Category Archives: In the Desert with Jesus

New Biographies!

We have published two new paperbacks about pioneer missionaries!

Samuel Zwemer’s Biography

Apostle to Islam: A Biography of Samuel Zwemer by J. Christy Wilson is the authorized biography of Samuel Marinus Zwemer. J. Christy Wilson not only was a missionary in the Muslim world for 22 years, but he succeeded Zwemer as chair of Princeton’s Institute of Theology.

If you are interested in reading about pioneer missions in the Middle East, I would look no further than this book. Zwemer was connected everywhere. He started in pioneer missions in Iraq, Bahrain, and Egypt; he set up missions conferences specifically for reaching Muslims in India, China, and Indonesia; he taught theology and missions at Princeton, and wrote nearly fifty books while doing all this. No wonder Zwemer’s close colleague called him “a steam engine in breeches!”

Zwemer’s Lucknow conference in 1911 is considered a major turning point in missions to the Muslim world.

Ludwig Krapf’s Biography

The Life of Ludwig Krapf: The Missionary Explorer of East Africa by Paul E. Kretzmann

(Johann) Ludwig Krapf was trained for missions in Basel, Switerland. He was first-class linguist, studying Semitic languages like Hebrew, Arabic, and Ethiopic in addition to European languages. When he went to East Africa in 1827, he found these skills to be in no small demand. He published research, dictionaries, and Bible portions in no less than seven East African languages with his colleagues, including a Bible translation in Swahili. Although he tragically suffered the loss of his family on the mission field, he did not lose his indomitable and courageous spirit. It was then that he famously wrote that, since the church conquers over the graves of its workers, then the evangelization of Africa was at hand.

Paul E. Kretzmann, author of the Popular Commentary of the Bible, honed this biography from hundreds of pages of Krapf’s journals and his past biographers to create an accessible and page-turning story with a broad appeal.

Edward Johnston doing calligraphy

Thank You!

I wanted to say thank you to my loyal readers who read my Lent devotional. I messed up the Protestant Lent calendar a little bit—which is why this was a trial run!—and I just plain ran out of time at the end, to be honest.

I’ve already changed a few chapters, and hope to turn this into a true ebook in the next couple of months, under the title In the Desert with Jesus. Are there any chapters that stuck out to you, whether good or bad? Do you have any comments or feedback on the book? Did you like the general themes? Feel free to email me at my personal email, or you can comment below with your thoughts about this devo series.

Ascension (#40)

Where high the heavenly temple stands,
The house of God not made with hands,
A great high priest our nature wears,
The guardian of mankind appears.

He who for men their surety stood,
And poured on earth His precious blood,
Pursues in Heaven His mighty plan,
The Savior and the friend of man.

Michael Bruce

“And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, the was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:9, ESV)

Because he became human, Jesus returned to life not as a spirit, but in the flesh, bearing his wounds of torture as proof of his victory. And he ascended to heaven in the flesh.

Why is it important that Jesus was resurrected and ascended bodily—as a human?

It is important because, strange as it may sound, his work is not over; he is still interceding for us. His atoning work is complete and has been applied to our lives. His mediating work continues, perhaps for all eternity. While on earth, Jesus is interceding to the Father for us. (Romans 8, Hebrews 7) As the hymn says, “a great high priest our nature wears.”

In different eras or cultures, we hone in on different topics. Christ’s work as mediator used to be considered a major topic in theology. The Puritans waxed eloquent on the topic in their sermons. John Bunyan wrote 150 pages on what it means for Christ to intercede for us. Thomas Goodwin wrote 400 pages on Christ as mediator; John Flavel wrote over 500.

Everything that Christ does in the atonement is available to us now because he intercedes for us in heaven. He is not only the best representation of God before man; he is the best representation of man before God.

What great sympathy God shows us in our plight!—

“…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8, ESV)

But that was not the end of the story—

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” (Philippians 2:9, ESV)

Jesus, thank you that you are alive in heaven, even now, interceding for me and standing as our great High Priest and our Atonement. We bless your name because you have covered our sins, brought us to God, and provided all that we need for life and godliness. We bless your name because you have saved us out of a life of temptation into a life of purpose and victory. Guard those who trust in your name, for we have no other to turn to.

Amen.

Resurrection (#39)

My God has broke the serpent’s teeth,
And death has lost his sting.
Isaac Watts

“He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” (Luke 24:6-7, ESV)

The crucifixion of our God is an everlasting shock, and his resurrection is a continual surprise. The crucifixion represents the worst thing conceivable; the resurrection represents the best. Just as Jesus’ followers could not grasp the reality of the cross, they nearly missed the reality of his resurrection, and had to receive a rebuke from the angels: “Remember how he told you…!” Jesus told them he would be crucified, and they didn’t understand it; he said that he would be raised again, but they forgot, and prepared to embalm and inter him, along with all their hopes for the future.

