Praise The Lord

“Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His Holy Name.  Praise the LORD, o my soul, and forget not all His benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagles.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 103:1-5

  1. M. Lloyd-Jones, at the beginning of a sermon entitled “Four Pictures of Life” in his Old Testament Evangelistic Sermons, writes the following helpful comment.

“I always point out whenever I happen to preach from the book of Psalms that a Psalm is a song and should always be taken in its entirety.  Certainly there are individual verses in the Psalms which merit prolonged and separate attention but a Psalm is generally composed so as to give expression to some one big prevailing thought or mood.” (Lloyd-Jones, p. 181)

                Our task is to ask just what the big prevailing thought or mood of Psalm 103 is.  This calls for a careful examination of the Psalm, in its context.  It seems that Psalm 103 and 102 are to be taken together.  In Psalm 102 we find ourselves identifying with one who is afflicted and as a consequence is crying out to the LORD for deliverance.  In fact the Psalms superscription states that it is “A prayer of an afflicted man.  When he is faint and pours out his lament to the LORD.” (Psalm 102 – superscription)  At the very least this Psalm describes the characteristic response of the Godly person to affliction.  They cry out to God for deliverance, praying and meditating upon the reality of the LORD as the one who delivers us.  Some take this a little further suggesting that it is “A prayer of the Afflicted One” and that it should be interpreted in a Christ Centred way.  The message here is that we pray as an afflicted person who is bringing their need before God in tandem with the Lord Jesus Christ is our great High Priest.  In Hebrews 2:17-18 we read, “For this reason He had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people.  Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.”  If we are identified with Him in His suffering we will also be identified with Him in His resurrection.

Psalm 103 continues the theme, leading us on, once we have cried out to God for deliverance, we also praise the Lord for all that He has done for us.  The one thing that this Psalm focuses upon is our reverent praise of the LORD who has delivered us in His grace.  The praise offered here is focused upon the message of the Word of God.  At the heart of Psalm 103 is a biblical statement about the character of God which seems as if it has been lifted right out of Exodus 34:6ff.

“He made known His ways to Moses, His deeds to the people of Israel: the LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will He harbour His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:7-10)

                What Psalm 103 calls us to do is to praise the LORD making sure we continually remember His benefits.  What this means is that we must be careful to remember the His works of grace.  We must not leave it up to chance that we might remember them.  We must take steps to make sure that we remember.  This applies not only to us as an individual.  It applies to our society and children.  Listen to the Word of God in Deuteronomy 4:9-10.

“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.  Teach them to your children and their children after them.  Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when He said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear My words so that they may learn to revere Me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.”

                We live in a day when the great acts of God’s grace are being forgotten by many.  It is our responsibility to teach these things once again as we praise the LORD for His grace, and as we cry out to Him for deliverance, and as we recommit ourselves to remembering His Word and to teaching it to the generations yet to come.  This is God’s plan for deliverance.  Will we follow it?

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.”

Watching And Waiting

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.  Do not gloat over me, my enemy!  Though I have fallen, I will rise.  Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.  Because I have sinned against Him, I will bear the Lord’s wrath, until He pleads my case and establishes my right.  He will bring me out into the light; I will see His righteousness.  Then my enemy will see it and will be covered in shame, she who said to me, “Where is the Lord your God?”  My eyes will see her downfall; even now she will be trampled underfoot like mire in the streets.”

                                                                                                                                                Micah 7:7-10

                The Old Testament prophet Micah’s ministry took place during a time of upheaval in the ancient world.  It was a time of great uncertainty as Empires rose and fell and life was very uncertain for individual people.  Micah’s own nation, Judah was being rocked by uncertainty. They were feeling the vulnerability of being a small nation caught between empires.  They were also deeply aware that they had been called by God into a covenant relationship that they believed would keep them secure from every misfortune.  Many of the Old Testament Prophets wrote during this uncertain time.  They sought to bring clear Biblical wisdom into their situation.  For many years Micah had delivered a word of prophesy that was designed to convict the sinful, complacent people of the covenant so that they would turn back to God.  After giving them a word of judgment and of hope Micah finally comes to the end of his prophetic book concluding it in a way that is both interesting and instructive.

