A Summer Reflection

                “It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.’””

                                                                                                                                                                Mark 1:2-3

                Rikki E. Watts in his helpful study of Mark’s Gospel makes the point that the opening verses of that Gospel summarize its essential point which is that what God was doing in Christ was bringing about a new exodus of His people.  What the prophets had spoken about was being brought into being in the Lord Jesus Christ.  In Christ God will be calling a people for Himself out of this world.  They will be redeemed from their sin and brought into a covenant relationship with God through the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.  God will, by His Spirit, write His law upon their hearts and minds.  He will give them a brand new nature.  This is the tremendous news which is contained in the Gospel.  It is this that mark describes in such vivid and vibrant detail. 

                In the process of describing this new covenant relationship Mark also leads us along a road that takes to the cross of the Lord Jesus.   The new exodus can only be established at the cross.  It can only be accessed by a faith that picks up our own cross in loving, and obedient self denial.  Mark’s discipleship is cross-centred.  What this means for us is that we must begin our journey where the Gospel begins this is with the preparation that follows the road of repentance.  The longer the disciples followed Jesus the more the encountered this sifting nature of His way.  The life of faith that He called them to was one in which they would be constantly refined by the holiness of God.  So Mark begins by summarizing the main point.  The King is coming, and the way must be prepared in our hearts.  It is literally as if Mark is asking us a key question.  “Will you receive Jesus by faith or reject Him in unbelief?”   That question cuts through all of our hopes, dreams, ambitions, and works, exposing them for what they are.  As the Gospel unfolds the disciples are seen wrestling with their own personal unbelief, until we see them scattered by the events of the cross.  In their weakness and failure however they are brought to the place of resurrection.  Finally they are broken; they put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ without reservation.    The whole process however is centred upon the cross.

                The lesson for us is that our discipleship can only be established at the cross.  We cannot experience God’s power in our lives until we die to ourselves.  Dying is always difficult and unpleasant.  It is however the only way through to the resurrection.  To be a disciple means to be denying ourselves, picking up our cross and following Him.  What Mark invites us to is the road that requires repentance.  There is no other way.

                This whole reflection is a long and rambling invitation to make use of this summer by engaging in a time of Biblical reflection leading up to real, genuine and fruitful repentance.  Our purpose must be to really seek the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in our midst and then to make Him known to others.  This is what I believe that Mark is calling every reader of his Gospel to do. 

The Grace of the Cross

Today I want to spend a few moments meditating upon the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and its wonderful impact upon our lives.  Everything about us is changed when we encounter the Lord Jesus Christ crucified.  In 1 Corinthians the Apostle Paul writes about the message of the cross as the solution to the brokenness which had come upon the Church in Corinth as a consequence of their sin.  Like them we too live lives which are constantly in need of the grace of the cross of Christ.  Today I came across this prayer which is part of a collection of Puritan Prayers published by the Banner of Truth Trust in a book entitled Valley of Vision.  It speaks to us about the grace of the cross of Christ.  Let this be our prayer today.

O my Saviour,

I thank thee from the depths of my being

for thy wondrous grace and love

in bearing my sin in thine own body on the tree.

May thy cross be to me

as the tree that sweetens my bitter Marahs,

as the rod that blossoms with life and beauty,

as the brazen serpent that calls forth

the look of faith.

By thy cross crucify my every sin;

Use it to increase my intimacy with thyself;

Make it the ground of all my comfort,

the liveliness of all my duties,

the sum of all thy gospel promises,

the comfort of all my afflictions,

the vigour of my love, thankfulness, graces,

the very essence of my religion;

And by it give me that rest without rest,

the rest of ceaseless praise.

O my Lord and Saviour,

Thou hast also appointed a cross for me

to take up and carry,

a cross before thou givest me a crown.

Thou hast appointed it to be my portion,

but self-love hates it,

carnal reason is unreconciled to it;

without the grace of patience I cannot bear it,

walk with it, profit by it.

O blessed cross, what mercies dost thou bring

with thee!

Thou art only esteemed hateful by my rebel will,

heavy because I shirk thy load.

