Following the Lord Jesus Christ

“But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.  If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 1:25-27

                In the eighth chapter of the book of Nehemiah there is a beautiful account given of the beginnings of a revival among the people of God who have returned to Jerusalem.  It comes about as the Word of God is being faithfully proclaimed to God’s people.  Nehemiah describes it in the following way as he describes the faithful and prayerful work of the Levites.  “They read from the book of the law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.” (Nehemiah 8:8)  Whenever I read a verse like that in the Scriptures it reminds me that this in fact the work that I have been called to.  To the best of my ability I have been called to proclaim God’s Word by reading from it, and making it clear so that the people can understand what is being read.  In truth this means that I am not called to draw attention to myself, but to God.  The goal is that the Word of God, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, as it is found in the Scriptures will create a people who will live it out in obedient faith.

This is the goal towards which James seems to be leading believers as he writes his marvellous letter.  Real faith creates a complete transformation of our lives into the image of Christ.  We become Christ like in our lifestyle when we by faith begin to walk in obedience to the teaching of God’s Word.  Kurt Richardson in his New American Commentary on James (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997) puts it this way.

“Religion is the external, observable qualities of the life of faith in Christ.  In this very important sense, the “religion” of the Christian and the Christian community is indispensible, but only if it is true to the faith.  This is what the Letter of James is all about.  Talk of the accountability of believers to the Word of God and to one another in the church is, after all, talk about religious observances practiced with sincerity.  The tongue becomes the test case for true religion.”

                In the final three verses of the first chapter James gives us a summary of the message on what for many people seems to be a written sermon, in which he seeks to make it clear to us, so that we can all understand, just what it means for us to be a sincere follower of the way of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The genuineness of this way in our lives is revealed when we, by faith, begin to control our tongues like real believers, and live with the charity and the purity of those who are really following Jesus.  For James to be a follower of Jesus involves far more than just our saying so.  It redeems every part of our lives.  This must become our ambition and our hope as well because, as James tells us so forcefully, our future blessedness is tied to our present faith filled obedience to God’s Word.

The Life That Jesus Gives

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.  I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.  For as the father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself.  And He has given Him authority to judge because He is the Son of Man.  Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 5:24-29

                William Hendriksen in his tremendously helpful commentary on the Gospel of John (Banner of Truth Trust, 1961, pp. 199-200) gives some intriguing thoughts on these verses.  He makes a comparison between John’s thought here and his thought in the Book of Revelation 20: 4-6, 11ff which seems to make reference to a first and a second resurrection.   To be redeemed in Revelation twenty is something which is reserved for those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  Hendriksen sees in john chapter 5:24-29 something similar.  To look carefully at these verses we see that John is describing a judgement which is taking place as the Jews respond to the awesome claims which Jesus has made regarding Himself.  Jesus even exercises authority over the Sabbath Law and makes the claim, John tells us repeatedly, that He is in fact equal with God.  The Jewish leaders reject Jesus’ claims and begin to pursue a policy of persecuting and condemning Him to death.  They gather evidence against Him.  Jesus responds by defending Himself and outlining the nature of the evidence.  His claim is to be evaluated as one of two things.  It is either a preposterous claim, of a man claiming that He is in fact God.  If this is the case then Jesus deserved to be condemned under the Law of Moses.  Or it is a truthful claim.  Jesus is who He claims to be and as a result He is worthy of our worship.  The question that this poses for us is to decide just what we believe about the LORD Jesus Christ.  Is He God or is He not?

For the Jewish leaders the question was to be answered in the negative.  They would pursue Him until they arrested Him and put Him to death on the cross.  For Jesus the question was to be answered in another way.  Is He doing what God the Father has said He would do?  Were the works that Jesus was doing the works that the Scriptures said the Messiah would do when He came?  Jesus only deserves judgement if He is not who He claims to be.  Jesus takes the evidence even further because He points out that ultimately only the judgement will reveal the truth.  If He is standing there as the Judge on that day then it will have revealed His authority to do all that He has done.  The message of the Scripture is that not only is Jesus the One who judges us; He is also the sacrifice of atonement by which we are delivered from that judgement.

