Grasping the Unseen God

the wellspring of hope

John Bunyan (1628 – 1688) spent 12 years in a prison in Bedford, England for refusing to stop preaching the gospel of Christ. During this time, he had a wife and four young children at home, including a blind daughter. One of the roots of his resolve was, according to his words, “to live upon God who is invisible.” Grasping and holding on to the unseen God is the essence of faith (Heb 11:1) and the fountain of hope. Romans 8:24,25 say that hope that is seen is not hope, but “if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

The foundation of hope is an understanding of and communion with the unseen God, in all His grandeur. He is our hope. To be without God is to have no hope (Eph 2:12). Paul labored hard in his ministry because, he says, “we have our hope set on the living God” (1 Tim 4:10). The source of hope is the abiding Holy Spirit and the means He uses to enflame our hearts with hope is the Scriptures. It is the eternal Word of God which reveals the eternal Creator to us and in this knowledge our lives are rooted in hope.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Rom 15:13

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction,

that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures

we might have hope.

Rom 15:4

It is not overstating the case to say that the Christian life, properly understood, is a life filled with hope. For some people, ‘hope’ is nothing more than a wish for what might happen. For Christians, ‘hope’ is a confidence in what will happen, based on the Word of God. Perhaps the following illustration can serve to portray the difference.

Two students are studying for a final exam in history. The first student is asked, “Will you pass the exam?” His answer is, “Well, I hope to pass it.” Now this student has not cracked his book the entire semester. His class notes are spotty, with elaborate doodles lining the margins. He skipped many of the lectures. He couldn’t tell you the difference between the Code of Hammurabi and the Declaration of Independence. And now, in the final examination, he will be called on to divulge information he has never heard of, much less memorized. His ‘hope’ is nothing more than wishful thinking. To use our contemporary vernacular … he doesn’t have a prayer. It would be accurate to say, in fact, that prayer is all he has. Truly, his hope is empty.

The other student in this story, on the other hand, is prepared for the test. She has read the textbook, carefully taking her own notes as she read each section. She has not missed a single class lecture. She has taken extensive notes on the professor’s lessons and has reviewed them regularly. We would say she knows the material ‘cold’. The professor can ask anything about the Civil War or the French Revolution and she is ready to give an answer. We come to her and ask the same question we asked the first student. “Will you pass the exam?” She replies, “I hope to pass it.”

The question to both students was the same … and their answers were the same. That is to say, the words of the answers were the same. But there is a profound difference between the ‘hope’ of the first student and the ‘hope’ of the second. For the first student, hope is nothing more than a wish for what might happen. It has no foundation … it is empty. In contrast, the hope of the second student is an overwhelming confidence in what will happen. Because of her diligence, her hope is filled with promise.

The hope of Christianity is not simply a wish for what might happen. It is the confidence of what will happen, based on who God is and what He has said. It is no wonder that Romans 5:2 says that “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” and Romans 12:12 says that Christians are to be about “rejoicing in hope.” Is there any more abiding spring of joy than to have a soul that is captivated by an indomitable, unshakable hope that is rooted in the living God and in what He has said. There is in such hope a strength for every trouble of life. Surely this is what Bunyan meant when he wrote from his prison cell about “living upon God who is invisible.”

Rejoicing in hope with you,

Pastor Cosand

The Cross of Christ

blessed display of God’s love and Wrath

In the cross of Christ I glory, tow’ring o’re the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story gathers round its head sublime.

One of the most enduring symbols of the Christian faith is the cross. We see it displayed in most Christian churches and people even wear it as a piece of jewelry around their neck (though certainly without thinking of the shame and horror the cross had in the first century, being a symbol of painful execution). And we have many songs about the cross … “The Old Rugged Cross” … “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” … “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” … “Near the Cross” … “Hallelujah for the Cross.”

It is understandable that the cross would have a place in the minds of many people, even people who are not Christians, because what happened on the cross of Jesus Christ (together with the resurrection) is the central event of the whole of human history. Like no other display by the eternal God, the cross is a demonstration of two of His infinite attributes … His love and His wrath (though other attributes are on display as well).