Teach me, gracious Lord and Saviour,

that with my cross thou sendest promised grace

so that I may bear it patiently,

that my cross is thy yoke which is easy,

and thy burden which is light.

A New Robe

                “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.  They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.  Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.  You, however, did not come to know Christ in that way.  Surely you heard of Him and were taught in Him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ephesians 4:17-21

                “If it feels good, do it!”  If there is a slogan that describes our times this is it.  We live in a time which is dominated by our feelings.  In the past we may have spoken about what we thought, but now we speak about how something feels to us.  Just this week as I was listening to a Newscast about Hurricane Sandy and its impact upon the East Coast of the United States I was startled to here the Reporter use the Word feel in place of think.  We really are a people dominated by feelings.  To be sure it is a sign of good mental health to be in touch with our feelings.  We love to be around people who are genuine in their feelings of affection, especially when those feelings are under control and expressed appropriately.  The Apostle Paul, although being a person of warn affections was not a man dominated by them.  His feelings we under the control of his thinking as can be seen in his application of the doctrine of the unity which the Gospel creates when it brings us into the Body of Christ.

                Paul has called the Ephesians to be diligent in maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:3)  He then digresses into a very important exposition of the doctrine of the Body of Christ and the giftedness through which God in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit maintains and builds us up in the love of Christ.  Paul wants us to understand here with our minds the principles upon which the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ are built up.  These are biblical principles which bring us Godly wisdom on which our lives together as Christians are advanced.  With the help of the Holy Spirit we are called to understand and apply this Wisdom to our lives.  After establishing the doctrine clearly here Paul then turns back to the application of this truth to our lives.  Unity in the Spirit is maintained through thousands of obedient actions on our part as we live out the Christian life.  This is Paul tells us the thing that he is constantly testifying to as he leads the Churches into ever deepening discipleship. 

                Paul points out that this involves us in putting off our sin (Ephesians 4:17-19), in order that we might put on Christ (Ephesians 4:2032).  What we are to put off it a nature which is enslaved by sin and its characteristics.  What we are to put on is a new nature which is characterized by the Righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is done through, faith filled, obedient, thoughtful obedience to the characteristics of the life of Christ that has been given to us.  What this means is that we put off a lifestyle dominated by slavery to our feelings.  We put on a brand new way of living which is dominated by the Biblical Wisdom which we find embodied in the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is a creation of God’s grace which comes from something new being created in the attitudes of our minds (Ephesians 4:23).

                Perhaps this can be best illustrated by looking at Zechariah 3 where the prophet is given a vision of Joshua the High Priest as he is being accused by Satan.  He is standing before the Angel of the Lord dressed in filthy rags, symbolic of his, and his people’s sin.  The Lord acts to cleanse him, symbolically removing Joshua’s filthy clothing and replacing them with clean garments.  The Lord tells him that the meaning of this is that the Lord has taken away his sin.  Looking ahead the Lord gives the meaning of this vision. When the Messiah comes He will fulfill this vision by taking away the sin of the land in a single day.

                This is exactly what God does through the cross of Christ.  The calling upon the lives of those who are thus cleansed is to put off their old way of living which was to be in slavery to their inner lusts which lead them away from the life of God so that they can put on the righteousness  of Christ which has been given to us by God in Christ. 

The Doubter

                “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism.  Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.  If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here is a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

                                                                                                                                                                James 2:1-4

                I continue to be amazed at the use of words that I find in this letter of James.  As he develops his argument in a logical way James keeps reminding us of the central concepts which he has already established in our minds.  One of these concepts is that of real Biblical faith which leads us through the trials of the lives that we are living.  Each of us is tried and tested by the circumstances which we face in life.  God uses these experiences to mature us in Christ.  As we face the reality of our lives we are invited to ask God for wisdom, which James tells us God will give to us without wavering.  He will be committed to His purposes for us, and will give us all that we need.  We must ask without doubting.  The word that James uses here in James 1:5-6 is the same word which he also uses in chapter 2:4.  It is there translated as discriminated.  The basic meaning of the word is to doubt or to make a distinction.  Mussner defines the word this way, “an inner conflict between trust and distrust of God.”  The reason why we make sinful distinctions regarding other people is owing to the fact that we are distrustful of God’s plan and purpose for our lives.

