Beholding God’s Promise

                “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.  The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Isaiah 65:17-18

                There is a certain quality to really good literature which causes us to become lost in the world that is being described to us.  We begin to see, if not live in, the world of the author.  For a time our present tribulations seem to recede from our attention as we truly become lost in the book.  Such is the case with much that we read in the Word of God.  It lifts our attention away from this world and its trials and focuses our attention upon the world to come.  In Isaiah 65:17 the prophet does exactly that with one word, “Behold.”  He calls us to lift our eyes away from all that we are currently facing and to “see” the world which is to come.  We are to put our attention upon that world, discovering that it is the creation of God and that He is calling us to enter into it by faith in the LORD Jesus Christ.

                Isaiah has been engaged in a long prophetic book in which he has been warning the people of Israel about the judgment which is coming as well as explaining the reasons why it must certainly come.  It is the fulfillment of long established warnings and promises that God had spoken of in His Word right from the beginning.  Isaiah is merely reminding God’s people of what God Himself had promised them.  Now it is becoming a reality for them.  When it comes they will know that it comes from the hand of a holy and gracious God and that it is given as a chastening in order to call them back to their God. 

                Isaiah weaves into his prophesy some strong strands of hope which are there for anyone to see who approaches God’s Word with the eyes of faith.  Such is the promise here in chapter sixty five.  After describing in great detail the consequences of judgement Isaiah cries out “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.”  Look up, he seems to be saying, your redemption is drawing near.  It will be the work of God so its coming is a certainty.  It does not depend upon the efforts of fickle and failing people.  God is doing it.  We could look at what Isaiah writes here and see it as something which God is already doing.  He has begun the work.  We can expect that He will bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.   We behold it with the eyes of faith.

                The book of Hebrews in the first three verses of chapter eleven defines this faith that sees so clearly in this way.  “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.  By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Hebrews 11:1-3)

                R.C. Sproul describes faith in this way.  “It is one thing to believe in God; It is quite another to believe God.” (Ligonier Twitter Page)   Faith is believing God when He speaks revealing His truth to us.  It is taking Him at His Word.  It is looking at His promise and believing that what He has promised He can do.  It is Mary hearing the Angel’s promise that she will have a child and believing him because he came with God’s Word and nothing will ever be impossible with God.  It is Isaiah giving us this a promise of a new heavens and a new earth and us believing it because God has not only said it to us repeatedly but He has also told us how he will do it through the coming Messiah who will come and bear our iniquities on the cross (Isaiah 11:1-10; 53:4-6).  God has said it and He will do it.  In fact He is already doing it in the cross of Christ.  The only question is, do you believe God?

He Has Showed You

                “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?  Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rives of oil?  Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

                                                                                                                                                                Micah 6:6-8

                One of the great benefits of committing ourselves to a program of regular Bible Reading that takes us through the whole of scripture on a regular basis is that bit by bit we find ourselves growing in our understanding of the message of the Word of God.  Even more wonderfully we find that we become increasingly alert to the key questions that Scripture forces us to ask ourselves, and of the Biblical answers that are given to those questions.  I believe that the Bible has at its core an evangelistic purpose.  Its intent is to bring us into a living, saving faith in God’s Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore I am committed to encouraging as many people as I can to read the Bible for themselves. 

                One such key question and answer which encounter in the Bible is that which we find in Micah 6:6-8 where the Prophet leads us to ask just what kind of sacrifice we can offer in order to make ourselves acceptable to God.  For many of us we assume that we are good people and that God will accept us on that basis.  We assume that until we find ourselves confronted by God’s true holiness.  When we see Him as He is we also see the corruption of our own nature.  Others think that if they can only offer some great sacrifice that that will deal with their sin and make God accept them.  It is to this question that the Prophet Micah brings us.  It is vital to our eternal life that we ask and answer this question.  How can I make myself acceptable to the Holy God?  How great a sacrifice must I offer?

                As Micah leads us to wrestle with this question He shows us how to answer it as well.  God has given us the answer.  “He has showed you, O man, what is good.”  It is as if Micah is calling us to task for not knowing the answer because it is contained in the Bible.  God has revealed it to us.  A few references to the Scriptures will suffice to show us what God has revealed.

