An Astonishing Invitation

                “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all.  Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.

                                                                                                                                                                Galatians 1:6-7

                How often have you found yourselves to be truly astonished by the things which you witness or experience?  You find yourselves in the middle of a set of circumstances that stretch your comprehension to the breaking point and you are left wondering just what this will mean for you and for others.  For a little while you find yourself struggling to understand how to respond to the things which you have witnessed.  In the summer of 1972 one such event happened in my life when I found myself responding to a set of disappointing circumstances by becoming bitter of spirit.  While struggling with this inward bitterness I found myself at a youth retreat.  The fact that I was there reluctantly and with a determination to involve myself in any positive way made the events that took place that weekend all the more astonishing.  While sitting through a worship service I found myself encountering such a strong impression of the love of God that I found myself yielding to the LORD Jesus Christ as Saviour and LORD.  In an instant everything in my life was changed.  Years later I found myself agreeing with John Wesley who wrote regarding his own conversion experience that, “I found my heart strangely warmed, and knew that my sins had been forgiven.”  This was my experience and it was very much as if the LORD Jesus Christ had called me to His grace.  I seemed to sense that that was the time for me to come to His grace.  The moment of decision had come unsought.  It was astonishing and completely life transforming. 

                The Apostle Paul tells us in the book of Galatians that this Gospel of the LORD Jesus Christ is a truly liberating thing.  It delivers us from this actively evil world and brings us into the liberty of Christ.  It does this by calling us to repent and to put our faith in the LORD Jesus Christ who is the Son of the Living God and who became human flesh in order to bear our sins upon His cross.  Just this morning a group of us were sharing at a Bible Study  and reflecting upon the fact that what was taking place on the cross of Christ was that the LORD Jesus Christ was bearing all of our sin, all of our brokenness, everything that keeps us away from communion with the Living God, in His body.  Therefore He understands and identifies with every part of our current struggle.  When we feel guilty over our sin, He reminds us that He bore that, and it is forgiven.  He was at all points tempted as we are yet without sin.  What precious freedom this brings into our lives when we begin to see what He has done for us.  What prayerfulness this creates in us when we understand that there is nothing that we can ever bring before the LORD which He has not already borne.  Imagine that you were to go onto a website for an organization which promises that it has made provision to deal with every circumstance you might face in life.  No matter what you describe there is a plan to deal with it.  No matter how costly provision has been made to deal with your circumstance graciously because the organization has already paid for it.  Would you not rush to receive the grace that was being offered to you?

                Imagine further that you were to discover that some people having received knowledge of this gracious gift turned away from it in order to pursue another plan that did not deal adequately with your need and which enslaved you to the evil principles of this world.  Would you not be astonished by this turn of events?  This is the point that the Apostle Paul is at in Galatians one.  Those who had made a start with the LORD Jesus Christ are now deserting Him for something that could not hope to save them.

                Years ago the LORD Jesus Christ called me to grace.  In receiving that grace I found myself meeting one who set me free from sin by bearing it for me.  He gave His life that I may be set free from this evil world so that I might live in His glorious light.  It was astonishing that He might be so gracious to one who was so bound up in sin.  I have never regretted accepting His invitation.  Perhaps today you have heard Him inviting you to receive His grace.  Today is the day of salvation for you.  How will you respond?

Christmas Season

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”

                                                                                                                                                                Isaiah 7:14

                A number of years ago at a Ministerial meeting the question was asked about what we enjoyed about the Christmas season.  This got me to thinking about what I really do enjoy about this season.  To be sure there is much to be enjoyed in this season.  I love gathering with my family.  I love giving gifts to loved ones.  I really love the Christmas services at the Church.  I especially love the singing of Christmas Carols.  Every year there is the joyful celebration that takes place when the Sunday School children present their Nativity Play.  Nothing is better that a well presented Choir Cantata at Christmas time as we will be experiencing this week when our choir presents Joel Raney’s “The Promise of Light”.