What then does our text tell us?  In verses 24-27 it points out that a time is coming, which has in fact already arrived in which all who hear His voice believingly will be made alive.  In Ephesians 2:4ff the Apostle Paul writes about this with these powerful words.  “But because of His great love for us, god who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”  Those who are in Christ right now through faith in His Name have been born again to a new life.  They have passed from death to life spiritually and consequently they are enjoying a foretaste of the eternal life which has been given to us in the cross of Christ.  Our names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  We therefore know that we will be rejoicing in the presence of the LORD our God for all of eternity.  John takes us further however because he tells us in verses 28-29 that a physical resurrection is going to take place.  A time is coming.  Notice the change in the wording here from that of verse 25.  The LORD will call and the dead will be raised for judgement.  Those who have been redeemed, those that John calls those who have done good will be raised to life.  Those who have done evil, rejecting the Son of God and therefore remaining in their sin will be raised unto condemnation.  At the heart of this Judgement is a crucified and resurrected judge.  The deciding point is whether your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

John 5 is a chapter in which every individual is subjected to an evaluation.  This is the test; do you hear and recognise the voice of the Lamb?  That is the only way in which you can overcome at the Day of Judgement.  What do you believe about the LORD Jesus Christ?

God’s Holy Word to Us

“So He said to me, “This is the Word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.  What are you, o mighty mountain?  Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground.  Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it!  God bless it!’” 

                Then the Word of the Lord came to me: “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this Temple; his hands will also complete it.  Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.  Who despises the day of small things?  Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.  (These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range throughout the earth.)””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 4:6-10

                Over the past fifty or sixty years it seems as if the Christian Church here in the west has fallen on hard times.   By nearly every measure we use we seem to be in decline.  Fewer people are attending worship services, our influence is declining, and hostility to our beliefs is increasing.  For many, there is a growing longing for those glorious days of the past when things were so much better.  We pray for revival, which is a vital necessity at all times.  We engage in personal evangelism, trying to lead as many as possible to salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Still we find ourselves feeling increasingly out of step with the world around us.

The question we must confront in our present situation is whether our current struggles are really that unusual.  Recent research shows that we live in a time when there is an abundance of persecution directed against Christians.  We know that there have been other times in which there has been a lot of hostility directed against the faithful.  The Bible describes an abundance of times when believers have faced hostility for their faith.  One such time was the time described by the Old Testament books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah where the Temple was being rebuilt by those who had returned from the exile.  It was being rebuilt while the believers were facing an abundance of hostility.  For believers like Zerubbabel, the descendant of King David who was a leading figure in the Hebrew community it must have seemed to be a hopeless task.  What was he to do in such an environment?

It was here that God’s Word came to him reminding him that the task was not his, it was God’s.  “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord.”  There was only one way the task was going to be accomplished and this was through the gracious working of God’s Spirit.  This is not to say that Zerubbabel did not have tasks that he must carry out in faith.  He did in fact have many.  The assurance he was given however was that God was at work in this task to which he had been called.  God assured him of the ultimate success of his work.

As we examine the few verses that head this page we see that God’s promise is that the rebuilding of the Temple is an example of something truly significant that God is going to do in the future.  The Temple is a step along the way to an incredibly powerful event which was even then drawing close.  This was the building of the Kingdom of God through the coming ministry of the Messiah.  God’s promise to Zerubbabel points ahead to this great event.  The struggle that God’s people returning from the exile were facing was in fact the same conflict that the Son of Man would face when He came and which we are currently are facing in our time as we testify to His gracious gift to us.

