A Thought on Following Jesus

“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have Him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.  When Jesus saw this, He was indignant.  He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them.”

                                                                                                                                                                Mark 10:13-16

                As Mark continues his discussion of discipleship in this second half of his Gospel he confronts us with the real nature of the Kingdom of God which we are entering into through Christ.  For many of us it seems as if the Kingdom of God is to be entered only by the strong and the self righteous.  We must, we think, make ourselves worthy of it.  To stay in it we must keep ourselves worthy of it.  When we look around for those that we feel called to evangelize we often find our attention falling on those who are worthy.  I am reminded of a conversation I had with a young woman, close to thirty years ago, about the need to evangelize a particular couple that she knew.  Her reasoning was that this couple, of all the people that she knew, were the most worthy of my labours because they were people whose lifestyle was almost that of believers except they did not yet believe in Jesus.  She reasoned that once they were converted they would make wonderful Christians.

Now I was not against evangelizing them but my friend’s reasoning was flawed.  We do not make ourselves worthy of salvation by our behaviour.  We come into the Kingdom of God as those who are broken and needy, absolutely humbled as we, in all of our sin, encounter the holiness of God.  This is what Jesus is saying as He deals with His disciple’s pride in this text.  If we don’t find ourselves coming to God as those who are among the weakest and most vulnerable in society then we will never enter into God’s Kingdom.  The word that Mark uses here for little children is actually best translated as babies, infants.  In the Greek and Roman, as well as the Hebrew society of Mark’s day these were the very lowest in society.  They had no rights.  Often they would be discarded by the important people of their day.  Historians tell us that in Roman and Greek society a father even had the right to discard a child for any reason.  This was a practice that was followed by many and which was not outlawed until the fourth century AD.

Jesus tells His disciples that if they are to enter into the Kingdom of God they must become like these humble children.  They must in fact come to the Lord as those who are in reality nothing in the world’s eyes.  Being in this position we have nothing to bargain with.  All we can do is receive the gift that God gives us in Christ.  Once in the Kingdom we discover that we only stay in it by grace.  We cannot maintain our position by power, or any other strength that we might think we have.  Our position is held only by the will of our faithful God.  It is based upon His faithfulness.  Therefore we are secure because God will never be unfaithful to His own sovereign purpose.

Having come to Jesus in this way we then discover that there are many others, including children, who can enter this Kingdom.  It is open to anyone who will enter it through faith in Christ.  No one need be excluded because entrance does not depend upon us except in this one way we must accept the gift that God has given us in Christ.  Won’t you come and join us in the Kingdom of God.

The Key Word

“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.  Then will the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy.  Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”

                                                                                                                                                                Isaiah 35:5-6

                “Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.  There some people brought Him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Him to place His hand on the man.”

                                                                                                                                                                Mark 7:31-32

I am constantly amazed by the new things which I discover every time I carefully read the Bible.  Kenneth Wuest once wrote regarding the purpose of one of His books the following comment.

“The purpose of this book is to make available to the Bible student who is not familiar with the original text the added richness and light which a study of the Greek Scriptures brings.”

(Kenneth Wuest, Golden Nuggets from the Greek New Testament, paragraph one of the preface)

There is so much which we discover which grows our faith as we examine God’s Word.  Such is the case when we look at the account in Mark 7:31-37 regarding Jesus’ restoration of the hearing and speech of a man who was deaf and who could hardly speak.  Mark uses a word here which is found only one other place in the Scripture.  That is in the Greek version of the book of Isaiah the 35th chapter verses 5-6 (which would have been familiar to Mark’s original readers).  The word in both places means “a stammering tongue”.  Mark is calling our attention to the wonderful fact that Isaiah’s prophesy was being fulfilled in these events in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is made even clearer to us when we see that just three verses earlier in Isaiah 35:2 we read that “the glory of Lebanon will be given to it (the desert)”.  These wonderful things will be taking place in Lebanon.  It is in this very region, Tyre, Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee, that this notable miracle takes place.  Jesus is living out a parable whose purpose is to cause those who observe it or us who read about it to ask questions about its purpose.  Do we truly recognise the one who is fulfilling the Scripture right in front of us?

Robert Rayburn in a sermon entitled “Hear Him Ye Deaf” writes the following.

