Saturday, December 30, 2023

Books I Read in 2023

Matt’s Books Completed* in 2023:

1. Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers [Lord Peter turned 100 this year!]
2. Running with the Horses by Eugene Peterson
3. Smart Brevity by Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen, and Roy Schwartz
4. The Sea Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts
5. Golden Ashes by Freeman Wills Crofts
6. Bully Pulpit by Michael J. Kruger [See the EFCA Blog review I coordinated.]
7. The Pit-Prop Syndicate by Freeman Wills Crofts
8. The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers [Lord Peter turned 100 this year!]
9. The Message of Jeremiah (The Bible Speaks Today) by Christopher J.H. Wright
10. Jeremiah (Kidner Classic Commentaries) by Derek Kidner
11. Jeremiah (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries) by R.K. Harrison
12. Jeremiah (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series) by Tremper Longman III
13. Jeremiah: From Sorrow to Hope (Preaching the Word) by Philip Graham Ryken
14. Jeremiah (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: 21) by Hetty Lalleman
15. Jeremiah (Focus on the Bible) by Michael Wilcock
16. The Book of Jeremiah (New International Commentary on the Old Testament) by J.A. Thompson
17. The Book of Jeremiah (New International Commentary on the Old Testament) by John Goldingay
18. The Leavenworth Case by Anna K. Green
19. On Getting Out of Bed by Alan Noble [See the EFCA Blog review I coordinated. One of my 2023 Top Books!]
20. The Flourishing Pastor by Tom Nelson
21. The Winners by Fredrik Backman

22. The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
23. The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
24. The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman
25. The Loss of the Jane Vosper by Freeman Wills Crofts
26. How It Went by Wendell Berry
27. Crime at Guildford by Freeman Wills Crofts
28. The Last Call by Ann Cleeves
29. The Seat of the Scornful by John Dickson Carr
30. Jumping Jenny by Anthony Berkeley
31. Trinitarian Dogmatics by D. Glenn Butner, Jr. [One of my 2023 Top Books!]
32. The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers: 1899-1936 edited by Barbara Reynolds [While visiting Oxford!!]
33. Death of a Train by Freeman Wills Crofts
34. The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude
35. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers [While visiting Oxford!!] [Lord Peter turned 100 this year!]
36. Murder by the Seaside edited by Cecily Gayford
37. Inspector French and the Starvel Tragedy by Freeman Wills Crofts
38. The Black Spectacles by John Dickson Carr
39. The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers (1937-1943) edited by Barbara Reynolds [While in London!]
40. Till Death Do Us Part by John Dickson Carr
41. Communion with God by John Owen, abridged by RJK Law
42. Called Back by Hugh Conway
43. Here Lies My Wife by Edmund McGirr

After my sabbatical ended:

44. Is Hell Real? by Dane Ortlund
45. The 39 Steps by John Buchan
46. You Have Arrived At Your Destination by Amor Towles
47. The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams by Daniel Nayeri
48. Mr. Bowling Buys a Newspaper by Donald Henderson
49. Losing Our Religion by Russell Moore [One of my 2023 Top Books!]
50. The Rasp by Philip Macdonald
51. Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers [Lord Peter turned 100 this year!]
52. Barder’s Murder by Edmund McGirr
53. A Murderous Journey: Piron’s Last Case by Edmund McGirr
54. The Last Devil to Die by Richard Osman
55. Sir John Magill’s Last Journey by Freeman Wills Crofts
56. The Prophets and the Apostolic Witness: Reading Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel as Christian Scripture edited by Andrew T. Abernethy, William R. Osborne, and Paul D. Wegner
57. Your Brain’s Not Broken by Tamara Rosier
58. Pastoring Small Towns by Ronnie Martin & Donnie Griggs [One of my 2023 Top Books!]
59. Inspector French and the Box Office Murders by Freeman Wills Crofts
60. Final Acts: Theatrical Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards
61. Embracing Complementarianism by Graham Beynon and Jane Tooher [One of my 2023 Top Books!]
62. The Floating Admiral by the Members of the Detection Club
63. Intentional Interruptions by Jonathan Thomas [This one is out of order as I read it before my sabbatical in pre-pub form but didn't get my own physical copy until I returned. See my endorsement at Christian Focus!]
64. The Christian Standard Bible, M’Cheyne Reading Plan 


* As I say every year--these are books I finished reading this year, not the ones I started or the ones I didn't get done. That list would be a lot longer (and kind of depressing)! I read a bunch of them for escapist fun, a few for/with my family, and a lot of them just to learn and grow. They aren't listed (perfectly) in the order I read them. Some of them I am reading for a second or third time (or more!).

And as I also say each and every year--I'm not endorsing these books just because they are listed here. Some of them are really good and some are really bad. Most are somewhere in between. Read with discernment.

Here's the article where I explain why I post these.

Lists from previous years:

2008 (first half, second half)
2007 (first half, second half)
2006 (first half, second half)
2005 (first half, second half)

My Top Books of 2023

For me, 2023 was a strange year for reading books.

I did read more books than I did last year (nearly back to the level of 2021 but nothing like what I used to accomplish in years gone by) but mostly lighter stuff for relaxation and entertainment, especially classic detective fiction. I obviously needed the mental break of my sabbatical, and, thankfully, I got the rest I desperately needed! I continued to start books and read at books and buy books and listen to podcast interviews about books, but I didn't finish reading very many non-fiction books as I used to. I didn't write any full length books reviews, though I did get to coordinate a few reviews for the EFCA Blog.

The literary highlight for me in 2023 was motoring up and down the United Kingdom following in the footsteps of some of Heather and my favourite authors: C.S. Lewis (The Kilns!), J.R.R. Tolkien (Addison's Walk, The Eagle and Child!), Beatrix Potter (Hilltop!), Agatha Christie (Greenway!), Ellis Peters (Shrewsbury!), and especially Dorothy L. Sayers. 

The Ship Inn, Formerly "The Anwoth Hotel" of DLS Fame
Sayers' famous fictional sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, turned 100 this year, as he first appeared in her novel Whose Body in 1923. Heather and I first discovered her and him in 2000 and have read through the entire Wimsey canon numerous times. This summer we not only visited DLS-connected locales in Oxford and London but traveled out to Gatehouse of Fleet and Kircudbright to stay in the very same hotel Sayers actually wrote The Five Red Herrings and to explore the artists' community featured in the story. At the very same time, I started reading my way through Barbara Reynolds' collections of Dorothy L. Sayers' letters (two down now, three to go). What a delightful privilege to have those experiences!

We also stopped at nearly every bookshop we encountered and brought home some beautiful editions. We even visited Hay-on-Wye, a town in Wales that is the world's largest secondhand and antiquarian book center, with more bookshops per person than anywhere else. It was hard to pull ourselves away!

