The Preacher’s Pursuit

“I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself’” (Eccl. 2:1). The Preacher, much like the rest of mankind, is on a search for meaning and happiness. He’s already shown us the end from the beginning, namely, “all is vanity.” His search for meaning and satisfaction in the things of earth leaves him empty. The Preacher positions himself as an old sage with a lifetime of experience. This wise man passes his wisdom on to his readers by bearing forth his failures and confessing his emptiness. Ecclesiastes 2 is all about a failure to find. The Preacher says, “I looked for meaning here, but I didn’t find it.” “I looked for happiness there, but came up empty.” He looked and he looked and he looked. But he never found what he was looking for.

In order to properly understand Ecclesiastes, we need to remember the error of the Preacher is rooted not in his quest, but in his sources. His quest for meaning and happiness is both natural and good. God has put eternity into man’s heart (Eccl. 3:11). Augustine has said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” We were made to pursue meaning and happiness. Humanity was originally created for these two ends. God’s blessing rested on Adam and Eve, and they were created to reign over creation as image-bearers. Adam and Eve never had to search for meaning and happiness, because they were created with it. The root of their sin was thinking God couldn’t provide what he had already given them. They started seeking happiness in sources outside of God. They failed and the rest is history.

The Preacher is taking the wrong paths on his journey, but he doesn’t realize it until he hits a dead end. He travels down paths of pleasure and power. He indulged in everything his money and influence could buy. He had great possessions, great wealth, an army of workers, and a harem of women. He searched in the bottle (Eccl. 2:3) and the backhoe (Eccl. 2:4-6). But neither fine wine nor impressive buildings and gardens could quench his heart’s thirst. He tried everything. “And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure” (Eccl. 2:10). No pleasure evaded him. And each pleasure was real. His heart actually “found pleasure” (Eccl. 2:10). But the pleasure he found was never enough.

The Preacher concluded at the end of his search, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Eccl. 2:11). Have you ever felt such emptiness? Maybe you put all your time, energy, and resources into a work project and it turns out even better than you hoped. There is real satisfaction in such work and success. But that feeling fades and another project looms. There is no natural rest from our work. There is no natural rest in our parenting, marriages, or ministries. If you ever finally “have it all” you realize it’s not enough.

Our hearts are searching for meaning and happiness. The quest is good. But heed the Preacher’s wisdom. He says, “I’ve tried it all. I’ve done it all. I’ve had it all. All sources for happiness under the sun are deficient.” There is a path, however, that doesn’t have a dead end. In fact, it’s end is a beginning. The path of wisdom, the path of godly fear, leads to a cross where One outside of the created order entered it to fix it. Jesus returns God’s people to God’s presence, the essence of meaning and happiness. Keep your quest. Change your source. Journey down the path of the cross. Find what your heart desires.


Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their three boys, Jude, Jack, and John.


When Mother’s Day Hurts

Mother’s Day is a strange day in the life of the church. Historically, it has never made an appearance on any liturgical calendar. There are no biblical mandates for formally honoring mothers during a corporate gathering. However, there are occasions for utilizing our cultural calendars for biblical purposes. We don’t have to recognize or thank God for mothers in a worship gathering, but Mother’s Day gives the church an opportunity to praise, thank, and honor God and mothers in our midst.

Although it is right and good to recognize and honor mothers, Mother’s Day often creates more pain than pleasure in the hearts of Christian women. Even mothers with full quivers feel inadequate. Their Instagram posts aren’t up to snuff. They doubt whether they have done enough or been enough for their children at the end of most days. Women who have or are struggling with infertility feel alienated. Women who have lost children may skip this service altogether. Mothers of wayward children would rather run and hide than stand and receive a gift. Mother’s Day creates pressure to appear perfect. Mother’s Day picks at scabs as old wounds are irritated. Mother’s Day, for some women, is nothing more than a glamorous reminder of the shame they feel.

Shame is the product of failing to meet expectations. Steph Curry, one of the best free throw shooters in the NBA, would be ashamed about missing a free throw late in a playoff game later this week. Shame awakens on days like Mothers Day when women feel they have failed to meet expectations. Some women have biblical expectations of themselves that can create a healthy shame over sin that causes us to run and cling to Christ. Others have culturally or self-imposed expectations of themselves that they were never created to meet, which causes them to run from Christ.