“That this miracle has that symbolic significance – as a picture of salvation from sin and death and as a picture of the dawning of a new day, a new creation, and a new world – is further confirmed by the way Mark speaks of hearing a spiritual capacity.  We have noted already how often the word “hear” or “hearing” occurs in Mark with spiritual overtones; that is, referring to grasping or understanding the significance of Jesus and the good news about Him.”

                The significant question for each of us today is whether we truly hear what Mark is telling us about the Lord Jesus Christ.

A Call To Prayer For Revival

“And when He had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb.  Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Revelation 5:8

                Richard Bauckham, writing at the conclusion of his essay, “Prayer in the Book of Revelation” in Into God’s Presence, edited by Richard Longenecker (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2001, page 270) focuses our attention on the key purpose of the Biblical call to prayer when he writes the following.

“The prayer for the parousia in 22:20b, therefore, encompasses and completes all other prayers.  It is, as it were, the most that can be prayed.  It asks for everything – for all that God purposes for and promises to His whole creation in the end.  In the understanding that this everything is to be expected of Jesus, who declares Himself “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13), it takes the form of the simple entreaty to the Lord Jesus to come.”

                This conclusion comes at the end of an essay in which Bauckham traces the way in which all of the visions of judgement and deliverance found in the book come about as a response to the prayers of the saints.  There is a principle outlined here.  This is that the great advances in the Kingdom of God and even those small, seemingly insignificant, advances are the consequence of intercessory praying.  The Old Testament Prophet Zechariah put it this way.  “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication.  They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly as one grieves for a firstborn son.” (Zechariah 12:10)  God’s actions are always preceded by the prayerful intercession of His people.  It is not that God is dependent on our praying.  The truth is that He is not dependent upon us in any way.  He is completely sovereign in every way. What God wants to reveal to us is in fact that we are completely dependent upon Him.  He will not share His glory with another, even when that other is one of His saints.  Zechariah tells us that even our praying is the result of God pouring out upon us a spirit of grace and supplication.  From our perspective it looks as if the call to prayer comes from us.  The reality however is that it always comes from the workings of the Holy Spirit among us.

Jonathan Edwards in his Thoughts on Revival in New England, in 1740 expressed this reality with these words.  “It is God’s will through His wonderful grace, that the prayers of His saints should be one of the great principle means of carrying on the designs of Christ’s kingdom in the world.  When God has something very great to accomplish for His church, it is His will that there should precede it the extraordinary prayers of His people; as is manifest by Ezekiel 36:37, and it is revealed that, when God is about to accomplish great things for His church, He will begin by remarkably pouring out the spirit of grace and supplication (see Zechariah 12:10).”  What a precious truth.  The Lord patiently awaits our coming to the end of our own schemes so that we will begin to cry out to Him for another outpouring of His grace.  Nothing is more important at this time than that we will heed His call to draw near to Him in Intercessory prayer.

In the first half of the eighteenth century Jonathan Edwards issued his humble call for extraordinary prayer for revival.  The result was the great awakening in which nations were turned around by God’s grace.  The times in which Edwards lived were tremendously difficult, and their only hope was in the intervention of God.  So they prayed.  We too live in very difficult times.  Will we heed God’s invitation to prayer so that our times will be turned around, not by our schemes, but by God’s gracious intervention?

Biblical People

“And He said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.”  So I opened my mouth, and He gave me the scroll to eat.  Then He said to me, “Son of man, eat the scroll I am giving to you and fill your stomach with it.”  So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ezekiel 3:1-3

                One of the great blessings of following a Bible reading plan such as the McCheyne plan, or any other plan that takes you through the whole Scripture on a regular basis, is that, over time, it gives you an increasing clarity on just what the Bible teaches.  This is especially true if you take the time to brood over the Scriptures.  That is Packer and Nystrom’s word from “Praying”, and it is used to describe the process of prayerful meditation upon the Word of God which leads to the application of God’s truth into our lives.  It is that process that I believe Ezekiel is being called to into the symbolic setting of his vision in Ezekiel chapter three.  He is told at least four times in these verses to eat the scroll.  He obeyed and discovered that God’s Word, even when bringing us a difficult message is always sweet.  It is the Word that brings us eternal life.  It is to be ingested, that is it is to become part of us.