When we think of the cross, we usually think of God’s love. And well we should because the Scriptures associate the death of Christ with the love of God.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever
believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. Jn 3:16

But God shows His love for us, in that while we were still sinners,
Christ died for us. Rom 5:8

In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His
Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 Jn 4:10

The cross of Jesus Christ is a magnificent exhibition of the love of God for rebellious people, who, left to themselves, always choose something else over God as the greatest prize of their souls (cf. Isa 53:6; Rom 1:21; 3:11).  No one ever loved us, nor ever will love us, like the eternal God.  One evidence of the magnitude of His love is the value of His gift.  He did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all (Rom 8:32).  What we have here is a Father, giving His only Son to be executed in the place of His enemies … an infinite Father, Himself  putting to death His eternal Son.  The ultimate answer to the question, “Who killed Jesus?” is God the Father.  According to a remarkable verse in Isaiah 53 “The LORD [God the Father] was pleased to crush Him [God the Son], putting Him to grief” (Isa 53:10 – NAS).  This action on the part of God the Father rose, according to John 3:16, from His love for us.  It is a truly awesome event.

But the cross is not only a demonstration of God’s love.  It is also an amazing display of His wrath.  When Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, ”My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me,” the cup He was referring to was the cup of the wrath of the Father.  The Old Testament makes a connection between the imagery of drinking a cup and the angry judgment of God against sin.  The Jews drank from the cup of God’s anger (Isa 51:17).  In Ezekiel 23, God’s warning to Judah is that the same divine judgment that came to Israel would come to her.  “Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘You shall drink your sister’s cup that is deep and large; you shall be laughed at and held in derision, for it contains much; you will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow.  A cup of horror and desolation, the cup of your sister Samaria'” (Ezek 23:32,33).  And the wicked of the earth must drink of the bitter cup of God’s wrath.  “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs” (Psa 75:8).  Jesus drank the cup of the Father’s anger …  the cup we deserved to drink.

In the cross of Christ, God the Father showers us with His love by pouring out His wrath on His own Son.  In the singular act of the crucifixion of the eternal Son, the justice of the Father is satisfied so that sinners who are in Christ can be accepted into His holy presence.  At once, the mercy of God is shown to be majestic and the wrath of God is shown to be awesome. 

When these truths grip our soul, we are filled with joy and wonder and hope.  We begin to sing with confidence . . .

When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there, who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free;
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me,
To look on Him and pardon me.

Humbled and delighted by Christ’s cross,

Pastor Cosand


a call to the church today

There are seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3.  They represent all churches of all time.  These seven churches were chosen because there were characteristics true of them which are true, at one level or another, of all churches, i.e. the struggle of purity in living, the importance of purity of doctrine, the trials of persecution, the seduction of the secular forces of humanism and idolatry.  To be sure, there are certain of these seven churches which better represent individual churches or even time periods in church history than others.  Laodicea is one of the churches which parallels, to an alarming degree, the church in America in the 21st century.

If ever there was a church in the Biblical setting which mirrors our time, it was the church in Laodicea.  In earthly terms, they had it all in Laodicea.  It was a wealthy city.  There was a thriving clothing industry there.  Woolen cloth and carpets were made from the shiny, black wool from the sheep of the area.  The city was a strong fortress, planted on the line of a great Roman road which ran from the west coast of Asia Minor to the inland parts.  The road passed right through Laodicea.  It was a banking center with a flourishing money changing trade.  There was a Roman military outpost there, and a famous medical school which was known for the development of ointment for the ears and powder for the eyes.  Laodicea was so wealthy that during the time of Nero’s reign, in the 7th decade of the first century, when the city was destroyed by an earthquake, the city was rebuilt entirely out of the pockets of the citizens rather than from any subsidies of the Roman state.

There was a Christian community there too, but something was very wrong in the church.  The mood of this letter is a somber one.  It is only one of two letters to the seven churches without a commendation whatsoever (the other being the letter written to the church at Sardis – cf. Rev 3:1-6).  There is only rebuke and warning here.  The church in Laodicea was comfortable and self-deceived.  The church was flourishing materially, but crumbling spiritually.

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot.  Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.  For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev 3:15-17). 

In their satisfied complacency the Laodiceans were self-deceived.  They thought they were something that they were not … and they failed to recognize what, indeed, they were.  The Lord says to them that they don’t realize the condition they are in.  In this verse He says, “You think you are rich, but you are poor.  You think that with that powder you put on your eyes you can see, but you are blind.  You think you are comfortable with all the luxuries your money can buy, but you are miserable and wretched.  You think with the woolen fabrics you wrap around yourself that you are well dressed, but you are naked.”