  1. In Deuteronomy 10:12-13 we read this.  “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all of His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands which I am giving to you today for your own good?”  Moses here goes on to show what the real love and worship of God look like.
  2. At its heart this text, in fact the whole of the Scriptures confronts us with the perfection of God’s Holiness, the depths of our sin, and the fact that there is no sacrifice which we can offer which will ever be great enough to cover our sin, but still we are not hopeless because God is gracious.  In Genesis 22 we read about Abraham and Isaac as they are on their way to offer Isaac as a sacrifice in response to God’s call.  When Isaac asks about their failure to bring along a lamb for sacrifice, Abraham answers with one of the key Old Testament testimonies to faith.  “God Himself will provide the Lamb.”(Genesis 22:8)  Looking centuries ahead this is exactly what God did in giving His Son for our redemption.
  3. In the key Suffering Servant Song in Isaiah 53:4-6 God’s Word makes this even clearer for us.  “Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted.  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.  We all like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  Here is the only sacrifice that is adequate to atone for our sin.  God Himself has offered it on behalf of us.  His word then calls us to repent, to turn from our reliance on anything of our own that we could offer for our sin, so that we can embrace the sin offering that God has given.  We are commanded to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ so that we can be saved. (Acts 16:31)

Gamaliel Stood Up

                “When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.  But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honoured by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.  Then he addressed them: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.””

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 5:33-35

                If we were to expand the title for this reflection we might call it “Gamaliel Stood Up: And What happened Next.”  It seems that Luke as is his pattern has a bigger purpose behind this account than what appears on the surface. The structure of the passage has a repetition of the term “rises up” in verse 17 where the Sadducees rise up to persecute the Apostles, and verse 34 were Gamaliel rises up and is used of God to deliver the Apostles from death.  It is interesting that the first deliverance from the jail in verse 19 was by an Angel of the Lord and that the following deliverance from the desire the Sanhedrin had to put them to death was by a leader of the Pharisees. 

                What Luke is telling us is that God uses a variety of means to accomplish His providential purposes in our lives.  He even uses human means to work out His purposes in our lives.  Each deliverance is clearly an answer to the prayer of the Church.  The Church in Acts has been praying and God has been working.  This passage is just one more example of this tremendous reality. 

                Someone once said that the account of any person’s conversion will always be a long story.  There are many small details which if fully recounted would fit together to tell the story of how the Lord led us to Himself.  Salvation is always of the Lord, but He does use means to accomplish His purposes of grace in our lives.  Such is the case with the conversion story which Augustine tells us in his autobiography Confessions.  In the eight book of that exploration of his life he tells us about the long story of his conversion which culminated in a day when he was reflecting in his garden and heard a child’s voice chanting “take up and read.”  He picked up a Bible and read the passage which it opened up to.  There he read from Romans 13:13-14 these words.

                “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

                With these words from God’s Word Augustine’s long story of being brought to faith in Christ is brought to a glorious conclusion.  I was reminded of this story as I was looking at what Luke introduces us to here in Acts five.  We are given a glimpse into the teaching of Gamaliel as the Lord uses him to deliver the Apostles.  In Acts 22:3 we then read this regarding the Apostle Paul (formerly known as Saul) and his conversion story.  “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city.  Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.”  Saul, or Paul, was trained in the faith of the Pharisees by Gamaliel.  Perhaps it was from Saul that Luke got the account of the closed meeting of the Sanhedrin which is recorded in chapter five.  Perhaps what was said there had an impact upon the zealous young Pharisee.  In short order in chapters eight and nine we read about a series of events that the Lord used to bring Saul to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  What a wonderful account of the means that the Sovereign Lord used to bring one man to faith in Himself.  It is truly an account of what happens when that one man stands up.  What has the Lord been doing in your life to bring you to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?

Come And Worship

                “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care.  Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried Me, though they had seen what I did.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 95:6-9

                There is something delightful about walking past a Church and hearing a congregation of the Lord’s people singing the praises of the Lord.  One senses an invitation to come in out of the cold of unbelief and to warm oneself at the fire of God’s grace.  Iain Murray tells about an event that took place around the time that D.M. Lloyd-Jones was converted.  It is contained in the first volume of Murray’s wonderful biography of Lloyd-Jones, and tells about how he was out with some friends attending some sort of social event when a Salvation Army Band passed by them.  As Lloyd-Jones listened to the music being played, and being at that time being drawn by the Holy Spirit to faith, he suddenly had an overwhelming sense that “these were my people.”  There was an unmistakeable invitation to a faith that would alter every part of Lloyd-Jones’ life.

