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The Passion of Jesus Christ

Good Friday, April 9, 2004

 

Introduction:

BreakPoint, April 8, 2004, cultural commentary with Prison Fellowship's Chuck Colson

Fiery Darts Are Backfiring - Showing The Passion in the Middle East

 

Surprisingly, theaters in Doha, Qatar, and Amman, Jordan, are showing The Passion of the Christ. A Qatari English-language newspaper, The Peninsula, headlines, “Passion runs full house.” On March 21 three theaters in Doha were sold-out and pre-booked for days ahead. An official of the Qatar Cinema and Film Distribution Board boasts that Qatar is so open that no film was refused permission for showing there last year and that the distributor was amazed when Qatar requested The Passion. Censors okayed it without any cuts, and the official expects the film to run for at least two months.

 

And some mullahs are encouraging their Muslim followers to see the film. Why such an unexpected endorsement? The false rumors that the film is anti-Semitic have reached the mullahs, and as one missionary explains, “since they hate the Jews, they want to see it.” Muslims recognize Jesus as a prophet, and although they believe Muhammad superseded Him, they still revere and respect Christ. So when they hear of a film which is alleged to show Jews crucifying Christ, some Muslims welcome the opportunity to revel in a depiction of the wickedness of their long-time enemies.

 

But many Muslims are responding to the film in ways their mullahs hadn’t intended. One viewer recognized, “When they show a story of the Romans . . . in ancient times, it doesn’t mean the present-day Italians are responsible.” By analogy, he reasoned that, even if he construed the film as depicting first-century Jews as instigators of Christ’s crucifixion, that would not be an indictment of modern Israelis.

 

An even more important consequence shows up in an e-mail from a missionary, who marvels, “In two short hours more Qataris heard the Gospel than I have been able to reach in nearly five years living here. At the 7:30 p.m.  and 9:30 p.m.  showings, the film was running in all three theaters.” He estimated that more than 50 percent of the people in the theater were local Muslims—including completely veiled women.

 

After viewing the film with a former student, he told him in Arabic, “You think that this film is here because of ‘freedom of speech’ or the new openness of your government, but actually God Himself has sent this film to correct your total misunderstanding about who Jesus is and why He came to earth.” For two hours, the missionary and the student discussed the differences between Islam and Christianity, and the cross—the heart of our message.

 

The missionary adds, “How interesting that God is using this film to communicate the Gospel [in] the very opposite spirit that might be motivating [Muslims] to see it. The message to love your enemies, and Jesus’ praying for them to be forgiven while on the cross, would hit the Muslim moviegoer in a powerful way.”

 

With theaters in Jordan and Qatar scheduled to show the film for at least two months, and with videos and DVDs selling briskly, the potential is staggering.

 

Isn’t God amazing? He is using charges of anti-Semitism to stimulate Muslim mullahs to encourage their followers to see a Christian film during Holy Week—in essence, to make fiery darts backfire.

God’s purposes, plans and abilities are indeed amazing. He can even take human sin and controversy and use it for his glory in a way that makes you think he planned this all along and in a way that makes you marvel at his ways.

We have been hearing all along about this great controversy surrounding the film, The Passion of the Christ, by Mel Gibson – whether it is anti-Semitic, whether it promotes a hidden and subversive view that the Jews alone are responsible for the killing of Christ, not thinking that this could be a plan of God to reach Muslims.

But we need to sharpen our understanding of this plan of God even further.

Some common responses to the question of who was responsible for the death of Christ are that it was not the Jews who killed Christ but the Romans since it was a Roman cross and Pilate could have stopped it if he had the courage, or that we all as sinners past, present, and future are responsible for the death of Christ. But the answer to this question still has not been taken to its logical and biblical extension.

In a book written by John Piper, The Passion of Jesus Christ, out just in time for this Easter season, he homes in on the final verdict I have already hinted at.

“Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.” (Isaiah 53:10 NIVUS)

 “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all— how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 NIVUS)

 “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—” (Romans 3:25 NIVUS)

So we see that the real answer to the question is that God himself is responsible for the death of his Son. He used what he knew wicked men would do and turn it into the ultimate act of goodliness and godliness. It was for the good of mankind. The death of Christ was the plan of God to reach the world.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20 NIVUS)

So we must move beyond the question of human cause to the understanding of divine purpose. Man may have many reasons for wanting Jesus dead, but only God can design it for the good of the world. God’s purposes for the world in the death of Christ are unfathomable.

This takes us to what passion is all about. Christ had an unfathomable passion for the purpose of God in his death for the salvation of the world.

What would the world be without passion? We associate at least four things with the word passion: sexual desire, zeal for a task, an oratorio by J. S. Bach, and the sufferings of Jesus Christ. The word comes from a Latin word meaning suffering. It deepens sex, enables great works, inspires music, and carries forward the greatest cause in the world.

