny, who was blind from infancy, entered the New York Institution for the Blind (hereafter NYIB) as a student at age fifteen. There she excelled as an exceptional student, musician and poet, becoming the NYIB’s model pupil and preeminent success story. In 1843, when twenty-three years old, Fanny became an instructor at the institution, teaching rhetoric, grammar and Roman and American history.
Five years later, in the fall of 1848, cholera swept over Europe, leaving scores of thousands dead in its wake. It broke out in New York in May of the following year. The NYIB gave its students an early dismissal to summer vacation that month, thinking they would be safer away from the city.
But a number of students were unable to return home. So Fanny and some other members of the faculty decided to remain, “being convinced that God would take care of us and that we could be of some help.” By mid-July over 2,200 New Yorkers had perished from the dread illness. In the end, twenty members of the NYIB contracted cholera and ten died from it.
Fanny assisted the institution’s physician, Dr. J.W.G. Clements, in making pills to try to fight the sickness. A school just one block from the NYIB was turned into a cholera hospital. The institution’s sick were taken there, and both Clements and Fanny served there. Frequently as she sat by a patient’s bedside at night the stillness was shattered by the harsh cry of a city official outside the door of some bereaved home nearby, ‘Bring out your dead.’ Sometimes she was startled to bump against a casket as she moved around the hospital ward.
After several nights of almost no sleep near the end of July Fanny felt like she might be coming down with the sickness. After a generous dosage of medication and a long night of sleep she felt fully restored. But hearing of the close call, Chamberlain sent her to her mother’s home in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for the remainder of the summer. The students still at the institution were taken to another town that had not been visited by the deadly sickness. After the first hard frosts of fall it was deemed safe for people to return to the city, and the institution reopened in early November.
Fanny’s experiences in the cholera epidemic certainly would have brought her face to face with her own mortality and doubtless played an important part in life-changing spiritual developments that took place in the year to follow. Dating back to her first years at the institution, she had attended the class meetings at the Eighteenth Street Methodist Church. But by her own admission, through the years she had grown somewhat indifferent toward spiritual matters.
Now, in the autumn of 1850, revival meetings were held at the Methodist Broadway Tabernacle on Thirtieth Street. Fanny and some others from the NYIB attended the meetings each night. Twice when a public invitation was given at the close of the service, she went forward, seeking peace from her inner spiritual struggles, but found none.
Finally on November 20 it seemed to her “that the light must indeed come then or never.” That evening she went to the altar alone. As she prayed the congregation began to sing Isaac Watts’ grand old hymn, “Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed?” When they reached the great words of consecration contained in the last verse – “Here, Lord, I give myself away” – Fanny expressed that commitment as the desire of her heart, yielding her life to Christ. Immediately her “very soul was flooded with a celestial light,” and she sprang to her feet, literally shouting, “Hallelujah!”
Through faith in Jesus Christ as her personal Savior, Fanny found the spiritual forgiveness, peace and life for which she had been searching. For the remainder of her life she was a devoted disciple and servant of Jesus. Eventually she was led into her primary ministry as a hymnwriter. She composed the lyrics for nearly 9,000 hymns, including a number that are still sung today. She also traveled widely, ministering fruitfully in churches, Bible conferences, rescue missions, YMCAs and various other settings.
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You can find a concise six-chapter sketch of Fanny Crosby’s remarkable life and service for Christ in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). That volume also includes similar-length biographical sketches of Susanna Wesley, Catherine Booth, Mary Slessor, and Corrie ten Boom. The story of Fanny’s life is shared in her own words in Fanny J. Crosby, An Autobiography(Baker, 1995, and Hendrickson, 2015).
The Friday before Easter is traditionally called Good Friday. It’s the day when Christians intentionally remember and reflect on Christ Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.
“But why is it called Good Friday?” not a few have asked through the years. “Wasn’t that a truly awful day when God the Son was put to death?”
Indeed, for our precious Savior it was the most horrific day of His earthly ministry and, presumably, of His entire eternal existence. But what made that day good was the immeasurable benefit it brought about for the innumerable people who would believe and receive Christ as their Savior.
I’d invite you to read reflectively (rather than quickly) these representative Bible passages that describe the terrible Friday that Messiah Jesus willingly endured, followed by other representative Scriptures that state a number of the tremendous blessings which resulted for all who would trust in Him.
Jesus Christ’s unspeakably bad Friday (involving incalculable physical, psychological and spiritual suffering):
Matthew 26:57-68 (select verses) – Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put Him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. The high priest said to Him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered. Then they spit in His face and struck Him with their fists. Others slapped Him and said, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?”
