Open Your Eyes and Look

                “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’?  I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields!  They are ripe for harvest.”

                                                                                                                                                                                         John 4:35

                When we look carefully at John chapter four and explore the concept of the Divine Appointment which Jesus had while on His way to Galilee we discover some precious truths.  It is clear here that Jesus has an appointment with the Samaritan woman who He leads to ask Him for living water.  It is equally clear that Jesus has an appointment with the people of Sychar, many of whom come to believe in Him after they have met Him for themselves.  There is a third Divine Appointment here as well however.  This is the appointment which Jesus has with His disciples.  There is a lesson which they needed to learn, which could only be taught in that Samaritan village at the foot of Mt. Gerizim.  Here in the heart of the lost nation of the Samaritans these disciples were about to learn about the wonderful grace of the LORD Jesus Christ which would justify the ungodly.  As we explore this text we too can learn some valuable lessons.

1)      We can learn a lesson about the expectations which we have as we encounter people in our day to day lives.  These disciples were following Jesus into a region which was characterized by ungodliness.  The Samaritans were a people who were ethnically the result of the racial mixture of poor Jews who had been left behind at the exile of Israel with pagan people who had been resettled in the region.  Their religion was a mixture of the Hebrew faith with all manner of pagan beliefs and practices.  They had even set up a rival religious centre to that of Jerusalem on Mt. Gerizim.  As the disciples drew near to this Samaritan centre of worship one can imagine what they must have thought about the hopeless, ungodly people they were encountering.  Perhaps these disciples were hoping that they would be able to pass through this region quickly and without incident.  If ever there was a people beyond the touch of God’s grace it was these people of Sychar.  Yet it is here that Jesus stops to rest.  Like us, these disciples see a people that they will not associate with because they are just too lost.  A number of years ago while serving in one of my first charges after graduation from Seminary I spoke to one of the leaders of the congregation about my intention to visit a family that lived down the street from the church in order that I might encourage them to attend services at our church.  The leader looked at me as if I was insane or at the very least hopelessly naive.   “These people will never darken the door of the Church.” he told me, “They are just too lost.”  I went anyway inviting the family to come to worship and sharing with them the gospel.  Not only did they begin to attend our church, they came to faith in Christ and brought many of their relatives who seemed to be even more lost than they.  We learned a lesson in those days about the way that the LORD was working in the hearts of that family.  Nothing is impossible with the LORD.  He can even bring hardened Samaritans to faith in Christ.

2)      Jesus tells His disciples that they need to have their eyes open so that they can really look and see what is going on around them.  The fields are ripe for harvest.  The word of the LORD has been doing its work.  Prayer is being answered.  People are finding that their hearts are being prepared for that day when they hear the Gospel.  The text tells us that the work does not depend upon us alone because others are at work as well.  The Word of God has been doing its work, quietly, almost imperceptivity, but surely.  It has been preparing the way for the harvest.  The disciples are not to think that everything depends upon them.  They are not to look at a people as being beyond grace.  They are simply to keep offering the message of grace to everyone who will listen to it.  We are to offer it with the love of God.  We are to offer it humbly.  But offer it we must.  Robert Murray McCheyne once remarked regarding his work among the slum dwellers of his city that “the flesh dies well there.”   This work is not about us, it is about the LORD.  He is powerfully at work in our world.  We are called to obey His call to witness, wherever He takes us, believing that He has already prepared the way for His Gospel.

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.“

Intercessory Praying

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.  Elijah was a man just like us.  He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.  Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 5:16-18

                If you are like me you often find the examples of great Prayer Warriors to be somewhat intimidating. “Historic Pray-ers” are held up an example for us, but they often seem to be people whose commitment to the Lord is beyond that of us ordinary mortals.  Then there are the examples of people of prayer in the Bible and their example is even more intimidating.  People like Moses, or Abraham, David, Daniel, Elijah, the Apostles, or any of the host of New Testament characters seem almost to be from another Planet as they engage in Ministries of Intercession.