They were looking at themselves in material terms and were quite satisfied.  But the Lord, who sees the condition of the heart, was looking at them in spiritual terms and His searching pronouncement was that they didn’t recognize the wretchedness of their lives.  In terms of goods, they were wealthy, but in terms of that which is eternal, they were paupers. 

Jesus calls to the church in Laodicea (and to our church) saying, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” (Rev 3:18).

Christ is saying, “Do business with Me.  Have your commerce with Me.  I will make you richer than you ever imagined.  I will give you joy, love, patience, peace, faith.  What bank is there that can secure those things for you?  What stock options will give you comfort when you are fearful?  What 401K plan will give you hope when you are on your deathbed?  Come to Me in your humble nakedness and I will clothe you with righteousness.  Come to Me in the darkness of your blindness and I will anoint your eyes so you can see life as you have never seen it before.  You will be able to discern spiritual truths that you never knew.”

We are so passionate about our possessions and our purchases and our paychecks.  Let us be even more passionate about the matchless grace of God and the spiritual food of the Bible and the salvation secured for us in Jesus Christ.  Beloved, do not set your life’s priorities thinking only of the springtime of youth when the strength of your body is unabated, nor thinking only of the middle of your bustling career, when ambition grips your soul.  If you want to set your priorities properly, go out to a windswept cemetery and realize that the grave is your earthly end.  And then, looking back over your short life, decide what things to set your affections on … the things that are eternal … the things of heaven.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches … including Bethel Baptist Church.

Praying for increasing spiritual desire,

Pastor Cosand


Reflections on Isaiah 64:4

From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him.

          Isaiah 63 begins with a terrifying scene.  Isaiah sees a conqueror returning from the battle.  His garments are stained with the blood of his enemies, whom, he says, he had trampled in his wrath.  “I trampled down the peoples in my anger; I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth” (Isa 63:6).   Isaiah had asked who this champion is and the victor answered, “It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save” (Isa 63:1). In the New Testament the Apostle John applies the imagery to Christ in Revelation 19:13,15 … “He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood . . . He will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God, the Almighty.”  So the Warrior in Isaiah is the LORD God, doing battle with His foes, in the person of God the Son.

            It is description that ought to make every reader tremble.  But then Isaiah’s language changes dramatically after the awesome description of Isaiah 63:1-6.  In Isaiah 63:7 he says, “I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD has granted us.”  For the enemies of God there is wrath, anger, and the shedding of their lifeblood.  But for God’s own people there is steadfast love and the granting of blessing. 

            This contrast creates the tone of Isaiah 64 which is a heartfelt cry for God to display Himself in such a way that the unbelieving nations would know Him.  “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence . . . to make your name known to your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at your presence” (Isa 64:1,2).  Then, in verse 4, comes the declaration of the ignorance of God’s enemies and the absolutely stunning truth about Him of which they are ignorant.  The thought has never crossed the minds of the unbelieving … they never dreamed … that the living God is a God who “acts for those who wait for Him.” 

            It is staggering to think about this, that the Creator of all things works on our behalf, namely those who hope in or have confidence in God.  This is the truth that unbelievers have never perceived.  And, sadly, this is one truth about our God that even believers often lose track of.  Let us understand the logic of Romans 8:32 as it opens up the wonders of God’s grace lavishly poured out on His own. 

He who did not spare his own Son,
but gave him up for us all,
how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

The reasoning of this verse is stirring to the tender soul.  If God did not withhold the unspeakably valuable thing (His own Son) from us, then surely He will not withhold the lesser things, which, in the context of Roman 8, are justification, final redemption, and the abiding love of Christ in every  distress in our lives. 

The Bible is filled with promises and declarations about our God which display His willingness to work on our behalf.

He comforts us – “ . . . the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our afflictions” (2 Cor 1:3,4).

He teaches and guides us – “. . . when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth” (Jn 16:13).

He sustains us – “. . . in him all things hold together” (Col 1:17).

He satisfies us – “In your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand there pleasures forever” (Psa 16:11).are

He fills us with hope –  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not calamity, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11).                                                                

He protects us – “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one (2 Thes 3:3).

He pursues us with mercy – “Surely goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life . . .” (Psa 23:6).

He stands with us – “. . . lo, I am with you always . . .” (Mt 28:20).