And for the first quarter of the year, my reading was focused on finishing the reading of several excellent commentaries to be able complete a yearlong study of the Prophecy of Jeremiah for Lanse Free Church.

All that to say, for a good part of the year, I wasn't accomplishing that much discretionary reading of Christian non-fiction that developed my mind and soul.

And yet, I did actually read some really good books in that vein* in 2023, and these are the ones that rose to the top of the pile:

This short book is hard to describe, which is one of the things I love about it. It's basically an extended elegiac essay on how hard just living life can be and how it's still worth doing (and how that helps to do it). Noble is clearly working out his own mental health issues within a Christian framework and sharing his work with others who might benefit from it.

The review we published by Kate Loomis at EFCA Blog captures well my experience of reading On Getting Out of Bed:
"I love On Getting Out of Bed because it reads like a letter of encouragement to the church. He talks about the importance of our witness, our modeling to others that life is good. The way he thinks and talks about this difficult topic is a picture of the modeling that he describes. His writing, simultaneously complex and simple, wraps around itself, weaving the experience of mental suffering through the simplicity of the gospel and returning always to the question at hand, “Why live?”

He is not having the last word, but rather inviting us to participate in the conversation and to draw on authors and artists who speak to us, just as he cites T.S. Eliot and others. He describes the narrow way that all Christians are trying to walk, and he includes those who might have seen themselves as disqualified because of their mental suffering. His message is a reminder that mental suffering is common to everyone, that getting out of bed in the morning is a way of praising God for the goodness of His creation.  He urges us to keep on doing it. Through the pages of this book shines a brother who cares about our souls, an encourager of the brethren, a fellow traveler on our way home."
It's not for everyone (Noble's style will put some off just as it pulls others in), but for those it's for, it will really help them.

My quest to grasp and enjoy the Christian doctrine of the Trinity continues. A book about the Trinity has made the last seven of these top book lists.

This year, the best book I read on the Trinity is by Glenn Butner which won the Christianity Today 2023 Award of Merit for Academic Theology. Trinitarian Dogmatics is different from other books because it explores the "grammar" of the constituent sub-doctrines that add up to a fully-orbed teaching on the Trinity, and it does it thematically/conceptually instead of historically/chronologically. So it's more of an "introduction" but on a high level. At times it soared above my level of comprehension, but even then I could tell that the author was being judicious and even-handed with his scholarship. I will be grabbing it off of my shelf to review as I need a deep refresher on what various terms mean. 

Another thing I enjoyed about this book was how Butner wove in theological contributions from different world cultures than our white Western ones. We need more of that kind of cross-cultural  conversation in our systematic theology, and I appreciated Butner's approach to it as a model.

I hadn't set out to read this book. It had been recommended to me by a trusted friend, but I hadn't ordered a copy. But then it was just sitting there on a bookshelf at this sweet little Christian bookshop in Edinburgh, and I took it as a sign. I'm glad I did, and I'm looking forward to Butner's next book which promises to do the same thing with Christology.

Evangelicalism as a theological and social movement is on bumpy ride in America. As a prominent and sometimes prophetic voice Russell Moore, the editor-in-chief of Christianity, has taken quite a few of the bumps and lumps himself. I read everything he writes, including his weekly newsletter, "Moore to the Point." 

I find most of Moore's writing to be beautiful and life-giving, often giving words to what I inarticulately feel. It's also surprisingly playful and replete with seemingly paradoxical language. I love how Moore juxtaposes.

Losing Our Religion is sober and somber yet still hopeful. Moore laments where American evangelicalism has been and maps a way forward, mainly by returning to our roots and truly living out our stated values. It's far from the last word on the subject, but Moore always has an important word to offer.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. It was written on a subject dear to my heart by one of my friends with one of his friends. Pastoring in a small town is my life's work. I've been serving in Lanse (population ~400) for over a quarter of a century. What might these guys say that would be helpful to me?

My friend Ronnie Martin is a transplant to small town living. Until about ten years ago he had spent most of his life in urban southern California and touring the America with his electropop band. His friend Donnie is more of a small town native. 

I really appreciated what both of them had to say about pastoral ministry in a small context (dovetailing with the insights from my all time favourite book on small-place ministry, A Big Gospel for Small Places).

Ronnie brought a "outsider-moving-inside" perspective. As a newcomer, he didn't pretend to have all of the answers which was refreshing. He also captured a lot of "what it's like" in ways I couldn't have because I've been embedded in it so long. Both authors brought a lot of Scripture into application for small-town ministry context in ways I appreciated. A group of pastors met on online all Fall to talk through what we got out of it. It wasn't dynamic or dramatic, but neither is this kind of ministry most of the time. As a review from a UK reader, "Pastoring Small Towns does what it says on the tin."

["Honorable mentions" for books I read in 2023 in the category of pastoral ministry include The Flourishing Pastor by Tom Nelson and Bully Pulpit by Michael Kruger. Both are highly recommended.]

Complementarianism is the Christian teaching that men and women are significantly the same (in essence, worth, and salvation) and significantly different (in specific responsibilities and roles) and significantly need each other to become what God intended us to be. Women and men complement each other. This is true in both marriage and in ministry. This book focuses on the ministry of the church. 

Most books on complementarianism spend a good bit of time arguing for the position and exploring the biblical basis for it (a good and much needed thing). Graham Beynon and Jane Tooher lay those things out briefly in a couple of the chapters but mostly assume that they are talking to those already-convinced who are looking for help in turning the concepts into reality. So it's not an argument but a guide. At the same time, they also don't turn it into a nuts-and-bolts manual. The authors don't tell you exactly what to do and what not to do. They help church leaders think through their approach and put their convictions into practice. Tooher and Beynon are from the UK and Australia and from different denominational structures. They recognize that complementarianism is going to look different in different contexts.

I really appreciated how the authors modeled a healthy complementarianism as they wrote together. The book is generous, careful, and thoughtful. There are no caricatures nor pretending or assuming that embracing complementarianism will be simple or easy to do in our current cultural context. But it's positive, as well. This work is worth doing and worth doing well. I can see Bible-believing churches using this book to good effect, maybe as a game-changer for some. It's also very well written and easy to read. 

Extra: This morning right before finishing this post, I listened to an excellent podcast on the topic of complementarianism from the FIEC leaders conference in the UK: Different, Yet the Same: Is Complementarianism Unjust? by Linda Allcock. She also highly recommended Embracing Complementarianism as a key resource.


* As I’ve said before [2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 2018, 2020, 2021, 2022], this list is not necessarily the best books that were published that particular year or the most enjoyable either. I intend it to be a list of the fairly new Christian nonfiction books I read:

- that had the most personal impact on me, my thinking, my heart.
- that I was the most consistently enthusiastic about.
- that I kept coming back to again and again.
- that I couldn't help recommending to others (and recommend without reservations and significant caveats).