In looking carefully at these people of prayer though we make an encouraging discovery.  This is that they, like us, are mere sinful mortals.  James tells us that “Elijah was a man like us.”  What James means by this is that Elijah was a man who was subject to the same frailties and weaknesses as we are.  The reason we find him or others like him so difficult to follow is because we focus our attention upon ourselves rather than the God who hears and answers prayer.  Let’s take a look at what James tells us about Intercessory Prayer in these brief verses.  First, in verse 16 he calls us to intercessory prayer, with the confession of sin, for one another so that we will be healed.  This must be as natural a part of our life together as the Body of Christ as is breathing to our human lives.  There is a presupposition here however.  Intercessory praying requires that we be living in the will of God.  Do we really want the will of God to become increasingly our reality?  The power of prayer is not in the prayer itself it is in the God who we are praying to.  James tells us that the prayer of a righteous person is effective to accomplish its purpose.  James is pointing us to the will of God here.  The righteous person is one who is dependent upon the Lord in every way.  We are sinners redeemed through the merciful grace of Christ.  We are not, nor can we ever be righteous in ourselves.  Here is the precious truth here that James shouts at us.  Neither was Elijah, or Paul, or Peter, or any of the other Biblical people righteous in and of themselves.  None of those great historic people whose biographies we devour were righteous in themselves either.  All of them were sinners like us, subject to the same frailties and weaknesses as we are.

Why then was their intercessory praying so much more effective than ours.  I believe that James is telling us that they had learnt the secret of prayer.  It must be a dependant casting of ourselves upon the purpose of God which is being worked out in Christ.  Listen to how the Apostle Paul describes the righteous life of believers in Romans 12:1-2.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

                When you explore the passages in 1 Kings 17 & 18 regarding Elijah and prayer what is seen clearly is that this was a man who through prayerful meditation was seeking to understand and obey the Will of God.  His prayer of intercession then became conformed to the will of God.  This made the difference for him.  If we join our voices to the Intercessory praying of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, both of whom we are told are interceding for us according to the will of God the Father then our praying will have the same power as theirs, not because of us, but because of them.  Charles Hodge puts it this way in a quotation shared by Kurt Richardson.

“It cannot be supposed that God has subjected Himself in the government of the world, or in the dispensation of His gifts, to the short sighted wisdom of men, by promising, without condition, to do whatever they ask.  No rational man could wish that this was the case.  He then asserted that the condition expressed in 1 John 5:14 is everywhere else implied: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”” (Richardson, Kurt A., The New American Commentary on James, Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1997, p. 238)

Praying For Comfort in Grief

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

                                                                                                                                                                Romans 8:18

                “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

                                                                                                                                                                Romans 8:28-29

                There seem to be seasons in our lives.  This is especially true when we seek to walk with God in worship and in service.  There are times of great joy, and then there are others times of trial and chastening.  As a Pastor I am at times made aware of the trials and chastening that others are experiencing.  Recent weeks have been one such time, and it has led me to reflect anew on the ways in which God is at work in my life, but also in the lives of many of those that I am called to serve in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  One thing has been abundantly clear to me in these reflections God has a plan and a purpose which He is working out in our lives, and also in history.  As the Apostle Paul reflects upon this in his letter to the Romans he pulls back the curtain to give us a glimpse of just what God is doing.  We see how all of creation is waiting for the final revelation of God’s redeemed people.  We see that this purpose is being worked out in each of our individual lives.  In fact it is the subject of a great intercessory prayer meeting in which we have been invited to Intercede with the Spirit of God before the Throne of God as we struggle with our trials, and in the process we find ourselves being ushered into the Will of God.