                This compulsive nature of God’s invitation to us to receive His grace is what I believe that the Psalmist is focusing our attention upon in this particular Psalm.  Of all of the suggestions that I have encountered regarding how to analyse the 95th Psalm I find myself agreeing with Spurgeon most.  Spurgeon divides the Psalm into two parts.  In the first five verses Spurgeon sees and invitation followed by convincing reasons why we must believe.  In the second half of the Psalm, verses six through eleven, we have the invitation restated followed by a warning that we not harden our hearts to it.  In presenting the invitation in this way the Psalmist leads us into a real warm hearted faith in the Lord.  He shows us who the God is that we are worshipping.  Then he defines the faith that worships the Lord by showing us examples of what it is not. 

                In leading us into worship in this way the Psalmist answers one of the chief questions that we must wrestle with in our lives.  This is to define just what saving faith really is.  Here we discover that the faith that saves us is first of all a faith in someone.  It is not faith in general.  It is not, if you will, faith in faith, as we find ourselves encouraged to think by so many in our world.  It is not a belief that it will all work out somehow in the end.  It is faith in the real, living God who has created all things, ourselves included, and who sovereignly rules everything for His own glory.  It is faith in one who has entered into our world in order to redeem us.  Like a good Shepherd He has come and cared for us, laying His life down for His sheep. 

                There is more here however.  Saving faith is revealed in the way in which we respond to the trials we face in our lives.  The Psalmist issues an invitation to us to submit to the Lord with warm hearted obedience to His voice.  When He speaks to us, through His Son (Hebrews 1:1ff), or through His written Word, we listen to Him with a heart that is already obedient.  The Psalmist points us to two Old Testament events, found in Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1ff, to show us how not to submit to God.  In Hebrews 3:7-4:13 the New Testament takes these definitions and applies them.  People with saving faith have hearts which are submissive to the calling of the Lord upon our lives.  Our desire is to obey Him even in the deepest, darkest days of our lives.  Steven J. Lawson illustrates this in The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Trust Publishing, Crawfordsville, Indiana, 2008) when he quotes these words from Sarah Edwards to her daughter Esther on the occasion of Jonathan Edwards death.My very dear child, What shall I say?  A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud.  O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands upon our mouths!  The Lord has done it.  He has made me adore His goodness, that we had him so long.  But my God lives; and He has my heart.  O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us!  We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to

Father, Forgive Them

                “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”  And they divided up His clothes by casting lots.”

                                                                                                                                                                Luke 23:34

                Luke gives us here a very precious word from the cross.  This word opens up to our understanding the whole purpose of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.  He gives up His life as a sacrifice of atonement through which we receive the forgiveness of our sin.  Luke presents it in such a wonderful way here that we find ourselves being overwhelmed by the sheer grace that is extended to us.  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”  On the cross, in agony and humiliation, the Lord Jesus Christ is praying for those who are killing Him.  Of all people who have ever lived on this earth the Lord Jesus Christ was the least worthy of death.  He had no sin.  He was compassionate and holy in every way.  Yet they turned against Him and nailed Him to a cross.  His response was to forgive them. 

                This verse raises several important questions for us. 

  1. Who was Jesus praying for?  Was it the soldiers who were nailing Him to the cross, dividing up His clothes by lot, and doing everything they could to humiliate Him? 
  2. Was it the people of Israel who were His own people, to whom He came as their God, and who responded to Him with rejection because they did not recognise Him as the fulfillment of all that the Prophets had promised?
  3. Was it the Gentiles, the Romans who drove the nails into His hands and feet?
  4. Or was it all of them?  The truth is that each and every one of us was in one way or another responsible for the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In His compassionate love the Lord Jesus Christ intercedes for the soldiers that they would be forgiven the awful crime of crucifying the Son of God.  He prayed for the Jews that they would recognise Him and receive forgiveness.  He prayed for the Gentiles that they would be grafted into the vine that would give them real abundant life.  He interceded for you and me that we too would receive the forgiveness which was purchased for us on the cross. 