In each case the solution to our dilemma is the same.  This is to put our faith in that thing which God is doing in the Christ.  At all times success is guaranteed because it is the Sovereign, All Powerful God who is doing the work.  Therefore we are called to prayerful obedience to God’s call to service.  He has called us to testify in every place that He puts us to the wonderful grace that has been given to us in Christ.   The question is this; do we truly believe that the Spirit of God is actively at work in us, through us, and around us, accomplishing God’s great purpose in Christ?  If we believe this truth will we follow Him into the difficult places He leads us, sharing the love of Christ with those whose lives are broken and corrupted by sin?  This has always been God’s plan of redemption.

Spiritual Wisdom

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”

                                                                                                                                                James 1:5-8

                Some forty years ago as a student in High School I learnt a lesson which it seems that I must constantly be relearning.  This was that God chooses to work through the prayers of His people.  I was privileged to be part of a Christian fellowship which seemed to be unusually attractive to those who were seeking to understand what the Christian faith was all about.  There was really only one clear reason for this attractiveness.  This was that every morning before classes began a group of students arrived early and spent about forty five minutes in prayer and Bible Study.  I am not really certain that we really knew what we were doing but we had a firm belief in the effectiveness of prayer.  We were also committed to implementing Biblical principles in our lives.

Years later while reading Iain Murray’s biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones I was to discover that this had always been God’s plan for His people.  Lloyd-Jones used to constantly remind the congregations that he served of the importance of committing everything they did to real believing prayer.  Once when he had made the difficult decision to leave his ministry at a particular Church a member of his congregation was asked about his feelings about the decision.  His answer was enlightening.  He said that the decision was difficult for him personally but that he was convinced that the pastor had committed it to prayer just as he did all of his major endeavours.  Prayer was at the heart of that great man’s ministry.  In addition Lloyd-Jones frequently stressed that in the perplexities of life we must constantly go to God’s Word for wisdom.  We must find out what the Lord says about every part of our lives.

This seems to be the message that James is teaching in the opening chapter of his book.  Seeking the wisdom of God, as it is revealed by the Spirit of God through God’s Word is the pathway to discernment in the difficulties of life.  We must ask God for this wisdom in believing prayer.  We must however ask in faith, without doubting.  James Adamson in his commentary on the book of James writes about this faith as a confidence in prayer with the following advice.

“Here and in the Synoptic Gospels it means primarily the simple act of coming to Jesus with some need in complete confidence that He can and will deal with it.  It was this attitude of faith that seemed to release powers in Jesus that made all things possible.  Often when Jesus had healed an ailing man or woman, His explanation of the healing was: ‘Thy faith hath saved thee’.”  We would venture to add that these links of faith reveal most clearly the relation of God and men as partners in human life.”

This is the lesson we must be continually learning.  Do we believe that God hears and answers our specific prayers?

Amazed and Perplexed

“Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?””

                                                                                                                                                                Acts 2:12

                Increasingly I have been coming to the conclusion that we must pay careful attention to the questions which are asked in the Scriptures.  As I have been carefully studying the Gospels the questions that the Scriptures have asked have seemed to leap off the page.  They demand an answer.  It is not just any answer that they are looking for.  It is a Biblical answer that these questions are seeking.  That this is the case is shown by the sermon which the Apostle Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost.  It is filled with the Word of God.  Peter points to many Biblical references in order to answer the question of the perplexed crowd.  They asked, “What does this mean?”  In asking this question they confront us with a question which we must ask ourselves.  What do the events on the day of Pentecost mean today?  What do these events mean for us personally?

As Peter begins to answer this question he takes us to some Old Testament Scripture.  His desire is to lead us to understand what God is doing in our world so that we can, in faith, keep in step with Him.  So Peter takes us to these Words from God.

1)      Joel 2:28-32 – which speaks to us about how in the last days the Spirit of God will be poured out upon all people.  His purpose will be to bring the whole world to conviction of sin so that anyone who flees to the Lord will be saved.  With the events of the Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ peter tells us that we have entered into the last days.  Now is the time to call upon the Lord for grace.

2)      Psalm 16:8-11 – which speaks about the necessity of the resurrection.  God will not leave His Messiah in the grave to see corruption.  This does not refer to David the King who still lies buried, but it refers to his descendant Jesus of Nazareth who was raised from the grave.