The ultimate and greatest calling of a woman is not to motherhood, but to Christlikeness. Season and station of life cannot change God’s expectations of us. They merely change the expression of a static goal. The goal of womanhood is to be like Christ, be with Christ, and live for Christ. The magnification and multiplication of God’s glory is the goal of every man and woman. Mothers are expected to pursue this goal in the context of their motherhood. Single women pursue this goal in the context of their singleness. The same is true for all of us. The expectations of our lives don’t change even when life circumstances change their expression.

Before crushing yourself with unhealthy shame, check the expectations you have for yourself against God’s expectations of you. You are not accountable to the culture’s expectations or your self-imposed expectations. You are accountable to God’s expectations. God’s expectations are rooted in your God-granted identity. From eternity past, God has set his unmerited and unchangeable grace on you. In Christ, he chose you. In Christ, he redeemed you. In Christ, he is sanctifying you. In Christ, he will make you what you were always meant to be.

Pursue what God calls you to be and look at your life through his eyes. Who does God say you are? Chosen. Called. Redeemed. Adopted. Forgiven. Loved. You are his pleasure because at your core, despite your failures, you are in Christ. His view of you in Christ will never change. His view of you in Christ is all that matters. Ladies, you are not a failure if you cannot bear children. You are not a failure if your motherhood doesn’t meet social media standards. But, as you know, you will fail as a woman and mother. But praise God your identity is found and secured in the sinless life and substitutionary death of Jesus.


Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their three boys, Jude, Jack, and John.

The Emptiness of Wisdom

After establishing his main point in 1:2 that all is vanity; that life in a fallen world is short and vain, the author of Ecclesiastes begins to search for meaning in life through a variety of avenues. Like Lewis and Clark, the Preacher seeks uncharted land. Surely there is something more out there. Surely there is hope and joy in the world after all. Surely not all is vanity. Without knowing what he will find, the Preacher launches into the unknown with one goal in mind: find meaning in life.

He begins his journey on the path of wisdom. And this seems like a good place to begin. If anything in life can provide meaning, something as holy and good as wisdom should do the trick. Many of us understand how self-pleasure, alcohol, success, and power could easily be abused. It makes sense that things such as these would not and could not provide ultimate meaning and satisfaction (2:1-11). But what about wisdom? Before jumping into the passage, we need to make a couple initial observations about wisdom.

First, wisdom is an attribute of God. God is wise. It is essential to his being. Paul writes of the “only wise God” (Rom. 16:27). God’s wisdom is manifested in creation and redemption. God created the world in wisdom and nothing displays his wisdom quite like his redemption of fallen men and women. Wisdom resonates truest and fullest in God. And all wisdom outside of God finds its source in God.

Second, wisdom is a gift of God to people. God created mankind in his image. In part this means that we share some attributes with God. Wisdom is one attribute of God that he gives to us. We can be wise. According to the Bible, we should be wise. Christians should especially be marked by wisdom.

We should be surprised then when we read the Preacher refer to his use of wisdom to pursue meaning in life as “striving after wind” (1:14). He writes, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” (2:15). Wisdom itself is good. God is wise. As his image-bearers, we can be wise. “There is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness” (2:13). But wisdom as a source for finding meaning and satisfaction in life will always fail us.

Wisdom is a good gift, but a puny god. When we seek significance and satisfaction in wisdom, we are looking for it to provide what only God can. No matter how much wisdom you accrue in your life, it will always fall short of your hopes. Finding meaning and happiness through wisdom is as hopeless as catching the wind. God’s inscrutable providence smashes our wisdom. There are just some things only God will know. Wisdom is grieving. The more you know the more you know you don’t know. Wisdom is ultimately powerless because sometimes knowing what to do and how to do it just isn’t enough.

What’s worse, wisdom can’t save us from our deepest problem—death. So, if wisdom itself can’t satisfy our desire for meaning, and if wisdom itself can’t save us from death, then what good is wisdom anyway?  Hear the words of the Preacher: “How the wise dies just like the fool!”