It is instructive for us because Micah shows how we are to think and to act in uncertain times such as the one he lived in or that we currently find ourselves living through.  Micah confesses his personal sinfulness in the first few verses of chapter seven then he offers up a Psalm of praise, which is based upon his personal conviction that the Word of God which he has been given is absolutely trustworthy.  He states that he will “watch and wait with a fervent expectation.”  What Micah is stating is that he believes that the God of the covenant will be faithful to his promise which was given in His word.  It is upon this foundation that all intercessory prayer is based.  We believe in a God who is faithful.  He will always keep His promises to us.  As Micah reflects upon this truth he recognises that the God of Israel will always listen to the prayers of His people.  Therefore their misfortunes are merely chastenings designed to bring them to repentance.  God will yet save them in this life, by raising up the humble.  His righteousness will be revealed in them.  He will also deliver them in death.  There is in fact a resurrection coming for those who die in the Lord.  Of that we can be certain. Micah calls us to approach our own uncertainty with that same spirit of intercessory prayer.

It is interesting for us as well because Micah pulls back the curtain on history to reveal the one who is actively working out His own great purpose in all of the uncertain events which are taking place.  Our faith is put on firmer ground here because we see here one who has worked out His will in history with great precision.  Not only did He work all things according to His will but He told us about it in advance so that when we saw what He had done we would be brought to faith and we would give glory to our God.  We therefore hear His call to become people who pray without ceasing.

Careful Study of God’s Word

In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man.  Then he can rob his house.”

                                                                                                                                                Mark 3:27

There is always a tremendous benefit to the careful study of the Scriptures.  This is that as we repeatedly go over the text of God’s Word we find ourselves gaining a new and a deeper appreciation of their message.  This year I have been re-examining the Gospel of Mark fairly carefully.  As I have been doing so I have become aware that as Mark writes his vivid account of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ he has been asking us to confront a question.  This is to come to a conclusion about the identity of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Who do we believe that He is?

Mark leads us to answer this question by carefully presenting the information which he had heard from the Apostle Peter.  In a fast paced and vivid way Mark teaches us that the Lord Jesus is the God man.  We discover evidence of His humanity, seeing as we do in Mark 3:20 that the crush of the crowd at the house is even preventing Jesus from eating with His Disciples.  Such is the strain upon Him that His family are becoming concerned that He is being driven mad.  As Mark gives us this information he also leads us to confront the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We see His power and grace powerfully at work fulfilling all that the Scriptures tell us that the Messiah would do when He came.

Mark keeps taking us back to evidence that the Lord Jesus Christ is in fact the fulfillment of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, who comes in order to give up His life as a ransom for us.  In the passage which is before us here in Mark 3:20-30 we see a growing opposition, and cost to the ministry of our Lord.  With each day the hardships, demands, and opposition is growing.  He is facing it all for us that He might redeem us from our sin.  As we dig deeply into Mark’s Gospel we find ourselves discovering the costliness of our redemption. We are also brought to understand the nature of the task that the Lord Jesus Christ has undertaken.

In response to the accusation of the teachers of the law that He was in fact casting out demons by the power of Satan Jesus tells them a parable.  You cannot rob a strong man’s house unless you first tie up the strong man.  One would presume that to tie up a strong man would require someone of superior strength.  The task would be beyond to ability of a weaker person.  If the Lord Jesus has come and is casting out demons, robbing Satan’s Kingdom then the presumption must be that He is in fact stronger than Satan.  For that to be true He must then be God in human flesh.  There is no other explanation.  The power of God has broken into our world in the person of the God man and it is therefore setting us free from Satan’s tyranny.

In Hebrews 2:14&15 we read that this is in fact what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us.

