My Soul Magnifies the Lord

The Following is an excerpt from my sermon "God's Unexpected and Wonderful Plan " from Luke 1:39-56.  You can click the link for the sermon audio. 

Luke 1:46 - "And Mary said, 'My soul magnifies the Lord'".

Mary praises God for choosing to use her, a woman of such humble origins.  She begins this psalm asking that her life might magnify the Lord. A simple statement, but a prayer that should be on the lips of all the saints. May our life and existence be used to magnify the greatness of God’s name! May he be exalted and made much of through our lives. His glory must be our greatest treasure and longing joy. Just as a magnifying glass enlarges and makes clear, so too should our lives magnify the glory of a God to a world who cannot see clearly. Our lives are to increase in size the font of God’s grace so that this near-sighted world can read its truth.

However Mary’s first statement is not so much one of a prayer, but an indicative statement.  She is not asking the Lord to use her to magnify the Lord, she is praising him for already using her for such a purpose. Mary is carrying in her womb the savior of the world.  She is carrying the son of the Most High God. God has already chosen to use this woman to magnify His name by bringing Jesus into this world through this humble country girl from Nazareth.  As a result of this truth her “spirit rejoices in God”. She is filled with overwhelming joy over the fact of God’s amazing plan includes her! How wonderful it is to be apart of the divine plan of God to spread the glory of his name!  How wonderful it is to be used to magnify the name of the Lord!

Yet, just as Mary was chosen by God to magnify His glory, so too is every Christian chosen by God for the same purpose. As Christians we have been given the charge of the great commission.  We have been given the task sharing the good news of the arrival of the savior to the nations.  As we take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, God is using us to magnify his name. The glory of God is spreading to the ends of the earth as King Jesus reigns in the hearts of all peoples. Yet, he has chosen us for this task.  The wonderful thing about the church is that it is filled with a bunch of nobodies. The early church was filled with common, uneducated fishermen, hated ex-tax collectors, and despised gossiped about ex-prostitutes. Yet God has chosen those who are rejected by the world for the most important of purposes.  He has chosen the rejected on the most urgent of mission and the most glorious of tasks – magnifying the Lord.

Mary confesses that she is a woman of humble estate. There is nothing about her that any king of the earth would chose to bring his son into the world. No human being would chose Mary to bring the savior of the world into existence. Yet, the Gospel reverses the perception of the world.  He chooses a woman of humble estate, a nobody, to be the mother of the word become flesh.  All generations will call this woman blessed, because she has been called chosen by God for the most wonderful tasks. God’s mighty hand will use those who are humble and rejected by the world for incredible things.  Mary makes it clear in v. 49 that it is “he who is might” who has done all of this. There is nothing special or unique about Mary that earned her the right to carry God’s son or to participate in God’s story of redemption. No, she is but an ordinary teenage girl whom God chose to lavish his grace towards by his mighty hand.  God alone is the one who has accomplished all of this and he alone is the one who lavishes grace on his children

To the Praise of His Glory

This is a manuscript of the sermon I preached this morning at my church, Forest Hills Baptist Church.  Due to the quick pass of the message, I put it up here for their use to consult and as a reference for anyone. 

If you have your Bible’s go ahead and open them to Ephesians 1:3-14. It seems in my experience there is an ever pressing question that haunts each and every one of us. It is a question that always lies dormant in the back of our mind, and it is a question that is the most visible when we think about the graduation and recognizing these graduates. The question is this: What is my purpose? It is a simple question, but one that many spend the rest of their lives trying to answer. The reason why this question is so common is because we all desire to be significant. We want to leave our lasting mark on this world. We are ambitious and want to get the most out of life. We want to reach the mountain top of scholasticism, or we want to climb that corporate ladder. Or we want that picture perfect family that gives us meaning. Every human being I think is intrinsically looking for an answer to that question. What is my purpose? Although we all wrestle with that same question, we run to very different answers that don’t ever satisfy that longing question of purpose.

The pursuit for purpose and meaning is a noble one. In fact, there is something about the way God designs us that compels us to find meaning. In that pursuit, rarely do we go to the word of God to find the purpose for which we were made. For many the question of purpose is personal and subjective, not theological. However, as we will see today in God’s word, you and I were created for a very specific purpose and that purpose is found in the purpose of God. When reflecting on the purpose of humanity the Westminster confession of faith summed it up rightly when it says that, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” You see, the purpose for which you and I exist is for the glory of God. The reason the glory of God is our purpose is because it is God’s purpose. You see God’s chief end is for his own glory. He is passionate about the preservation of his holiness and the praise of His own name! You and I were created for that same purpose as well. Here is what I want you to understand from this sermon today. God’s chief end is for the exaltation of his own glory, therefore the divine purpose of man is to glorify God.