Sunday, December 24, 2023

“We Have Seen His Glory” Christ Candle Lighting 2023 [Matt's Messages]

“We Have Seen His Glory”
Christ Candle Lighting :: Christmas Eve
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
December 24, 2023 :: John 1:1-18

Everybody, listen closely.

Listen closely because tonight I’m going to tell you some of the deepest truths in the whole world, some of the most profound truth in the whole universe.

This is the stuff that makes sense of everything including all of the stuff you’ve heard read and sung and played tonight. 

It’s the story behind the story.

It’s what was going on with Mary and Joseph and the Angels and the Shepherds in that “crazy” story that Keith read in the Gospel of Luke. 

It’s the deep truth of the Gospel of John chapter 1. The ancient Prologue of the Gospel of John in the holy Scriptures.

If you are our guest tonight, welcome. We’re glad you have joined us here. As a church family, we have been studying the Gospel of John together ever since the beginning of August when I got home from my sabbatical. You can actually go back and listen to all of the messages from the Gospel of John so far online.

We’ve actually reached chapter 6 as a church family, and we will return to it at the first of the year.  We’d love to have you join us on Sunday mornings at 10:00am as we learn Who Jesus really is and how we can life in His name.

So we have studied this passage once already this year, and we said then that every phrase is full of fireworks.

I wish these candles were fireworks instead so that every time we lit up one on these profound statements, it just fired off in all directions. 

That would be a Christmas Eve to remember!

But these bright candles will have to do. We’ve been lighting them now for four weeks.

On the first Sunday of Advent, Scott and Karen lit this first candle and then read John chapter 1, verses 1 through 3 which says these breathtaking things:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

John begins before the beginning. He rewinds the tape to the beginning. All the way to the very beginning and before that. Before there was anything. When all there was was God.

Before the beginning, there was this Person called, “The Word.” The expression, the communication, the message. The Word.

And this Someone called “The Word,” the Bible says, was with God. He existed in perfect intimate fellowship with God the Father for all eternity. They had what we called “with-ness” “togetherness.” The Word and God were with one another.

But it’s more than that. It goes on to say, “and the Word was God.” The Person called “The Word” was, is, and always will be God Himself. He is fully God in every way. And at the same time (forever), He is also with God.

And He’s called The Word because He Himself is God’s message to us. He is God’s self-expression. God’s communication. He is God speaking to us.

And when God speaks, we should always listen.

Are you listening?

And that’s just candle number one! Do you see what I mean by “every phrase is full of fireworks?!”

On the second Sunday of Advent, Frank and Joan and Jim and Eli and Kailyn lit our second candle which gave a second name for this amazing Person called “the Word.”

They read John 1:4-5 which names Him as “The Light.” Listen:

“In him [the Word] was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” And verse 9, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”

This says that this “Light” Person was coming into the world. 

What does the word “advent” mean? We haven’t said it yet, and some of you have been waiting:

“Advent” means “coming.” Christmas is coming tomorrow! Jesus has come and is coming again.

“The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”

That’s what was going on that first Christmas! There is a battle raging between light and darkness, and when Jesus came, the darkness lost.

Jesus said, “I am light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Are you following Him? 

Because you have to choose. On the third Sunday of Advent, D.J., Desiree, Jacob, Eli, and Eden–lit our third candle and told us that we have to choose.

They read chapter 1, verses 10 through 13 which says that when the Word arrived, the world rejected Him. 

It says, “He [the Word] was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. [Did not know Him. Did not want to know Him.] He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”

They rejected Him. He was their Messiah. He was their Christ. He was everything that had been promised, but they said, “No thanks. We don’t want you.” In fact, they went so far as to kill Him.

But the darkness does not ultimately win. The Word comes back to life, and then He gives life to those who will believe. Verse 12.

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.”

Supernatural, eternal life for those who receive Him instead of rejecting Him. Which are you?

Have you received Him?

If you have not, we invite you to. You will never regret it.

If you have received Him, then you can legitimately say that God is your Father! You have become one of the “children of God.” And there is no greater privilege than that!

And here is how He did it.  The fireworks just get more brilliant.

Just this morning, Roper and Lita lit our fourth candle and read John 1:14 which tell us the astonishing thing that the Word did.

The Word Who was in the beginning.
The Word Who was WITH God.
The Word Who WAS God.

Listen to this. This was what was happening near that manger.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The Word of God who was fully God became fully human and came to live among us as Jesus Christ. That’s what we call the miracle of the incarnation, and we have gathered here tonight to worship God because of it.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

“Glory hallelujah to the newborn king!”

If this doesn’t blow your mind, what will? The Word of God, who was fully God, became fully human and came to live among us as Jesus Christ. And John says, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

We have seen the glory of God the Son who came (advent) from the Father (because He was WITH the Father) and He came full of  grace and truth.

The Bible calls him the “the One and Only,” which emphasizes how unique He was.

There is no one else like Jesus.
There is no one else like Jesus.
There is no one else like Jesus.

He is in a class by Himself. He is in a “genus” by Himself.

He is Ultra-Unique.
He is Unparalleled.

He is God’s Son in a completely singular way.

You and I can become God’s sons and daughters by adoption and by new birth. We just said that with candle number three. But Jesus is God’s Son by His eternal nature. He is not just the Son of God, but He is God the Son. The Only Begotten Son. God the One and Only!

Do you see how this is the deepest truth in all the universe?

This is Who God is!

Are you worshiping Him?

There’s just one more candle to light to radiate the truth of Who Jesus is and what He has done. And it corresponds to the last verse of the Prologue of the Gospel of John. Chapter 1, verse 18.

“No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.”

I don’t know if my brain can take on any more wonderful news! This says that God can be known because of Jesus.

Known. You can know God.

It says that “no one has ever seen God” (meaning God the Father), so that all of those times that God showed up in some way in the Bible were just partial, just shadowy, just glimpses of His glory.

Nobody has ever seen God except God. But[!] God the One and Only, the God Only Begotten, God the Unique Son Who is at the Father’s side (with God and now from God), has made Him known.

God the One and Only Son has taken on humanity and made God the Father known.

That’s why He’s called “The Word” because He is the Message of God come in the flesh so that we can know God Himself.

Isn’t that wonderful?!
Isn’t that astonishing?!
Isn’t that glorious?!

We have seen His glory.

The glory of the One and Only.

O come let us adore Him!

“The Astonishing Gift” [Matt's Messages]

“The Astonishing Gift”
Life in Jesus’ Name - The Gospel of John
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
December 24, 2023 :: John 3:16 

You can open your Bibles if you want to, but everybody here should already have today’s passage memorized. 