The passion of Christ was unique because it was more than mere human passion. As the Nicene Creed says, he was “very God of very God.” He pursued his passion not only by the will of God but also by his own authority.

“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life— only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father."” (John 10:17-18 NIVUS)

The controversy about who killed Jesus is marginal. He chose to die. His Father ordained it. He embraced it – with passion. And his passion was vindicated by the resurrection. This was all the work of God.

But what more can we learn about the purpose behind the passion of Christ to die for the sins of the world, a passion driven by love for fallen mankind? What did God achieve for sinners like us in sending his Son to die?

John Piper in his book gives fifty reasons why Christ suffered and died for us. This is not fifty causes, but fifty reasons or purposes.

I won’t elaborate on all fifty reasons tonight, but I will on a good number of them. If I have time, I will at least let you know what all fifty reasons are so you can get a better feel for the universal breadth of God’s purpose.

As you worship Christ and revere his sacrifice on the cross for your sins this Good Friday, be amazed and overwhelmed with gratitude at why he did it and what it accomplished for you.

Gratitude

 

Pastor Victor Shepherd tells the story of a missionary surgeon he met who was rather gruff and to the point. On one occasion the surgeon was speaking to a small group of university students about his work in the Gaza Strip. He was telling us that we North American "fat cats" knew nothing about gratitude. Nothing! On one occasion he had stopped a peasant hovel to see a

woman on whom he had performed surgery.  She and her husband were dirt poor. Their livestock supply consisted of one angora rabbit and two chickens. For income the woman combed the hair out of the rabbit, spun the hair into yarn and sold it. For food she and her husband ate the eggs from the chickens. The woman insisted that the missionary surgeon stay for lunch. He accepted the invitation and said he would be back for lunch after he had gone down

the road to see another postoperative patient. An hour and a half later he was back.  He peeked into the cooking pot to see what he was going to eat. He saw one rabbit and two chickens. The woman had given up her entire livestock supply--her income, her food, everything. He concluded his story by reminding us that we knew nothing of gratitude. He wept unashamedly. The incident will stay with me forever.

Victor Shepherd, Preacher's Annual 1992, Nashville: Abingdon p. 122.

Christ suffered and died ---

1.                 To Absorb the Wrath of God

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree."” (Galatians 3:13 NIVUS)

 “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—” (Romans 3:25 NIVUS)

 “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10 NIVUS)

If God were not just there would be no demand for his Son to suffer and die. And if God were not loving there would be no willingness for his Son to suffer and die. But God is both, and so his love is willing to meet the demands of his justice.

God’s law demands we love him most, but we have loved other things more. We are all sinners fallen short of God’s glory, condemned, unclean.

Therefore sin is not small since it is not against a small sovereign. The seriousness of sins insult rises with the dignity of the one insulted.

Since God is just, he doesn’t just sweep these crimes under the rug of the universe. There is a holy curse hanging over all sin. But the love of God doesn’t rest in the curse but in the One sent to bear the curse – becoming the curse for us, to be a substitute.

Son God’s wrath is spent, not withdrawn. We will never stand in awe of God’s love until we stand in awe of God’s justice in wrath against us.

Christ is the atoning sacrifice or wrath-absorbing propitiation for our sins.

2.                 To Please His Heavenly Father

“Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.” (Isaiah 53:10 NIVUS)

 “and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:2 NIVUS)

Christ’s death was not God’s consent of leniency toward sinners. He suffered and died in our place. It was the Father’s idea, a breathtaking strategy conceived before creation.

It is a paradox. On the one hand, the suffering of Christ in an outpouring of God’s wrath because of sin, but on the other a beautiful act of submission and obedience to the will of the Father.

Christ pleased God by standing in our place because we ourselves could never please God by standing in his. But now that he has, we can.

3.                 To Learn Obedience and Be Perfected

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8 NIVUS)

 “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.” (Hebrews 2:10 NIVUS)

Christ was tempted in every respect as we are but without sin. So when it says that he learned obedience, it doesn’t mean he learned to stop disobeying. It means that with each new trial he learned in practice and pain what it means to obey.

He wasn’t gradually getting rid of defects when it says he was made perfect through suffering. It means he was gradually fulfilling in practice the righteousness that he had to have in order to save us.

He didn’t need to be baptized because he was a sinner but to “fulfill all righteousness.”

Christ suffered and died to prove he met the test of being Savior.

4.                 To Achieve His Own Resurrection from the Dead

“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21 NIVUS)

The death of Christ did not merely precede his resurrection – it was the price that obtained it – by the blood of the eternal covenant.