Think about that for a couple of minutes.  We are not left to deal with our trials by ourselves.  The Holy Spirit is interceding for us, as, we discover later in the chapter, is the Son of God.  What a wonderful comfort to discover that not only are other believers praying for us, so too is the Triune God.  What can ever stand against us if God is for us?  His purpose is our holiness.  All that He has done is so that a people will be created who will be conformed to the image of Christ.  For this reason we daily bring ourselves before God in prayer, seeking His grace to powerfully work in us.

Darrell Johnson in his wonderful series of studies on the book of Revelation, when he comes to reflect upon the powerful vision of the throne of God seen in chapter four begins with these words.  “Things are not as they seem.” (Darrell Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge, Regent College Publishing, Vancouver, BC, 2004, p. 129)  The book of Revelation is written to encourage persecuted believers to stand firm in their faith.  The fourth chapter introduces us to one of the greatest helps which god has given us.  This is a Biblical vision of God in all of His glory.  I am told that the word glory was originally a marketplace word.  Its root was to give something its proper weight.  When we see God in all of His glory we are giving Him His proper weight.  We see Him as He is, at least as much of His reality as we can bear.  The Apostle John receives an invitation of see God on His throne, as the holy, sovereign creator and sustainer of the universe.  As he looks upon God on His throne the trials that Church, and John himself in exile on Patmos come into their proper perspective.  What John will be discovering in this vision is the tremendous spiritual resources that are available to anyone who will stand firm in their faith.

As Darrell Johnson explores this theme he quotes from a Father John Powell who wrote in Fully Human, Fully Alive: A New Life through a New Vision the following.

“Through the eyes of our minds you and I look out at reality (ourselves, other people, life, the world, God).  However we see things differently.  Your vision of reality is not mine and, conversely, mine is not yours.  Both our visions are limited and inadequate, but not to the same extent.  We have both misinterpreted and distorted reality, but in different ways.  We have each seen something of the available truth and beauty to which the other has been blind.  The main point is that it is the dimensions and clarity of this vision the dimensions of our world and the quality of our lives.  To the extent that we are blind or have distorted reality, our lives and our happiness have been diminished.  Consequently, if we are to change – to grow – there must first be a change in this basic vision, or perception of reality.” (Niles, Illinois: Argus Communications, 1976, p. 10)

                What we need is a new vision.  This is what God provides for us in His Word.  In Christ we are welcomed into His presence to see Him as He is, so that we might become like Him.  In our trials God chips away at the scales on our eyes that hinder us from seeing His Glory.  With each trial, as we continue to stand firm we see Him more clearly and therefore find ourselves becoming more Christ like.

Ask Him

                “Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who makes the storm clouds.  He gives showers of rain to men, and plants of the field to everyone.”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 10:1

                In this truly wonderful little verse in Zechariah a precious truth is opened up for us that we so often find ourselves taking for granted.  Zechariah has been speaking the Word of the Lord to the people of God, showing them that God’s faithfulness to his covenant promise to Israel will be revealed in the years to come as a great blessing on the Day of the Lord.  God is going to deal with the nations, judging them, and calling some to redemption that they might be included in His people.  He is also going to refine His people so that they will truly exhibit the righteousness of God in this sin stained world.  The refining will lead to the prosperity and security that God has been constantly promising.  It is a sure thing, because God is faithful.  He will uphold His covenant promises to His people, especially as those promises have been established in the shed blood of the sacrifice.  Looking ahead, we know that these promises are in fact established in the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary.  Nothing can be more secure or certain than that.  So we look to the fulfillment of God’s promise to us.  In fact we rejoice right now in that fulfilled promise.  On account of that finished work of Christ we now find ourselves redeemed and adopted into His family.

Here is the precious word from Zechariah which he piles on top of the wonderful things he has been writing.  God has promised these blessings, so come before Him and ask Him for them.  The promise is and invitation to sincere, heartfelt, believing, expectant, confession and prayer.  Ask Him for rain in the springtime the prophet writes.  This is not the only time in the Word of God we see this link between our need, God’s promise, and the call to prayer.  In Nehemiah 1:4 we read about a Godly Servant in King Artaxerxes’ court who receives distressing news from friends in Jerusalem and who immediately cries out to God in prayer.  We should note that Nehemiah had the promises of God through Jeremiah and Daniel to lead him to understand that God was restoring His people.  Still he goes before God in prayer.

