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Tag: salvation

Christmas Light in Our Darkness

Some of our scariest experiences often have something to do with darkness.  As a young boy, I was afraid of walking down the darkened hall to my darkened room at bedtime.  This fear wasn’t helped by stormy nights.  Across the road from our house was a field; and in that field was a dead tree with gnarly branches.  When the lightning flashed, I could see the silhouette of that creepy tree backlit with a blaze of blue.

Being alone or lost intensifies our fears of the darkness.  But did you know there’s something scarier— being in the dark and not knowing it?  This is the world’s spiritual condition.  They live lives as lost and lonely souls—ignorant of their own spiritual blindness.  Scariest of all are those that profess to be followers of God but aren’t.  Many of the people of Israel are prime examples of this, especially after their civil war and the resulting broken Kingdom into North and South. But God has a Word for His people in Isaiah 9.

“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish.  In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali” (Isa.9:1a).  Zebulun and Naphtali were two tribes on the northern border.  They will be the first to feel the fury of the invading Assyrian war machine.

As a result, Israel will experience gloom and anguish.  The word “gloom” can also be translated darkness.  Notice it’s God who will thrust them into this gloom (v.1a) and with good reason.  According to chapter 8, they had become willing participants in pagan worship, consulting mediums and necromancers—paying money to witch doctors to speak to the dead when they could’ve simply consulted the Word of the Living God and His prophets free of charge.

This is not unlike some professing Christians today who pay the salaries of modern-day mediums—charlatan preachers that preach a form of dead secular psychology and sociology.  All the while, simple gospel-preachers of God’s Living Word are available, many willing to work other jobs if necessary so that the sheep are fed.

The good news is that God is too good to let us continue in our sin.  So, He ordains gloom and anguish to humble us and then holds out a promise of deliverance for those who listen.  “But in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations” (Isa.9:1b).  The sea mentioned here has gone by many names, but you’ll remember it best as the Sea of Galilee that plays such a big part of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Isaiah is declaring that the Assyrian oppression will come to an end one day.  But verse 2 declares deliverance from a darker power.  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (v.2).  The darkness is figurative of Israel’s spiritual condition.  Sin has devastating effects, but God dispels the darkness by shining His light into the hearts of His people.

This promise of salvation isn’t limited to believing Jews. Here’s a great opportunity to learn how to interpret prophecy.  Most prophecies have both a near and a far fulfillment.  The near fulfillment for Zebulon and Naphtali is that the oppression from the Assyrians will come to an end. But the language of verse 1 should also spark memories of a far fulfillment, the ultimate fulfillment.  Do you remember the angel’s announcement to Mary?

Luke 1:26-27—In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.

Jesus Christ is the light of salvation. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Nazareth.  And after returning from exile in Egypt, Joseph settled his little family in Nazareth (Matt.2:19-23).  Nazareth was a little town within the borders of Zebulun.  And for much of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He lived in the town of Capernaum located in the borders of Naphtali. In fact, after telling us that Jesus moved to Capernaum (Matt.4:12-16), Matthew quotes Isaiah 9:1-2 and declares that the prophecy is fulfilled.  And the first thing we hear Jesus preach after this quotation is a command for people to turn from the darkness to God’s gospel light!

Matthew 4:17—From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Jesus did most of this preaching in “Galilee of the nations,” not mighty Jerusalem, because He came to save, unite, and rule over the entire Kingdom, the full number of Israel made up of all “who are called, both Jews and Gentiles” (1 Cor.1:24a).

Jesus Christ is God in human flesh.  There is no more basic doctrine than the deity of Christ, yet there’s no more offensive doctrine to many.  But there’s no other sensible way to interpret verses like Isaiah 9:6. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder” (Isa.9:6a).  This reaffirms that the far fulfillment of the prophecy is found in none other than Jesus.  Isaiah goes further and gives us detailed names of this coming Son that demonstrate He’s more than a man.  “And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa.9:6b).

Jesus Christ is the only rightful Savior and King.  “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forever-more.” (Isa.9:7a).  Like the tiny mustard seed, Christ’s Kingdom has been inaugurated, beginning small but progressing in growth for two thousand years now.  It’s not yet fully grown because His Kingdom is yet to be consummated at His Second Coming.

But Jesus is already governing the cosmos despite appearances to the contrary.  He’s ruling in the hearts of His people now.  His government and peace increase with every soul saved.  He is seated on David’s throne as King of His people, the Church.  He is establishing and upholding us with His justice and righteousness.  And it’s “the zeal of the Lord of hosts” that “will do this” (Isa.9:7b).