When we fail to live by the limits of wisdom, we will ask it to do what it was never meant to do. Wisdom is a gift to enjoy and utilize for God’s glory, not a god to provide ultimate satisfaction and salvation. Only Jesus, the ultimate manifestation of God’s wisdom, can provide what our hearts are desperately seeking. In the wisdom of God, Jesus died to bring us life, was shamed to bring us glory, and defeated death by dying. Hope, joy, and life are found in him alone. And only through him can we rest in God’s wisdom and relentlessly pursue wisdom for the purpose of bringing him glory.


Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Life Is A Vapor: Meditations on Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Fiction is one of my favorite genres to read. I love the experience of transporting to another world. Reading fiction is great therapy for a tired and weary soul. It helps you to get outside yourself and your world as you consider the life and movements in a fictional world. Fiction is an escape. Sometimes, after a long week, traveling to Narnia or Middle Earth is the best rest.

While reading fiction can be a healthy form of escape, there are other more dangerous versions. Escape from reality is sometimes found in more dubious sources, like drugs, alcohol, or pornography. Others find escape in Twitter, Netflix, or a host of hobbies. We escape because we are dissatisfied with life as we know it. Ecclesiastes is for all those who lament the world as it is and long for a better one. Ecclesiastes is for those looking for escape.

Ecclesiastes forces us to see the world as it is. It opens our eyes to the raw fallen world. You won’t find a sugar-coated message in Ecclesiastes. Some of us will be deeply encouraged as we find a friend in the Preacher who “gets it.” Some of us will be appalled by his honesty. All of us must deal with the Preacher’s sobering observations about life “under the sun.” Brace yourself, because you may not like what he sees.

The main thrust of the book is stated in verse 2. “Vanity of vanities…vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” The author used a Hebrew word that is often translated “breath” or “vapor.” Everything is a vapor. Everything is a breath. In verses 2-11, the author utilizes this picture to discern the meaning of work. “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?”

Every answer we can give is temporal. It is vanity to live for our careers because all we gain by them is temporary and fleeting. By observing the cyclical patterns of nature, the Preacher concludes that life in a fallen world is naturally dissatisfying. A full life is still a short life. The happiest life is microscopic in comparison to the constant ebb and flow of nature. The ground you stand on will far outlast you. Life is like smoke from a candle. It’s here one minute and gone the next. Generations come and go, but the earth remains.

What a humbling thought to consider! No matter what you do with your life, death is coming. And the sun will rise the day after your funeral. The winds will blow and the rivers flow without a hiccup. Earthly gain is not just foolish, it’s impossible! David Gibson has said, “People do not gain from their labor and toil because ultimately they are going to die and be forgotten.”

The Preacher doesn’t qualify his poem. Life is short and elusive; death is certain for all of us living under the sun. We object, “Well, this is true from a secular perspective.” “Well, life does seem that way without Jesus.” But the Preacher doesn’t offer softening qualifiers. He doesn’t care about our sensibilities. He simply looks at the world and tells us what he sees.

There isn’t one reality under the sun for believers and another for non-believers. In fact, his goal is to help us stop pretending the world isn’t the way it is. The world really does repeat itself. No matter how hard we work, we will one day die and another will take ownership of all we have. Eventually, we will be forgotten while the earth on which we toiled will be home to a new generation. Life under the sun is temporary.

The Preacher counters our desire to escape by showing us that we can’t escape. Whatever we gain will vanish. It is vanity to think otherwise. Are you depressed yet? The point of Ecclesiastes 1 isn’t to depress but to illumine. It is a light to help us see the darkness that we try to avoid. Death is coming, so how then should we live?

Coming to grips with the brevity and elusiveness of life will help us seek escape in the only One who can truly provide. it. We long for a world greater than our own. We long for a reality far different from the one we have. Press in to these desires. Lament the fact that we can’t find such gain in this world. And look to Christ, the one who entered our fallen world to rescue us from it. Only in Christ can we delight in a short, elusive life and find true gain.


Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Choose Whom You Will Serve

The Christian life is a journey. We see the theme of sojourning in a foreign land applied to the Christian life in a number of places in Scripture. John Bunyan also famously personified the Christian life as a journey in his classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress. As Christians, we are plodding along in a foreign land longing for our home in God’s presence.

In the course of this journey, God’s people will face countless obstacles and road blocks to our holiness and our happiness. Christians are not immune to temptation. While the penalty of sin is canceled and the power of sin is overthrown, the presence of sin remains. Our sinful natures continue to haunt us as we strive by grace to walk with Jesus. To deny the presence of sin and reality of temptation is to set yourself up for failure.