He disciplines us – “. . . He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Heb 12:10).

He rejoices over us – “He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy” (Zeph 3:17).

            The result of God’s working on our behalf is that we are satisfied in Him and He is glorified above everything.  “So you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name” (Isa 63:14).  Let us delight in imagining the unimaginable … a God who acts on our behalf in order to make for Himself a majestic name.

Stunned by the mercy of God,

Pastor Cosand


The blessedness of affliction

These days are sober days for all of us as we ‘shelter at home,’ wondering how long we will live in relative seclusion.  Does God have some purpose in such circumstances?  Does He design such frightful situations?  Whether someone is a Baptist or a Buddhist, life has many profoundly troubling turns.  To be sure, God has multiplied differing purposes in the COVID-19 pandemic, but certainly one of God’s purposes in this global trial is that He might test and strengthen the faith of His saints.  As believers, let us be certain of this, that God deliberately leads His own through deep waters for their everlasting blessing. 

In our Bible study we tend to quickly pass over passages like John 15:2 – “Every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it that it may bear more fruit”  … or Psalm 119:71 – “It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes” …  or Hebrews 12:6 – “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (italics added). 

One of the ways … perhaps the main way … that the Lord produces godliness in His people is through suffering.  If we believe that God “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11), then His plan must include pain as well as pleasure.  We call this weaving together of all events in our lives the ‘providence’ of God.  John Murray, in his excellent booklet Behind a Frowning Providence, defines providence as follows:  Providence is that marvelous working of God by which all the events and happenings in His universe accomplish the purpose He has in mind (Murray, Behind a Frowning Providence, 9)

Within God’s overall plan there are wondrous providences, like the walls of Jericho falling down at the sound of the trumpet or the first stone from David’s sling hitting its mark.  There are delightful providences, like marriage of Boaz and Ruth or the help of Rahab given to the Israelite spies.  And there are dark providences, like Joseph being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers or unimaginable heartache experienced by Job. 

            I am especially aware these days of the dark providences of a loving Father … that all things come into our life by divine design … that there is nothing that is without purpose … that everything has been ordered and assigned by God our Creator and Redeemer.  Certainly God has not revealed many things to us.  Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to God; the things He has revealed belong to us.”  But He has revealed enough of His sovereignty and holiness that we can trust His hand even when the purpose is not clear to us.  Again, quoting Murray, “One of the most difficult things to do when the road is rough or when the billows are passing over us is to feel that God still loves us.  It is the last thing we can accept.  But we are not called to feel; we are called to believe.  In his book, In All Their Afflictions, Murdoch Campbell tells of a minister in the North of Scotland who suddenly lost his spiritually-minded wife.  As he prayed that night in the presence of his friends he said, ‘If an angel from heaven told me that this would work for my good, I would not believe him, but because Thy Word says it, I must believe it.’”  (Murray, Behind a Frowning Providence, 21)

The ultimate goal of all our affliction is to draw us into a greater nearness to God … in greater faith and adoration and delight and hope.  This is more crucial to our hearts than any understanding of the specifics of why we experience painful things.  This is exactly Job’s response to his enormous losses, “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshipped” (Job 1:20).  The outcome of God’s purposes for His people will always be filled with mercy, whether on the earth or in heaven.  “Behold, we count those blessed who endured.  You heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and merciful” (James 5:11).

John Newton (1725-1807), who wrote “Amazing Grace,” also wrote a hymn entitled “Prayer Answered by Crosses.”  The following stanzas are from that insightful hymn. 

I asked the Lord that I might grow, in faith and love and every grace, Might more of His salvation know, and seek more earnestly His face.

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray; and He, I trust, has answered prayer; But it has been in such a way, as almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that, in some favored hour, at once He’d answer my request, And by His love’s constraining power, subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel the hidden evils of my heart, And let the angry powers of hell, assault my soul in every part.

Yea, more, with His own hand he seemed, intent to aggravate my woe, Crossed all the fair designs I schemed, blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this? I trembling, cried; wilt Thou pursue this worm to death? This is the way, the Lord replied, I answer prayer for grace and faith. These inward trials I now employ, from self and pride to set thee free, And break thy schemes of earthly joy, that thou may’st seek thy all in me. 

            “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness”  (Heb 12:11).