                James is heading here towards an exposition and application of the Royal Law, “Thou shall love your neighbour as yourself.”  The true believer in Christ is one in whom the fruit of such sacrificial love is being produced.  To bring us into the type of repentance that produces such fruit James must first bring us to the point where we are broken from our worldly approach to life.  So James confronts us with a Biblical parable much like that used by the Prophet Nathan with King David in 2 Samuel 12:1-7.

                “The LORD sent Nathan to David.  When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought.  He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children.  It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms.  It was like a daughter to him.  Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him.  Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”  David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die!  He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”  Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”

                James follows the same Biblical principle as he illustrates one of the ways that we make distinctions among ourselves, all because we do not believe that God knows what He is talking about when He calls to “Love our neighbours as ourselves.”  Over the next few weeks I want to explore what this means for us who are seeking to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in this 21st century.

Then I Looked Up And Saw

                “Then I looked up – and there before me were four horns!  I asked the Angel who was speaking to me, “What are these?”  He answered me, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.”  Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen.  I asked, “What are these coming to do?”  He answered, “These are the horns that scattered Judah so that no one could raise his head, but the craftsmen have come to terrify them and throw down these horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter its people.””

                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 1:18-21

                One of the great principles of the message of the Bible is that there is a purpose to history.  Whether we are thinking about our own personal history, that record of our experiences and circumstances that we have faced, or the historical record of our world, the message is that behind everything experienced is the plan and purpose of the Living God who is working everything out according to His own good and holy will.  To come to understand that this is the truth and to submit ourselves to the will of God is the definition of real worship.  The Scriptures keep reminding us that God is sovereignly in control of everything.  “All things work together for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)  That God has a purpose for everything that happens is a tremendously comforting doctrine for us as we live our lives facing events which at times seem to be chaotic and out of control. 

                It is to this issue that the Prophet Zechariah speaks in our text today.  He is describing a series of visions that he received during one night as God’s people were returning to Jerusalem from exile.  They were struggling with a great amount of uncertainty and danger.  Zechariah receives these visions in which the Angel of the Lord, the pre-Incarnate Christ, intercedes for the people of God and then begins to speak comforting words to the prophet, so that the people of God could be comforted.  These words outline how God is at work refining His people.  Over the centuries to come they will be shaped by events which God will allow them to experience so that they will be brought to the point of really believing God.  God will judge His people through the nations that He allows to overrun them.  Their response will either result in these experiences being judgements, hardening them in sin and eventually destroying them, or their response of faith will lead to them experiencing it as a refining fire that will produce real Godliness among them.

                At the heart of all that God was doing, and is doing in our lives, is this principle.  He wants to bring us to hear and submit to His Word.  God has revealed His truth to us in the Lord Jesus Christ.  He calls us to trust Him as the one who was offered for our sin.  God arranges our circumstances so that we are brought to see our need of Christ.  We come to understand our sin, that we are in fact ruined by sin, and desperately in need of Christ.  He shows us the glory and the beauty of Christ crucified the one and only offering for our sin.  We hear His invitation to come to Him and to receive life from His gracious hand.  That revelation brings us to a choice, to believe Him receiving the life He offers, or to reject Him and suffering the consequences.

                Perhaps Charles Haddon Spurgeon put it best when he wrote, “Every Christian student of history knows that the circumstances of the outward world have ever been arranged by God so as to prepare the way for the advance of His great cause.  How strangely Providence works to spread the truth of God.  They said of Martin Luther’s writings, that they were scattered by angels.  No such distributors were employed.  But still they were scattered so widely that it was a perfect mystery how it was done.  There was scarcely a little peddler who went about with jewels who did not somewhere in his stock keep a copy of the Word of God or Luther’s Psalms.

                It was said in England, out of every three persons you met with in the road, though they might be but peasants breaking stones, there would be one of the three a Wickliffe – for Wickliffe’s translation of the New
Testament spread marvellously though it was continually hunted after and burnt when discovered.  You will find, if I am not mistaken, that soon God will broadcast over all lands those testimonies which are most clear and full of Christ!”