Years ago I read a tribute of John Bunyan written by Charles Haddon Spurgeon which reflected upon the reality of what was at the heart of Bunyan’s life.  To paraphrase Spurgeon he stated that Bunyan was a thoroughly Biblical man.  His whole nature was infused with the Scriptures.  If you where to prick Bunyan with a pin he would bleed Bible because his blood was in fact bibline.  What a wonderful tribute to that godly preacher and author.  We need to acknowledge however that that was not a natural state for Bunyan.  He was a thoroughly Biblical man because he had taken the time to meditate prayerfully upon the rich truth of the Scripture.  He ingested it, and it changed him.  It could be argued that this was the result of certain events which were imposed upon Bunyan, as he was imprisoned for much of his life and ministry.  In the providence of God he was put in an environment where he could not be distracted from the prayerful meditation on God’s Word and the application of it to his life.   For us there are many distractions, but if we are to incorporate God’s Word into our lives we must make the commitment to meditate upon it.

Ezekiel is to ingest God’s Word, and then speak it prophetically to the people of Israel.  This is to be his life.  The people who hear, and who read him will not be responding to Ezekiel, choosing to like or dislike his message.  They will be encountering God.  They will be dealing with the God who is speaking to them.  The author of the book of Hebrews puts this in powerful terms as he writes to us about the God who has spoken to us in His Son.

“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, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe.”

                                                                                                                                                                Hebrews 1:1-2

                “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sins deceitfulness.  We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.  As has just been said; “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.””

                                                                                                                                                                Hebrews 3:12-15

                We are called to hear Him as He speaks to us in His Word.  With the Spirit’s help we come to obey the truth we find in God’s Word.  Therefore the word that we have heard in the Bible is God’s Word.  It must become part of us as we meditate upon it, prayerfully coming to understand and apply it to ourselves.  In this way we become Christ-centred people.

The Crucified One

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said.  “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He has risen!  He is not here.  See the place where they laid Him.””

                                                                                                                                                                Mark 16:6

                As Mark concludes his Gospel he gives us a brief, but powerful picture of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This picture should transform our understanding of all that our Lord Jesus Christ did for us in His cross.  It should also transform how we now follow Him in this world of sin.  Mark, in quoting the Angel’s words at the empty tomb uses a perfect participle for the word translated as crucified.  What this means is that the word describes the present state of the Lord Jesus Christ as being dependant on a past action.  As Peter Bolt translates it in The Cross From a Distance we find an incredible truth here.

“It is significant that the Greek uses the perfective aspect in this description of Jesus, which conveys ‘the state or condition of the subject of the verb as the result of an action’ (McKay 1994 31, cf. 27) He is ‘the One who remains crucified’.  The crucified one has risen.  The risen one is the crucified one.”  (p. 168)

                What exactly does this mean for us?  It means that the Lord Jesus Christ was raised as one who is now permanently in the state of having been crucified.  He showed His disciples His wounds.  He invited Thomas to put his fingers into the nail prints, and his hand into the wound in our Lord’s side.  It was a bodily resurrection of the One who was and is crucified for us.  He now goes out into our world as the Crucified One who redeems us from death.  Everything has changed as a consequence.

How do we illustrate this?  I will point to two events which have opened my eyes to this reality.  The first happened on a Monday evening a number of years ago as my wife and I walked with a group of friends who were tourists in Toronto.  As we walked in downtown Toronto, on some very busy streets our friends were as you can well imagine enthralled with the many tall and beautiful buildings in the city.  They were always looking up, trying to take as many pictures as they could.  As a consequence they were constantly in danger of tripping over the many needy folk who were sitting on the sidewalks.  As we walked I began to think about how we believers find ourselves looking up to the Lord lost in the wonder of worship, and in consequence finding ourselves having difficulty ‘seeing’ the needs of those around us.

The second incident happened one afternoon as I was reading through an issue of the Mosaic magazine put out by Canadian Baptist Ministries.  This magazine can be found at www.cbmin.org.    While reading an article in this magazine I came across these words spoken by a homeless man in Prague which illustrate what I believe Mark is saying.