Many of us believe in the historical resurrection of Christ; we simply forget about it. Our culture over the past few centuries has progressively neglected it because it lacks emotion for us. Death, however, always tugs our heartstrings. Jesus’ death elicits us to feel for him, and hopefully, vote for him.

For the same reason, the Friday on which we commemorate Jesus’ death has been called “Good Friday” in the West. In the East, it is named the opposite! In Russian it is “the Friday of Mourning” and in Arabic, “Sad Friday.” Only in the light of his resurrection is that day transmuted into Good Friday. The happy ending is not Jesus’ death—it is life everlasting!

The New Testament rarely if ever mentions the death of Jesus without mentioning his resurrection. Yes, the death of Jesus achieves atonement for sin; but if he stayed dead, then his work was incomplete. Paul makes this clear:

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17, ESV)

The resurrection of Jesus provides all hope for life beyond the grave. He preached to “the spirits in prison” (1 Pet. 3:19); he “brought life and immortality to light.” (1 Tim. 1:10) The afterlife itself was something of a mystery until Jesus explained it. Only in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus do we see the guarantee of a life that supersedes this earth, this blood, this time, and this world of sin.

The resurrection of Jesus provides all hope, not only for life beyond the grave, but for victory over sin in the present life. There would be no benefit to being crucified to this world if we were not also “alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

And that is the beauty of the resurrection: You cannot be resurrected until you have died. We cannot take on a new life while holding on to the old one; we must let go of the old to take hold of the new.

Jesus, thank you that you have promised as that because you will live, we also will live. Thank you for offering us a new life in your Spirit.

Amen.

Death (#38)

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15, ESV)

Jesus partook of flesh that he might die in victory.  The Bible states in many ways the purpose for which Jesus “came” and took on human flesh: “to destroy the works of the devil,” (1 John 3:8) “to seek and to save the lost,” (Luke 19:10) and “to take away our sins.” (1 John 3:5) All of these purposes are summed up in Jesus’ death on the cross. Each of us was born to live; Jesus alone was born to die.

When scripture says that he destroyed the devil through his death, it does not mean that he annihilated him. A paraphrase might be that he “rendered him powerless.” Another version paraphrases it this way:

“For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.” (NLT)

How did Jesus break the power of the devil? In three ways: By recovering man to his rightful Lord and Maker, God; by reconciling man to himself in taking away his sin; by restoring man’s supremacy over nature that was lost in Adam. The devil would have us estranged from God, ashamed of sin, and afraid of death. By his death and resurrection, Jesus restored man’s relationship to God, man’s relationship to nature, and man’s relationship to himself. Death has no power over one who has already been dead, and yet returned.

We remember Jesus’ death when we take the bread and wine of Communion. The Scriptures warn against commemorating his death flippantly or irreverently, but if we come forward in knowledge of his death and acknowledgement of our sin, we have no reason to be afraid to approach the Communion table.

Thomas Boston, when he read the Scripture’s warnings about the Communion table—along with an ounce Scottish overseriousness towards religion—felt that he could not “worthily” take up the bread and the cup. He struggled for some time to understand what Paul meant by taking the cup “unworthily.” He thought that he could not take the cup because of his many sins; but soon the light dawned on him, that he must take up the cup, not in spite of his sins—but because of them!

We reenact Jesus’ death in baptism:

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4, ESV)

Baptism is an experience that proclaims the death and resurrection of Jesus as something that we experience personally and transformingly.

We reinforce the results of Jesus’ death in our lives by a moment-by-moment consciousness of our renewed state before God. The King James translation has a sweet ring of truth in it:

“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:11, KJV)

The word “reckon” is closer to the Greek meaning because it has two possible meanings. It can mean that we should “consider ourselves” dead to sin, in our minds; but it can also mean that we should “judge ourselves” to be dead to sin and alive to God, in reality and true fact. In reckoning ourselves dead to sin, we actively deny the power of temptation in our lives. Christ’s sacrifice offers us a new life, and everyday we choose to remember that sacrifice of love.

Jesus, thank you that your death and resurrection enable us to live dead to sin and alive to God. We count the world crucified to us, and ourselves crucified to the world today. We thank you, Jesus, for making the greatest sacrifice for us, and for rendering the devil powerless in our lives.