The Intercession Of The Lord

                “Then the angel of the Lord said, “Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?”  So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 1:12-13

                It seems as if the Lord has been calling His people to a commitment to special and earnest prayer for the revival of His Church.  We are living through a time of increasing difficulty as Christian people.  Everywhere we look we see the fruits of unbelief exhibited in the lives of others.  When we look within ourselves we discover that we are not immune to the blight of this unbelief.  We struggle with it, even becoming increasingly disturbed and discouraged by all that we discover in our lives.  What are we to do?  What are we to think?  In Zechariah 1:3 we hear the command of the Lord to return to our God, so that He will return to us.  This is what we want, but still we feel as if we are engaged in a great, if not impossible battle. 

                It is here that our text from Zechariah 1:12-13 is so helpful to us.  This text comes in the first of the night visions which Zechariah receives in one night.  These visions chart out what God’s people are to think and do in the centuries to come as they look forward to the coming day of the Lord.  This first vision shows the Angel of the Lord, the second person of the Triune God, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, riding on a red horse which is standing in the midst of myrtle trees in a great deep.  It is a vision, and is therefore to be understood with Biblical imagination as we seek to see what Zechariah saw.  I do not have space to go into all the evidence here regarding the meaning of these images, it is sufficient for our purposes here to note that Zechariah is seeing the Lord among His people, standing with them, while they are immersed in the nations around them.  As Jesus described in Luke 21:24 the times of the Gentiles have come upon them.  These, it seems, began with the taking of Israel into exile, and as Daniel two begins to show they will continue until the full number of the Gentiles have been brought into the Kingdom of God. 

                I do not want our focus today to be upon the prophetic interpretation here however, because there is something much greater to be explored here.  This is that, as Israel is wrestling with all of the difficult implications of her plight, the Lord is present, standing among His people.  He is doing something much more significant however.  Zechariah tells us that the Angel of the Lord is interceding for the people of God.  He is lifting His voice in prayer for us.  This is another passage in God’s Word that tells us that we are not alone as we live out our lives as believers.  The Lord is praying for us.  To understand the significance of this we need to turn to a nineteenth century preacher and author by the name of Robert Murray McCheyne who wrote the following, “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies.  Yet distance makes no difference.  He is praying for me!”   So why then do we fear?  Why do we get discouraged?  Our Lord is interceding for us.  Right now, as we face the particular trials that are part of our lives, as we face persecution, as our lives seem to be almost impossible to deal with, the Lord is interceding for us.  He is bringing our need before the Father.  We are secure in His hands. 

                There is more here however.  Not only is the Lord interceding for us but He is receiving an answer.  God speaks kind and comforting words to Him.  These are words that are meant for God’s people.  That is these kind and comforting words are spoken to us, and are meant to bring great comfort.   What are these words from God?  To simplify what Zechariah records here they are words that tell us that God is working out His plan for our redemption even in these times of the Gentiles.  Do you hear what God is saying to you?  No matter how deep your trial is.  No matter how discouraging or hopeless it seems, the Lord Jesus Christ is praying for you.  Therefore your redemption is sure.  He is using all of your circumstances for eternal good in your life.  The bottom line is this He is standing with you in all that you are currently wresting with.  Therefore Praise Him!

Gospel Repentance

                “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.  See what this Godly sorrow has produced in you:  what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.  At every point you proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”

                                                                                                                                                                2 Corinthians 7:10-11

                At the heart of the Apostle Paul’s defence of his ministry to the Corinthians he shares these thoughts in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 in which he describes for us the reality of Gospel repentance.  These are such important verses that every Christian should commit them to memory, bringing them to mind constantly so that we can truly begin to live the time of experienced Christian faith that the Bible calls us to.  What Paul does here is to contrast Godly sorrow which leads to a real repentance and abundant life through Jesus Christ with a worldly sorrow that leads to a false, fleshly repentance that only continues us on the downward spiral to death. 

                What are the characteristics of each?  This calls for self-examination as we explore each one briefly today. 