So here is our plan of attack this morning. I want to show you in the Bible God’s zealous passion for his own glory, and then discuss about what this truth means for you and then give some practical implications for what this means for graduates and really anyone wrestling with the question of purpose. We are going to be looking at several different passages in the Bible, but we are going to kick off in Ephesians 1:3-14 to get us started in seeing God’s passion for His Glory. As we get ready to read this passage I want you to watch out for a phrase “To the praise of his glory”.

God’s Glory is the Purpose of Creation

I hope you noticed the repetition of that phrase about God’s glory. Paul starts off in Ephesians as he normally does, with doxology. Paul tends to do this in most of his letters. He will introduce himself and state who he is writing too, then he will begin with a few verses of praise and exaltation about God. However, in the book of Ephesians Paul starts getting really excited as he is writing and he just writes and writes and writes about how great God is. In this passage he begins to describe the astonishing truth of God’s sovereign plan from the foundation of the earth to predestine us and call us as his own children through Jesus Christ. This passage has some incredible truths in it, but for the sake of time I want draw your attention to one thing.

For what purpose did God do all this? Paul lays out this amazing truth of God’s plan from the beginning to save us through Jesus. Why did God do all of this? Why did God save us? The answer is repeated several times, for the praise of his glory! His repetition of this phrase is trying to draw our attention and remind us of this. It is all for his glory! Paul is telling us, “It is all about God. It is all about his praise and his glory!” In this passage Paul is taping into a theme found throughout the whole Bible. The chief purpose of God in creation is to exalt over his own glory!

We see this throughout the whole scriptures. Although the passages are many, I want to share a few of them with you so that you can feel the weight of God’s glory as a theme throughout the Bible.

God Creates us for his glory: Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, every one who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory. (Isaiah 43:6-7)

God makes Israel for his glory: I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory. (Jeremiah 13:11)

God Forgives for his glory: I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)

Creation exalts God’s glory: The Heavens declare the glory of God - Psalm 19

For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. - Isaiah 48:9-11

You see, all throughout the Bible God is telling us that he is for his glory. He is about the exaltation of his name. In fact, creation is nothing more than an outpouring of his own glory. God didn’t create the world to fill some empty void in his life, he is self-sufficient in community with himself as the triune God of the universe. Creation itself, our existence is simply the over flow of his own goodness and magnificence!

Now this truth should make us ask a very important question. If God is so zealously passionate about his own glory, what is God’s glory? That’s a good question. I like John Piper’s definition: The glory of God is “the going public of his infinite worth”. When his holiness and worthiness is made public we call it his glory. When his goodness is revealed it’s called glory. When his holiness is demonstrated it’s called his glory. If his love is put on radical display, it’s his glory. When his justice and righteous wrath are being poured out, it is his glory. God’s glory is the public declaration of his infinite worth!

Think back to Isaiah chapter 6. Isaiah has his vision of the throne room of heaven. He sees the angels swirling around and what are they singing? “Holy, Holy, Holy! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” God’s holiness and worthiness being revealed to us on this earth is the out pouring of his glory!

God’s Glory is Tarnished by our sin

So if we were created to bring God glory, to image him and reflect back to him his own likeness, there is a problem. We are not doing our created purpose. We are sinners, and through our treacherous disobedience have tarnished the glory of God. In Romans 1:22 we see that we “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and bird and animals and creeping things”. We who were created to worship God have now decided to be idolatrous and worship creation. So we worship sex, fame, fortune, security, comfort, earthly pleasures, and anything else the world will offer us. We worship anything other than God. We are not only failing to achieve our divinely created purpose, we are bringing God’s name dishonor instead of Glory. We are doing the opposite of that for which we have been created! Oh what damnable sinners we are! Is it no wonder then that every one of us deserve hell? We mock the almighty God in our sin and spit in the face of his glory and goodness!

However, by his incredible mercy God set forth a plan in motion. Remember Ephesians 1? He put a plan in place before the foundations of the earth to vindicate his own glory and his own holiness from the wickedness of humanity’s sin.

God’s Glory is preserved through the death of Christ

Turn over to your bibles with me to Romans 3:21-26. In this passage we who have fall short of the glory of God are justified by grace through redemption in Christ Jesus! That was God’s plan from the foundation. To redeem us from our sin and vindicate his own glory through the death of Christ. Paul continues in this passage and tells us that Jesus’ death served as a propitiation for our sin in verse 25. Your translation might say a “sacrifice of atonement”, which is an ok translation but doesn’t quite capture the force of the greek word here. For reasons we don’t have time to discuss, a better translation of this word is propitiation. Now propitiation is a word that we don’t use very often anymore. Here is what this word means in this passage. Propitiation means that on the cross Jesus absorbed the wrath from God that you deserved. The punishment for your sin was payed and was payed by the holy, blameless, and righteous son of God! So why did Jesus have to die for you? So the righteousness and holiness of God might be preserved. You might have thought this before, “Why did God have to kill Jesus? Couldn’t he have just said ‘You are forgiven’? I mean he is God isn’t he, he can do whatever he wants. Why put Jesus on the cross?”