3)      Psalm 110:1 – which speaks about the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ to the place of honour at His Father’s right hand in heaven.  Peter takes us right through the account of the life death, resurrection, ascension, and current ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ at His Father’s right hand where He intercedes for us.

4)      Peter takes the message further.  In response to the questioning of the crowd Peter begins to speak about repentance and baptism.  He speaks about the Promise of God which is to be poured out upon us.  Jeremiah 31:31-34 tells us about the New Covenant which is written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  Peter does not mention this Scripture, although he might have had he wished.  Neither does he mention John 14:15ff in which Jesus promises that after His ascension He will send another comforter, the Holy Spirit, the Promise of the Father who will lead us into all truth.  He will also empower us to carry out the missionary call that God has place upon our lives.  John Miller tells us in Outgrowing the Ingrown Church that at the heart of the Lord’s promise to answer our prayers is the Promise of the Risen Lord to supply the Holy Spirit in answer to prayer as the power source for our missionary endeavours.  This is the meaning of the events of the Day of Pentecost.

In The School Of Prayer

                “After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise Him for the splendour of His holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:

                                                “Give thanks to the LORD,

                                                For His love endures forever.””

                                                                                                                                                2 Chronicles 20:21

                “Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, His Holy Mountain.”

                                                                                                                                                Psalm 48:1

                One of the key themes in the Bible is that God speaks to us, calling us to trust Him as we live in the light of the Gospel message.  In the New Testament book of Hebrews we read these powerful statements.

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.”

                                                                                                                                                Hebrews 1:1-2a

Later in Hebrews we read this,

“Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert.”

                                                                                                                                                Hebrews 3:7-8

                This second quote in Hebrews is a quotation from Psalm 95:7-8, in which we are reminded of the vital importance of our listening to the Word of the Lord and responding to it with obedient faith.  Christian people are called to a life that is characterized by this faith which listens to and obeys the LORD who came to us as our redeemer.  God has spoken to us in His Son.  In doing so He has called us to a prayerful life.  This however means much more than just saying our prayers each do.  It is a calling to a life of faith in the LORD.  We live according to His Word.

This is what we see portrayed in 2 Chronicles 20 and in Psalm 48.  The focus is upon those who heard God’s calling to follow His way in faith even when that way does not seem to fit with the way our flesh would take us.  As we live this way, by faith in the LORD, we discover that He really teaches us to pray in ways that are filled with faith and conformed to His will.  It is as if, to use Andrew Murray’s phrase, we are enrolled, with Christ, in the school of prayer.

This is what Robert Dean is describing in his funeral sermon for a woman named Lucia which is found in his book Leaps of Faith: Sermons from the Edge.

“The Psalms have been called the “Prayerbook of the Bible.”  But to our supposedly enlightened, but actually spiritually superficial age, the Psalms can be both startling and off-putting on account of their sheer earthiness.  In addition, the utter transparency and vulnerability of the Psalmists on display in the Psalter can leave us shifting uncomfortably in our pews.  But the Psalms have been the great school of prayer for God’s people for thousands of years.  In learning to pray the Psalms we learn to pray with Jesus who Himself prayed and lived the Psalter.  Lucia’s own faith was formed through her immersion in the school of prayer which was the Psalms.  As a result she could speak quite openly and freely about her own missteps and mistakes.  She could also speak quite matter-of-factly about her various ailments, sometimes leaving prim and proper listeners squirming on account of the detailed nature of her accounts.  Prayer was an essential discipline for Lucia. “

                The question is has it become an essential discipline for you as you follow Jesus in this life of faith?

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.”

For God’s Glory

“When He heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death.  No it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.””