  1. Godly sorrow is the creation of the Holy Spirit as He convicts us of our rebelliousness towards God.  We constantly want our own way.  We want to solve our problems ourselves, so that our pride can be satisfied with what we have made ourselves to be.  God’s Spirit confronts this attitude of heart, and exposes its bankruptcy.  Such sorrow is always centred upon God.  We come to know that there is a fundamental brokenness in our lives which comes from our estrangement in life.  At this point we understand the wickedness of our sin.  It has separated us from the only source of real life.  As a consequence we find ourselves unable to know God in any real sense.  We may know all about Him.  But we do not know Him.  Here Godly sorrow leads us to the only real help available to us.  This is the grace of God in Christ.  God, in His great love for us, has done everything necessary to make us alive in Christ.  We are humbled because we have come to know that we can never solve the problem of us, on our own, in our own flesh.  The only solution is found in God’s grace.
  2. Worldly sorrow on the other hand is the creation of our own flesh.  It is self-centred instead of Christ-centred.  It is characterised by sorrow over the consequences of our rebellion against God.  How often have we found ourselves only beginning to feel concern over sin when we discover that we might get caught in it?  We want to escape its consequences, but not necessarily from sin itself.  When caught in our sin, worldly sorrow leads to a false repentance which leads us to try to reform our lives in our own flesh.  The best we can hope for here is that our behaviour will improve, but we are still left dead in our sin.  The consequence is that we are made to become increasingly self-righteous with no saving knowledge of Christ.

John Miller in Repentance and 29th century Man explores this theme with the following encouraging words.

                “If conviction of sin is demanded as though this were the goal of things, if human unrighteousness is exposed apart from faith in Christ, then men will be left in a state of penance, and they will return to pre-Reformation misery, with salvation made entirely unstable because it is founded on what man does to recover himself.

                Sinners in such a state have no way of knowing whether God loves them and will receive them into His heart.  Psychologically and morally, all is left dark and shoreless.  When sin is exposed apart from the promises of God, reality for the man outside of the Lord becomes increasingly inverted and twisted.  The aching conscience cannot possibly find relief in this way.

                In other words, repentance can only be genuine and lasting when the evildoer sees that God’s mercy is available to him.  Put grace in an unreachable realm and you simply deepen the convicted sinner’s despair and opposition to God.  But John’s Gospel banners forth the absolutely finished character of Jesus’ work (John 4:34, 17:4, 19:30).  There is enough love, and more, accessible to any sinner who wants it.  One drop of Jesus’ blood will, as it were, atone for the worst of man’s sins.  How then can we fail to respond when we are assured that cleansing love flows in superabundance from Calvary?”  (John Miller, Repentance and 20th Century Man (Fort Washington, Pa.; Christian Literature Crusade, 1980) p. 80)

Pointing The Way Forward

                “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.”

                                                                                                                                                                Acts 4:33

                As Luke describes the New Testament Church for us he presents us with a series of significant events which move it forward in witness to the world interspersed with summary statement which describe the general life of the community of believers.  Both perspectives are of vital importance.  We need to meditate upon the specific events.  We need as well to hear about the routine life of the Church.  In the description Luke gives us here in Acts 4:32-37 we read about the creation of a Christ Centred Fellowship that has at its heart a dynamic relation with the Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is something which God has created in Christ.  Luke reflects here on how the Lord answered the Biblical Prayers of the Church which were offered in response to the crisis of chapters three and four.  It is of tremendous significance that as the church gathered to reflect upon the threats that the leaders in Jerusalem had given that they looked to the second Psalm and its message, which they then took as direction regarding the will of God for His Church and they then prayed for boldness to carry out the will of God by boldly preaching the Gospel of the Resurrected Christ as the only hope for this world. 