We’ve been working on it for months and months as a church family, and many many of us had it memorized long before that.

It’s John chapter 3, verse 16. Let’s all say it together:

“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.”

That’s the meaning of Christmas, isn’t it?

What is the most astonishing gift you’ve ever been given or have given to someone else for Christmas?

Just about everybody here is slated to give and/or receive at least one gift tomorrow. Big or small. It’s a wonderful time of the year for giving gifts. Heather’s brother David and his family are visiting this week from western Canada, and Heather has been so looking forward to doing a gift exchange with them tomorrow. She loves to give gifts to those she loves. It’s wonderful to have you guys with us. And I can’t wait to see what you got me this year.

We all love it when our gift really hits the spot, right?  You give someone a gift, and they open it, and it’s exactly what they always wanted?

I remember when I was a little kid, I got a “Millennium Falcon” spaceship from “Star Wars” as my Christmas gift, and it just lit up my life! It even had the little secret hiding place from the movie for my action figures.

What have been some of your favorite gifts to receive over the years at Christmas time? Have any of them been astonishing? 

“Oh, you shouldn’t have.”

What have been some of your favorite gifts to give?

The reason why the giving of gifts is so appropriate at Christmas is because Christmas marks the giving of the greatest gift ever given.

Last Sunday, a group of us visited a dozen homes of our church family and sang Christmas carols in their front yards. At the end of every song time, we would pray for the folks in that home or ask them to pray for us, and we were always praying John 3:16 for them. “Thank you, Lord, for giving us the greatest gift ever. Because you so loved the world that you gave your One and Only Son.”

Sometimes, it’s hard to remember that that’s what Christmas is all about. Because there are a lot of distractions out there. Even the giving of gifts to one another can add to that distraction. Especially the endless shopping for gifts for one another, am I right?

By the way, I’m not saying that we all need to spend an astonishing amount of money for Christmas every year! It might be much wiser for us to keep the gift giving simple in our families and focus our generosity elsewhere, especially when our funds are limited. We should think about those who do not have much at all and give in that direction. 

It’s easy to get distracted, even by the gifts, from the greatest gift ever given. So let’s think about it together once again.

We actually studied John 3:16 just a couple of months ago as we have been working our way through the Gospel of John, so we won’t go over the context and all of the fine details like we did back then. Check the YouTube of that message this afternoon to go back over all of that.

Today, I just want us to focus on how astonishing this gift really was. Because this is, quite frankly, mind-blowing. And if it’s isn’t mind-blowing, then we don’t really understand it.

We’ve been learning some pretty astonishing things together the last few months. For example, God is Son and God is Father. (And He is also Spirit.)

God the Father has eternally begotten His own Son. God has a Son, and He is also God! 

As the Nicene Creed says, the Son is:

“God from God, Light from Light
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.”

Or as the Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word (that’s the Son), and the Word was with God (and, as the Son, from God) and the Word WAS God.” That is God the Son. And there is only One of Him.

Those are some pretty astonishing things! We’re going to go over them again tonight as we light all 5 of these candles.

God has a Son, and He’s His...what’s the Greek word here? “Monogenays.”

Only Begotten
Ultra Unique
One and Only Son

We’ve seen this over and over again in the Gospel of John. God has a Son, and He is in a class by Himself. There is no one else like Him. And the Father loves Him.

We’ve seen that again and again, haven’t we?

John chapter 5. “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.” (Jn. 5:20).

Or two weeks ago at His baptism. The Father saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17 NIVO).

Or last week when we talked about Jesus as The Ultimate Prophet when He was transfigured, and the Father says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matt. 17:5 NIVO).

The Father loves the Son. He loves Him so much!

And so that makes it so astonishing, so breath-taking, when we read John 3:16, and it tells us that God “so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son...”!

And it wasn’t a giving like giving Him away in marriage or something like that. Like we might say, “I give my son to the world,” and all we mean is that he is leaving the nest and making his way in the big bad world.

But this was actually an exchange. God gave His Son as a sacrifice for the world. That’s what it’s talking about. John is talking about the death of His One and Only Son. That’s the gift.

The Apostle John never got over what He was led to write here. John thought about this all the time.

When he wrote his letters, John said this. 1 John chapter 4, verses 9 and 10, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

You see how astonished John was? And he was the one who wrote John 3:16!

We didn’t love God, and He gave His Son for us?! “This is love!”

You see, that’s all bound up in the word, “world.” We think, “God so loved the world,” and that’s amazing because the world is so big. But it’s actually amazing because the world is so bad. Just about every time that John uses the word, “world,” he’s talking about humanity united together in rebellion against God. The “world-system” we might say. Because the world is so sinful, this is such an astonishing gift.

I don’t know how many times I have preached John 3:16 at somebody’s funeral, and I always say something like this, “I have 3 sons and a daughter(!), and I know that I'm supposed to love people, and I want to be a loving man, but it would be really hard for me to give one of my sons or my daughter for anyone. Much less one of my enemies!

But God gave His one and only Son to save those who will believe.”

Isn’t that astonishing?! What an amazing Giver this God is!

I have a friend who says, “Our treason is the reason for the season.”

God didn’t just send His One and Only Son to show us the way to Him. He GAVE His One and Only Son to be the Way that we come to Him. He gave His One and Only Son to die on the Cross for our sins and come back to life to give us life. And that’s just shocking. It should leave us breathless. We do not deserve this. This is all grace. It is all GIFT.

The Apostle Paul never got over this either. Misty put up a bold gold bulletin board out there that we’ve all been looking at  the last few months. It has 2 Corinthians 9:15 on it, and it very simply says, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

One time I looked up that word for “indescribable” in the dictionary, and it means, “You can't describe it.” Which does not mean that we shouldn't try. There are words to describe God's gift, but there aren't enough words to do it justice. Does that make sense?

The King James Version has "unspeakable gift" in 2 Corinthians 9:15 which might give you the idea that it's forbidden to talk about this gift. “Speak not of this gift!”

And that's clearly not what Paul meant. But the King James also might give you the idea that there just aren't words to use. It's unspeakably good.

The ESV, the English Standard Version says, "inexpressible" gift. You almost get the idea from the ESV that you not only run out of words to describe this gift, but you run out of words altogether. It’s just so astonishing!

Just slow down and think about it. “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.”

How do we apply this astonishing truth to our lives in 2023 and soon to be 2024?

Let me suggest five quick things. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.


That’s what John 3:16 says we need to do. That’s our “part.” God has astonishingly given His One and Only Son, THAT whoever BELIEVES in him shall not perish but have eternal life. That’s whoever. That’s you and me and anyone else.  But only those who believe.