                The question remains however, what do I enjoy most about the Christmas season?  My answer focuses upon the message of the Incarnation.  This season gives us an opportunity to explore in depth the great miracle of our faith.  This is that God’s Son came into this world, becoming flesh like us but without sin.  So often in the Scripture the Incarnation is the centre of the argument.  In Hebrews the fact that God spoke through His Incarnate Son takes centre place.  There is no salvation if the Son of God did not become flesh.  I am reminded of Augustine’s point that “there is no hope apart from the grace of the Incarnation.”  Here is where our hope comes from.  It is something which we could never do for ourselves no matter how hard we might try. 

What we could never do for ourselves God did for us.  Think about this astounding miracle a tiny, helpless baby born in the town of Bethlehem; just where Micah said the Messiah would be born, laid in a manger in a stable, this child was in fact the Son of the Living God.  In that child, so helpless lay the hope of the whole world.  For many, alive at that time, they were completely unaware of what had taken place.  Would you, or I, have recognised that that particular baby was your only hope?  Some thirty years later that baby would go to a Roman cross to die bearing our sin.  None of that would have mattered if it were not for the Incarnation for it was God who died for us. The message of the Incarnation is that point where we discover that our God is a being who loves us so much that He enters into our lives in order to redeem us.  At a time in history when there is so much that makes us feel hopeless this is our message of hope.  The same God who gave us the gift of His only begotten Son is at work among us.  The Word of God tells us that our Redeemer is at the right hand of His Father interceding for us.  Very soon He will come back in order to receive us to Himself.  When He does come we will be like Him, without sin, enjoying His presence for Eternity.  This is what I enjoy most about this season.

The Road To The Cross

“But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”   And all the others said the same.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Mark 14:31

                ““My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” He said to them.  “Stay here and keep watch.””

                                                                                                                                                                                Mark 14:34

                “Then everyone deserted Him and fled.  A young man wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus.  When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Mark 14:50-52

                One of the themes which Mark develops as he presents to us the Gospel which he received from the Apostle Peter is the road to discipleship which was followed by the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Contained in this Gospel of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is the titanic spiritual struggle which was going on in the hearts and minds of the disciples.  One would think that the disciples had it easy.  They had front row seats to the greatest drama that ever took place in history.  God had become flesh and dwelt among them.  They witnessed all that He did.  Imagine what they saw.  What would your faith be like if you saw what they saw?    However Mark presents them in all of their hard hearted unbelief.  In this they are not unlike you and me.  Each of us has to go through the same struggle which we see in them.

There is a reason for this.  Real saving faith is always the result of a deep encounter with Christ crucified.  What we see in the fourteenth chapter of Mark is the disciples being led along on the road to the cross of Christ.  As He has repeatedly told them the Lord Jesus Christ is about to be crucified.  On the third day He will be raised.  All of this, every part of it down to the smallest detail will be in fulfillment of the Scripture.  This in itself will require a whole new reading of the Word of God.  What they had been taught would have to be put away so that they could understand the Word that God was really saying to them.  As these disciples approached the cross of Christ all of the stresses contained in the situation they were facing were on the verge of overwhelming them.  Jesus was not behaving as a true Messiah should, or so they thought.  What did all this mean?

At the heart of the issues they were facing was the necessity of them bearing their own cross.  Jesus was not the only one on the way to the cross.  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)  This is the issue.  This is what we discover being lived out by the disciples as they arrive at the garden of Gethsemane.  They have made great boasts about what they think they can do in their own flesh.  The problem is that they have misunderstood themselves.  They are not nearly as strong as they think they are.  Within a few short hours they will all be fleeing.  Peter will follow Jesus to His trial but then, instead of dying with Jesus he will deny Him.  They will discover that they are weak and unbelieving human beings.  When tried they would be found wanting.

If they are ever to follow Jesus they are going to have to go through this trial.  These disciples must be crucified with Christ, dying to all of their fleshly, boasting and self reliance.  The cross will lead to the resurrection.  In fact it is the only way forward.  That is true for the disciples.  It is true for us as well.  There really is no other way to be a disciple of Christ.