“People just look up at the beautiful buildings, but don’t look down and see us lying on the streets at their feet.” (Mosaic, Fall edition p. 10)

                To be looking at Jesus means to follow Him wherever He is to be found.  Mark tells us that He is the crucified One at the right hand of the Father interceding for us.  Because He is God incarnate He is also the crucified One going out into a needy world to redeem all who will believe.  In sacrificial love we are called to follow Him out into our real world knowing that He meets us as the One who is forever crucified.  It changes our perspective when we begin to follow Him in this way.

“He who would come after me, must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”   (Mark 8:34)

A New Heart and Spirit

“Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign Lord.  Repent!  Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.  Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.  Why will you die, O house of Israel?  For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord.  Repent and live!”

                                                                                                                                                Ezekiel 18:30-32

 

One of the joys of following a disciplined and consistent plan of Bible reading is that you are led through the entire Scripture regularly and as a result you begin to pick up some of the powerful themes which run through the Word of God.  Such has been the case for me recently.  We have been recommending that our church follow the McCheyne reading plan which takes you through the entire Bible every year, and the New Testament and book of Psalms twice a year.  It is a wonderful reading plan which I have now followed for the past four years.  I have been amazed at how much this plan has helped me to grow in my understanding of the Scriptures.  Every day brings a new discovery.

A number of years ago I added to my daily devotional readings D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God. I began to read first from volume one and then from volume two.  These books are keyed to the McCheyne plan.  In one reading Carson suggested that the text which is at the head of today’s blog entry from Ezekiel 18:30-32 is one that should be memorized by Christians.  I agree with Carson.  Here we are called to seriously repent, turning from our sin and seeking God’s forgiveness.  But there is more here.  That Ezekiel calls us to repentance is clear here, but he goes deeper in calling us to take what almost sounds like a New Testament doctrine.  We are invited to “get a new heart and a new spirit.”  An inner transformation is called for here.  The implication is that this is something that must be done in us by God.  It is in fact a work of grace.

This is made even clearer when we discover that at the beginning of this chapter Ezekiel quotes a popular proverb which he then disproves.

“The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Ezekiel 18:2

This proverb Ezekiel writes will no longer be quoted in Israel because God is going to do something which will make every individual responsible for his or her own sin.  The stage is set for real godliness to come into the world.

In Jeremiah 31:29 the same proverb is quoted and disproved but now on the basis of a promised new covenant which God is going to introduce in which each person will have the Law of God, that personal spiritual knowledge of God, written upon their heart.  What Jeremiah describes here is the born again experience.  We are called to memorize Ezekiel 18:30-32 because it is one of the clearest Old Testament promises of the new work which God is about to do in us through the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is a serious call to receive the life of God into our heart and souls.

Will you join me in seeking this new life?

Doctrine Matters

“The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

                                                                                                                                                Romans 6:10-11

                The doctrine that we believe matters to us.  So often in this day and age we live as if it does not.  Practically we live as if everything depends upon the body of work that we accomplish in life.  In recent years I have heard various commentators in the United States referring to their society as a “meritocracy”.  What they seem to mean by this phrase is that we get in life what we deserve, or what we have earned.  For so many even in our society here in Canada we find ourselves living solely upon the understanding that we will only get in life those things that we have earned.  We believe that what we have received is what we deserve.  We either boast about what we have, or we find ourselves depressed by how we have fallen short of what others have earned.

It is in this type of thinking that we must find ourselves recognising that doctrine matters.  As the Apostle Paul has been writing to the Romans he has been proclaiming the true Gospel to them this is that we are redeemed not based upon what we have earned.  If that were the case then we would all be lost for “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  Think about that if God gave each of us exactly what we deserved based upon the life that we have really lived we would all be lost.  He has not given us what we deserve however.  He has given us a free gift, grace in the Lord Jesus Christ crucified on Calvary’s cross.  When the Lord Jesus Christ died upon the cross, Paul states in his doctrine in Romans 6:10, He died to sin once for all.  It was an even that only had to take place once.  That one act of God was eternally effective in dealing with all of our sin.  Nothing else was needed.  Therefore everything in our lives was changed when we came to believe in Him.