If you don’t believe, then Jesus’ death is not a gift for you. You have to receive it for yourself.

All gifts are like that, right? If someone hands you a gift tomorrow morning, and you refuse it, if you leave it unopened, it was “given,” but it wasn’t received. Believe. 

I know it’s hard to believe. I almost called this message, “The Incredible Gift.” Because it’s almost too astonishing to believe. But this is the gospel. This is the greatest news in the all of the world, and it’s true. Believe it! Put your trust in God’s Gift of His One and Only Son.


Rejoice! Marvel! Wonder! Allow yourself to be astonished. This is amazing stuff. Don’t let it become “old hat.” I struggle every year with that. It’s my job to rehearse these truths every Christmastime, and it’s kind of easy to get king of bored with Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Angels, Wisemen. Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Angels, Wisemen. Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Angels, Wisemen. Twenty six years now.

But not if we stop and think about what John 3:16 says here!

Not if it’s real. “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.” Be amazed!


That’s where the Apostle John goes with it next in verse 11 of chapter 4 of his first letter.

Again he says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. [Then he writes...] Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

We’re going to see that again and again as we go further up and further into the Gospel of John. We have been loved with an astonishing love, so we need to learn to love one another in a way that makes the world gasp. And to love even our enemies in a way that makes the world shake their heads in astonishment. Be like Jesus and be full of love.

And be like Jesus and be full of peace.


What I mean here is that if you and I are loved like this, then what do we have to worry about? What trouble should trouble us if we are loved like this?

Romans 8:32 says it this way, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32 NIVO). He will! If He did the hardest thing ever in giving up His One and Only Son, then nothing can or will stop Him from taking care of all of the easier things. So you and I can live lives of peace and confidence.

And loud joy!


John 3:16 is too good to keep to ourselves. Let’s tell go up on a mountainside and tell the world!

The astonishing news that God so loved them that He gave His One and Only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Advent Candle #4: "The Word Became Flesh"

LEFC Family Advent Readings: “We Have Seen His Glory”
John 1:1-18 :: December 24, 2023
Week #4: “The Word Became Flesh”

“Advent” means “coming.” Christmas is coming. Jesus has come and is coming again.

During our Advent Readings this season, we have been meditating upon the glory of the One and Only Son of God Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. There is no one else like Him. 


Our first candle taught us the amazing truth that Jesus is the eternal Word of God. When God wanted to tell us about Himself, He sent His Son as the Message.


Our second candle reminded us that Jesus is the true light of humanity. When Jesus came, the darkness lost.


Our third candle radiated the truth that Jesus must be welcomed. When we receive Him by faith, we become the beloved children of God by new birth.


Our fourth candle proclaims to us the astonishing truth that the eternal Son of God became a human being just as we are.

[READ JOHN 1:14.]

The Word of God, who was fully God, became fully human and came to live among us as Jesus Christ. This is the miracle of the Incarnation.

As the carol sings:

“Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail the in’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.”

Let us worship Him forever in wonder and glorious joy.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

“The Promise of a Prophet” [Matt's Messages]

“The Promise of a Prophet”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
December 17, 2023 :: Deuteronomy 18:9-22

I want start this morning with another trick question.

Everybody seemed to enjoy last week’s trick questions about baptism so much, I thought we might start this week with another question that might seem a bit tricky to begin with. Here we go.

Is Jesus a prophet?

How does that question strike you?
My initial gut reaction is to say, “No.”  Because saying that Jesus is a prophet feels like a kind of downgrade from everything we’ve been reading about Jesus in the Gospel of John, especially, mostly recently, in chapter 5. No, Jesus isn’t a prophet. He’s the Son of God and God the Son! Is that your gut reaction, too?

But notice that the question is not, “Is Jesus ONLY a prophet?” That would be an easier one for Christians like you and me. No, Jesus is not JUST a prophet.

But He is a true prophet of God, is He not?

What is a prophet? A prophet is an divinely authorized spokesman for God. A prophet is a person supernaturally given actual words from God to speak to other people. Sometimes, not always, the prophet even tells the future. A prophet is an divinely authorized (from God) spokesman for God. A from-God supernatural-spokesman for God.

Now, given that definition. Is Jesus a prophet?

Let me ask this question. Is Jesus THE Prophet?

If you remember in John chapter 1, the Jewish religious authorities were investigating John the Baptist and asked John who he thought he was.

And John said that he was not the Christ, not the Messiah. And so they said, “Ok. Who are you then? Are you Elijah? “I am not.” And then they asked him, “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” (Jn. 1:21 NIVO).

What were they talking about? “The Prophet?” Well, that’s what our passage today is all about. 

Deuteronomy 18 is a promise of a prophet. I almost titled this message, “The Prophet’s Prophecy of a Prophet to Prophesy,” but I thought that might be a bit much. But that’s what it is. What you have before you is an ancient passage of holy scripture that promises that God will raise up a prophet to speak for Him to His people.

And here’s how ancient it is. It was written over 3,000 years ago! Today, we’re going back more than 3,000 years. More like 3,500 years to book of Deuteronomy. 

Most of Deuteronomy was written in Hebrew by Moses to give instruction to the second generation of Israelites who were actually going to get to enter into the Promised Land. Moses is getting the people ready for what they were going to experience in Canaan and telling them how God expected them to live as His people there.

By the way, you can thank Heather Joy for this sermon being so short and focused today. I’ve been thinking so much about what Jesus said at end of chapter 5 when He told them, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” (Jn. 5:46 NIVO).

And I was going to do a whole sermon this week called “What did Moses write about Jesus?” And I was going to do everything Moses said about Jesus in Genesis and everything Moses said about Jesus in Exodus, and everything Moses said about Jesus in Leviticus.

And Heather was like, “You’re going try to preach the entire Torah in one message? Don’t you think that’s a bit much?”

And I’m like, “Oh yeah, I should probably just focus on one thing.”

And this is the one I landed on. I’ve never gotten to preach through Deuteronomy in the last twenty-five years, so here’s a chance to study it some together.

Before he gives the promise of the prophet, Moses warns the people to not become like the pagan nations current living in the Promised Land– especially in how they tried to predict and control the future. Let’s start in verse 9. Deuteronomy 18:9.

“When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the LORD your God. The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so” (vv.9-14).

Moses says that the people of Israel were going to be tempted to act like the people of Canaan especially in adopting these occult practices that Yahweh hated. He calls them “detestable” or “abominable.” He hates them.

He hates them for many reasons but a big one is that they all encourage relying on powers other than Him. And Moses gives a long list of them. In fact, the longest list of occult practices in the whole Bible.

Moses says that the Israelites are to reject them all. And sadly, all of these are still present in the world today. And, sadly, it must be said that the should be roundly rejected today by followers of Christ. These are not the ways to know the future or shape the future or to make decisions.