            Beloved, let us thankfully humble ourselves before our Father because He is producing, in us, the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.”  Let us passionately draw near to our God (prayer, Bible reading and meditation, singing) during this temporary ordeal and we will find, in Him, every grace necessary for these days … and for all the days of our lives.

Resting on God in trouble,

Pastor Cosand


An old and deadly sin

When we think of the concept of sin and of individual sins, usually the first acts that come to mind are things like murder, adultery, stealing, idolatry.  Sins of the tongue are probably not listed very high in a list of heinous sins, but they should be.  Perhaps sins like slander and gossip are so commonplace that we tend to overlook them.  Or maybe they come so easily to our own tongues that it is too painful, personally, to think about.  But with sober minds we must consider these sins of speech if our lives and our church are to be pure and joyful. 

The Bible has much to say, in general, about the use of the tongue and how destructive a careless word can be.  Listen to the descriptive passage about our words from James.  It ought to cause each of us to tremble and cry out to our God for help in our tendency to speak in a cavalier and cutting manner.

Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.  S      Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.  So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. (Jam 3:4-6)

The idea that the tongue is set on fire by hell itself, is not the way we usually view our speech. The twin sins of slander and gossip are hellish in their destructive power.  Words can destroy a reputation or destroy joy or peace or hope.  They can pierce the heart to places that are central to our deepest experience of life.  It is no accident that gossip is found in a list of heinous sins in Romans 1:29-32, alongside deceit, arrogance, murder, inventors of evil, greed, envy, and haters of God.

Gossip may be defined as passing along information that is not appropriately intended for the hearer.  “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler” (Prov 20:19).  A gossip is a person who reveals secrets … something that the hearer has no business knowing or no honorable reason to hear.  How easily we pass along information (often negative information) to another person that has come to us second or third hand and we don’t even know if what we heard was true.  And how easily such speech can fall into the category of slander.  Gossiping and slander are a kind of hatred.  Look at the way Scripture connects slander and hatred.  “You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.  You shall not hate your brother in your heart” (Lev 19:16,17). 

One rule of thumb to follow in our speech is that we should not say anything which, if we were being the one talked about, we would not want to be passed along concerning us.  Each of us is responsible to govern our tongues and each of us is responsible for what we allow to be spoken to us.  When gossiping ceases, then the tempest stirred by it ceases.  “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases” (Prov 26:20).

Of course, the opposite of words’ cruel destruction is their capacity to give life rather than destroy it.  By God’s grace and the work of His omnipotent Spirit our speech can be wonderfully transformed.  Let the following verses sink deeply into our souls that God may be honored by the way we talk.   And let us ask God to change our hearts that our words may also be changed.

… Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.   (Eph 4:29)

… The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools.  (Prov 15:7)

… A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.  (Prov 25:11)

… The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.  (Isa 50:4)

… My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.                                                                                                                            (Psa 119:172)

… The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him. (Ecc 10:12).

Finally, let us be made sober by the warning our Savior Himself gave us concerning our speech.  “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Mt 12:36). 

Longing for gracious speech,

Pastor Cosand


Meditation on the importance of world evangelization.

Every year we have a North American Baptist Missions Conference and I serve on the committee that plans the conference.  And every year, as we plan the activities, we ask questions like, “How can we make the conference effective?  How do we want the conference to affect us?  How can the people in our churches be more concerned with missions?  How can the people of our churches be more involved in missions?”

These are not just academic questions to me because I am concerned with my own heart that I might be more affected by mission work and more involved in mission work.  The notion of world evangelization is not at the bottom of God’s agenda.  It is the first item on God’s agenda.  It is the reason Jesus died on the cross … to secure a people for the glory of God for all eternity.  “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). 

To bring to God a people from every nation on the earth and every language and every tribe is the reason Jesus died and rose again.  So if world missions … and by that I mean evangelism and discipleship, both local and distant … if world missions is not the main agenda of my life or the main agenda of our church, then our agenda is different than God’s agenda.  Of course, God does not call everyone, individually, to go to a far off land.  But if we are not called to such a life, we must be concerned about using our money to send someone else to those lands.  How else can we obey the command of Matthew 28 that commissions us to go make disciples of all nations?  Someone has to go to the Muslims in Afghanistan and someone has to pay for that person’s going.  We all have to care about the world wide spread of the gospel and we all have to be involved in it. 