God is good to give us the same message He gave Israel and Judah—judgment is coming but salvation is available for those who repent and believe God’s Word.  Therefore, this world’s greatest threat is not politics and politicians, stock market crashes, shortages of goods, or viruses [and the list could go on and on].  The greatest threat is God’s judgment.  I beg you, turn to Christ your God and Creator.  He is the Light in our darkness.

Blessings in the Lord,
Jeremy Vanatta

Because It’s God’s Word

Some of the stranger moments in my ministry have to be when people have asked, “Why would you preach that [topic]?  My answer on some of these occasions has been less than stellar but I have always tried to emphasize it’s because it’s God’s Word.  But mostly, I think I have been dumbfounded by this question.  This is especially true given the fact that I preaching expositionally–meaning that I strive to draw my “topic” from whatever the topic the verses I am preaching presents.

It has been my experience that the “Why would you preach that?” question has been primarily in regard to more debated issues, and unless I preach those issues uniform to what the hearers have always been taught or have always assumed, then people tend to get upset.  Here are a two reasons I have heard over the years for their disgruntledness.

1)  “It’s confusing for people”–While I completely understand this concern, I don’t believe it is ever a reason to shy away from any biblical topic.  Certainly, some biblical topics must be taught age appropriately or even spiritual-age appropriately, but the Church must never back down from preaching the Word and trusting the Holy Spirit to apply it to hearts as He sees fit.  How often did Jesus teach His disciples something that only led to their being wholly confused?  One of many examples is when Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn.2:19), and the disciples had not a clue what Jesus meant (cf. Jn.2:22).

2) “It creates doubt in the hearts of people”–Again, I completely understand this concern, but I don’t believe it is ever a reason to shy away from any biblical topic.  We should certainly anticipate the potential doubts that may arise, but that’s part of the job of a pastor.  It is his responsibility to be patient with those who have doubts, but it would be irresponsible for a pastor to avoid a topic for fear of creating doubts.  After Jesus was raised from the dead, some of His disciples doubted it (Matt.28:17).  Does that mean Jesus was irresponsible in raising Himself from the dead?  Or does this mean that pastors who preach the resurrection are irresponsible for preaching it?  God forbid!  What we must realize is that oftentimes doubt is just a polished up word for unbelief.

I remember in particular being asked once why I would even bring up the doctrine of election because it only leads to confusion and causes people to doubt their salvation.  This person tried to defend his statement by saying, “What if someone has been a member of the church all their life and think that they’re saved but they’re not.  And when they hear about election it creates doubt that troubles their heart.  If they are not elect, wouldn’t it be better for them to live in peace for the few years they have on earth before they die and go to hell.”

Needless to say, I was astonished for several reasons.  First, I would never just “bring up” a difficult doctrine like election unless I think it necessary.  I would say that 9 times out of 10, I have only brought up election and similarly difficult doctrines only if the doctrines are mentioned or alluded to in the Scripture that I am preaching.

Second, I’m pretty sure Jesus never held back anything in His preaching that would discomfort unbelievers who thought they were believers.  On one occasion in which the Jews were arguing with Jesus about eternal life, the Jews said to Him, “Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died?  And the prophets died!  Who do you make yourself out to be?” (Jn.8:53).

Jesus ends this argument a few verses later by answering all of their questions with great finality: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (Jn.8:58).

What do you think their response was to Jesus?  Great joy?  No, anything but.  Their reaction was unbelief and anger and murderous intentions (Jn.8:59).  Here are the Jews who thought they were “saved,” but in reality they were not.  And here is Jesus who did the most loving thing He could in that situation–He taught them the truth.

So in the power of the Holy Spirit, and speaking the truth in love, may the Church proclaim all the counsel of God–because souls hang in the balance and it is better to trouble a soul a little here than to see an “untroubled” soul perish in hell.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta


I am thankful for the kindness of God in allowing me to read Saint Augustine’s Confessions.  I can say that it has impacted my understanding of God and of myself as much as any other book that I have ever read (aside from the Bible mind you).  I only wish that someone would have clued me into this great treasure many years ago because it would have been helpful in so many spiritual battles.

One of the first things I noticed as I began reading is Augustine’s utter awe of God.  Not one sentence in this book spoke of God flippantly.  Rather, God was held in the highest esteem, yet it was done without any hint of legalistic rigidity.

There is one thing evident above all others: Augustine had been changed by the sovereign grace of God, by the life-giving Spirit of God.  Whereas he was once enslaved to sexual promiscuity and man-centered philosophy, God awakended him to new life.  As he sat in a garden contemplating his spiritual state, he heard a voice of a child from a nearby house chanting, “Pick up and read, pick up and read.”  So he did, and in the providence of God, Augustine opened to Romans 13:13-14, which said, “Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts.”  His often quoted conversion is recorded this way:

“I neither wished nor needed to read further.  At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart.  All the shadows of doubt were dispelled.”