We are tempted every day to find replacements for God. This has been the story of God’s people since Eden. And God’s people have imaged the sin of our proto-parents rather than imaging the glory of God. We have failed to fulfill our creative purpose. God’s people in Egypt and the newly conquered Promised Land fell into idol worship. Rather than imaging God, they imaged the culture around them. Even today, we too are faced with a choice. Will we serve the Lord alone? Or, will something or someone else take his place? Will we fulfill the purpose for which we were created? Or, will we turn it on its head?

At the end of Joshua’s life and ministry, he challenges the nation of Israel to remain faithful to the God who has been nothing but faithful to them. Before calling the Israelites away from idols and to faithful service and worship, Joshua reminds Israel of God’s grace and gifts (Josh. 24:1–13, 17–18). By walking Israel through her history, Joshua shows God’s people how weak they are and how strong God is. Apart from God’s power and grace, the Israelites would still be in slavery. The land they now possess is the direct result of God’s unilateral power and grace on behalf of his people. The conclusion of the story is that no man or woman in Israel can boast in their conquest of Canaan. They are where they are by the grace of God alone.

After essentially showing the lunacy of idolatry by highlighting God’s grace in the past and present, Joshua soberingly commands, “Put away the gods that your fathers served” (v. 14). Most ancient peoples were polytheists. Polytheism infected the Israelites, who repeatedly tried to serve both the God of Israel and the “gods” of the peoples around them. If they choose the deadly path of idolatry, they can’t add the one true God into the mix. The Israelites are free to serve either the false gods of Egypt or Canaan, but if they do, they cannot also serve the Lord.

God will not play second fiddle. Nor will he be the first among many gods. As historic catechisms have put it, “God is the first and best of beings.” So, he alone is worthy of worship. You can’t serve God and anything else. Joshua makes it very clear where he stands: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (v. 15). This is a message we need to hear. Like Israel, we tend to think, “Why not both?” We try to serve God and family, God and career, God and sports, God and school, God and prestige. But none of us can serve two masters. Even God’s wonderful gifts make puny gods.

Despite measures taken to help the people keep their commitment (v.18), they will prove faithless again and again. Our story would be the same. If staying in the favor of God was up to our faith, we too would fail. But in Jesus we have a seal that will never be broken. Jesus was perfectly faithful to God alone and died for all our unfaithfulness. His faithfulness in life and death empowers us to worship God alone, and eternally atones for our failures as we walk with him for the rest of our journey in this foreign land.


Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

When God Is With Us

After the death of Moses, God called Joshua to lead his people. He calls Joshua to a daunting and frightening task. Leading God’s people will require great strength and courage. In Joshua 1 alone, God commands Joshua to be strong and courageous three times. But he doesn’t leave Joshua alone to find strength and courage for himself. Instead, God provides the sources of his Word and his presence for Joshua to draw the strength and courage he needs.

God commands Joshua, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Josh. 1:8). Notice that God doesn’t call Joshua to have a passing acquaintance with the Scriptures. He doesn’t call him to read his Word for the sake of religious duty. Instead, God calls Joshua to meditate carefully on all of God’s Word.

The word “meditate” means to think deeply. Bible meditation isn’t a form of emptying your mind, but a diligent practice of filling your mind with the Word of God and patiently working out its meaning and purpose in your life. God’s Word is a spiritual feast. God wants us to chew on his Word for the joy of its sweetness and the strength of its nourishment. Joshua needed strength and courage. Just as we strengthen our bodies by eating healthy food, our souls find strength as we meditate on God’s Word. When we meditate on God’s Word, we are meditating on God’s voice–the ultimate source of life-giving power and joy.

The purpose of meditating on God’s Word is obedience: “so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Josh. 1:8b). Obeying God in a new and scary land will not be easy for God’s people. It will be tempting for Joshua, as it was for Moses, to capitulate to his flesh and the will of a wearisome people. However, God’s Word provides the strength and courage necessary for obedience.

Isn’t it encouraging that God doesn’t command much of his people without providing the grace they need to obey? What was true for Joshua is true for us. Obedience is the goal of our Bible studies. Obedience is the goal of Bible meditation. God will provide the grace you need to obey him in even the most difficult seasons of your life.

God doesn’t just leave Joshua with his Word as his only source of strength. God also provides his very presence to strengthen and give courage to his servant. The God of the Bible is no distant deity. God reassures Joshua by saying, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (Josh. 1:5b). God can give no greater comfort than to supply us with his omnipotent and loving attention: “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

For Joshua, the assurance of God’s presence was validation of his new position as the leader of God’s people. In fact, God’s people wouldn’t have followed Joshua unless God was with him (Josh. 1:17). If you are in Christ today, you are a part of God’s people, which means God is with you. What does this mean for you? What validation or assurance does God’s presence bring?

Knowing God is with you should assure you of his love. God loves you and his love will never depart because in Christ, he will never leave you or forsake you. Knowing God is with you helps you endure deep pain and suffering. Knowing God is with you is validation of your identity and mission in life. You can freely strive for holiness, knowing God already loves and accepts you.


Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

The Risen King

The day Jesus died seemed to be the darkest day in the history of the world. It must have been especially dark for Jesus’ disciples. All of Jesus’ disciples were deeply saddened when Jesus died. They didn’t know all we know about Jesus’ death and what it meant for them. They thought Jesus was going to save the world and rule immediately as an earthly King. They never thought he would take his kingdom by dying.

Jesus’ death on the cross was a crushing blow to the disciples’ hopes and dreams. Their leader, friend, savior, and God was dead. They saw him arrested. They saw him mocked. They saw him beaten. They saw him crucified. They saw his body taken off a cross. They saw him placed in a tomb. As far as they knew, it was all over.

As upset and scared the disciples must have been at the death of Jesus, what they were about to experience cannot be described with words. We have already seen three women approach Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body. Can you see the sadness on their faces? Hearts broken. Eyes filled with tears. But as they approach the place where they laid Jesus to rest, they discover something that will change their lives forever.

Mark tells us that as the women approached the tomb, they noticed that the stone had already been rolled back from the tomb, which was cut out of a rock ledge (Mark 16:4). We learn from other Gospel writers like Matthew and Luke, that there were Roman guards who were assigned to guard the tomb because they were afraid Jesus’ disciples might try to steal his body. But, even with all of that, the stone is rolled back from the tomb, and when the ladies slowly and timidly enter the tomb, they discover that there is someone there, just not the one they expected to see.

“And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed” (Mark 16:5). Can you imagine what these women must have thought? First, where is Jesus? Second, who is this strange dude?! This angel saw their shock and said, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6).

The angel is there as an initial witness to the resurrection of Jesus. He also gives an explanation for why the body is not there. Could it be that the disciples had stolen the body? Nope. “He has risen.” He was truly dead. But now, he is truly alive!

While the women initially approached the empty tomb with fear, they left with total fascination. They were glad to obey the angel’s command to “tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.” Oh, and can you imagine the joy they experienced when they heard the angel say, “There you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:7). The women and even the disciples didn’t have it all figured out, but they were totally amazed (Mark 16:8).

When Jesus walked out of the tomb, he proved himself to be the eternal Son of God who had power over sin and death. These women teach us a lot about how to approach the reality of the resurrection. The risen Christ should cause you to be amazed. God has freed you from your sin. He has conquered death. If you can trust Jesus to defeat sin and death by rising from the grave, how much more can you trust him with everything else in your life? Approach the risen Jesus with amazement and complete trust.

Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

The Good News of Good Friday

The gospel, which means “good news,” is the story of stories. It is the ultimate love story, drama, tragedy, and epic all rolled into one. It is the story of an innocent man taking the place of the guilty. It is the story of a man who never sinned, taking the punishment of sinful men and women.

As an innocent man dying for the guilty, Jesus proved himself to be the promised Israelite Messiah, the Savior-King, sent from God to bear God’s wrath against sin and sinners. He also proved himself to be the Son of God who brings sinners back to God. His dying hours on the cross overcame millennia of sin, suffering, and evil. The ancient curse is reversed and the ancient Serpent is defeated.

There are two images in Mark 15:33-39 that show Jesus as our sacrificial Lamb and great Mediator.

First, look at Mark 15:34. Mark writes, “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice…”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This means so much for you and me. Jesus was about to die. With the last bit of strength he had in his dying body, he shouted loudly that God had “forsaken” him. This means that God had abandoned him.

In this moment, the wrath of God was pouring out on Jesus. It was like God the Father turned his back on God the Son. For the first time in eternity, forsakenness existed within the Trinity where only blessing, love, peace, and joy had ever been. As Jesus took his final breaths, the weight of human sin was on his shoulders—your sin and my sin. Jesus took our sin upon himself (2 Cor. 5:21). He was forsaken or abandoned by God so that all who believe in him will never be forsaken or abandoned by God.

Second, look at Mark 15:37-38. Mark writes, “And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” John tells us that loud cry was, “It is finished” (John 19:30). As Jesus breathed his last breath on a hill outside the city of Jerusalem, a curtain in the temple in Jerusalem tore in two pieces.

This curtain separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place in the temple. It was in the Most Holy Place that the presence of God dwelled, and where the high priest would go to make sacrifices for the people. When Jesus died, he offered himself to God as the once for all perfect sacrifice for sin. Through his death, the veil separating the people from the presence of God was forever torn.

A day the Church has celebrated for 2,000 years as “Good Friday” wasn’t initially received as a sign of anything good whatsoever.

For Jesus’ closest followers, the world was ending. Their hope in Jesus was rooted in a misunderstanding of his person and work. Like many of us, they expected Jesus to do things he never intended to do. The disciples craved instant gratification. They wanted immediate liberation. They wanted to see Jesus retake David’s throne and drive out the evil Roman Empire. The disciples had witnessed divine power from Jesus. Surely the one who had power to calm a storm with nothing more than a soft command could escape death. But each step toward Golgotha drained the disciples of every ounce of hope.

For Jesus’ opponents, the world was purged of a dangerous radical. The Roman and Jewish authorities weren’t sure what Jesus would do, but they were sure his authority threatened theirs. His following had ballooned to an uncomfortable level. His death meant the end of a possible uprising.

Jesus’ final words, “It is finished,” resonated with every witness to the execution. In the minds and hearts of everyone on that dreaded hill, it was all over.

But we can look back on that solemn and holy moment on the original Good Friday and see the beauty of the gospel. Jesus was crushed. He was forsaken. He was defeated. He was executed. His disciples mourned. His enemies rejoiced. But through his defeated, Jesus conquered. Through his death, he gave life. Through his forsakenness, Jesus made the way for enemies of God to be children of God.

The day Jesus died is called Good because of what he accomplished in death. Humanity and the entire created order find redemption in the King who bled and died on a hill outside Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. Christians can celebrate today because Jesus endured what we deserve. By faith in this crucified King, we receive the life, peace, hope, joy, and blessing we don’t deserve. Oh, how good is Good Friday for those covered by the blood of Christ!

Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Last Words at the Last Supper

Often when a leader nears death, he gathers his closest followers one final time. A general may give final orders to his subordinates. A father may simply express his love and affection to his family. This is especially true for leaders who know their death is near, or their mission is nearing completion.

Although his disciples still didn’t realize what was about to happen, Jesus gathered with his disciples one final time before his death in what we know as the Upper Room. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke only share details of the Last Supper, John shares some of Jesus’ “last words” at this meal. Jesus knows he will soon depart, not only through his death but in his ascension as well. He spends some of his final hours encouraging and exhorting his friends with life-giving words.

In John 15, the beloved disciple shares four final words from Jesus:

  1. Jesus’ power is in his disciples
  2. Jesus loyally loves his disciples
  3. Jesus is united with his disciples in suffering
  4. Jesus promises to send a Helper when he leaves

First, Jesus shares the nature of his power in his disciples. In John 15:1-8, Jesus teaches his disciples that apart from him they can do nothing through a vivid illustration. Grapes were a popular crop in this area, so Jesus used the example of a grapevine and its branches to explain what he meant. A branch can bear fruit if it is connected to the vine. The vine gives the branches the nutrients they need to produce grapes. In the same way, we must stay connected to Jesus like a branch does to the vine so that we can grow as a Christian and make disciples. This is why Jesus said he was the true Vine.

The power to follow Jesus and lead others to follow Jesus is in everyone connected to Jesus. So, if you are trying to obey Jesus in your own power, you will fail. And if you are trying to lead others to follow Jesus in your own power, you will fail. Branches severed from the vine cannot produce fruit. Neither can you apart from Jesus.

Second, Jesus shares his love for his disciples. He actually calls his disciples friends in John 15:12-17. What an incredible sentiment! The eternal God of the universe calls creatures who have rebelled against him friends. No one has loved more than he who has laid down his life for his friends. If you are in Christ today, you aren’t just his subject, slave, or follower. Jesus is your friend. His affection for you is deep. His loyalty to you is unmovable.

Third, Jesus shares his unity with his disciples. Despite the logic of what Jesus says in John 15:18-25, it’s kind of surprising. Jesus tells his disciples they will share in his suffering. The world hated and rejected Jesus. Likewise, the world will hate and reject his followers. As followers of a suffering and bleeding Savior, we must prepare ourselves to love people who will not love us back. We must be prepared to sacrificially give of ourselves for people who will do nothing but oppose us.

Finally, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to empower his disciples to live the kingdom life. The Holy Spirit will comfort and calm our hearts when we endure suffering, and he will empower us to walk in holiness and make disciples. Jesus is about to leave his disciples. He is going to die, rise, and ultimately ascend to heaven. But he would not leave them alone. The Spirit would come and unite his people to himself and empower all that he has called them to do.

As the true Vine, Jesus unites us to God, so we can be a part of his family. Just as Jesus encouraged the disciples before his crucifixion, his last words are also meant to encourage us. Jesus calls us his friends and wants us to share in the infinite blessing of the gospel and to bring others into this blessed fellowship.

Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

A New Kind of Kingdom

Throughout Mark’s Gospel, he has been showing us the kingdom of God through Jesus’ teachings and actions. Jesus has come to bring a new kingdom to earth and he is the king. We have seen through Jesus’ healing and miracles that his kingdom is marked by life and blessing.

With each miracle and ground-shaking teaching, Jesus gives us a glimpse of what life in his kingdom is like. The kingdom of God is a realm that carries a particular set of values.

Life in the kingdom looks a certain way, and no other ways are tolerated. Jesus bringing the kingdom of God to earth is like a new coach taking over for a team. When a new coach is hired, the culture of the team and program immediately changes. There are new rules, new goals, and new expectations.

With the arrival of Jesus came a new way of life that would be opened and empowered by his life, death, and resurrection.

Jesus’ kingdom is marked by humility, love, peace, mercy, grace, and self-sacrifice. Such a kingdom stands in stark contrast to many kingdoms in the world. People base their lives on many things, but the above list usually isn’t found on a fast track to success.

There are kingdoms based on money, power, and prestige. In these kingdoms, you typically don’t put others first and strive to live peaceably with all while loving those who persecute you. Nice guys finish last, after all. Jesus himself turns the such kingdoms on their heads as he calls for self-sacrificial love by teaching his disciples to die to self and strive to be last.

The kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world collide as Jesus and his disciples are confronted by Judas and his mob outside the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:43-50). Judas approaches Jesus in stealth possibly to catch him off guard with betrayal. Perhaps Judas didn’t simply point Jesus out to the mob because he feared Jesus was prepared for a fight. After all, Jesus has been talking about a kingdom and his disciples believed he was the Messiah.

After being betrayed by the kiss of a friend, Jesus is immediately arrested by an armed mob. Peter responds the way Judas probably expected. He fights. He pulls a knife and slices off the ear of a soldier.

Jesus responds by asking if the mob believes him to be a criminal. He’s asking, “Am I some kind of rebel trying to start a revolution that you have come out with swords and clubs?” Jesus essentially declares that his enemies are completely blind to his kingdom. Jesus rebukes Peter and the mob because his revolution is not fought by taking life, but by giving up his life as a ransom for others.

Judas and Peter come with swords drawn because both have missed the point of Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Judas was living for himself and personal profit. His kingdom was marked by lust for wealth and status. Peter pulled a sword to save his life. He was trusting in his own view of the Messiah and the kingdom.

Jesus counters all of our self-seeking and self-serving kingdoms by refusing to flee or fight. He serenely submits to his arresters and accusers remaining basically silent throughout his trial. He could have defended himself. He could have called down a legion of angels to come to his defense. He could have. But he is the King of a new kind of kingdom.

Instead of trying to save himself or take life, he submitted to his Father’s will and took appropriate steps to give up his life so that sinners like us could enter his eternal kingdom.

Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.