In praying in this compassionate way the Lord Jesus Christ was not offering a blanket amnesty for all sin.  He was praying that these soldiers, Jews, Gentiles, and all of us would come to repentance and faith in Him.  Right away as Jesus dies on the cross we see the first answer to this prayer as the Centurion praises God and confesses Christ.  Over the next forty years as judgment on Jerusalem was delayed countess Jews came to faith in Christ. Over the centuries since then millions of Gentiles have come to faith in Christ, all in answer to this compassionate prayer.  If you are a believer you owe your forgiveness to this one prayer.  The Son of the Living God while in agony on the cross prayed that you would be forgiven.  That prayer was answered as the grace of God was poured out upon you bringing you to faith. 

                This prayer is an invitation to faith and repentance as well as a call to compassionate prayerfulness as well.  Steven in Acts seven prayed this way and Saul of Tarsus was brought to faith.  Can you or I be any less prayerful seeing we are surrounded by countless lost people who do not know what they are doing?  Each one of them desperately needs the forgiveness which you and I enjoy today.

Consider It Pure Joy

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 1:2-4

                The more carefully I study the Word of God the more I am brought to recognise the necessity of developing a committed prayer life.  When  we dig deeper into the letter of James we discover that this man, who was reputed to be a man of prayer, has a lot to tell us about living the Christian life.  The stories have been preserved in history of James as a man who spent so much time in prayer that his knees were calloused from the practice.  It seems that James was writing to a community of Christians who were facing severe persecution.  This in fact seems to be the Biblical and historic norm.  It is we who live with such freedom who are unusual in our comfort.  James sets the experience of his persecuted fellow believers in a Biblical perspective which lets us see the loving purpose of God behind our frowning experience. 

                James calls us to consider it sheer joy when we face trials.  The word “consider” in verse two is a word that describes a practical, reasoned conclusion which is arrived at by considering the facts of a situation.  In reality James calls us to make a conscious commitment to develop a new way of thinking that is based upon the teaching of the wisdom of God, found in His Word.  The Biblical wisdom teaches us doctrines which are to be the foundation of our lives.  Such doctrine points us towards the Kingdom of God which is coming in glory with the return of our Lord.  We are looking ahead to that day of glory and we are basing our lives upon it.  All that we experience in this life is viewed in the context of that great day. 

                As James calls us to this reasoned approach to life he describes for us its benefit.  It produces endurance which leads to maturity and completeness in Christ.  That is why we consider it pure joy when we face the trials of our lives because we see in our difficulties the hand of a loving God who is at work conforming us to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In this James is in agreement with the Apostle Paul who wrote to the Romans, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28-29)  What a precious truth. 

                James tells us that our calling and responsibility as believers is to be determined to respond to difficult circumstances with a joy that is based upon faith in the Living God.  This response is to be from the heart, and it is the definition of real worship.  It is not however something which comes naturally to us.  It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit created within us and it is therefore a response that drives us to our knees in prayer.  There really is no other way. 

A Call To Arms

                “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.”

                “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

                                                                                                                                                                Titus 1:5, 9

                When we wrestle with the message of the Pastoral Epistles we are led to the conclusion that these three books are something much more than just manuals for church order.  So often what we do is to look to these New Testament books for answers to questions about how we are to organize our churches.  There is something much deeper and more powerful written here however.  Steve Timmis in a Blog Post entitled “The Pillar of Truth” explores this in the following two paragraphs.  Timmis is writing specifically about 1 & 2 Timothy, but what he writes applies equally well to the book of Titus.

                “He wants Timothy to get the church at Ephesus back on gospel tracks because she has departed from the gospel.  The Pastoral Epistles are not simply manuals for church order.  They are an urgent call to arms.  Timothy needs to go to war because the gospel is at stake in this city and region.

                But critical to this strategy is the church herself.  The church, formed by the gospel, is for the gospel, and by her life and witness, she commends the gospel and is the primary apologetic for the gospel before the world.  John Stott, in his commentary on 1 Timothy and Titus, put it well when he wrote, “The church depends upon the truth for its existence; the truth depends upon the church for its defence and proclamation.”” (Timmis, Steve, “The Pillar of Truth” http://ligonier.org/learn/articles/pillar-truth/ )

                What Timmis is pointing to here is the fact that Timothy and Titus have been given the task to put their churches and the lives of the disciples in each city on a footing that will cause them to enter successfully into the great spiritual conflict that is taking place in each of their cities.  It is simple for us to drift away from the gospel footing as an individual or for that matter as a church.  We begin to enjoy the fruit of a saved life forgetting the sin that we have been saved out of.  We become uncomfortable engaging in the conflict which is before us in this world.  Titus and Timothy are to call their churches back to the conflict through which they are living as believers.  That conflict existed in their world, and it exists in ours as well.  We and our churches need to heed the calling back to sound doctrine that Paul issues here.  This sound doctrine is doctrine that radically transforms our lives so that we engage the world around us with the grace that the Lord Jesus Christ is building into our lives. 