                The summary statement in verses 32-37 reveals how God answered their prayer.  They were emboldened to preach powerfully the message of the Resurrection of Christ with great power.  The Spirit was in their preaching because they were proclaiming God’s message in obedience to His leading. The type of proclamation required that they die to themselves and their own desires and ambitions.  The Apostles needed to be Christ Centred leaders.  What Luke describes here is what results when a congregation of Christians becomes fully devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ.  We know that this is the case because Luke tells us that the Apostles witnessed to the resurrection with great power.  To witness was to testify with ones whole life to a truth.  They were martyrs to Him.  It is not their power which is at work here.  It is the power of God’s Holy Spirit which is powerfully at work in their testimony. 

                In Ephesians 1:18-23 the Apostle Paul describes this power when he writes, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.” 

                Such is the power which is at work in the Church of Christ.  It transforms us as it conforms us to the image of the Son of God.  Luke describes the impact of that power in the fruitful witness of the Church to the resurrection of Christ.  He also shows us how it comes about.  Luke gives us at least three points to help us along the way.

  1. The Believers are committed to the Lordship of Christ.  In their prayer the recognise God as the Sovereign Lord.
  2. They are committed to Christ Centred reflection on the Scriptures.  Their use of Psalm 2 demonstrates this.  The will of God for His church will be found in prayerful meditation upon the Word of God.
  3. They are also committed to heartfelt, earnest, Biblical praying.  Nothing happens without God’s power working in them. 

All of these points show us the way forward as we seek to bring the Gospel to a world that is every bit as hostile to it as was the one that the apostles were trying to reach.  We are called to seek the presence and power of the Resurrected Christ in His Church so that we can share in the great grace of the Lord Jesus as we boldly proclaim His truth.

Our Greatest Need

                “I would not have known Him, except that the One who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.””

                                                                                                                                                                                John 1:33

                There is a question which I have been turning over in my mind for the last little while.  It concerns the greatest need which the Church, and presumably each of us individually, has.  There are always conflicting voices which urge all manner of actions upon us.  I constantly find myself pushed and pulled in almost every direction as a Pastor regarding programs and priorities for the ministry of the congregation I serve.  What are we to do?  Robert Murray McCheyne was once asked about the greatest need of his congregation.  His answer was to state that “the greatest need of my Church is a holy Pastor.”  Holiness is the greatest need of each and every congregation and Christian.  The question is however how do we get there?  The immediate response is to think that we must make a supreme effort to make ourselves holy so that we can be blessed of God.  We then become discouraged when our holiness does not measure up to God’s standard.  The question remains then, “what are we to do?” 

                This is where the message of the Gospels becomes immensely tangible and helpful.  We are called to come to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith in order to receive from Him that which we need.  This is not a calling to a once and finished blessing.  It is a calling to a continuous relationship with our Lord in faith.  God’s blessing comes through what the Bible calls the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Does this come when we first believe, at what the Bible calls regeneration?  The answer is yes.  Does it come later on when we exercise faith?  Again the answer is yes.  The Bible speaks about a continual experience of receiving the Spirit and His blessing by faith.  We can only receive this blessing when we come to the Crucified One in constantly abiding faith, drinking of His Spirit. 

                What do I mean by this?  Perhaps an extended illustration from Darrell Johnson’s book Who Is Jesus?  will help us here.  Johnson is dealing with the point that the Lord Jesus Christ baptizes us in and with the Holy Spirit.  In looking at all of the options regarding when and how this blessing is received Johnson then writes this.

                “As I have wrestled with this, I have come to the conclusion that each of the options is wrong, and each of the options is right.  And each of the options is wrong and right for the same reason.

                You see, each option works from the same assumption, the assumption that Jesus baptizes us only once.  We make that assumption because we are ordinarily baptized in and with water only once.  But that is not how John the Baptizer sees it.  Listen carefully to the way he puts it.  “[The One] who sent me to baptize in

[and with]

water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in [and with] the Holy Spirit.’” (John 1:33 [emphasis added])

                Baptizes.  Present tense.  This is crucial to note.  In New Testament Greek the tenses of verbs point to the time of action.  But more importantly, they point to the kind of action.  In Greek, the present tense emphasizes continuous action, and is best rendered “keep on.”  “Abide in me and I in you,” literally means “Keep on abiding in Me and I in you.”  “All who come to Me and believe in Me will never hunger or thirst,” literally means “All who keep on coming to Me and keep on believing in Me will never hunger or thirst.”  John the Baptizer is saying of Jesus the Baptizer,   “This is the One who keeps on baptizing.”  Continuous action.  Keeps on Baptizing.