Christ was raised not just after the shedding of his blood, but by it. What his death accomplished was so full and perfect that the resurrection was the reward and vindication of his achievement in death.

Christ suffered and died to prove the power of God in resurrection – his declaration of endorsement proving the death of Christ an all-sufficient price.

5.                 To Show the Wealth of God’s Love and Grace for Sinners

“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7-8 NIVUS)

 “"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIVUS)

 “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7 NIVUS)

The measure of God’s love is shown both by the degree of his sacrifice in saving us from sin and by the degree of our unworthiness when he saved us.

God didn’t die for animals. They aren’t bad enough. We are. Our debt is so great only a divine sacrifice could pay it.

It is not a response to our worth. It is the overflow of his infinite worth. That is what divine love is in the end: a passion to enthrall undeserving sinners, at great cost, with what will make us supremely happy forever – his infinite beauty.

6.                 To Show His Own Love for Us

“and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:2 NIVUS)

 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25 NIVUS)

 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 NIVUS)

The death of Christ is not only the demonstration of God’s love but also the supreme expression of Christ’s own love for all who receive it as their treasure.

Christ made God’s love personal (for me). This is how we should understand the sufferings and death of Christ. They have to do with me. They are about Christ’s love for me personally. It is my sin that cuts me off from God. It is my hard-heartedness and spiritual numbness that demean the worth of Christ. I am lost and perishing. I have forfeited all claim on justice.

All I can do is plead for mercy. And then my heart is swayed to embrace the treasure of his love for me. He paid the highest price possible to give me the greatest gift possible – to be with him and see his glory, full of grace and truth.

He died to secure his love for us.

7.                 To Cancel the Legal Demands of the Law Against Us

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14 NIVUS)

It is folly to ever think that our good deeds could outweigh our bad deeds. This is not true because even our good deeds are defective. Also, this is not the way God saves.

If we are saved from the consequences of our bad deeds, it will not be because they weighed less than our good but because the record of our debt has been nailed to the cross of Christ.

There is no hope in deeds, only the in the suffering and death of Christ. Not in balancing the records, only in canceling the records. Christ puts salvation on a totally different footing than the law.

8.                 To Become a Ransom for Many

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."” (Mark 10:45 NIVUS)

The focus is not on who gets the payment but on the fact that his own life is the payment. And the payment goes to God the Father.

We are held accountable to God for the condemnation for our sins, but there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The price or fine has been paid to satisfy God’s judgment.

The reason that Christ is called the Son of Man over 65 times in the Gospels is because only a man can die, and so he had to be one to pay the ransom price of death for sin – for all.

9.                 For the Forgiveness of Our Sins

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7 NIVUS)

 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28 NIVUS)

Forgiveness assumes grace. Grace gives what someone doesn’t deserve. That’s why forgiveness has the word give in it.

But this raises a problem. We all know forgiveness is not enough when it comes to crimes against mankind. Their must be a penalty. It is like that with God too. Nothing would hold together if justice just said, “Forget about it.”

God’s justice will no more allow him simply to set us free than a human judge can cancel all the debts criminals owe society. That is why Christ suffered and died.

In Christ, forgiveness costs us nothing. All our obedience is the fruit, not the root, of being forgiven. That’s why we call it grace. But it cost Jesus his life. That is why we call it just.

10.            To Provide the Basis for Our Justification

“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Romans 5:9 NIVUS)

 “and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24 NIVUS)

 “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” (Romans 3:28 NIVUS)

Being forgiven implies that I am guilty and my crime is not counted. Being justified implies that I have been tried and found innocent.

The verdict of justification does not make a person just. It declares a person just.

The moral change we undergo when we trust Christ in not justification; that is sanctification – the process of becoming good. Justification is not that process. It is not a process at all. It is a declaration that happens in a moment.

The ordinary way to be justified is to keep the law, but we have not. Amazingly, because of Christ, God justifies the ungodly who trust his grace.

He is just and also the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Christ shed his blood to cancel the guilt of our crime.

11.            To Complete the Obedience That Becomes Our Righteousness

“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8 NIVUS)

 “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19 NIVUS)

 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIVUS)

 “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ— the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Philippians 3:9 NIVUS)

Justification is not merely the cancellation of my unrighteousness. It is also the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to me. He fulfilled all righteousness perfectly and then it was reckoned mine when I trusted in him.

The demands of God for entrance into eternal life are not merely that our unrighteousness be canceled, but that our perfect righteousness be established.

The suffering and death of Christ is the basis for both. His death was the pinnacle of his obedience.

12.            To Take Away Our Condemnation

“Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died— more than that, who was raised to life— is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34 NIVUS)

The great conclusion to the suffering and death of Christ is this: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Christ becomes our punishment which we do not have to bear and our perfection which we cannot perform.