                                “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil –and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

Do you know Him as the one who has set you free through His death on the cross?

Loving God Biblically

“Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him?  But you have insulted the poor.  Is it not the rich who are exploiting you?  Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?  Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of Him to whom you belong?”

                                                                                                                                                                James 2:5-7

As we focus our attention upon the teaching that James gives us regarding the life that we are called to as those who have been called to real faith in the Lord Jesus Christ we are confronted with his convicting teaching on the true nature of faith and unbelief.  James centres that teaching upon a word that we find in the second chapter and the fourth verse.  It is a word translated as distinction, or better as doubt.  It describes an inner conflict between trust and distrust of God.  Such an attitude comes to know what God’s will is yet it distrusts Him, so it goes off in its own way.

When Jonathan Edwards wrote his masterful Religious Affections he began with a clear definition of what real faith looked like.  He put it in these terms, “True faith mostly depends upon having the emotions of God, loving the things He loves.”  As Edwards writes this it seems as if he has these verses in James 2 in mind.  Real faith finds itself loving the things that God loves, and hating those things which He hates.  This means that the believer finds themselves increasingly living in agreement with the Scriptures.  This must be especially true in the area of where we put our affections.  It is hard to see how a Christian can fail to love those things that our God loves in Christ.  It is equally hard to understand how we can love those things that God hates.  This is the essence of sin, in which we find ourselves being unbiblical in our affections.

Jay Adams in his The Christian Counsellor’s Commentary on Hebrews, James, 1 &2 Peter, and Jude calls us to Biblical living with the following advice to counsellors.    

                “Then James did one more thing – without which it would be very difficult to allow matters to stand as they are.  He showed the counselee how he may discern his own motives.  When James quotes Leviticus 19:18, he gives the biblical basis for examining motives.  He points out the biblical standard by which they must examine their motives.  He makes it clear that sin is determined, and one is convicted of sin, by the Bible.  It is utterly essential to make all determinations of sin by comparing the act (word, attitude) with the biblical injunction that relates to it.  You must never allow the counselee to turn to extra biblical lists that others have drawn up and added to the Scriptural Standard.  This is the essence of pharisaical legalism. He must be warned against it.  In addition, you must deflect his thinking from experience, feeling, tradition or anything else other than explicit biblical teaching.”

                James points us back to the teaching of Scripture in order to define the evidence we rely upon for assurance of faith.  A true believer loves sacrificially in the way that the Word of God calls us to do.  We love those things that God loves.  We determine the reality of our salvation by these Biblical means. There is no other way for us to live but in obedience to the Word of God.  Those who claim to love Jesus must live in obedience to His commandments.

Coming To The Lord

“This is the Word of the LORD concerning Israel.  The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, who forms the spirit of man within him, declares: “I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling.  Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem.”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 12:1-2

                Every year when September rolls around I find myself anticipating with a certain amount of excitement the resumption of all of the tasks which were laid aside of the summer months.  The rest and relaxation of the summer are always welcome and as I grow older desperately needed.  There is a sense however that the restfulness of summer is not to be my natural state.  It is good as the fall comes around to pick up the burdens of my normal workload.  I always find this to be an exciting time of year.  We are beginning Bible Studies, Sunday School, and the full range of Worship Services that are a regular part of the programming at First Baptist Church Brampton.

The rest and reflection of summer always serves to give me an opportunity to reflect on and to define just what is needed in this next year’s service.   To begin again requires that we have a fresh, Biblical perspective that comes from the LORD.  Labour in the flesh is never productive.  What is needed is a labouring in the Spirit of God.  This is the perspective that we find as the twelfth chapter of Zechariah begins to unfold before us.  As the Prophet begins the second burden, or Word from God he does so by first of all making a statement in verse one which introduces the whole final section of his prophesy.  In this verse the LORD identifies Himself as the sovereign, creative, God who has infinite, limitless power to accomplish everything which He speaks about.  This power even extends down to His forming the spirit of man within him.  There is nothing that the Sovereign LORD cannot do.  It is with this perspective that we are called to begin again.