                                                                                                                                                                                John 11:4

                John’s Gospel is a marvellous piece of writing.  It has the purpose of bringing the reader to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  John tells us that this is his purpose as he writes towards the end of the Gospel these powerful words.  “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.” (John 20:30-31)  In the first half of the book John presents teaching, statements which point to the identity of Jesus as the Christ, based upon the Old Testament Scriptural teaching, as well as seven miraculous signs which call us to faith in Him.  In this eleventh chapter we have the seventh sign.  Of all that Jesus has done so far this has to be considered the greatest sign.

It begins with another crisis.  This is an urgent request for Jesus to attend to the sickbed of a man, Lazarus by name, who is part of a family which is beloved by Him.  If He can get to Lazarus on time then the Great Physician can certainly heal him.  The call is urgent.  There is really only one thing that Jesus should do.  His friend needs Him so He must go back into Judea even though that will create considerable danger because the Jewish leaders have recently tried to stone Him.  So far Jesus has escaped their designs, but now events have conspired against Him.

The Lord Jesus is never one to live under the control of what others consider urgent.  The plan for His life and His death is under His own control.  He waits for an additional two days, telling His disciples that this sickness is not unto death.  There is another, greater purpose to Lazarus’ illness.  It is to Glorify God as it glorifies the Son of God.  What Jesus is telling His disciples is that Lazarus’ illness will bring Glory to the Father, Son, and Spirit by demonstrating clearly that even death, that great enemy of the human race has been triumphed over by the Lord Jesus Christ.  This illness is not unto death because Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.

I believe that Jesus is pointing beyond the restoration of Lazarus’ life here however.  He tells them that He personally is the Resurrection and the life.  He will triumph over death and be the first fruits of those who are raised.  In John’s Gospel the Glory of Christ is revealed in the cross and resurrection.  To be raised, to triumph over death, Jesus must first die.  This is the work which He has come to do.  It is completely in His control as to its timing and manner.  It is not a defeat or a tragedy; it is the way to real and abundant life.

For Lazarus to be raised he must first die.  This points our attention ahead to an even more important death and resurrection.  Life comes as death is triumphed over by the Lord Jesus Christ.  Verse sixteen of this chapter has the disciple Thomas voice a prophetic statement which points to the way of the disciple.  “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”   It is entirely possible that Thomas was simply expressing his view that Jesus was following a risky course of action.  We can see loyalty and even some courage in him.  I am convinced that John presents the statement however as a prophetic call to the way of discipleship.  Those who would be disciples of Jesus must, Deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).    To follow Jesus as a disciple however is the road to abundant life.  The Puritan writer John Flavel expressed it this way.

“The Christian shall gain that which he cannot lose, by parting with that which he cannot keep.”

Do You Really Mean It?

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.  And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.  Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.  Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

                                                                                                                                                                Colossians 4:2-6

                A number of years ago I was privileged to hear a seasoned preacher addressing a denominational gathering in which the weighty theme of demonstrating the reality of the Gospel was being considered.  The preacher announced the theme he had been given to consider, then asked those gathered a simple but profound question.  “Do you really mean it?”  In thinking about that question it occurs to me that that must be at the heart of every one of our worship services, or devotional times.  Do we really mean it when we pray seeking God’s will in our lives?  Do we really mean it when we study the Word of God, seeking to trace out God’s revealed purposes for our lives?  Do we really mean it?

Steven J. Lawson, in The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards, wrestles with the seventy resolutions which Edwards penned as a young man.  Lawson quotes these words from the preamble to Edward’s Resolutions.

“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat Him by His grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to His will, for Christ’s sake.  Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.” (Page 157)

                Lawson presents Edwards as a man who really meant it.  He recognised his own weakness, being desperately in need of the Holy Spirit’s help.  He sought that help on a daily basis.  Edwards also recognised that he had a great need for self-control and discipline in his life; therefore he set up a means by which he could engage in a lifelong pursuit of God.  That was his goal, to grow in Godliness.

These thoughts help us as we approach the command that the Apostle Paul gives to the Colossians in our text today.  When we begin to think about being people who are committed to prayer do we really mean it?  If we do really mean to be a people at prayer what steps are we taking to make sure that it will become a reality among us?  As Paul writes to the Colossians he uses the present tense to tell us that we must be continually engaged in a life of prayer.  It is not a onetime thing; it must be a continuous activity or a habit in our lives.