Faith is not the ground of our acceptance with God. Christ alone is. Faith unites us to Christ so that his righteousness is counted as ours.

So no one can condemn us. It as sure that we cannot be condemned as it is sure that Christ died.

Christ died once for all (1Pet. 3:18). There is no double jeopardy in God’s court. We will not be condemned twice for the same offenses.

We may be condemned by the world, but even then we have the assurance that nothing will separate us from his love (Rom. 8:35). In all these things we are more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37).

If they reject us, he accepts us. If they hate us, he loves us. If they imprison us, he sets our spirits free. If they afflict us, he refines us by the fire. If they kill us, he makes it a passage to paradise. They cannot defeat us.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. We are alive in him. And in him there is no condemnation. We are forgiven, and we are righteous.

“And the righteous are bold as a lion” (Prov. 28:1).

13.            To Abolish Circumcision and All Rituals as the Basis of Salvation

“Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.” (Galatians 5:11 NIVUS)

 “Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.” (Galatians 6:12 NIVUS)

14.            To Bring Us to Faith and Keep Us Faithful

“"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them.” (Mark 14:24 NIVUS)

 “I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.” (Jeremiah 32:40 NIVUS)

15.            To Make Us Holy, Blameless, and Perfect

“because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14 NIVUS)

 “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—” (Colossians 1:22 NIVUS)

 “Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast— as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7 NIVUS)

16.            To Give Us a Clear Conscience

“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:14 NIVUS)

17.            To Obtain for Us All Things That Are Good for Us

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all— how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 NIVUS)

18.            To Heal Us from Moral and Physical Sickness

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5 NIVUS)

 “When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: "He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases."” (Matthew 8:16-17 NIVUS)

19.            To Give Eternal Life to All Who Believe on Him

“"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIVUS)

20.            To Deliver Us from the Present Evil Age

“who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” (Galatians 1:4 NIVUS)

21.            To Reconcile Us to God

“For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10 NIVUS)

22.            To Bring Us to God

“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,” (1 Peter 3:18 NIVUS)

 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13 NIVUS)

23.            So That We Might Belong to Him

“So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.” (Romans 7:4 NIVUS)

 “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIVUS)

 “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28 NIVUS)

24.            To Give Us Confident Access to the Holiest Place

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus,” (Hebrews 10:19 NIVUS)

25.            To Become for Us the Place Where We Meet God

“Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" But the temple he had spoken of was his body.” (John 2:19-21 NIVUS)

26.            To Bring the Old Testament Priesthood to an End and Become the Eternal High Priest

27.            To Become a Sympathetic and Helpful Priest

28.            To Free Us from the Futility of Our Ancestry

29.            To Free Us from the Slavery of Sin

30.            That We Might Die to Sin and Live to Righteousness

31.            So That We Would Die to the Law and Bear Fruit for God

32.            To Enable Us to Live for Christ and Not Ourselves

33.            To Make His Cross the Ground of All Our Boasting

34.            To Enable Us to Live by Faith in Him

35.            To Give Marriage Its Deepest Meaning

36.            To Create a People Passionate for Good Works

37.            To Call Us to Follow His Example of Lowliness and Costly Love

38.            To Create a Band of Crucified Followers

39.            To Free Us from Bondage to the Fear of Death

40.            So That We Would Be with Him Immediately After Death

41.            To Secure Our Resurrection from the Dead

42.            To Disarm the Rulers and Authorities

43.            To Unleash the Power of God in the Gospel

44.            To Destroy the Hostility Between Races

45.            To Ransom People from Every Tribe and Language and People and Nation

46.            To Gather All His Sheep from Around the World

47.            To Rescue Us from Final Judgment

48.            To Gain His Joy and Ours

49.            So That He Would Be Crowned with Glory and Honor

50.            To Show That the Worst Evil Is Meant by God for Good

I Died On The Battlefield

 

Dwight L. Moody told of the young man who did not want to serve in Napoleon Bonaparte's army. When he was drafted, a friend volunteered to go in his place. The substitution was made, and some time later the surrogate was killed in battle.

 

However, the same young man was, through a clerical error, drafted again. "You can't take me" he told the startled officers. "I'm dead. I died on the battlefield."

 

They argued that they could see him standing right in front of them, but he insisted they look on the roll to find the record of his death. Sure enough, there on the roll was the man's name, with another name written beside it.

 

The case finally went to the emperor himself. After examining the evidence, Napoleon said, "Through a surrogate, this man has not only fought, but has died in his country's service. No man can die more than once, therefore the law has no claim on him."

 

Two thousand years ago, Jesus went to the cross to bear the penalty that rightly belongs to us. He died in our place. And through Him, our names are written in the book with His name written beside ours.

 

Rev. Adrian Dieleman, "Created to Worship"

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