“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love Him and keep His commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel.  I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house have committed against you.  We have acted very wickedly toward you.  We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.” (Nehemiah 1:4-7) 

                Nehemiah goes on to continue praying scripturally seeking the Lord’s providence in very specific ways in his life and in the life of His people.  He prays courageously, specifically, and expectantly, confessing his sins as well has the sin of the people of Israel.  In Daniel 9:1ff we see that Godly man doing exactly the same thing in response to God’s prophetic promises to him.

I believe that this is God’s calling on His church today.  We have been given wonderful promises regarding God’s faithful working in our midst as He brings about the wonderful redemption which we have in Christ.  We know that these promises are secure because they are rooted in His faithfulness.  So often we take them for granted.  God will do what He will do, we reason.  What God is doing is calling us to prayer.  We are to sincerely, confessionally, expectantly ask Him for the very things He has promised us, following the pattern which he has revealed to us in His Word.  God is calling His Church to prayer.  Praise God!!

The Road To The Cross

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

                                                                                                                                                                                Mark 14:31

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

                                                                                                                                                                                Mark 14:34

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

                                                                                                                                                                                Mark 14:50-52

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

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

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

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

All Things Are Possible With God

“Those who heard this asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’  Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with men is possible with God.’” (Luke 18:26-27)

                When we look around us at the state of our world, and even of our own lives, we often find ourselves wondering whether there is any hope for us.  Why is it that there is so little evidence of righteousness in our lives or in our world?  Is our situation really as hopeless as it seems?  I have been helped recently as I have been wrestling with this question as I have been studying Luke 18:18-30 in preparation for our Evening Service this coming Sunday.  This is Luke’s account of the ruler who comes to Jesus with a question about entering the Kingdom of God.  Jesus’ answer exposes the fact that this ruler was trapped in the worship of his many possessions.  In many ways each of us is trapped in the worship of wrong things.  Jesus’ tough answer is to call the ruler to a radical repentance.  He must sell his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor and then to follow Jesus.  It is a hard calling that Jesus gives to this man, and to us in relation to those things that we worship.  This is where our text comes in.  We cannot save ourselves, but God can.

In my devotional reading each morning I am reflection on a little book by Michael Haykin entitled A Consuming Fire: The Piety of Alexander Whyte (Reformation Heritage Books, 2006,p29-31).  Here I came across this powerful quotation from the pen of Whyte.

“During a solitary walk along the hillside above the village of Duirinish one day last September, all the way I was thinking about my own unceasing and ever-increasing temptations.  Now as God would have it there had been a whole night of the densest sea-fog from the Atlantic, and the wet spray stood in millions of shining gems all over the spiders’ webs that were woven all over the broom, and the bracken, and the bushes within, and the bushes of heather.  Had I not seen the scene with my own eyes I could not have believed it.  The whole hillside was absolutely covered from top to bottom with spiders’ webs past all counting up.  All the spiders in Scotland seemed to have conspired together to weave their webs and to spread their snares all over that Duirinish hillside that day.

                To the casual and innocent-minded passerby the whole hillside would have seemed simply splendid with its brilliant network of sparkling silver.  But the very brilliancy of the scene only made the hillside all the more horrible and diabolical to me, as I thought of the bloodthirsty devil that lay watching for the silly flies at the hidden heart of every silvery web.  It was a Saturday forenoon, and it would have been well worth a weekend ticket to some of you just to have stood beside me for a few moments, and to have seen with your own eyes that satanic hillside that September forenoon.  For myself, I shall never forget the sight.  I see it at this moment as I stand here.  A thousand times that sight has risen up before my eyes since I came home.  If our Lord had been passing that hillside that forenoon he would have stopped his walk, and looking at the spiders’ webs he would have said to his disciples: “Such is the kingdom of Satan!”  Which when the twelve had seen and had laid to heart they would have been exceedingly amazed, and would have said: “Who then could be saved?”  Then he would have answered them: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