The reason for this is that we are people who are always fallible, desperately in need of the help that the Holy Spirit gives.  The work of living out the Christian life, and engaging in evangelism requires so much of us that it cannot be engaged in successfully apart from the help that God gives us by His grace.  If this was true for the Apostle Paul, and it certainly seems to be from the way he pleads for the prayers of the Church, then it must also be true for us.  We must be people who prayerfully seek an open door for the proclamation of the mystery of Christ.  Even in chains Paul is looking for an open door.  He is asking for boldness to make this gospel clear to his hearers.  Some of them might react violently to Paul’s message but he still must preach it clearly.  Is anything less required of us in these difficult and indifferent days?  The question remains.  Do we really mean it?

The Promise Fullfilled

“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted.  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.””

                                                                                                                                                Matthew 28:16-20

                Throughout the long history of the Christian Church there has always been an intense wrestling with the task of the expansion of the Christian Church.  We might call the task evangelism, or disciple making.  Some might refer to such terms as Church Growth or a missional approach to Church life.  As we have debated, and developed our work we have had a whole variety of approaches, some better than others.  At the heart of the debate however has been a desire to see people brought into a genuine discipleship.  Hugh Halter, in his book The Tangible Kingdom points to the absolute necessity of the working of the Holy Spirit in our attempts to carry out our call to lead others to genuine faith.  A century ago a missionary writer by the name of Roland Allan touched upon the same theme in his books Missionary Methods: Ours or Saint Paul’s? And The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church.  In both Allan pointed us towards faith in the Holy Spirit as He causes us to abide in the Lord Jesus Christ as the power source for authentic expansion of the Kingdom of God.

It seems as if our present debate is leading us back to a real wrestling with the Great Commission as it is found at the end of Matthew’s Gospel.  In Matthew 28:16-20 we encounter several helpful thoughts which push us forward in mission.  The first is that such a work is in fact the response that we make to genuine worship.  Worship requires faith.  Matthew tells us that when the Disciples met Jesus on the mountain in Galilee they worshipped Him, “but some doubted”.  What was required was faith.  We might ask however; “Faith in what?”  As Jesus delivers the commission He leads us into that faith.  What these disciples have experienced, and what we are called to believe is that the Lord Jesus Christ has fulfilled in His ministry the prophesy Daniel delivers which is really the promise of a coming Kingdom.  In Daniel 7:14 we read, “He was given authority, glory, and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”  Later on in Daniel 7:27 we read further that, “Then the sovereignty power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High.  His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and adore Him.”  There are many things that could be said about these verses and how we can understand them, but for our purposes here I will confine myself to these thoughts.

1)      Jesus is claiming, in Matthew 28:16-20 that this promise has been fulfilled in Him.

2)      Faith that this is so is a necessity if we are to be part of the promised kingdom.

3)      It is fulfilled in Him and in His people, who are in fact “in Him.”

4)      We abide in Him as the Holy Spirit unites us with Him.  This is one of the central doctrines of our faith.

5)      John Miller in Outgrowing the Ingrown Church describes how this became a reality for him as he gave himself without reservation to the Lord Jesus Christ by faith.  Miller goes on to say that he then stepped out in faith obeying that command of the Lord even when he did not feel like it.

6)      This is what Jesus means when He tells His disciples that they are to make disciples of all nations as they are going.”  For me this means that in every place that I find myself I am called to obey my Lord’s command to make disciples of Him.

7)      This command is for all Christians.  It is not restricted to Disciples, or Apostles, or Pastors, or to those who some hired to serve.  It is for every believer.

8)      The command requires faith that recognises that as we are going, He is going with us.

In times of revival in the church I believe that we draw close to this reality.  We begin to pray and to live as those who have heard the call of the Lord to go out with this faith, courageously making disciples of the nations.