                Perhaps this is what Paul means when he writes at the conclusion of his letter to the Ephesians these words.  “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.   Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:10-18)

Immanuel’s Land

A few years ago in preparation for a sermon I came across this quotation which formed the inspiration for Anne Ross Cousin’s Hymn originally entitled “Last Words” but now known by the name “The Sands of Time are sinking.” 

                “But the summons found him ill and like to die, and the court prepared to try him, received the treasured and characteristic answer: “I am summoned before a superior court and judiciary; and I behove to answer my first summons and ere your day arrive, I will be where few Kings and great folks come.”

                He died at St. Andrews, March 20th, 1661.  Late in the afternoon of the final day of his stormy life, just as the sun was sinking, he was asked by one of the friends standing by the couch.  “What think you now of Christ?”  To which he gave the answer: “Oh that all my brethren in the land may know what a Master I have served, and what peace I have this day!  I shall sleep in Christ, and then I awake I shall be satisfied with His likeness.  This night shall close the door, and put my anchor within the veil; and I shall go away in a sleep by five in the morning.  Glory! Glory: to my Creator and my redeemer forever!  I shall live and adore Him.  Oh for arms to embrace Him!  Oh for a well tuned harp!  Glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land!”  At precisely five in the morning as predicted, he crossed the border into Immanuel’s land, there to feast his eyes on “the King in His beauty.”

                Here are the lyrics to Anne Ross Cousin’s hymn inspired by these words.

                                “The sands of time are sinking.  The dawn of heaven breaks, the summer morn I’ve sighed for, the fair sweet morn awakes.  Dark, dark has been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand.  And glory, glory dwelleth In Immanuel’s land.

                                Oh, Christ, He is the fountain, the deep sweet well of love; the streams on earth I’ve tasted, more deep I’ll drink above;  There to an ocean fullness, His mercy doth expand, and glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                With mercy and with judgment, my web of time He wove, and aye the dews of sorrow, were lustred with His love.  I’ll bless the heart that planned, when throned where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                Oh, I am my Beloved’s, and my beloved’s mine; He brings a poor vile sinner into His “house of wine.”  I stand upon His merit; I know no safer stand, not e’en where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear bridegroom’s face; I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of grace; not at the crown He giveth, but on His pierced hand: The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.”

                The original version of this hymn contained over twenty verses.  Our modern version has retained these five.  I want to draw your attention to one of the other verses however as it expresses the hope that is ours in Christ in the Gospel message.  Ours is indeed a resurrection faith.

                                “I shall sleep sound in Jesus, fill’d with His likeness rise, to live and to adore Him, to see Him with these eyes, ‘Tween me and resurrection but paradise doth stand; Then – then for glory dwelling in Immanuel’s land.”

Sing Joyfully To The Lord

                “Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise Him.  Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to Him on the ten stringed lyre.  Sing to Him a new song; play skilfully and shout for joy.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 33:1-3

                There is one thing of which we can be certain in our personal or national life and that is that there will come times of trial that will challenge us to the very core of our being.  In those times of testing we will discover the reality of who we are by the way we respond.  At such times it is important to take a step back and look at the big picture of what we are facing, in the light of the Word of God.  In looking at just one part of that word, Psalm 33, with the intention of gleaning from it a couple of insights to help us through the difficult days in which we find ourselves living, surprising, and extremely helpful insights are gained if we will just step back and look at the big picture of the Psalm in its context in the book of Psalms.