When we turn to the second verse we encounter a word which is not translated in the NIV.  It is the word, “behold”.  We are to stop and observe the thing that God is about to do.  He is about to move powerfully in the whole world to accomplish that purpose that He has been constantly speaking about in every part of His Word.  This word of God is always needed.  Perhaps we need it a little bit more this September as we find ourselves facing all manner of bewildering circumstances in our world.  What are we to think as we live facing such uncertainty?  Zechariah writes that we are to recognise that the Sovereign LORD is still at work accomplishing His gracious purposes in the LORD Jesus Christ.  The outcome is certain, because He is Sovereign.  What at tremendous hope this brings to us.

At the heart of Zechariah’s Prophesy is a call for every one of God’s people to turn to Him in genuine repentance.  The sending of the Messiah into our world was a dividing point.  To encounter Him was to be brought to the point of a decision.  Hanging in the balance was eternity.  Listen to the way Luke describes this point as he writes about the testimony of John the Baptist.

“He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the LORD, make straight paths for Him.  Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low.  The crooked roads shall become straight, and the rough ways smooth.  And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’”” (Luke 3:3-6)

                Luke tells us that the ministry of the LORD Jesus Christ is one which brings us to the point of repentance.  Will we repent and begin to walk humbly with God in Christ who is our only hope of salvation, or will we continue to trust in our own flesh?  Every circumstance in our lives crowds us to the point where we have to deal with the Christ.  How will we respond?

There is only one way to begin again.  This is through coming to God in humble repentance.  Zechariah shows us the way.  Will you turn to the LORD?

He Has Showed You

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

                                                                                                                                                                Micah 6:6-8

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

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

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

1)      In Deuteronomy 10:12-13 we read this.  “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all of His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands which I am giving to you today for your own good?”  Moses here goes on to show what the real love and worship of God look like.

2)      At its heart this text, in fact the whole of the Scriptures confronts us with the perfection of God’s Holiness, the depths of our sin, and the fact that there is no sacrifice which we can offer which will ever be great enough to cover our sin, but still we are not hopeless because God is gracious.  In Genesis 22 we read about Abraham and Isaac as they are on their way to offer Isaac as a sacrifice in response to God’s call.  When Isaac asks about their failure to bring along a lamb for sacrifice, Abraham answers with one of the key Old Testament testimonies to faith.  “God Himself will provide the Lamb.”(Genesis 22:8)  Looking centuries ahead this is exactly what God did in giving His Son for our redemption.

3)      In the key Suffering Servant Song in Isaiah 53:4-6 God’s Word makes this even clearer for us.  “Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted.  But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.  We all like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  Here is the only sacrifice that is adequate to atone for our sin.  God Himself has offered it on behalf of us.  His word then calls us to repent, to turn from our reliance on anything of our own that we could offer for our sin, so that we can embrace the sin offering that God has given.  We are commanded to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ so that we can be saved. (Acts 16:31)

Jesus’ Compassion

“I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.  If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long way.”

                                                                                                                                                Mark 8:2-3

One of the advantages of following a consistent plan of study which works through a whole book of Scripture is that it exposes us to the bigger themes that can be traced through whole books or sections of books.  Such is the case with the text which is before us today.  In Mark chapter 8:1-10 we read about the second time that Jesus feeds a massive crowd with a few loaves and fishes.  That this is a second feeding miracle performed by Jesus, rather than a repetition of the same event, is apparent from the discussion which takes place in Mark 8:17-21.  It is part of a larger section in which we see how the Disciples are brought to faith in Christ.  Their hard, unbelieving hearts are being broken up in chapters six through eight.  We read these chapters and we find that our own hardened, unbelieving hearts are being broken up.