                It was the rising of the sun that morning that revealed to me those thousands on thousands of glistening snares.  But for the sunlight falling on the hillside, and but for the subject of my morning meditation, I would wholly missed seeing that never-to-be-forgotten spectacle, and I would never have read to myself or to you that so impressive parable.  If I had not been musing all the morning on matters of eternally vital importance to you and to me, and if I had not by that time high in the heavens, I would have stumbled on like any idle-minded holiday maker, and would never have seen so much as a single one of those thousands of death-spreading spiders’ snares.  And so it is, I said to myself, with the thousands of Satan’s death-spreading snares in the case of every human soul.  Satan’s accursed snares are woven and woven over every inch of every human soul.  But those snares of Satan are wholly invisible till the sun rises and till the soul awakens to a life of watching and praying and believing.  But when, by the special grace of God to any of us, we are so awakened, then this whole city in which we dwell becomes to us a second Duirinish hillside, and you and I become those dismembered flies whose blood-sucked wings and legs I saw dangling in the wind all up and down among those glistering spiders’ webs.  The streets and squares of Edinburgh, our own houses, and our own churches even, all are that doleful hillside over again to every man who is not a stark Philistine.  Nay to every man who is not a stark Philistine his own soul is that doleful hillside.  For the very body which his soul inhabits is all set over with snares for his soul.”

Given what Whyte tells us in this illustration what hope is there for us?  The LORD Jesus Christ answers this question in His response to the wealthy ruler.  He must repent and believe.  Earlier in Luke’s Gospel Jesus puts it this way.   “If anyone is to come after Me he must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)  This is our LORD’s invitation.  It sounds impossible for us.  However with the Holy Spirit at work in us it is possible because God is at work in us.  Will you trust Him?

A Consuming Fire

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.””

                                                                                                                                                                Hebrews 12:28-29

                At the end of the chapter twelve of the book of Hebrews the author concludes the main body of his exhortation to remain faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ with a very striking thought.  He focuses our attention upon the Kingdom of Heaven which all true believers are seeking.  Hebrews tells us that God has been speaking into our lives His Word through prophets and no in His Son who is very God incarnate.  The Words of the Son of God have been recorded for us in the New Testament and are in reality God breathed Scripture given to us by the Spirit of God.  What a wonderful privilege to be able to read and reflect upon the Word of God.  This Word, perhaps most clearly focused in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is, Hebrews tells us, shaking every part of creation so that all that will eventually be left will be the Kingdom that we seek.  The consequence is that we respond to God in the only way that is appropriate for those who have truly understood this Word of God, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is with reverent and awe filled thankfulness and Worship.

There is a reason for this response.  It is found in the nature of the God we Worship.  Hebrews tells us that “He is a consuming fire.”   This thought calls us to do some Bible Study in order to understand what we are being called to as believers.  The quote in Hebrews comes from Deuteronomy 4:24 which taken in context tells us,

“You saw no form of any kind on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire.  Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below.  And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars – all the heavenly array – do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshipping things the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.  But as for you, the Lord took you and brought you out of the iron smelting furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of His inheritance, as you now are.  The Lord was angry with me because of you, and He solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance.  I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan; but you are about to cross over and take possession of that good land.  Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that He made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden.  For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous fire.” (Deuteronomy 4:15-24)

                What impresses itself upon me in reading this passage, as well as the one from Hebrews twelve, is that God has led His people through a set of circumstances which are designed to refine them so that they will become a people who belong to Him alone, and who exhibit that reality in the lives they lead.  The fact that God is a consuming fire, and that He put His people into the iron refining furnace when they lived in Egypt tells us that the spirit of God uses our circumstances to bring us into a confrontation with the truth about ourselves as well as His awesome holiness.  Once we have encountered Him we will truly never be the same again.  Daily the Lord is doing this in our lives so that we will come to the Lord Jesus Christ, believing the Gospel of His cross.