                Psalm 33 concludes a set of Psalms (25-33) in which God’s people cry out to Him for mercy as they are facing a great trial.  Psalm 25 and Psalm 33 enclose this cry for mercy.  Psalm 33 closes out the prayer with a call for joyful praise as God’s people have been brought to revere Him as His power to deliver them has been displayed among them.  Psalm 25 is a prayer for deliverance built around the writer’s hope in the Lord.  In the main body of the enclosed Psalms the Word of God centres our attention on the God who speaks with a thunderous voice imposing His will and calling His people to reverence as they worship Him.  The centre of this call to hope is found in Psalm 29 in which the Psalmist unveils for us the Word of the Lord speaking and accomplishing God’s whole purpose in creation, and for that matter in our lives.  In the structure of this Psalm we find a two verse introduction and conclusion both of which have the word Lord, or Yahweh, four times.  In the main body of the Psalm, verses 3-9, we have seven verses in which Yahweh appears ten times.  In addition in these seven verses seven of those appearances tell us that the voice of the Lord is heard, or thunders.  Could this be what the apostle John is alluding to in Revelation 10:3-4?  Needless to say the Psalmist calls to discover the awesomeness of the voice of the Lord as He speaks to us in our distress.  What God speaks happens.  What God says to us in His Word must become the reality under which we respond in obedience.

                There is much more that we could explore in these verses, more than we have room for in this short reflection.  Sufficient for us today is this one thought.  The Lord calls us in our trials to respond to Him with reverent obedience.  Whether as a nation or an individual we are only truly blessed when we come to the Lord in true worship recognising that He and He alone is our God.  Perhaps this is the purpose of the trials we face.  How often have you found yourself thinking when you face a very difficult time that at least it has forced you to come to terms which what is truly essential?  So often in life we find ourselves distracted by all of the things that we want in life.  It is as if we are worshipping many things, and cannot make up our minds as to what is most important.  Then a crisis comes and all of the nonessential things fall away.  We are able to see clearly that one thing that is central.  The book of Psalms, in guiding us to look carefully at the big picture, strips away everything except that one essential point.  Those who fear the Lord find themselves trusting Him.  That is the foundation for real and lasting praise.

Reflection On Loving God

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating.  Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked Him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?””

                                                                                                                                                                Mark 12:28

                One of the benefits of doing an intense study of a whole book of the Bible is that we begin to see some of the connections within the book which we may have missed when we study only one part.  Over eighteen months engaged an in-depth look at the Gospel according to Mark.  As I did this it became increasingly clear that Mark was describing the process by which the disciples came to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  The skill with which our LORD revealed Himself to them, while also revealing the hardness of their own hearts to them is awesome. 

                John Miller writes in, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church that “The Kingdom of God advances with controversy.”  This is certainly true of the conflict that Mark records in the twelfth chapter of his Gospel.  Each part of the conflict advances the account, showing us how those who refused to believe were hardened in their sin being reserved for judgment while others were being brought to a real saving faith.  In Mark 12:28-34 we read about a teacher of the law who seems to have a heart to seek after God, but the account ends with him being described as being near the Kingdom of God.  He is near to it, but not inside it.  We hope and pray that this is only part of his story, that after this encounter with Jesus that he moves on to real saving faith.  His problem seems to be that he does not see his sin.  He knows that he must love God, but he thinks that he already loves him sufficiently.  The rest of the chapter and the gospel take us onward to a true saving faith. 

                This is summed up in the answer that we give with our whole lives to the question, “Do you love Jesus?”  To love Him with all of our being is the requirement that God sets before us.  The fact that we are humanly incapable of loving God in this whole hearted way brings us to the deep conviction of sin that we need.  We want to love Him, but we do not.  We think that we may be completely yielded to Him but them we find ourselves falling short.  How often do we vow to serve God without reservation, and then find ourselves forgetting all about it when some new and exciting thing comes along?  We need the fundamental work of the cross in our hearts bringing us to die to ourselves so that we can be raised with Him in His resurrection if we are ever to be saved.  This is the very thing which God has done for us in Christ.  He calls us to come to Him in faith.  To come to Him requires that we be convinced that the Lord Jesus Christ is the very God who Scripture tells us that we must love with all of our hearts.  It is this connection that the teacher of the law was not willing to make.  He drew near to God’s Kingdom, but then refused to enter into it.

                What about you?  Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength?  Are you just outside the door of the Kingdom of God, hoping that you have done enough to enter into it?  The invitation of the Gospel is for you today to come to the Lord Jesus Christ today believing that He is the Son of the Living God come into this world to bear your sin upon His cross.  Do you love Jesus?