Magnifying the LORD

“Let all those that seek Thee rejoice and be glad in Thee: and let such as love Thy salvation say continually, ‘Let Elohim be magnified.’”

                                                                                                                                                Psalm 70:4

“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

                                                                                                                                                Philippians 1:20-21

What a precious little Psalm is this seventieth one.  Here we have a brief prayer, in a grouping of Messianic prayer Psalms, a statement of what is at the heart of the believing life.  Psalm 4b states “Let Elohim be magnified.”  In making this statement the Psalmist confronts us with a crucial question.  Did we truly magnify the LORD today?  The word used here means to enlarge Him.  Through my attitude and behavior today did I cause the view that others have of the LORD to be enlarged?  Such a question must be answered biblically.

“Erich Auerbach (1953: 14–15) captured this when he wrote: The Bible’s claim to truth is not only far more urgent than Homer’s, it is tyrannical – it excludes all other claims. The world of the Scripture stories is not satisfied with claiming to be a historically true reality – it insists that it is the only real world, is destined for autocracy. All other scenes, issues, and ordinances have no right to appear independently of it, and it is promised that all of them, the history of all mankind, will be given their due place within its frame, will be subordinated to it. The Scripture stories do not, like Homer’s, court our favor, they do not flatter us that they may please us and enchant us – they seek to subject us, and if we refuse to be subjected we are rebels.” (from “With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology (New Studies in Biblical Theology 32)” by Jr. James M. Hamilton)
                Have we been conquered by the Bible?  Has its message reached deep into our lives and remade us?  In this precious little Psalm we have the prayer of the Messiah in which we are confronted by a clear choice.  Are we among those who are seeking His death through our unbelief?  Or are we among those who through faith are seeking Him and the salvation He brings?  If we love His salvation we will be finding ourselves magnifying Him with every part of our lives.

To choose Christ means to be made over into a new creation.  This can be defined as living in the grace of God in a way that magnifies the LORD in all of our living or dying.  Such a life is a biblical one.  We are called to be subject to the Word of God.  Of first importance then is that we know and apply the Word of God to our lives.  This requires that we make them our priority.  We must read, and study, the Bible applying it to our day to day living.

Whenever we wish to excel at a task it is essential that we must put work into mastering it.  If we are to become knowledgeable in the Bible then we must spend time and effort in its study.  This is the only way in which we can begin to magnify the LORD Jesus Christ.  Such a life must be lived joyfully and lovingly.  It is not a duty that we must grit our teeth and endure.  It is a joy which we live in His grace.  We love the salvation that He has graciously given to us in Christ.  It is God’s work in us and it is glorious.

The question for us is this.  Does this joy and love show itself clearly in our day to day living?

An Advent Reflection

“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.  You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea.  You will be true to Jacob and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago.”

                                                                                                                                                                Micah 7:18-20

Here is a repeat of a post from past years, which with a few alterations focuses upon the coming Advent Season which begins this week. 

                This coming Sunday will be the first Sunday of Advent.  For many this will be a delightful season in which we begin to sing Christmas carols.  Those songs of the Incarnation always seem to move our hearts in joyful worship.  I must confess that I love singing the Christmas carols, as they are among some of the most delightful of the hymns of the Church.  Advent looks ahead to the main event, the celebration of Christmas itself.  We love every part of that day.  We eagerly anticipate its coming each year.

This week I looked up the definition of advent and made some discoveries.  For the Christian Church Advent is a season of anticipation where we look forward to the coming of our Redeemer, the Incarnate Lord Jesus Christ.  With this anticipation of His arrival we find ourselves immersed in hope that all that His coming means with become reality in our lives.  As Phillips Brooks writes in his masterful hymn “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”  That line from O Little Town of Bethlehem captures our mood as we enter into advent this year.