It is easy to give lip service to the idea of missions, but not really care about it.  It is easy to send our money to the mission boards of our missionaries without really being emotionally engaged in what those missionaries are doing.   Our perpetual problem is that our hearts are too small and our perspective too introspective.  The key to being thrilled with world evangelization is being completely thrilled with God’s glory because that is the ultimate goal of missions.

Matthew 12:18-21 describes the work of Jesus in wondrous terms.  Matthew quotes an Old Testament prophecy to show us that the nature of Messiah was what the Old Testament foretold.  Here Matthew quotes Isaiah 42.

Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not qunch,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope.

Isaish 42:1-4

Twice in this passage the Gentiles are mentioned (Mt 12:18, 21).  The purpose for the coming of Christ is global.  The reason why Jesus came to earth as the Servant of the Father is to gather, not only the Jews back to God, but to gather a people from every nation and tongue to God (cf. Isa 49:5,6).  Why is God intent to gather together a people for Himself?  Because this will be an everlasting display of honor to God, an eternal demonstration of His mercy and glory.  And forever and ever God’s glory will be displayed in His people and they will enjoy the infinite pleasure of knowing Him and of His presence. 

When we become consumed with the grandeur of the living God … when it becomes our reason for living … when everything we do is for the glory of God (the promises of marriage, the raising of our children, the use of our money, the way we use our spare time, the way we talk to each other, our study of our Bibles, the time we spend in prayer) … when everything we do we do within the context of God’s glory and realize that everything is made for that purpose, then we will love missions.  We will see missions as one of the wondrous things God is doing in our world for His honor for all eternity and we will be thrilled with the idea.

We are not more consumed by the enterprise of global missions because we are not more consumed by the wonder of the absolutely matchless splendor and beauty and wonder of God in our own hearts.   Beloved, when the notion of living for the glory of God gets a grip on us, it changes the way we view missions.  And even though we cannot all go to a foreign country, we become interested in what our missionaries are doing and we write them with concern and we read their letters with great interest.  We pray for them. 

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Rev 7:9-11

That is the goal of missions … and that is the only motive which can so ravish our souls that we love the enterprise of world evangelization.  The work of missions is not only our duty … it is our marvelous pleasure.

Praying for the nations,

Pastor Cosand


Meditation on Luke 14:26,27

I have a book in my library entitled The Hard Sayings of Jesus.  The title is taken from a phrase in the King James translation of John 6:60.  Jesus had just said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”  And His listeners responded by remarking, “This is a hard saying” … no doubt referring to the notion of eating His flesh and drinking His blood.   A ‘hard saying’ is a statement that is hard because it is difficult to understand.  What appears on the surface is startling and seems, sometimes, to be something Jesus would not say.  And ‘hard sayings’ are hard because they sometimes challenge our assumptions about what is true and they show us another way.

Jesus promises eternal life to all who truly trust in Him, but He also tells us what life will be like until we see heaven’s glory.  And He doesn’t sugar-coat His description.  He says things like … “In the world you will have tribulation” (Jn 16:33) … “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Mt 10:17,18) … “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).

In Luke 14, we have a call to thoughtful obedience.  The sober, startling statements in this paragraph ought to echo in our 21st century souls, reminding us that the call of Christ is not a call to a life of ease, but to a life of discipline and whole-heartedness and passion for Him that outshines all our other passions.

Jesus starts here by saying, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26).  It sounds like a contradiction to the 5th commandment … “Honor your father and your mother.”  It sounds like it contradicts 1 Tim 5:8 …”If anyone does not provide for his own family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  What does Jesus mean here?  The parallel verse in Mt 10:37 is very helpful to us.  “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” 

Jesus’ point is piercing.  He is saying, “Do you know how much you love your mother and father?  Do you know how great your allegiance is to your spouse?  Do you know the feeling of being willing to give your very life for your children?  Love me more than that!  Give to me greater allegiance than you do to them!  Lay down your life for me!”  The call of Christ is a call to complete and unchallenged devotion to Him.  He wants to be more dear to us than the dearest people we know.  In fact, He says, love me more than you love yourself.  “Are you willing to lay down your life for Me?  Are you willing to renounce your pride and selfishness?  Are you willing to leave off that pet sin of yours because your love for Me is so consuming?”  And the thing that startles us most is to hear Him say, “If you are not willing to give this kind of allegiance, you cannot be My disciple.” 