Pau applies this to us in a very practical way.  “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  Robert Haldane puts it this way.  “Unless we keep in mind that we are dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord, we cannot serve Him as we ought:  we shall otherwise be serving in the oldness of the letter, and not in the newness of spirit.”  What Paul is writing here is that we are to keep the doctrine of the crucified Christ always in mind.  Nothing is more important to us than this.  Our flesh loves to fall back in all manner of practical ways into the doctrine of merit.  We trust in it for our salvation believing that we have surely overcome our own sinfulness.  We also use it as a guide for evaluating one another.  How does this other person deserve to be treated?  Consequently we find ourselves boasting in our own flesh.  In doing so we forget that we have fallen short of God’s glory.  We have nothing substantial to boast about.

If however we believe the doctrine found here we find ourselves cast upon the finished work of Christ.  We reckon, or count, ourselves as one who has received grace from God in Christ.  He have died with Jesus on the Cross once for all.  It is a finished work, done by God, not by us.  We, by faith, are now living unto God, receiving what Christ has graciously merited for us.  Everything has now changed for us.  Practically we now know that our future is secured by his grace.  We also have been set free to extend the same grace we have received to others.  We love as He has loved us.  Do you believe the doctrine?

The Glory of Christ

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.  In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

                                                                                                                                                                John 1:1-5

                An examination of the Gospel of John, in fact a careful look at all of the Apostle John’s writings, leads us to develop a strong suspicion that one of the themes that he wanted to impress upon our minds was the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.  John points us back beyond the beginning of creation in order to develop the foundation of his gospel proclamation.  The one he is about to introduce us to is someone much more glorious than any historical figure.  He is in fact the one through whom all of creation has come into being, and in whom everything currently holds together.  John calls us to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Glorious One whom the whole of Scripture has been pointing to as the Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Destiny of Creation.  John uses the word Logos to describe Him.  This is the Word of God as a person active in every part of God’s revelation of Himself.  Today I will focus upon two aspects of this revelation in order to point us to the Glory of Christ.

First the Scriptures describe Him as wisdom personified.  In 1 Corinthians 1:24 we read, “But to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  In Proverbs 8:22-31 we read about Wisdom as being personified and much that is written there seems to inform John’s description of the Word of God.

“The Lord brought me forth as the first of His works, before His deeds of old; I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.  When there was no oceans, I was given birth, when there was no springs abounding with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, before He made the earth or its fields or any of the dust of the world.  I was there when He set the heavens in place, when He marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when He established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when He gave the sea its boundary so the waters could not overstep His command, and when He marked out the foundations of the earth.  Then I was the craftsman at His side.  I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in His presence, rejoicing in His whole world and delighting in mankind.”

                John links his portrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom he calls us to believe in, with this being who existed before anything had been created.  In fact John takes his Gospel further by telling us that not only was this being with God before creation, He was in fact God Himself.  The teaching in the Old Testament about this pointed further as well because in many places this Divine Logos was also identified with the Angel of the Lord who was in fact the Pre-Incarnate Christ.  In Exodus 23:20-23 we read about this figure.  “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.  Pay attention to Him and listen to what He says.  Do not rebel against Him; He will not forgive you your rebellion, since My Name is in Him.  If you listen carefully to what He says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you.  My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.”  What a tremendous promise for these Old Testament people of God.  This Angel of the Lord will be God Himself among them, leading them.  The Name of God, the character of God, will be in this Angel.  It is this figure that John is pointing to as he calls us to faith.  He asks us to lift up our eyes and behold the Glorious Christ who has come in humility to redeem us through the Cross.

Such truth saves us from sin.  It is this that Charles Haddon Spurgeon describes when he tells us the account of the conversion of an ancient Christian writer by the name of Junius the younger, quoting his description of the way in which he came to Christ.  “My father, who was frequently reading the New Testament , and had long observed with grief the progress I had made in infidelity, had put that book in my way in his library, in order to attract my attention, if it might please God to bless his design, though without giving me the least intimation of it.  Here therefore, I unwittingly opened the New Testament thus providentially laid before me.  At the very first view, although I was deeply engaged in other thoughts, that grand chapter of the evangelist and apostle presented itself to me — `In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.` I read part of the chapter, and was so greeted that I instantly became struck with the divinity of the argument, and the majesty and authority of the composition, as surpassing the highest flights of human eloquence.  My body shuddered; my mind was in amazement, and I was so agitated the whole day that I scarcely know who was I was; nor did the agitation cease, but continued till it was at last soothed by a humble faith in Him who was made flesh and dwelt among us.“