Our text is found in a scene in which some four thousand people are attending to the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ.  What might that three day teaching session have been like?  We can guess that it must have been a wonderful time in which real spiritual needs were being met as we read that the crowd had been with Jesus for three days in a wilderness region without adequate food yet they stayed on listening with rapt attention to the words of life which came from the lips of Jesus.  Mark does not see fit to give us the content of Jesus’ teaching here.  He is intent on showing us the compassion of Jesus as He performs a powerful sign miracle which will break up the stony hearts of His disciples.

There are many things which we could examine here.  We could explore the fact that Jesus was involving His disciples in this work in order to form them into a new Israel, in the wilderness being fed on the Manna from heaven.  Robert Rayburn makes reference to this as he writes.  “That Jesus involves His disciples in these miracles indicates that Jesus is creating a new Israel, having summoned His people out into the wilderness.” (Rayburn: “A Miraculous Sign”)

                We could profitably explore this theme but we will not do so here.  Mark goes deeper exposing us to the character of the Lord Jesus.  We see here His compassion for a lost, and in many ways desperate people.  He sees their need, just as He sees ours.  He responds, using the response to teach His disciples how they must live in this world.  His example guides and motivates His people even today.  Here we see something of the compassion of His Father for us as He meets their needs.  Here we learn to trust Him because we see that He will also meet the real needs He discovers in us.

Jesus’ compassion is on display here.  We begin to see it clearly, and we hear His call to take that compassion out into our world.  It is said that one of the events that resulted in the growth of Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle was the response of Spurgeon and many of the members of his Church to a plague.  They compassionately stayed in the city and ministered to the sick and the dying even at great risk to themselves.

The Father of Church History Eusebius tells us a similar story from the third century in which Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria tells of how Christians responded to a terrible outbreak of the plague following a war.  He writes, “Most of our brethren showed love and loyalty in not sparing themselves while helping one another, tending to the sick with no thought of danger and gladly departing this life with them after becoming infected with their disease.”  This was the compassion of Jesus reproduced in His people.  As we read these accounts we can almost hear the voice of our Redeemer saying, “Go and do Thou likewise.”

A Life Worthy of the Gospel

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – on Lord, One faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ephesians 4:1-7

                As I sit down to write a reflection on the first few verses of the fourth chapter of Ephesians I find myself wrestling with the richness of the doctrine which is contained here.  With the simple word “therefore” the apostle brings in the glorious things he has just been writing about in the first three chapters of the letter.  Those chapters focus upon the power of the Gospel which has taken us out of this world of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This new kingdom into which we have entered is in fact the Church, or the Body of Christ.  In Christ we have come to know a love that has completely transformed our lives.  On the foundation of this life changing Gospel Paul then calls us to live a life which is worthy, or suitable, or becoming of our calling.  In the rest of this letter we will read about just what such a worthy life is like.  We are told how we are to actively pursue this life as Paul begins to use a series of present participles to move his argument forward.  These participles describe earnest and continual activity of our part in response to the infinite and continuous action of the Spirit of God through the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We must be submitting our lives to the powerful love of God which is being poured into us by the Holy Spirit.

In verses two and three we encounter these two participles, “to be enduring patiently with one another” and “to be making every effort”.  Both participles call us to constant activity.  Both push us along in a life that is truly Christ-centred.  This is in fact the foundation for our transformed lives.  The Lord Jesus Christ is the One who was crucified and raised for us.  In Him we have life if we pick up our cross and follow Him.

Each us faces a constant challenge to this type of Christ-centred living.  Our flesh does not die easily.  Naturally we live lives which are conformed to the pattern of this world.  Basically this means that we desire to put ourselves first in every situation.  To this Paul calls us to live with “humility, gentleness, enduring patiently with one another.”  We are to actively pursue this patience.  In essence we begin to live out the long suffering sacrificial love that we have received from the Lord.  How has He put up with us?  What has He done for us?  How far is He willing to go in order to redeem us?  It is here that we find ourselves challenged as we see the ways our flesh shrinks back from really following the Lord into this cross centred living.  We are not certain that we can pay the cost of such a life.  In fact we are certain that we cannot.  Before we move on to look at the resources that make us able to live in a way befitting the Gospel we need to look at the other participle in verse three.  Paul says that we are “to make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Again he calls us to constant and earnest pursuit of the unity of the Spirit.    Our ambition is to share together with others in the Body of Christ the common life that we have been called to.  Do we really catch the meaning of what Paul writes here?  Have we confronted its challenge?  Our flesh looks for ways to be self sufficient and separate from one another.  The Gospel calls us to participate in the life of Christ together.