And those that practice them are playing with infernal fire. This is serious stuff. Don’t play with it. I know it’s popular. And it might seem harmless and fun. And it might even “work” sometimes because of demonic power behind it.

But it’s rebellion against the true God. Moses says it’s one of the reasons why the Canaanites are going to be judged and dispossessed and driven out of the Promised Land. Israel should not then do the same things they did!

And they don’t need to do any of that cruel and crazy stuff because God is going to give them a prophet. Look at verse 15.

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.”

There’s the promise of a prophet. God has promised a divine spokesman for God from God to God’s people. 

And that’s good news in so many ways. For one, just that God loves to communicate. He’s a talking God, a speaking God. He doesn’t leave His people in the dark. And we know that Moses is going to die. He’s really getting up there. I think he was around 120 years old when he died. But the words from God were not going to stop with Moses. God was promised to send a prophet.

Let’s look and see what this promised prophet is going to be like.

For starters, he’ll be a gift. Look at verse 15 again. “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me.” 

That “for you” means that God will give this prophet to His people as a gift. He’ll be aimed at God’s people. He’ll be “for them.” They will not be left alone. They will not have to wonder what God is like or what God wants. He will raise up a prophet for them.

And from them. That is to say, this prophet will be an Israelite. Moses says, “from your own brothers.” He won’t be a foreigner. He won’t even be an angel. He will be a human. An Israelite human “brother.”

For His people, from His people and LIKE Moses. Did you catch that? Verse 15, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me...”

Moses is the model. Moses is the prototype. He’s being doing the prophet thing already, so they will be able to recognize the fulfillment of this promise, because they’ve already seen something like it.

Now, in what way will this prophet to come be like Moses?

Maybe a lot of different ways. Moses lived a pretty amazing life. Just read the books of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. I won’t preach them all this morning to you though I’m sorely tempted!

Here’s one thing Moses did. He mediated a covenant between God and his people. He interceded. That’s where Moses goes in verse 16.

“For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, ‘Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.’”

Do you remember that (Deut. 5:23-27)? When they encountered God at Mt. Horeb (which is Mt. Sinai), the mountain on fire, and they were scared almost to death at His glorious holiness, and they asked for a mediator. And God gave them Moses. He allowed Moses to be a go-between.

Moses now says that this prophet will be a kind of go-between like that for them. They will hear from God through the prophet. 

But it will be God’s own words that they hear. Look at verse 17.

“The LORD said to me: ‘What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.”

God has promised to give to His people a prophet who has His very own true divine words placed directly in the prophet’s mouth.

Which could be a painful thing. Remember a year ago how the Prophet Jeremiah talked about it being like a fire in his mouth? It burns. 

And the people were supposed to listen because these word the very words of God. And God was going to back them up. Moses warns in verses 20 through 22 that some false prophets were going to pretend to be true prophets and pretend to speak in His name. And they were not only to be rejected, but under the old covenant, they were to be executed. That’s how serious this was. Look at verse 20.

“But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.’

You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?’ 

[Well, here’s one way. V.22] If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”

Last year around this time, we met a prophet named Hananiah in the book of Jeremiah. Anybody remember him? Hananiah took that wooden yoke off of Jeremiah that he had had to wear and broke it all up. Remember that? And Hananiah said that in just 2 years, God was going to restore Judah and bring the exiles back and put the king back on the throne and break the yoke of the king of Babylon.

Remember that? That was exciting and encouraging and exactly what everybody wanted to hear. 

And it was false. As false as 2+2 = -2. And within the year Hananiah was dead.

Beware of listening to people who only tell you what you want to hear.

The true prophet from God tells you what God says, whether you want to hear it or not, with God’s own true words in His mouth. And what he says comes to pass. It’s not just wishful thinking. 

It is God’s Word.

So, who is this prophet who was promised?

I think it was Joshua.
And I think it was Samuel.
And I think it was Nathan.
And I think it was Isaiah.
And I think it was Jeremiah. [See Jeremiah 1:9!]
And I think it was Daniel.
And I think it was Ezekiel.
And I think it was Zechariah (that’s a crazy book. I read it this week.)
And I think it was Micah.
And I think it was Malachi. [Remind me to preach on Malachi next Advent season!]

I think that Deuteronomy 18 applies to a long line of faithful prophets whom God graciously gave to His people, from His people, mediatorially speaking God’s own true Words that God Himself placed in their mouths.

But I also think that this is a passage for Advent.

I think that not one of those prophets ever could fully fill up the promise of this prophet.

I mean, a prophet “like Moses?”  The Book of Deuteronomy ends by saying that no “prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face” (Deut. 34:10 NIVO).

Nobody had reached his stature as a prophet, a divine from-God spokesman for God. Whom the LORD knew face-to-face. Somebody whom could mediate a whole new covenant. 

And the Jews thought that nobody have ever reached that level either. Year after year, the Jews kept reading Deuteronomy 18 again and again and again, and they believed that God was going to one day send a prophet who would fill that bill like nobody ever had.

That’s why they asked John the Baptist, “Are you THE prophet? Are you the Promised Prophet of Deuteronomy 18?" And John said he was not.

So, who do you think it is?

Was there a prophet who was spared from death in infancy like Moses was?
Was there a prophet who taught on a mountainside and gave a new law there like Moses did?
Was there a prophet who brought a whole new covenant, mediated for God’s people like Moses did?
Was there a prophet Who was faithful in all of God’s house and even over God’s house? (To use the language of Hebrews chapter 4.)

Was there ever a prophet like Moses (or even greater?) whom the LORD knew face to face.?

Who fits this bill?

For His people.  From His people. What does that sound like? It sounds like John 1 to me. It sounds like what the Clarks read to us this morning.

Like Moses. As a mediator. With God’s own true words in His mouth.

What He says comes true. If He said that He was going to die and then take His life back up again, then that’s exactly what would happen.

Who does that sound like to you?

I think it sounds like Jesus. He is not just a prophet. He is THE Prophet. And everything He says is true.

John says, He is full of grace and truth (1:14).
Jesus Himself says He is the truth (14:6).

His mouth is full of the very words of God because He is the very Word of God!

I only have one point of application for today, but it’s a big one. How should we live if Jesus is The Prophet par Excellence? What did verse 15 say?

“You must listen to Him.”

In verse 19, God says, “If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.” There will be consequences if God’s prophet is ignored, and they will be dire.

Verse 22 says that if a prophet is false, then “Do not be afraid of him.” And so I think the opposite is also implied. If the prophet is true, then you should have a holy fear of him and what He says. “You must listen to Him.”

Listen to Jesus. 