There is however a third element to the definition of Advent for the Christian Church.  This is the call to repentance which the season brings.  John the Baptist came and called people to prepare the way of the Lord.  In doing so John was letting his world and ours know that any communion with God requires repentance.  We must turn to Him.  This was as well the message of the Prophets.  They were sent to call God’s people back to Him.  Their message is filled with the word of the Advent.  God is coming among us.  Isaiah even has a Word or a Name to designate His coming, Emmanuel, God with us.  Therefore it should not surprise us that a substantial portion of the focus of Advent is upon the Prophetic message.

That message consistently confronts us with the character of the God we worship.  Micah writes, “Who is a God like you?”  In fact that is the meaning of the Prophet’s name.  This is a key thought for us to focus upon this Advent season.  What do the Scriptures tell us about the character of God?  How is this reflected in the mighty works which He accomplished in the Incarnation of Christ?

Here we encounter the God of grace who became human flesh and dwelt among us so that He could redeem us from our sin.  The only response that is adequate to such great grace is one of believing worship.

Standing Your Ground

“Then the High priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.  They arrested the Apostles and put them in the public jail.  But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the Temple Courts,” He said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.””

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 5:17-20

                There is something wonderful about the way that Luke keeps alternating in the early chapters of the Book of Acts between the general and the specific.  He writes, as a summary, in chapter 5:12-16, about how the Church is growing dramatically in response to the prayer of Acts 4:25ff.  Then in the seventeenth verse of chapter five Luke goes back to his specific account.  Now it is about the way that the world around the believers, in the form of the High Priest and Sadducees is roused to jealousy and responds to the growth of the Church by putting the Apostles in jail, and subjecting them to a trial with the hope that they might be put to death.  Fruitfulness leads to persecution here in Acts five, as it always does in one form or another.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in his sermon, “The Outpouring of the Spirit” proclaims the following about an awakening that took place in the United States in the late 1850’s and early 1860’s.

“The work still progresses, if anything, at a more rapid rate than before, and that which makes me believe the work to be genuine is just this – that the enemies of Christ’s holy gospel are exceedingly wroth at it.  When the devil roars at anything, you may rest assured there is some good in it.  The devil is not like some dogs we know of; he never barks unless there is something to bark at.  When Satan howls, we may rest assured he is afraid his kingdom is in danger.  Now this great work in America has been manifestly caused by the outpouring of the Spirit, for no one minister has been a leader in it.  All the ministers of the gospel have cooperated in it, but none of them has stood in the van.  God Himself has been the leader of His own hosts.  It began with a desire for prayer.  God’s people began to pray: the prayer meetings were better attended than before; it was then proposed to hold meeting at times that have never been set apart for prayer; these also were well attended; and now, in the city of Philadelphia, at the hour of noon, every day of the week, three thousand persons can always be seen assembled together for prayer in one place.”

                Looking at Acts 5:17-20, and the verses which follow, we see that in response to the preaching of the gospel the Jewish Leaders rise up, in opposition.  They are going to do everything in their power to bring this movement to an end.  The Apostles are arrested and put in the public jail.  Plans are put into effect for the calling of a trial of these apostles for the purpose of putting them to death.  The problem that the Christians posed was to be brought to a speedy end.  They made their plans, but God intervened.  The Angel of the Lord, at the very least an angel, but perhaps the Lord Himself, set the Apostles free.  The point here is to confirm what Luke has been saying right from the beginning of the book, this is about the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the prime mover behind the spread of the Gospel.

The Apostles are set free and told to stand their ground in the face of the opposition they will be facing.  Sometimes the only way forward for believers is to stand our ground in the face of severe opposition.  The leaders rise up and the Apostles stand firm with the Gospel message.  This can only be the result of a prayerful abiding in Christ.  They stand firm in the Spirit of God and the consequence is the advance of the Gospel in the face of opposition.  This is what the Apostle Paul calls the Church at Ephesus to in Ephesians 6:10-13.

“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, 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.”