For clarity, something very important must be said at this point.  The salvation offered by Jesus is free.  It is free in the sense that there is nothing we can do to earn the favor of God.  Salvation is not obtained by the number of times we go to church or by our baptism or by our compassion for the poor.  We cannot, by hundreds of honorable acts, merit God’s mercy.  His mercy is given to the undeserving … and that is every one of us.  We do not deserve God’s forgiveness and we cannot earn God’s forgiveness.

In that sense God’s gift of eternal life is absolutely free, without cost.  But in another sense the salvation of Christ costs us everything.  It costs us our life.  The call of Christ is a call to obedience.  We do not earn heaven by our obedience, but inherent in saving faith is a willingness to obey Christ … to abandon ourselves to Him.  None of us does that perfectly, but the seeds of such allegiance are present at our conversion and they grow through the years.  Jesus is saying, “You cannot just follow me with words.  It is not simply a matter of saying the right phrases.  Christianity is a matter of heart and soul.  I am calling on you to give your life to me.  Are you willing to do that?”

I remember a Voice of the Martyrs representative showing a picture of Christians in Pakistan singing at a church service.  They were singing with one hand on their throat and one hand in the air.  The upraised hand was symbolic of praise to God and the hand on the throat was symbolic of willingness to give one’s life for Christ.  And they were singing a song based on Revelation 2:10 … “be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”  To lay our lives down at the foot of the cross is not the easiest way to live, but it is the best way to live and yields the deepest pleasures … today and forever.

Seeking fuller discipleship,

Pastor Cosand


Wondrous necessity

One of the reasons why we love Christmas is that it seems to be a time filled with wonder.  There is the wonder of compassionate giving and beautiful music and a feeling of peacefulness.  Sometimes there is even a temporary truce between warring nations … or warring family members.

But without a doubt, the greatest marvel of the Christmas season is the absolutely stunning doctrine of the union of the divine and the human in the person of Jesus.  The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) clearly states the truth about this wonder of wonders: 

    The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did . . . take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin.

We do not say that Jesus was half divine and half human, but that He was completely God (“In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” – Col 2:9) and completely man (“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” – Jn 1:14).  If we want to teach our children wonder during the Christmas season, let us teach them about the amazing, mysterious unity of divinity and humanity in Jesus. The story of a bearded man riding on a sleigh to give presents to the world’s children pales as being trifling next to the mystery of Christ.  Truth is, indeed, more wondrous than fantasy.

But why was it necessary that the eternal Son of God should become a man?  Why is the Christmas story an absolute necessity for us?  Our eternity depends on the truth of the incarnation of God the Son and the more clearly we understand this mystery, the fuller our joy in our standing as Christians … the deeper our strength … the richer our daily experience with God … the greater our pleasure in rejoicing in His glory … the more wonderful our Christmas season.

First, it was necessary that the sacrifice for our sins be a man because it was a man who sinned.  Adam was our representative as head of the human race.    Romans 5:12 says that sin entered into the world through one man and in him “all sinned.”  Therefore, bulls and goats can never be an appropriate and acceptable sacrifice because they are animals … amoral creatures which do not reflect the image of God.  “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb 10:4).  Just as Adam was our representative (our sinful representative), if we are going to be acceptable to God, we must have another representative who will be perfectly obedient.  Thus it was necessary that Jesus be truly human. 

Further, God the Son had to become a man so He could die.  God, being life, cannot die.  Charles Wesley’s great hymn “And Can It Be?” captured this marvelous truth.

           ‘Tis mystery all!  The Immortal dies!  Who can explore His strange design?  In vain, the firstborn seraph tries to sound the depths of love divine!

 Amazing love!  How can it be, that Thou, my God, should die for me?

Second, it was necessary that the sacrifice for our sins be divine because the person we have offended is God.  As God, He is an infinite being.  This means that the penalty for rebellion against God is an infinite penalty.  No finite being could ever satisfy the holiness of an infinite God.  And the holiness of God will not allow Him to simply turn away from sin and look the other way.  If He is just, sin must be punished.  So only a sacrifice of infinite value is enough to be sufficient to fulfill the justice of a limitless God. 

The story of Christmas is the story of the need for a God-Man, if a single person will ever experience eternal life.  The birth of Christ displays, in profound and astonishing detail, the surprising wisdom of God.  It is quite astounding that His plan of salvation would center on the union of divinity and humanity in God the Son.  Beloved, let us, again this season, revel afresh in the beauty and dominion and perfections and glory of the infant in Bethlehem’s manger.  He is more thrilling and amazing and satisfying than we can even imagine!