You see, God as the holy and righteous judge of the earth would be unrighteous if he allowed the desecration of his own glory go unpunished. If his glory is the most sacred and precious thing in the universe, he would be an unjust and evil judge. Imagine for a second a earthly judge who allows someone convicted of rape and murder get off without giving him a sentence. What if that judge just told the rapist and murderer, “I know your convicted and guilty, but he don’t worry about it. Go and keep on living your life”. What would we say to such an judge? You see, if God allows your sin to go unpunished he would be an unjust judge. In our sin we stand condemn, and to vindicate God’s own glory and righteousness God sent his own son like a lamb led to the slaughter for the purchase of your freedom. This is what Paul means when he says that Jesus died so that God, “might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”. My friend, Christ has taken on the punishment for your sin and the justice of God is vindicated and you are made just before an infinitely holy God!

This is why Jesus prays in his high priestly prayer right before his arrest, “Father the hour has come; glorify your son that the son may glorify you.” What? Jesus you are about to be arrested! You are about to get tried unfairly! You are about to get scourged with the whip! You are about to get mocked and humiliated! You are bout to be nailed on a rugged tree hung naked and exposed while the people laugh at your torment! How could this hour be for your glory? For it was precisely at the cross where the mystery of God’s will was revealed. At the cross, the crux of the hinge of eternity, that God’s glory and justice was vindicated and you and I were given our salvation!

We were saved for God's glory

Let’s reread Ephesians 1:11-14. What does Paul say here? Those of us who have hoped in Christ and were sealed by the Spirit was for what purpose? To the praise of his glory! Humanity, who was created by God for the purpose of exalting God’s glory, has now been restored to that original purpose through Jesus. If God’s chief purpose in creation is the exaltation of his glory, we now have the opportunity to join God in this most sacred task of glorifying him with our lives. Your purpose is this: to glorify God with every fiber of your being. What is your purpose and why did God create you? For the exaltation of his glory!

Your life is about God and not about you

We are very selfish people aren’t we? Our motivations are constantly selfish. Even with college, we tend to pick a degree that makes us the most money. We want to pick the degree that will get us the career so we can buy that corvette. I want to be a doctor! We say. I get squeamish around blood, but hey the pay is pretty good. In light of these truths we just learned, we see that our lives do not revolve around ourselves. Don’t waste your life living for your own vain pursuits. Don’t just live your life to increase your own comfort. Don’t work hard at your career just for the pay check. You are living this life for something far more valuable and far more significant, the glory of God.

If your like me you might be thinking, I get this Justin. I understand that I exist for the glory of God, now how do I do this?

Everything you do should be for the glory of God

1 Corinthians 10:31 says this, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”. This text is huge! Every little thing we do we must do for the glory of God. From the next sip of water you take, to the lunch you are getting ready to eat, you are commanded to do it for the glory of God. That menial job you have that you hate, you are called by God to do it for his glory. Cracking open the books and studying and writing papers, You do it for God’s glory. The ways you can bring God glory in each of these situations are numerous. However I want to give you one main way you glorify God.

We glorify God by rejoicing in God

Imagine a painter who paints the most beautiful painting! It painted in incredible detail, its color and radiance captivating. If you want to glory in that painting, what do you do? You don’t put it in a closet for no one to see. You hang it up in a prominent place and you invite everyone to come and admire it’s beauty and magnificence. You put it in an art gallery so the public can come and witness the awesomeness of that painting.

Imagine it’s March Madness and your favorite team makes it and whens the tournament. How would you glory in that team? You would go crazy! You would wear a jersey the next day, you would announce it on Facebook or twitter for everyone to see, you’d talk about it at work for the next month, you would just go crazy and joy.

Here is the sad reality. Many of us would get far more excited and get far more joy if our basketball team won the championship than we ever will about the glory and majesty of God! You see the problem is not that we don’t rejoice, the problem is that we rejoice in things that do not satisfy. As the American Theologian Johnathan Edwards writes, “God is glorified not only by his glories being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.” God wants you to delight in his glory. He wants you to celebrate it. He wants you to tell others about it. He wants you to get excited about it.

Whenever I think about our misguided desires and think of a quote by CS Lewis. He says the following:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far to easily pleased.

Final Thoughts

Graduates, do not be satisfied with anything less than experiencing the fullness of the glory of God. No diploma, no job, no man, and no woman will never please you. Only Christ.

Church members, repent of your vain pursuit of seeking joy in the pleasures of this world. Delight in God and live every aspect of your life glorifying Him.