                That is, John is saying something about the nature and character of Jesus.  John is saying that it is the nature of Jesus, the Saviour of the world, to baptize and keep on baptizing, to immerse and keep on immersing, to soak and keep on soaking, to flood and keep on flooding, to fill and to keep on filling, to infuse and to keep on infusing.  This is the One who baptizes not once, not twice, not three times, but again and again and again.  Jesus keep on infusing His followers with Divine life and will keep on doing so until every fibre of our being radiates with the Glory of God!  How is that for good news?”

                This is why we are called to come to Him the Crucified One, in faith.  Such faith meets Him at the cross each moment and is lifted up in the power of the resurrection.  That is why we must be a holy people, filled with the life of Christ.  That is why we are called to Spirit filled praying.  The presence of the Lord Jesus Christ among us and in us is our only hope.  I for one praise God that this is so.

Holy, Holy, Holy!

                “The LORD reigns, let the nations tremble; He sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake.  Great is the LORD in Zion; He is exalted over all the nations.  Let them praise Your great and awesome Name – He is holy.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 99:1-3

                “Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His footstool; He is holy.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 99:5

                “Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His holy mountain, for the LORD our God is holy.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 99:9

                Reginald Heber writes in the first verse of his wonderful hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” these penetrating and powerful words.

                “Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee; Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty!  God in three persons blessed Trinity!”

                In writing these words the hymn writer leads us into a world of praise to the LORD God who is described as three times holy.  There is a focus upon the doctrine of the Trinity in Heber’s hymn.  It is a focus and a doctrine which is woven into much of the praise, worship and teaching of the Scriptures.  Psalm 99 is an example of how that is worked out.  The LORD God is the focus of the invitation to worship which we find here.  He is introduced to us as three times holy.  In fact the Psalm is divided up in such a way that we meet with three refrains around which the Psalm’s teaching and invitations are woven.  In each refrain we find ourselves crying out “Holy!” 

                The message of the Psalm is that we have encountered a LORD God who is absolutely holy in every way.  So often we find ourselves attracted to the various attributes of God.  We love that God is a being of infinite power.  We especially love this attribute when we think that we can somehow bend the infinite power of God to accomplish our purposes.  That God would be on our side is a word of great comfort to us as we live in this uncertain world.

                We also find ourselves attracted to the concept of the love of God.  This is even more comforting to us if we define that love as a type of mushy commitment on God’s behalf to only act in such ways as to do good to everyone no matter how they live. 

                What we find more challenging is the teaching in the Scriptures which tells us that God is Holy.  Many years ago I encountered this description of the LORD God that He was a God of Holy Love.  His love is tempered with holiness and His holiness is tempered with love.  Here we are getting closer to the biblical portrayal of God’s character.  Holiness is defined as God being set apart from everything which is not God.  He is a being who lives in such absolute purity that He is completely and totally opposed to all sin.  For Him all sin must be judged, either in the second death or in the cross.  These are the only options available to a sinner.  To encounter the living God in His absolute holiness is to be overwhelmed with this reality.

                The Biblical writers confront us with this reality in various ways.  In Hebrews 12:28-29 we are confronted with this description. 

                “Therefore, since we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

                In the third chapter of the book of Exodus Moses encounters God in the burning bush and is told to take off his sandals for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.  In Isaiah 6:3-7 the Old Testament Prophet has his encounter with God and is overwhelmed by the holiness of the LORD and of his own sinfulness.

                And they were calling out to one another:  “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory. “ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.  “Woe to me! “ I cried. “I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.“  Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for. ““                This is the word of hope which we find in the 99th Psalm.  The Lord God is three times holy.  His sovereign holiness is revealed in His justice which brings us to His throne of grace where sin is judged and punished.  There however we meet with the offer of grace because at the throne of grace we meet with the holy God who has provided in His own dear Son the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the World for all who will receive Him.  What a tremendous hope.  All you have to do is receive Him.