Matthew 27:1-2, 15-26 (select verses) – Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. They bound Him, led Him away and handed Him over to Pilate, the governor. Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified.
Matthew 27:27-31 – Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on His head. They put a staff in His right hand and knelt in front of Him and mocked Him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on Him, and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again. After they had mocked Him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on Him. Then they led Him away to crucify Him.
Matthew 27:33-44 (select verses) – They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall. But after tasting it, He refused to drink it. When they had crucified Him, they divided up His clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over Him there. Above His head they placed the written charge against Him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews. Two robbers were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left. Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if He wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God’.” In the same way the robbers who were crucified with Him also heaped insults on Him.”
Isaiah 53:4-12 (select verses from an Old Testament prophecy of Christ as the Lord’s suffering Servant) – Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. By oppression and judgment He was taken away. And who can speak of His descendants? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was stricken. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life a guilt offering, He will see His offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand. After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities. He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.
Matthew 27:45-46 – From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
John 19:28-30 and Luke 23:46 – Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When He had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” With that, he bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
The measureless good that resulted for Christ’s followers:
Matthew 26:27-28 (when Jesus instituted communion with the cup representing His blood shed on the cross) – Then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
John 3:14-18 – Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up [on the cross], that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Romans 3:21-25 – But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified [declared righteous] freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood.
Romans 5:1-10 (select verses) Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!
2 Corinthians 5:20-21 – We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
Ephesians 1:7 – In Him [Christ Jesus] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”
Colossians 1:21-22 – Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation.
Titus 2:13-14 – Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ … gave himself for us [on the cross] to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.
Hebrews 9:15, 26-28 – For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. But now Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.
Those of us who know Christ as our Savior have an infinite amount for which to humbly thank and highly praise Him this Good Friday, both in terms of all that He was willing to suffer for us, and for the untold spiritual and eternal blessings He has brought to us as a result. If you have not yet believed and received Jesus as your personal Savior, may God graciously draw you to saving faith in Christ, thus enabling you to share in the limitless blessings that flow from His self-sacrificial, substitutionary death.
I’ve noticed through my years of pastoring that God regularly gives me opportunities to practice what I preach or write about. I’m sure He has many gracious purposes for doing so, such as: (1) to remind me that I definitely need the spiritual truths I’m sharing with others and that I haven’t “arrived” yet in automatically applying those truths in my own life; (2) to keep me dependent upon Him for His help in living by His Word; (3) to make me mindful of my own need for deeper sanctification and integrity; (4) to help me empathize with fellow believers who sometimes find it challenging to consistently live out their Christian beliefs; (5) to give me the opportunity to provide others with a decent example of “walking the talk” rather than just “talking a good game.”
Through the present coronavirus circumstances, the Lord is providing a lot of us as Christians with the opportunity to put into practice what we profess to believe. To follow is one significant way He has been doing that in my situation. Perhaps you’ll be able to relate quite closely to my particular circumstances and conclusions. Or perhaps God has been using the current situation to nudge you to apply your Christian beliefs in various other ways. However God is working in our lives through the present circumstances, let’s seek to be attuned and responsive to His promptings.
The last week of last year I posted a blog entitled “Trusting God with Our Unknown Future,” which relates the moving true story of how that particular principle was illustrated in the untimely death of Philip Bliss, a popular nineteenth-century hymn writer. In introducing that narrative I said: “Circumstances surrounding Bliss’s death provide a profound lesson concerning trusting God with our unknown future. May we all be encouraged and enabled to do that with all the unknowns of the New Year to come.”
Then two weeks ago, while my wife Leeta and I were visiting family in Washington State, we were informed that when we returned to Nebraska we would need to self-quarantine in our home for two weeks. When we traveled to Washington State we had no idea that such a restriction would be placed upon us, as such precautionary measures had not yet been put in place or even hinted at by officials. At first I was quite frustrated by that development as both of us were in good health, and the likelihood of our contracting coronavirus as we traveled (while using commonsense precautions) seemed to me very low. In addition, being quarantined would curtail our accustomed freedoms to be out and about and to actively carry out our normal public ministries and other social activities of life. We returned home the day U.S. Government and healthcare officials announced the more restrictive recommendations regarding social distancing and the size of social gatherings (ten or less) that have impacted our country, communities and individual lives in such dramatic ways.
The Lord soon reminded me that not many weeks ago I had written about trusting Him in such unforeseen, undesirable developments of life. Here was a chance for me to put into practice the very truth I had admired in the example of Philip Bliss and had recommended to others as being worthy of emulation.