Non Christian, my friend, you know what I’m talking about better than most. You are in the trenches of sin looking for all kind of pleasures to satisfy your longing soul. Today God is calling you to find your rest in him. He has made a way through Jesus. Come and receive him this morning.

Reading Habits

The discipline of reading has been a huge catalyst that the Spirit has used to mature me and sanctify me.  I still have a long ways to go, but the habit of regularly reading good Christian books has greatly impacted my walk with the Lord.  I do not read as often as I'd like too and sometimes it can still seem like a chore, but it is a discipline that greatly stirs my affections for Christ.  As I read newer books like Piper and Keller or older books by Edwards or Calvin, my passion for Jesus seems to always increase.  They have become good for my soul, and have taught me much about the Scriptures.  Here are a few ways I've seen the discipline of reading encourage me in my walk with Christ.

1. Books stir my affection for Jesus

This is probably the number one reason why I read good Christian books.  In fact, I very rarely read fiction because it fails to stir up in me a sense of glory of God.  I enjoy fiction, and fiction can be very enjoyable to read, but reading about the goodness of God in the cross.  Or the glory of God demonstrated as the Father poured his wrath for my sin on Jesus, stirs me in a way fiction works never can.  In fact, I normally judge the books I read by how well they give me a sense of magnificence of Jesus and if I leave the book more in love with my King because of what I just read.

2. Books Teach and Train

As I've ready hundreds and hundreds of pages throughout my academic career and just for personal enjoyment, I've learned a lot of theology and doctrine.  I've been taught through these authors the truth of Scripture.  Indeed, books are some of my best teachers.  They had also taught me to think for myself.  A good reading diet consists of reading books by people from multiple perspectives.  As a result, one is able to listen to the various arguments over a particular issue and decide for oneself which position they will hold.  Books have trained be to be discerning and to think carefully.  A crucial part of discipleship is growing in knowledge of the Scriptures.  Good books are able to instruct me.

3. Books Hold Up a Mirror

Some of the best books I have read have been the most convicting books I've read.  So often we think of ourselves more highly than we ought.  Our tendency is to become Pharisees and to think we are superior to everyone else.  A good book forces me to look into the mirror and examine my own sinfulness.  Books are good friends who show us our inconsistencies and point out our sin that we are blinded too.  Books hold up a mirror of self examination.

Those are just three reasons why I would commend to you the discipline of reading good Christian books.  In addition to soaking your mind in the Bible, habitually reading good Christian books can be huge in your pursuit to be more like Jesus.  I encourage you to go buy a good Christian book and read it and begin the life long journey of being sharpened by the power of the written word.

Do you have a habit of reading?  How has reading helped you in your relationship with Jesus? What books have you read that have provided a great benefit to you?  I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Light that Pierces Through the Darkness

  Within the story of genesis we get to the point where we hear about a guy named Joseph who endures a great amount of suffering.  He was sold in to slavery by his brothers, accused of attempted rape by Potiphar’s wife, and thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t commit.  Joseph is a guy who endures a lot of hardship and pain.  However despite the obstacles, later on in his life, Joseph looks back and states that it is God who places those circumstances in his life and that God used them for good. (Gen 45:7)

The story of Joseph teaches us that the God of the Bible is a God who honors and preserves the covenants that He has made.  Therefore, God sovereignly guides Joseph’s life so that the lineage of Abraham might be preserved and the covenant with Abraham might be fulfilled.  The story of Joseph, despite how wonderful it could be made into a modern day Lifetime movie, is recorded to show that God will do whatever it takes to honor the covenant God made with Abraham.  Despite the hardship Joseph faces, God uses Joseph's suffering in such a way to accomplish His good purposes.  This is ultimately revealed in Genesis 50 when Joseph says, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

Likewise God, takes the horrendous events that happen in our lives a uses them for our good and God’s glory.  Romans 8:28 promises that, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  The God we serve isn’t surprised by any event in our life.  When a loved one gets diagnosed with cancer, or we lose our job, or our retirement crashes with the stock market, God isn’t surprised by that.  He knows it!  He sees time past, present, and future, and God has a purpose and a plan.  He is sovereign enough to take the most evil and horrific events of your life and use them for your good and His glory.

God takes the darkness of evil and uses it to magnify the light.  God has done this all throughout human history including in the most horrific event in the history of the world, the murder of the God-Man Jesus Christ.  In this humanity executed the only perfect man in the history of the world and nailed him to a shameful cross.  In the bleakest of moments, when darkness covered the earth, God used Christ’s substitutionary death to display His infinite grace and mercy. Like light piercing through the deepest darkness, so is God’s mercy and grace amplified in our deepest suffering.

How has God taken some of the worst tragedy in your life and used it for your good and His glory?