That’s what God said at the Mount of Transfiguration, isn’t it?  Where Jesus “face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light: (Matt. 17:2 NIVO). And who appeared there with him?

Moses and Elijah! Two of the world’s greatest prophets.

And then there’s that voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love [like at His baptism]; with him I am well pleased...Listen to him!" (Matt. 17:5 NIVO)

Listen to Jesus. Are you doing that? Are you listening to Jesus? In all of your life? 

Are you listening to what Jesus says about Himself? That’s what we’re doing as we study the Gospel of John. We’re going hear seven major things that Jesus says about Himself. The “I Am’s.”

Are you listening?

Are you listening to what Jesus says about His Father? John says that “No one has ever seen God [the Father] but God the One and Only [Son], who is at the Father's side [known face-to-face1], has made him known” (Jn. 1:18 NIVO). If that’s not true prophecy, then I don’t know what is!

Do you want to know what God is like? God wants you to know what God is like!! That why He sent His Son.

“You must listen to Him.”

Listen to what He says about Himself. Listen what He says about God the Father. Listen to what He says about God the Spirit. Don’t wait until we get to chapter fourteen. Jump over there and read it for yourself.

He says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (Jn. 14:16-17 NIVO).

How’s that for a prophecy?

Listen to the Prophet Jesus. Listen to what Jesus says about you.

Same chapter. Chapter 14. Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:1-3 NIVO).

How’s that for a prophecy? Listen to the Prophet Jesus.  Are you listening to Jesus?

I must confess that I’ve let my heart be troubled recently. I’ve listened to the world, the flesh, and the devil and they all want to tear me down. I’ve listened to my fears. I’ve listened to my own internal prophecies of how my life is going to work out. That’s what worrying is, isn’t it? Believing in your own bad prophecies? I’m a terrible prophet, but for some reason I keep coming back to listen to myself.  I need to listen to Jesus. 

This is the Prophet Jesus. My favorite passage of scripture. John 16:33. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33 NIVO).

Listen to the Prophet Jesus. 

The second Moses has come, and He is much greater than the first one!

Listen to what the Prophet Jesus says about salvation.

Back to John 5. Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word [my prophecy] and believes him who sent me [who put the words in my mouth] has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (Jn. 5:24-25 NIVO).

Listen to Jesus.

“You must listen to Him.”

And have life in His name.

Are you listening?


Here's an extra chorus to "What Child Is This?" to correspond to today's message:

"This this is Jesus the Prophet
Whom Moses Promised That God Would Send
Haste, haste to listen to Him
The Babe, the Word of God”

Advent Candle #3: "To All Who Received Him"

LEFC Family Advent Readings: “We Have Seen His Glory”
John 1:1-18 :: December 17, 2023
Week #3: “To All Who Received Him”

“Advent” means “coming.” Christmas is coming. Jesus has come and is coming again.

During this year’s Advent Season, our readings focus on the glory of the One and Only Son of God Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. There is no one else like Him. 


Our first candle proclaimed the incredible truth that Jesus is the eternal Word of God. When God wanted to tell us about Himself, He sent His Son as the message.


Our second candle taught us that Jesus is the true light of humanity. When Jesus came, the darkness lost.


But not everyone was happy that God sent His One and Only Son. Our third candle radiates the truth that Jesus must be received.

[READ JOHN 1:10-13.]
The Word appeared, but the World rejected Him. 

Yet those who do receive Him in faith become God’s beloved children through a new birth. 

As the carol sings:

“Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heav’n and nature sing.”

What lavish joy is ours forever when we receive Jesus with open arms and open hearts!

Sunday, December 10, 2023

“Why Did Jesus Get Baptized?” [Matt's Messages]

“Why Did Jesus Get Baptized?”
Worship in Christian Baptism
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
December 10, 2023 :: Matthew 3:13-17 

Today before Simon and Darren step forward to be baptized, I want us to do a little Bible study in Matthew chapter 3 and try to answer the question together, “Why did Jesus get baptized?”

Because there is probably some overlap and also some gap between why Jesus got baptized and why Darren and Simon are getting baptized this morning.

We often say that someone like Simon or Darren is “following the Lord in water baptism” or “following the Lord’s example in water baptism.” 

Jesus got baptized, and so should we. But His baptism (because He’s Jesus!) is bound to be at least a little bit different than ours. Why did Jesus get baptized?

Everybody who has taken our church’s baptism class knows that there is a quiz in the middle of it which has trick questions. I always say, “There is no test, but there might be a quiz.” And I’ve taught the class, and now Abe has the taught the class, and both of us have given this quiz that is True or False and everybody who takes it, passes. 

But there are some trick questions on it. Let me show you three of the questions:

This one shouldn’t be tricky for this church:

True or False? “Baptism gets you into heaven.”

That one’s false [very false!], and it has never tricked anyone in our classes. Water baptism does not save anyone. Jesus saves people, and we receive that salvation by His grace through our faith. And not by works (like baptism!) so that we cannot boast.

Baptism is a visible picture of the invisible reality of our salvation. If you had to get baptized to go to heaven, then the Thief on the Cross was out of luck because he never was baptized. And Jesus was wrong to say to him, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

That one’s false. How about this one?

True or False? “Our church practices baptism by immersion because it is fun to see people get dunked in the water.”

That’s a trickier one. We do baptism by immersion, and it is fun to see people get dunked in the water. Here goes Simon and Darren!

But that’s not the main reason why we do it. The main reason we immerse is because every baptism described in the New Testament seems to be by immersion, including Jesus here in Matthew 3. John the Baptist (Notorious JTB) didn’t just sprinkle a little water on Jesus’ head or splash some on Him up on the beach; they got down into the Jordan river together. Remember chapter 3 of John’s Gospel said that JTB was baptizing at “Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water.”

And even more importantly, we do immersion because of how it pictures death and resurrection. When Simon is laid back into the water, it will remind us of Jesus going down into the grave, and when Darren is brought up out of the water, it will picture Jesus coming back out of the grave alive! That’s the main reason why we do it this way though we love and respect Christians who  do it differently.

But here’s probably the trickiest question that we ask on the quiz. So if you haven’t taken the baptism class yet, you’ll be ahead.

True or False? “Jesus didn’t need to be baptized since He didn’t sin.”

That’s a tricky one. I think it depends on what part of the question you put the most emphasis.

Why did Jesus get baptized? Did He need to?

I think that even John the Baptist had that question. Let’s look more closely at Matthew chapter 3.

Matthew chapter 3 begins with telling us all about the ministry of John the Baptist. We don’t have time this morning to go back over all of that. It could make a good Bible study for you this afternoon.

It’s a lot of the same things we learned about JTB as we’ve been going through the Gospel of John, especially in chapters 1, 3, and 5. John is the Voice from Isaiah 40 calling, “Prepare the way for the Lord.”