In humble adoration before the King,

Pastor Cosand


Persecuted and enduring

We have it easy.  No one is knocking on our door at home because we are Christians.  No one is confiscating our property because of our faith in Christ.  Our lives are in no danger whatsoever because we read our Bibles and meet to sing hymns about Jesus.  Of course, perhaps this is one of the problems in the church in America.  Maybe we have it too easy.  Our faith is usually not challenged.  Our comfort has the danger of producing a spiritual lethargy.  How many Christians are there who do not study their Bibles or regularly pray?  And how many are there who are not prepared for any kind of struggle?  Many Christians would probably be hard pressed to clearly state what they believe, let alone defend it Biblically. 

The story of the church in Smyrna (Rev 2:8-11) is the story of an impoverished, persecuted church and it is a stirring one.  Smyrna was a lovely city in antiquity.  It was sometimes called the ‘ornament of Asia’ and, in that region, was second only to Ephesus.  Smyrna boasted a famous stadium, a library, and the largest public theater in Asia.  The population during the first century has been estimated to be around 200,000.

The letter written to Smyrna was one of two letters, out of seven, which contained no rebuke from the Lord (the other one being the letter to the church at Philadelphia).  The first words Jesus says to this church are “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)” (Rev 2:9).  These Christians were materially poor, but were spiritually wealthy.  They were financially bankrupt, but were rich in grace.  James 2:4 uses the same words to describe someone who is poor in this world’s goods, but rich in faith.

There are rich men who are poor and there are poor men who are rich.  There are rich people who lack nothing of this world’s goods, but if one could see into their hearts, there would be emptiness and fear and confusion.  And there are poor people who have nothing of this world’s goods, yet if one could see into their hearts, there is fullness and peace and security.  Which one is truly rich?  The Lord is reminding us here that the treasures of the earth break down and wear out and rust away, but the treasures of heaven are imperishable.

True riches are not to be found in the goods provided by this world, but in the riches secured in heaven.  The account of Smyrna is an indictment of the American brand of Christianity which places a high premium on comfort and things while neglecting eternal treasures.  For many professing Christians it is comfortable to talk about financial matters … interest rates, pension plans, mutual funds.  But do they talk as freely and as enthusiastically about the grace of God or the mystery of salvation?  Can they speak as knowledgeably about the atonement of Christ or the implications of the 10 commandments?

There are so many who talk about their cars or their homes or the latest restaurant they have been to, but the minute you start talking about the sovereignty of God or the filling of the Holy Spirit or the prophecies of the second coming of Christ in the Old Testament and you’ve lost them.  Why is this?  Answer: they are not interested in the sovereignty of God.  The notion of the power of the Holy Spirit in the human soul doesn’t really push any buttons in their catalog of interesting subjects.  They are not really interested in such things. 

The church in Smyrna was a church under persecution.  “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.  Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation.  Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev 2:10).  It is significant to notice that Christ never shrouds the perils of the Christian faith in rosy hues.  “The great Captain of our salvation never keeps back or conceals what those who faithfully witness for Him may have to bear for His name’s sake; never entices recruits into His service, or seeks to retain them under His banner by the promise that they shall find all things easy and pleasant there” (Trench, The Seven Churches, 110). 

Troubles come to Christians to deepen their faith and strengthen their endurance and when those things happen in the soul of a child of God, the Lord receives honor because He is prized in the heart of His people above their very lives.  And that is how it was for Peter and Paul and Moses and Jeremiah and for every child of God.  No persecution could rob them of what they had.  They could be robbed of their homes and their possessions, they could be taken from their families, but no hand could take away from them the heavenly treasures God safeguards for His children.  The worst that could be done to them was to take away their earthly life, but that was not to take away their life.  Their life was hidden with Christ in God (cf. Col 3:3).

Whether God saves us from suffering or whether He sustains us through suffering, the strength of heart in our faith is an unshakable hope that our God is better than life.  The mission of our church … Sunday School, worship services, children’s and youth groups, men’s and women’s groups, relationships … is to cultivate such a deep and satisfying relationship with God that, whether living or dying, whether comfortable or miserable. we rest in Him.

Praying, with you, to be rich in faith,

Pastor Cosand