Amen.

Passion (#37)

Ever when tempted, make me see,
Beneath the olive’s moon-pierced shade,
My God, alone, outstretched, and bruised
And bleeding, on the earth He made.

F. W. Faber

“But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.” (John 19:34-35, ESV)

In the middle of the 19th century, William Stroud wrote an extraordinary study introducing the idea that Jesus literally died of a broken heart. He pulled exotic cases from medical journals, passages from the Church Fathers in Latin, cited prophetic scriptures, and compiled a harmony of the Gospel passages leading up to Christ’s death, based on the original Greek text. The resulting book is a monument to the study of the death of Christ.

The first event he notes is the bloody sweat. It is well known to Bible students today that this is a real phenomenon, but in Stroud’s day it was practically unknown. Bloody sweat is extremely rare and only happens under extreme duress. In the past, liberal readers may have been skeptical or taken it as a figure of speech. Now we know that this simple note from Luke, the doctor, is evidence of the trauma that Jesus was experiencing even before his crucifixion started.

Crucifixion is not, strictly speaking, an execution technique, but a torture method. It could last days, and the soldiers were surprised that Jesus expired so quickly, after just a few hours. Stroud and many others have written extensive studies of the biblical texts just to understand why Jesus died so quickly.

But the most intriguing comment about the nature of Jesus’ death in the inspired gospels is the statement that “blood and water” came out. Metaphors have been drawn from this strange comment, but physicians have struggled through the centuries to understand the literal meaning.

William Stroud was the first to cite modern cases of “ruptured heart,” in which, under a panoply of extreme duress and mental torture, victims’ hearts have burst. The heart’s blood then congeals, creating a sac filled with blood and white blood cells, which separate—in simple terms, it would look like blood and water.

We can scarcely wrap our minds around the torture that Jesus underwent. Isaiah says of the Lord’s servant, “In all their affliction he was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9, ESV) All of time’s unfathomed results of sin were boiled into one cup, and Jesus drank it to the dregs for us.

Jesus told James and John that they too would drink the cup of martyrdom that awaited him; but the cup of wrath, the cup of sin, only the Son of God would or could drink—may we thank him today.

Jesus, you chose willingly to take on yourself the bitter cup of my sin so that I could find acceptance in the Father. As I meditate on your suffering, I can only thank you that you left the Father’s side and chose suffering and death so that you might deal with my sin.

Amen.

Rejection (#36)

Hail, our once-rejected Jesus!
Hail, our Galilean king!
You have suffered to release us,
Hope and joy and peace to bring.
Patient friend and holy saviour,
Bearer of our sin and shame;
By your merits we find favour,
Life is given through your name.
John Bakewell

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22, ESV)

The main message of the Gospels is that Jesus died and was resurrected. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each spend several chapters arcing towards the Passion narrative. John’s narrative hints at his death from the beginning, and spends about half of his book in the last two weeks of Jesus’ life.

Jesus knew that death awaited him when he was revealed in power as Messiah in Jerusalem. He often tells his disciples that he is going to die, but will be raised again to life. When he tells his disciples this, he is showing that he knew of his death beforehand, and faced it head on. He knew the afflictions that awaited him.

In his book True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer points out that Jesus said many times that the Son of Man would be “rejected, slain, and raised.” In Romans, Jesus’ death and resurrection prefigure our death to sin and our receiving a new spiritual life.

But rejection is also part of the pattern of our path to life. Welcoming Jesus means choosing to live life from a new integration point, opposed to the thinking of this world.

Fallen religious institutions will welcome almost anything except the presence of Jesus. In this sense, rejection and opposition should be encouraging. When we are rejected because of following Jesus, we know that we have chosen well.

John Wesley’s choice to preach outside the established churches was an offense to the hard-hearted, and he and his fellow preachers faced constant persecution. There is a story that once, while riding, he realized he had not been persecuted in quite some time. He dismounted his horse and knelt to pray. After a few moments, someone on the road recognized who he was and threw a stone at him. “Hallelujah!” cried Wesley, and returned to his journey.

When the wicked accept our preaching and turn, we can rejoice that we will welcome them into eternal dwellings. When they are offended at our presence or preaching, we should only take encouragement that Jesus before us was rejected, and he foreknew that persecution awaited anyone who chose to follow him in righteousness:

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely hon my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12, ESV)

Jesus, thank you that you willingly faced rejection on my behalf. I thank you also for the rejection that I face in my own life as I seek to preach the Gospel among those who are distant from you. I know that my rejection in the end will work a blessing in my life and help me to cling to you.

Amen.