Advancing The Gospel

“Yes and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”

                                                                                                                                                Philippians 1:18b- 19

The Apostle Paul is writing a very joyful letter to the Church in Philippi, and dealing with some of the difficulties that he has been facing.  As he writes this Paul gives us the proper, Biblical perspective on the circumstances that we face in our lives.  As believers we are called to love and glorify God with every aspect of our lives.  At times it seems as if this is impossible on account of the overwhelming nature of our circumstances.  When we look at the context of what Paul writes here we discover his perspective, which must become ours if we expect to enjoy the love of our God.  Paul’s perspective was Gospel centred.  The one question that he wrestled with was whether the Gospel would be advanced by his circumstances.  The facts were that he was imprisoned, chained to a guard, and prevented from freely serving the Lord.  For us such circumstances would be an intolerable hardship.  For Paul they served to advance the Gospel cause.  So he rejoiced in them.

The Prophet Jeremiah calls us to a different perspective on life from what is normal for us.  He writes,

“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man of his riches,  but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight, declares the Lord.”

                                                                                                                                                Jeremiah 9:23ff

In the book of Job we read,

“Keep silent and let me speak; then let come to me what may.  Why do I put myself in such jeopardy and take my life in my hands?  Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him; I will surely defend my ways to His face.  Indeed this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before Him!”

                                                                                                                                                Job 13:13-16

                The Job quotation hints at the defence which Paul gives for his ministry.  No matter what happens to him he is praying that the purposes of the Gospel will be advanced through his life or his death.  This is the joyful approach that we are to take to our circumstances.  Our prayer and our commitment must be that the Gospel purpose will be advanced by what we are facing.

Self-Denial

“Then He said to them all: “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it.””

                                                                                                                                                                                Luke 9:23-24

What does it cost us to follow Jesus today in North America?  Some might say that it doesn’t cost us much because we live in a much easier time and place for Christian witness than that of the Apostles or even those in other Nations around the world.  Perhaps it would help if we were to rephrase the question just a little bit.  What does it cost us to truly follow Jesus today baring witness to His Gospel in our diverse, secular, 21st century cities and world?

I have been wrestling with this question recently as I am called to be a witness to the Gospel of Christ in the heart of a rapidly growing diverse city.  The easy route would be to throw up my hands and to say that the task is impossible.  However deep inside I know that the Lord has called me to this place and that I will be accountable for those that I have been placed among.  The calling, my calling, is to be faithful in proclaiming the Gospel of the grace of Christ to the people of my city.  This calls me, or should I say us, to a life of self-denial in baring witness here.  What does this self-denial look like?  Here we are helped by this definition given by Wilhelmus a’Brakel.

“Self-denial is a Christian virtue, granted by God to His children, whereby they, out of love for God’s will, neither give heed nor yield to their intellect, will, and inclinations insofar as they are in opposition to the will of God—and oppose and suppress them instead. They do so by a voluntary forsaking and rejection of all that pertains to their natural well-being, if God’s cause demands such from them. This [is] to the honour of God and the welfare of their neighbours.” (from “Self-denial (Free Grace Broadcaster – Puritan Collection #218)”

 

What is needed is the pursuit of the will of God in every part of life.  Don Carson writes in Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor which is a brief biography of his father Tom Carson and his life as an evangelical Church Planter in mid 20th century Quebec an exploration of the trials of a Godly man, faithfully baring witness under some extremely severe trials.  Others have written about the trials and persecutions of the reformers and the New Testament Apostles.  These faithfully persevered in their witness despite huge odds.  In examining these lives certain lessons stand out.

1)      These all laboured in the Scriptures.  To bear witness requires that we know and understand what our message is.

2)      They bore witness to the Gospel of Christ.  They turned away from a trust in anything other than the Grace of God in Christ Crucified.  This is our only hope.

3)      They loved God first and their neighbour as themselves.

4)      They were persons of integrity.  They lived true to the commitments they made in their lives.

5)      They were people of prayer.  Carson sums up his father’s life with these brief words.  “He was not very good at putting people down, except on his prayer lists.”  Tom Carson was a man who had very extensive prayer lists which he faithfully brought to the Throne of Grace.

The question these points confront me with is whether this describes me?  Does it describe you?