God’s Spirit also rather quickly reminded me that to remain frustrated with God’s sovereign ordering of the present confining circumstances in my life would not honor or please Him. Just as He does not want me to dishonor Him by worrying about my present and future concerns, so He would not have me to dishonor Him by continuing to be upset about them.
I’m additionally mindful that countless thousands of people are facing much greater challenges and difficulties (some of them extremely serious or even grave) than I am from the coronavirus situation. And far beyond coronavirus, untold millions of people around the globe are experiencing all kinds of very difficult, even dire circumstances from a whole host of other trials and tribulations – war, persecution, disease, poverty, natural disasters, traumatic relationships, etc. Countless people will continue to live with unremitting and, in some cases, unspeakable hardships long after the current coronavirus situation has run its course. Remembering such facts definitely helps us keep in proper perspective our own (often lesser) inconveniences and hardships of life.
As shared in my earlier blog concerning Philip Bliss, one of the hymns that was sung at the funeral of he and his wife Lucy after their premature deaths in a tragic train wreck was entitled “He Knows.” The lyrics were written by Mary Brainard, and Bliss had just set them to music. The truths of the song definitely relate to the circumstances many of us find ourselves in at this time:
1. I know not what awaits me, God kindly veils my eyes,
And o’er each step of my onward way He makes new scenes to rise;
And every joy He sends me comes A sweet and glad surprise.
Where He may lead I’ll follow, My trust in Him repose;
And every hour in perfect peace, I’ll sing, “He knows, He Knows”;
And every hour in perfect peace, I’ll sing, “He knows, He knows.”
2. One step I see before me, ’Tis all I need to see,
The light of heaven more brightly shines When earth’s illusions flee;
And sweetly through the silence comes, His loving, “Trust in Me!”
3. Oh, blissful lack of wisdom, ’Tis blessed not to know;
He holds me with His own right hand, And will not let me go,
And lulls my troubled soul to rest in Him who loves me so.
4. So on I go not knowing; I would not if I might;
I’d rather walk in the dark with God Than go alone in the light;
I’d rather walk by faith with Him Than go alone by sight.
Mike Strand, a worship pastor in Colorado, recently reset this hymn to new music. In the attachment to follow you can listen to Mike’s presentation of the song which was made at a recent conference. I think your heart will be blessed by the beautiful musical presentation of this significant hymn.
By the way, as of the day I’m writing this blog Leeta and I are halfway through our two-week home quarantine. So far we’ve not had any symptoms of illness, for which we praise the Lord. And we’re grateful we’ve been able to continue ministering and working from home. We’ve also enjoyed our extra time together. We realize that many have not been so fortunate.
In our secularized society I don’t hear much public or even private admission about people feeling burdened by their sin. But God’s Spirit is still very much in the business of working in people’s hearts and drawing them to salvation. So we can safely assume the Holy Spirit is convicting not a few people of sin, righteousness, and judgment (see John 16:18).
Perhaps you know of an individual who is under such
conviction. Or maybe you are convicted and burdened about your own sin. The
solution for addressing such a spiritual concern is pointed out in the
following true story.
Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) was a Protestant Christian from
Ireland who served faithfully as a missionary in India for fifty-six years. She
and a group of fellow Christians once ministered in an Indian village where
they met a young boy from a Hindu family.
Sometime earlier the boy had approached his own dad with
a spiritual concern: “Father, I have a load. The burden of sin is heavy. What
can I do to get rid of my sin?”
“Learn the Thousand Stanzas and your sin will melt
away,” his father advised.
So the boy learned those supposedly holy writings. But
his spiritual burden was still heavy. “Is there no other way?” he queried.
“You are young,” the father replied. “Wait for a year or
two, then you may find the way.”
“But what if I should die first?” the boy responded with
His ongoing burden led to his coming to have an unquenched spiritual thirst. Finally, he heard a group of visiting Christians singing one of their hymns at a service in his village. The words of the chorus were: “Come home, come home. You who are weary, come home. Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling. Calling, ‘O sinner, come home’.”
The words of the hymn drew the boy like a magnet. At the Christian service, he heard the Gospel (Good News) message that God’s Son, Christ Jesus, had come into the world to save people from their sin. The boy learned that Jesus, at the end of His sinless life, had died on a cross to receive the judgment our sins deserve so we could instead be forgiven. The next day the boy trusted in Christ and His death for him on the cross to rescue him from his sin.
He afterward testified: “Where was my burden then? Where
was my thirst? Gone – as the dew when it sees the sun!”
If you are weighed down with a sense of sin and guilt, I
pray you’ll find relief by coming to believe in and receive Jesus as your
personal Savior from sin. If I may be of any assistance to you in that matter,
please don’t hesitate to contact me.