To be sure there are times when we must separate ourselves from those who do not share in this life of Christ.  I question at times whether we do so too easily.  It is in answering this question that we find our flesh being crucified.  It is too easy for us to begin to build our own little self-centred kingdom.  Paul calls us to Christ-centred, Spirit directed following of the one who redeemed us through the Gospel of the cross.  As Paul describes it here in these chapters of Ephesians we find ourselves reflecting on something which is truly glorious because it is of God.

Who Is Jesus?

                ““I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”  “Who are you?” they asked.  “Just what I have been claiming all along,” Jesus replied.”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 8:24-25

                James T. Dennison Jr. Called my attention to a thought about the Gospel of John in his May 1992 article, The Structure of John’s Gospel The Present State of the Question (www.kerux.com/doc/0701A3.asp).  This was that the centre of John’s Gospel is found in the passage John 8:12 through 12:50 and that it is centred upon the LORD Jesus Christ.  I am with Dennison on the Christ Centred nature of John’s Gospel.  I am still exploring questions about the overall structure of the book.  His thesis is intriguing however and I find myself wanting to explore this question in future months.  For the purposes of this devotional today I want to simply focus on that which John, as an evangelist, makes so abundantly clear here.  He is demonstrating in his Gospel that Jesus of Nazareth is in fact the one who we find in the Scriptures as God with us.  Here in these central chapters in the Gospel John begins to appeal to a wide variety of evidence in order to make his case.  Between chapters six and fifteen John quotes Jesus making a series of seven “I Am” statements which point to Jesus as the fulfillment of the various types of Christ which we find in the Old Testament.  Interspersed among these seven powerful identity statements John also quotes Jesus as using the term “I Am” as a means of identifying Himself as the One whose name means “I Am”, that is God Himself.  In Exodus 3:14 we are given this Name for God, “God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am”.  This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I Am has sent me to you.””  Jesus makes use of that identification as He seeks to witness to the Pharisees and Scribes in John 8:24.  They will die in their sins unless they believe that I Am.

Jesus is calling these leaders into a state of believing that an astounding truth has been revealed right in their presence.  This truth calls them to a decision.  It is this decision, or point of division that is being confronted in this passage of Scripture.  Eternal forgiveness of sin is at stake.  The only way to receive that forgiveness is by believing that the man Jesus standing before them was in fact the Living God who has revealed Himself first to them through His Word, and now in person.  These leaders, as well as you and I are brought to this point of decision.  The question which John repeats from the lips of the leaders is this, “Who are You?”  This is the question which John forces us to ask Jesus as well.  If eternal life is dependent on Him then we need to know who He is.

Two things are brought to our attention here.  The first is that we are called to believe Him when He tells us that He is I Am.  John points to this fact in the first chapter of his Gospel when he writes concerning John the Baptist that, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him.  He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.  Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:7-13)  This is a faith which dramatically reorients every part of our lives.  It centres every part of the life we live upon the LORD Jesus Christ who is God with us, and who has come to redeem us through the cross.

The second thing that John points out to us here is that the answer that we give to this question will dramatically change us.  God has come to us, and given His life as a ransom for us on the cross.  Faith in Jesus as our redeemer gives us the forgiveness of sin.  Faith in Him become as radical and complete commitment to Him.  John calls it a receiving of Him in which we become born again.

The question is do you believe that Jesus is I Am?