A Great Word Of Hope

“A ruin!  A ruin!  I will make it a ruin!  It will not be restored until He comes to whom it rightfully belongs; to Him I will give it.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ezekiel 21:27

                In days such as this it is extremely helpful to be engaged in a program of regular Bible reading.  Every day as I begin my day my pattern is to spend time reading, and meditating upon the passages suggested by the McCheyne Bible reading plan a link to which can be found on the service page on the website of First Baptist Church, Brampton.  Its address is www.firstbaptistbrampton.org.   I have been amazed as over the years that I have been following this plan that regularly the passage set for the day is the very thing that I need for that day.  J. Kent Edwards, in Deep Preaching, writes that if we commit ourselves to a systematic exposition, or I might add a reading, of the Word of God that it will demonstrate to us its relevance.  We will not have to scramble around trying to demonstrate relevance; we will see it for ourselves.

Earlier this year one of the chapters to which McCheyne called our attention to was Ezekiel 21.  This is one of those surprising passages that so often speak directly to our present situation.  As we struggle with the uncertainty of life in this world, looking at world history which seems to be spiralling out of control, we find ourselves wondering just how we believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are to respond.  It is to this that we find Ezekiel 21 speaking.  This is a passage where the people of Jerusalem are facing the threat of the advancing armies of the King of Babylon.  They are comforting themselves with all kinds of false hopes which are anchored in the popular misunderstandings of their time.  They are the people of God who have received the promise of an eternal Kingdom.  Therefore they are a righteous people, no matter what they do.  God will deliver them at the last minute, by His gracious intervention, just as He had always done.  It is to this that Ezekiel speaks when He pronounces God’s judgment upon them.

Back in 2 Samuel 7:14 & 15 God had made a promise to David which had both conditional and unconditional elements to it.  Here is what God said to David.

“I will be his Father, and he will be my son.  When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men.  But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.”

                Earlier, in the book of Genesis, God made a promise to Judah when He said, “The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to who it belongs and the obedience of the nations is His.” (Genesis 49:10)  Now notice what God tells the people of Jerusalem, all of this prophetic word is being fulfilled.  Judgement is coming, in the form of the King of Babylon.  It will be a human chastisement.  The consequence will be that the rulership of the House of David will be removed from over Jerusalem as a Kingdom in this world, but that a New Kingdom is coming in the form of the long awaited Messiah.  To Him the sceptre will be returned.

What God promises here He fulfills perfectly.  God overrules every means of decision making of the pagan King so that He will in fact accomplish God’s purpose.  That purpose will lead, in time, to the accomplishment of the promise of redemption which God has made to us.

Here is the message for us today.  God is still working out His plan of redemption.  The details may seem confusing to us, but we can trust ourselves to the great fact that the Sovereign God is in control of everything.  Therefore we can trust Him as we look into His Word, and see how He calls us to live.  This is the hope that is brought to us as we read God’s Word each day.

A Gospel Psalm

“Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led captivity captive: Thou hast received gifts for men; yea for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 68:18

                There is a gospel sense to this verse within the context of Psalm 68.  It is quoted powerfully in the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  The context there is the Holy Spirit’s work in advancing the proclamation of the Gospel through the witness of the Church.  This work of proclamation is that of the Risen and Ascended Christ who has entered into His heavenly sanctuary to bring redemption to His people.

In looking carefully at Psalm 68 we are confronted with a Psalm written for the occasion of David’s bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the city of Jerusalem.  Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit David makes a connection with the events of the Exodus as Israel is led out of Egypt to Mount Sinai and then onward through forty years of wandering in the wilderness until they were brought into the Promised Land.  In all of this they were led by the Angel of the LORD in the form of the fiery pillar.

The book of Exodus ends with this reality stated clearly.

“In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out – until the day it lifted.  So the cloud of the LORD was over the Tabernacle by day and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all of their travels” (Exodus 40:36-38).

What a powerful conclusion to the book of Exodus.  They followed the cloud.  The LORD was in the cloud.  Twice in Psalm 68 we are confronted by “Him who rides in the clouds.”