Later in the book Augustine described his conversion this way: “You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness.  You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness.  You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you.  I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you.  You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.”

These kinds of statements in the Confessions about the grace of God in salvation through Jesus Christ bring the Christian reader to a point of worship.  It would be hard to imagine how a genuine believer could read such words and be unmoved.  To think back and remember how God calls sinners like me out of darkness into spiritual light humbles me and brings me to worship God for His work of salvation.  My earnest prayer is that any reader of this article would read the testimony of Augustine and that God would do the same in them.  May He turn dark hearts to light!  May He turn light hearts to ever brighter lights!  May He show every reader that no good thing lies within us, and that we need Him more than our next breath!

Well, time and space would not permit me to share the numerous quotations that set my soul soaring and those that brought me to the depths of the valley, but suffice it to say that this book is worth the read.  It takes a little while to get used to reading a fourth-century document like this, but if you pick up a good translation of it, this will help immensely (I read the Oxford World’s Classic printing translated by Henry Chadwick, and it was excellent).  Also the last two or three chapters are quite philosophical in their approach to the topic of time, so be aware of that as well.

Aside from these cautions, “Pick up and read, pick up and read!”

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta

What Is the Gospel?

I recently read a great little book titled What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert and published by Crossway.  In the same way he introduced his book, I introduce this book review with stating the obvious: You would think that answering the question, what is the gospel?,  would be easy for those professing to be Christians.  Gilbert noted, “It’s like asking carpenters to sit around and ponder the question, What is a hammer?” (p.15). 

Therefore, Gilbert’s book addresses a serious question for Christians to ponder, indeed the most serious of all questions.  If we get this one wrong, then it is a matter of eternal life or death.

In eight short chapters, Gilbert addresses the question, what is the gospel.  Chapter 1 begins by pointing inquirers to the Bible as our only sure hope of truth and authority.  The remaining chapters highlight what we find in the Bible that are inseparable pieces to the gospel puzzle.

Chapter 2 affirms God as the righteous Creator of man.  As such, God has Creator-rights over man and demands holiness from those who have been created in His image.

Chapter 3 affirms man’s sinfulness by both nature and choice.  As such, man is completely unable to initiate any step toward God.  Rather, God must take the first step of spiritual birth referred to as regeneration in the Bible.  Gilbert noted, “The gospel of Jesus Christ is full of stumbling stones, and this is one of the largest.  To human hearts that stubbornly think of themselves as basically good and self-sufficient, this idea that human beings are fundamentally sinful and rebellious is not merely scandalous.  It is revolting.” (p.51).

Chapter 4 affirms that Jesus Christ is the one and only Savior of mankind.  He is the long-awaited Messiah, fully God and fully man.  He lived the righteous life that man should have lived.  He died the horrendous death, enduring the wrath of God, that sinful man deserved.  He was raised from the dead victoriously as the first-fruit of resurrection.  He nows sits at the right hand of God the Father making intercession on behalf of His people.

Chapter 5 affirms the only appropriate response to the message of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection: faith and repentance.  Faith is relying on the truth of the gospel and the promise of eternal life to all who believe this truth.  Faith is relying on Jesus to secure a righteous verdict from God on our behalf.  Faith alone in Christ alone without any insulting human effort added is the simple message of the gospel.  Repentance is the flip-side of faith.  To believe in Christ is to turn from sin, and to turn from sin is to believe in Christ.  Repentance is not a life of sinless perfection, but it is characterized by a life of warring against sin, no longer living at peace with it.  As Gilbert stated, “We declare mortal war against it and dedicate ourselves to resisting it by God’s power on every front in our lives.”

Chapter 6 affirms that the gospel is really a command for all people to repent of sin and believe in the King who is building His kingdom.  The gospel is a call to live for the King now and to live with the King one day in His consummated heavenly Kingdom.

Chapter 7 affirms that the gospel must be cross-centered or it is no longer good news for anyone.  While the cross is offensive to many and a stumbling-block to others, it remains the only hope for those who are being saved.  By the foolishness of the cross, Christ put to death sin for all who believe on Him alone for eternal salvation.

Chapter 8 affirms the utter power of the gospel to save sinners to the uttermost.  From repentance and faith, to resting and rejoicing in Jesus, to loving fellow Christians, to loving lost sinners enough to call them to Christ, to longing to be with Jesus in heaven, the gospel has the power over us for God’s glory.

And so I end with this plea to my fellow Christ-lovers: proclaim the good news of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in Scripture alone, for God’s glory alone.  And to any unbeliever that may be reading this I plead with you: turn from your sin that is leading you to eternal destruction and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ alone for your deliverance.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta