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.


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.

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.

Victory in a Garden of Agony

The Bible talks of two primary representatives for mankind. Each represented us in a garden.

Many, many years before Jesus entered Gethsemane, Adam was placed in Eden. He was created without sin. He had a perfect heart, a perfect relationship with God, and he lived in a perfect environment. Yet, Adam failed to keep covenant with God. He was faced with a choice to submit to God’s will, and he bowed to his own. When Adam sinned against God in Eden, he was cursed, banished, and defiled because of his sin. Paradise was lost and the entrance to Eden was guarded by a flaming sword. From that point forward, Adam and all of his offspring would be under the righteous wrath of God.

Friends, outside of faith in Jesus, this is where we all stand—under the righteous wrath of God. God’s wrath can be defined as God’s righteous response to sin. Wayne Grudem calls it his “intense hatred of sin.” Because God is holy, he is wrathful against all that is unholy. In John 3:36, Jesus says that the wrath of God remains on all who do not believe in him. The author of Hebrews understood the wrath of God when he wrote, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). But I especially love the way C.S. Lewis communicates God’s wrath in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“Mr. Beaver said, “Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”…”Safe?” said Mr. Beaver…”Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Here is the toughest reality that is naturally offensive to the human mind and heart: We deserve God’s wrath because of our sin. We deserve to face what caused Jesus to sweat blood and be so close to death that an angel had to come to his aid. We deserve the horrible, terrible, and terrifying wrath of God not because our sins are particularly egregious, but because God is infinitely holy. It is the greatness of God, not the degree of our sin that puts us under the wrath of God. This means that no matter how small or big you think your sins are, you stand under the flaming sword of God’s wrath.

But there is good news for you and me. There is news in this passage that gives purpose, hope, and joy in the midst of all suffering. While Adam disobeyed in a garden of paradise, the Last and True Adam obeyed in a garden of agony. It is no coincidence that Jesus agonized over his impending death and submitted to God’s will in a garden. It was in a garden that we began, in a garden where we fell, and it will be in a garden where we begin to find restoration and redemption. Charles Spurgeon observed this. In one of his great sermons, he said,

“May we not conceive that as in a garden Adam’s self-indulgence ruined us, so in another garden the agonies of the second Adam should restore us? Gethsemane supplies the medicine for the ills, which followed upon the forbidden fruit of Eden. No flowers which bloomed upon the banks of the four-fold river were ever so precious to our race as the bitter herbs which grew hard by the black and sullen stream of Kidron.”

As our perfect representative, Jesus is prepared to take on the full wrath of God that we deserve. We do not have to sweat blood in agonizing torment before the wrath of God, because Jesus faced his Father’s wrath for us.

We see this in Jesus’ request for the cup to be removed from him. The word “cup” is a metaphor that specifically refers to God’s wrath. Psalm 75:8 says, “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.”

What Jesus communicates in this agonizing moment in the Garden of Gethsemane is that his journey has reached its climax. Jesus takes the cup of God’s wrath out of your hands and drinks it down to the dregs. Not because he is wicked and deserving. But because he is willing and able to bear your guilt, your wickedness, your failures, your unbelief, your hypocrisy. Jesus takes the cup reserved for you so that you never have to drink from God’s wrath. Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath, so that you may drink the cup of God’s salvation. In the words of theologian Michael Horton, “The same cup that was filled with judgment for the Messiah is now drunk by those who, united to his death and resurrection, receive from it only forgiveness and life.”

But I think Keller says it best: “In the garden of Gethsemane, [Jesus] turns to the Father and all he can see before him is wrath, the abyss, the chasm, the nothingness of the cup. God is the source of all love, all life, all light, all coherence. Therefore exclusion from God is exclusion from the source of all light, all love, all coherence. Jesus began to experience the spiritual, cosmic, infinite disintegration that would happen when he became separated from his Father on the cross. Jesus began to experience merely a foretaste of that, and he staggered.”

In the garden of Eden, Adam cried, “Not your will, but mine be done.” But in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus cried, “Not my will, but yours be done.” With this cry from the second Adam, Jesus paves the way for us to return to Eden. Jesus entered a garden of agony and suffering, so that we might re-enter a garden of pure bliss, harmony, joy, and eternal paradise.

C.S. Lewis famously said, “There are far better things ahead than what we leave behind.” If you would trust Jesus today, you would be united to the one who suffered more than you ever will, and through whose suffering all suffering will be undone. You can find genuine hope and true joy because Jesus took your place. This is only true for those who believe in the one who suffered in Gethsemane and later on Golgotha for them. For all who trust can say with hymn-writer Charles Gabriel:

“For me it was in the garden, He prayed: ‘Not my will, but Thine.’ He had no tears for His own griefs But sweat drops of blood for mine. How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be, How marvelous! How wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!”

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.

Extravagant Devotion

It’s really difficult to determine the worth of anything. Do we really know how much an iPad should cost? We know they probably cost too much! But there is no way of knowing exactly what something is worth. Companies set prices not based on what something is actually worth, but based on what customers believe it is worth. Customers and economies give products value. But determining the actual, inherent value of something is nearly impossible.

Mark 14:1-11 is all about the value and worth of Jesus. This passage contains an example of extravagant love for Jesus sandwiched between deliberate and diabolical schemes to destroy Jesus. The religious authorities and Judas Iscariot serve as foils to an unnamed woman as their treacherous and cowardly plans to arrest Jesus are contrasted with her sacrificial and lavish love for Jesus. The actions of each person in this passage either miss or match the worth of Jesus. The worth we ascribe to Jesus will be mirrored in our responses to Jesus.

Some of us, like the chief priests and scribes, will respond to Jesus with outright hostility. The religious leaders were threatened by Jesus’ power and authority and wanted no part of him. We are naturally rebellious, so we must guard ourselves from wanting a different Jesus. There may be some aspects of Jesus’ person, work, or teaching that you don’t like. In this sense, you may be tempted to be hostile toward who Jesus actually is and prefer a Jesus of your own making. If so, resist and repent.

Some of us, like Judas, will respond to Jesus with slow, yet sudden betrayal. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was unexpected and sudden, but it was the result of slow rebellion. Judas was spiritually privileged. He walked with Jesus religiously. He had more intimate contact with Jesus than nearly anyone else in Palestine during Jesus’ life. He received special revelation from Jesus about the kingdom. He witnessed his divine power and deep love on a regular basis. And yet, at the end he fell away and turned his back. He abandoned Jesus. Judas is a sober warning to us. We can be around Jesus and never be connected to him. We can attend church regularly and never be in the Church. We can betray Jesus through repetitive, unrepentant sin. May we never publicly follow Jesus, while privately betraying him, The payoff for betrayal is never worth it.

Some of us, like the group in the home of Simon the leper, will respond to Jesus with comfortable discipleship. When the unnamed woman in Mark 14 poured out an entire jar of incredibly expensive perfume on Jesus’ head, his disciples and others at the dinner party were disgusted. They rebuked the woman for what they considered a very foolish act. To this group, it was a sweet gesture gone wrong. Honoring a worthy guest like Jesus with an anointing was customary. But, she emptied what would amount to a $30,000 jar of perfume. It was a fine gesture, but seemed fool-hearted. While their reaction is reasonable and understandable, they gave their view of Jesus away. They loved Jesus. They thought he was worthy of their lives. But they placed a limit on his worth. He may be worthy of much, but such extravagance was silly in their eyes.

We are prone to fall in this group. We know Jesus is worth much, but we place limits on him. Sacrificial devotion to Jesus is difficult for us. But for we who have received extravagant love from Jesus, should be quick to respond with extravagant love for Jesus.

The goal and standard for discipleship is found in the spontaneous and sacrificial devotion of the woman in Mark 14. She isn’t named, but Jesus says her action will never be forgotten. While everyone else was either opposing Jesus or enjoying the benefit of his presence, she recognized that communing with Jesus was a unique and special gift. She made the most of the opportunity by giving the most that she could. Do you view discipleship in this way? Do you follow Jesus with similar reckless abandon, ready and willing to sacrifice all for Jesus?

Jesus’ worth is infinite. There is no measure or end to his worth. May our lives declare his worth. We cannot love Jesus too much and we cannot devote ourselves to him too extravagantly.

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.

Kill Him or Crown Him

There are really only two ways to respond to Jesus. You can fully submit to Jesus by faith, or you can fully reject Jesus through pride. Throughout the course of Jesus’ ministry, the religious leaders who should have welcomed the Messiah with open arms and bowed heads, were threatened by him and sought a way to kill him. Tradition had taken the place of the Scriptures for the chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees. Their minds were so clouded by tradition that they couldn’t recognize the Messiah even when he was standing two feet in front of them.

Following Jesus’ ominous cursing of a fig tree and condemnation of the temple and its leaders, the chief priests and scribes were seeking a way to kill Jesus. They were threatened by his authority and what its implications could have on their own authority. Jesus had essentially pronounced the end of the temple and sacrificial system. It was clear, even to Jesus’ opponents, that something new had arrived in Jesus. And the religious leaders didn’t like it one bit.

In Mark 12, Jesus begins to interact with his religious counterparts by telling them a story. Jesus frequently utilized parables in his teaching, but this is the first parable his opponents clearly understand without explanation.

Jesus’ parable consists of a man who owns a vineyard. He goes on a trip and hires farmers to tend to the vineyard in his absence. When the time comes for fruit to come in, the man sent a series of servants to gather the fruit from the farmers. Instead of handing over the owner’s fruit, the farmers assaulted the servants and sent them back to the owner empty handed. Finally, the owner decides to send his own son to the vineyard. Surely, the owner reasoned, the farmers will have too much respect for me and my son to bring him any harm. To the contrary, the brutal and greedy farmers killed the owner’s son in hopes of snatching his inheritance. Their plan backfires, however, as the owner destroys the farmers and gives the vineyard to others.

The chief priests and scribes immediately recognized that the parable was directed at them. They wanted to arrest Jesus. They wanted him dead. All because they recognized what Jesus was saying.

Jesus was comparing the religious leaders and Israel as a whole to the wicked tenant farmers. They had been given the privilege to tend to God’s people and kingdom, but they rejected God and his will for selfish gain. Their lust for power led them by the hand into destruction because of their rejection of God’s Son. The chief priests and scribes wondered where Jesus’ received such authority, but Jesus gave them no answer. Why? Because the answer lied in their reaction to Jesus. They wanted to kill him because his divine authority was a threat to their own.

Both the parable and the reaction of the religious leaders reminded Jesus of a Psalm. He quoted Psalm 118. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” But it wasn’t marvelous in the eyes of the religious leaders. And it isn’t marvelous in the eyes of anyone who does not humbly submit in faith to Jesus.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day rejected Jesus. They cast him away like an unwanted stone. But the stone they rejected is actually the cornerstone. They rejected the foundation and tried to build a faith of their own. But a faith built on anything other than Jesus will crumble. And rejecting the cornerstone not only means your faith is destroyed, but also that you will be destroyed.

Jesus has thrown down the gauntlet. From this point forward, his opponents will be seeking any way to shut him up forever. In the words of Tim Keller, you can either crown Jesus or kill Jesus. There is no middle ground.

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.

Living For God’s Will In 2018

One of the most confusing and difficult aspects of living the Christian life is the ongoing struggle with sin. Christ has set us free from the penalty of sin. Christ has overthrown the power of sin. We who find refuge under the blood of Christ are free men and women sojourning in the dangerous land of the in-between. Our freedom from sin actually creates a paranoia in our hearts when we are tempted to sin.

Before Christ, we did not consider God’s ways or God’s will when making decisions or life choices. We considered our own wants and needs and possibly the wants and needs of those close to us, but God’s desires mattered not. But now we know better. Ignorance was bliss. Only now are our hearts tormented by the disparaging struggle we endure.

We feel the perpetual guilt and agony of our spiritual schizophrenia and hypocrisy. We claim freedom, yet walk as slaves. Sin still holds a prominent place in our hearts. It is a confusing and frustrating reality. We wish it weren’t so.

Recognizing the presence of an ongoing battle with sin is the first step to begin waving a flag of victory. But what’s next?

Peter tells us that in order to defeat sin and overcome temptation, we must “arm ourselves” with a certain kind of thinking. Arm yourselves, Peter says, with the thought that Christ suffered in the flesh. What a strange weapon! Slay sin by pondering suffering. Slay sin by thinking about the Lamb who was slain. What could this mean?

The key is in the rest of the phrase. “For whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” Think about the suffering of Christ because whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.

In other words, think about Christ’s suffering because his suffering is yours. In Christ’s death, we died to sin. Sin has ceased to point a finger of guilt in our direction. Sin has ceased to reign in laughable power over our chained hearts. Thinking much on the suffering of Christ helps us make sense of our struggle with sin. And it helps us trample over sin as we walk in righteousness.

Rejoice in the suffering your fight against sin produces. Christ suffered and died for this. He suffered and died to usher in a new age of life. Through his suffering and death, human flourishing is finally truly possible. Christ’s death has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for those who believe. It’s a world where sin is present, yet powerless. It’s a world where Satan tries to lure us away from a feast with a piece of candy.

What are your goals for 2018? I pray living more for the will of God is among them. How can we live for God’s will in 2018? We must no longer live for human passions. How is this possible? We must remember who we are in Christ. We are alive to him and dead to sin. How can we walk in our new identity in 2018? By thinking. Think much this year about the suffering of Christ in the flesh. He suffered much to deliver you from sinning. Jesus suffered and died to give you not less, but far more pleasure than sin or Satan ever could.

For 2018…

  • Think about Christ’s suffering and death for you
  • Remember you have died to sin in Christ
  • Live for God’s will by rejecting sinful human passions

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.