In verse 4 we read “Sing to God, sing in praise of His Name, extol Him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before Him – His Name is the LORD.”  Then in verse thirty two and thirty three we again confront the One who rides in the clouds when we read, “Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth, Sing praise to the LORD, to Him who rides across the highest heavens, who thunders with mighty voice.”

                In the Gospels we read that the disciples followed Jesus as He made His way to Jerusalem, the cross, the resurrection, and His ascension to His Father’s right hand in order to redeem us.   Luke even calls this journey His Exodus.  It is part of His advent, His manifestation of Himself, and of His Father, to this world.

In Ephesians 4:7ff the Apostle Paul quotes from Psalm 68:18 in the following context.  “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  This is why it says; ‘When He ascended on high, He took many captives and gave gifts to His people.’  (What does ‘He ascended’ mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions?  He who descended is the very One who ascended higher than the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)”

                The point is that the very One who came among us also went to be with His Father so that the Holy Spirit might be poured out upon us, gifting us as the church so that we might proclaim this Gospel of Salvation, purchased upon the cross, to this dark sin filled world.  We are called to the reality of being the community of light because we have met the One who demonstrated such great love for us.  This is the advent message!  This is the only word of hope for this sin weary world!  We must hear it and follow Jesus to His Cross so that we can share with Him in His resurrection.

Following Jesus

“Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I am bringing Him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against Him.”  When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”  As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw Him they shouted, “Crucify!  Crucify!”  But Pilate answered, “You take Him and crucify Him.  As for me, I find no basis for a charge against Him.”

                                                                                                                                                                John 19:4-6

                Lately I have found myself meditating upon the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I have come to do this because I have been involved in an extended series of sermons on the Gospels of Mark and Luke.  Initially my desire was simply to do an exposition of the real nature of our Redeemer.  As the series have progressed I have found myself forced to grow in my understanding of just what that nature was all about.  The truth is that if we are ever to truly follow the Lord Jesus Christ into the abundant life that He has called us to it will involve us in a complete reorientation of every part of our lives.  I am not sure yet that I completely understand what this will mean for me and the work that I am called to do, but I am becoming more deeply aware that it will lead me into a way of dying and living which is characterized by the Biblical principles of the cross centred life.  Today in looking at the trial of the Lord Jesus Christ before Pilate, as it is portrayed in Mark 15:1-20 James McGowan made the following observation in his Commentary on Mark’s Gospel.

“Although Pilate delivered Jesus up for scourging, John notes that he made one final appeal to release Jesus, declaring, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no guilt in Him” (John 19:4).  It was only after the multitude and the leaders saw Jesus in this wretched state that they ultimately cried out for His death.  Ray Stedman explains:

                “Now I think we have to ask why they chose Barabbas.  The answer seems to be that they were disappointed with Jesus.  This was the crowd which, just a few days before, had welcomed Him into Jerusalem.  The city was filled with people Jesus had healed.  The eyes of the blind had been opened, the deaf made to hear, and the lame made to walk.  There must have been hundreds and probably thousands of people in Jerusalem at that time whom Jesus had touched personally.  He had awakened within the people the hope, the flaming desire, that this was indeed the Messiah come to deliver them from the yoke of Rome.  All their ideas of messiah-ship centred around the thought that He would be the one who would set them free from the hated bondage of Rome.  Now when they saw Him standing helpless before the Roman governor, saw His apparent unwillingness or inability to make any defence, or to get out of this by any means, or to do anything against the Romans, all of their loyalty to Him collapsed.”” (Ray Stedman, Expository Studies in Mark 8-16: The Ruler Who Serves, Word, Waco Texas, 1976, page 190)

                Earlier in Mark 14:27 Jesus told His disciples that “you will all be offended in Me.”  This was a fulfillment of Isaiah 52:13- 53:12, in which God’s Word points us to the fact that the servant of the Lord will come as one in whom we will be offended.  Such was His calling, in obedience to His Father.  Such is also the calling of each of us who will follow Him on the Gospel road.

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.