John’s trying to get God’s people ready for the Messiah. John is not the Christ, but He’s pointing people to the Christ. John says that he baptizes “with water for repentance” (v.11) (to symbolize repentance), but there is One coming after John who is more powerful and more wonderful and much greater than John. And that One to come will baptize them not just externally with water but internally with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The fire of judgment and purification.

John said that he wasn’t worthy to untie that One’s shoes. He wasn’t worthy to even be his servant. John wanted to decrease and see the Messiah increase. John was a voice (and as we saw last week) a lamp that burned and gave light to highlight the True Light who was coming into the world.

And then...Jesus came to John to be baptized.

Isn’t that strange?! Look at verse 13.

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.”

The One that John has been preaching about shows up on the scene! And John, somehow, knows that. We don’t know all of what he knew when, but he’s obviously gotten memo by this point because, John says, “I’m not sure about this.”

Jesus shows up and says, “Okay. I’m here to be baptized.”

And John is like, “Uhh. Are you sure? I think we might be getting this backwards.” 

Imagine meeting the Messiah and the first thing you do is tell Him that He’s probably wrong! V.14

“But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’”

“Are you sure about this? Because I think it’s the other way around. I’m not worthy to tie your shoes. I’m certainly not worthy to baptize you. And I don’t think you need repentance.”

See, I think that JTB would answer our trick question as “TRUE.” Jesus didn’t need to be baptized since He didn’t sin.

All these other people coming to John needed to be baptized to symbolize their repentance. Some of them, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, wouldn’t admit it, but they needed it as much or more than most. But not Jesus. 

John need the baptism of the Spirit and of fire that Jesus would bring. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for repentance. You and I need to be baptized to symbolize our repentance. Simon and Darren are saying today that they repent of their sins. But Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for repentance.

However, Jesus did need to be baptized.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “Oh yeah, you’re right. What was I thinking?  I don’t need to be baptized. That’s for you guys.” And He also doesn’t say, “Oh, yes, I must repent. I am a sinner just like you.”

No, what does He say? Look at verse 15.

“Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’”

So, I think that Jesus might answer our trick question as “False.” He did need to be baptized (even though) He didn’t ever sin. Jesus says, in effect, “Yes, let’s do it. I do need to be baptized. It’s the right thing for us to do to ‘fulfill all righteousness.’”

Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized for repentance, but He does need to be baptized for righteousness.

What does that mean?

Well, it probably means a whole bunch of things. We could probably meditate on it all day long. It means at least that it was “right thing” to do. His baptism fulfilled all righteousness because it was righteous for John and Jesus to do it.

But I’m sure it means a lot more than that. You might remember from our study of Matthew a few ago that “fulfill” was one of Matthew’s favorite words. It means “to fill up,” “to bring to fullness,” “to actualize.” He often used it to describe what Jesus was doing to the Old Testament Scriptures. He was filling them up.

Here, Jesus is saying that His baptism will bring righteousness to fullness. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?!

And here’s where the principle of identification takes front and center. Baptism is, at heart, an identification with something or someone else. The one being baptized is getting immersed into something that stands for something. They are being included, absorbed, connected, identified in baptism.

As Simon and Darren get baptized today, they are identifying with Jesus. They are identifying themselves as sinners who need washing. And they are identifying with Jesus's death and resurrection. Buried with Jesus in death, raised with Jesus to new life.

Now, with what or whom do you think Jesus was identifying when He got baptized?

With us, right? Jesus was identifying with us and with our sin.

Why did Jesus get baptized?


When He went down into the water with John, Jesus was proclaiming His solidarity with us sinful humans whom He had come to save.

That’s the whole point of Christmas, isn’t it? That the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. That He became like us as humans. And even more than that, He became like sinners.

That’s what the Old Testament was teaching, too. That’s what Jesus was “fulfilling.” Listen to this from Isaiah 53, verses 11 and 12. 

" his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because 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."

I think that's what it means for Jesus to fulfill all righteousness! Jesus was baptized to be numbered with us, to bear our sin as our substitute, to go to the Cross, and to give us His righteousness!

What a great exchange!! Jesus took our sin and gave us His righteousness.

That’s a big part of the picture of what Jesus was doing that day. So that when Darren and Simon get baptized, they are picturing the flipside of that. They are going to down to symbolize their sin being put to death with Jesus and coming back out with Jesus’ righteousness resting on them.

Jesus had to do it. Jesu had to get baptized to picture what He had to do on the Cross. To fulfill all righteousness.

And then when He did...all heaven broke loose! Look at verse 16 again.

“Then John consented [so Jesus was dunked]. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”

Wow! Just wow! I can’t imagine what that was like. It was like nothing else. The heavens broke open. It was cataclysmic and apocalyptic.

And the Holy Spirit of God descended on Jesus and came to rest on Him. The Spirit looked like a dove. I’m not 100% sure why. Perhaps like how the He hovered over the waters of creation in the beginning.

But remember what John the Baptist said about Jesus in John chapter 3? He said that God gave Jesus the Spirit “without limit” (Jn. 3:34, see also Isaiah 11). That’s the picture here.

And the whole Trinity is here working together with “inseparable operations.” One God in Three Persons. Not just the Son who is being baptized, not just the Spirit like a dove, but also God the Father speaking from heaven. And listen to what He says!

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Why did Jesus get baptized?

Not just to identify with us, but...


By God the Father Himself. Which is just exactly what we’ve been learning the last three weeks in John chapter 5, right? John chapter 5, verse 20. “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.” (See also John 3:34!).

You just hear that Fatherly delight in His divine voice. “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” “It was right for Him to get baptized. It fulfills all righteousness. Everything He does makes me happy! I sure love Him!”

“This One is My Son.”

He’s My “monogenays.” He’s My “One and Only.”  My “only begotten full of grace and truth.”

Isn’t that amazing?! 

And that’s why Jesus got baptized and why Simon and Darren are getting baptized today.

They are saying to the world that they believe in Jesus and have received His free gift of eternal life.

Here are four points of application from this Scripture: Repent. Receive. Rejoice. Retell.

Jesus did not need to repent, but you and I do. We need to turn from our sins and trust in the Savior. If you have not yet, don’t delay. Make this the day that you repent.

And receive the Lord Jesus as your Savior. He took on your sin and took your sin to the Cross. He died for your sin so receive Him as your Savior today. To “all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12 NIVO).

And then rejoice that you will not perish but have eternal life. You have “crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). You have every reason to celebrate every day of your life and forever. “Repeat the sounding joy!”

And tell and retell of your salvation to everyone who will listen. Recount your story. Restate your testimony. Retell of your salvation to the world.

And that’s what Simon and Darren are now going to do.

Would you men come forward to tell us your stories?