Thoughts On Worship

      “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

                                                            Romans 12:1-2

 

      Whenever we spend some time reflecting upon the calling which we have to become people who worship the living God we find ourselves confronted by some very important decisions which we must make.  Are we contemplating they style of Worship Service we prefer, or are we asking some more fundamental questions regarding what happens when we enter into a relationship with God?  It seems that this is what is at the heart of the discussion between Jesus and the woman at the well in John four.  She asks about the correct place and presumably the correct style.  He answers that what is important is that we become worshippers.  True worship is a spiritual relationship with God that can only come about as a result of His Spirit’s intervention in our lives.  We must drink of the Living Water if we are to worship Him.

In Romans 12:1ff the Apostle Paul tells us that real worship involves a complete surrender of ourselves to god through Christ.  This surrender results in a transformation of our thinking by the work of the Holy Spirit.  We become Christ centred in our thinking and in our lifestyle.  This is why Paul writes this just before he begins his exploration of the gifts of the spirit as they operate in the Christian church.  Our whole way of living is transformed by real worship.

In 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 Paul tells us that this transformation, which He tells us comes from deep inside us as the Holy Spirit does His work in us, comes about as a result of our honestly looking upon the LORD.  Worship requires that we get to know the real LORD Jesus Christ as He is revealed to us in God’s Word.  To see Him in all of His awesome holiness causes us to also see our own sinfulness.  This brings us into such a deep experience of conviction that we must repent and confess our sin.  This is what we discover in Isaiah six when the Prophet sees God and comes to see his own sinfulness as well. Isaiah’s only hope is found as he confesses his sin and received God’s gracious gift of atonement through the coal from the altar.

When we worship in this way we find ourselves drawn into a transformational fellowship with God in Christ.  We will truly never be the same as a result.  There is another discovery that we make as well.  This is that real Biblical Worship also brings us into fellowship with other believers who are experiencing this same grace.

  1. A. Carson in Worship by the Book, quotes from Marianne Meye Thompson, “Worship serves the indispensible function of uniting us with “all the saints,” living and dead. In fact one of the most important things that worship accomplishes is to remind us that we worship not merely as a congregation or a church, but as part of the church, the people of God. John reminds his readers that their worship is a participation in the unceasing celestial praise of God.  So too, the worship of God’s people today finds its place “in the middle” of a throng representing every people and nation, tribe and tongue.” (Thompson, Worship in the book of Revelation)

Carson adds, “Worship is no longer something connected with set feasts, such as the Passover, or a set place, such as the Temple; or set Priests, such as the Levitical system prescribed.  It is for all the people of God at all times and places, it is bound up with how they live.”

Birth Pains

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child.  Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

                                                                                                                                                                Mark 13:12-13

                Darrell Johnson, a few years ago at the CBOQ Assembly meetings told a group of us at a preaching workshop about how one of the crucial tasks we must engage in is to soak in specific Biblical texts so that we can begin to really understand what our text is teaching us.  For about two years I spent time soaking in the Gospel of Mark, seeking to understand its message.  One of the perspectives that seeped into my understanding over that time is that Mark’s Gospel is a description of the steps by which the Lord Jesus Christ leads His followers into a deepening experience of Discipleship.  It almost seems as if Mark, as Peter’s interpreter, is telling us about the crisis of faith that the Disciples are led through so that we can be confronted with the same issues that they faced.  The Gospel really describes the road to the cross which Jesus and His disciples were treading.  The true disciple is a person who “denies themselves, picks up their cross, and follows Jesus.”(Luke 9:23)

Why do I focus on this today?  The reason is on account of the fact that when we reach the thirteenth chapter which contains the Olivet Discourse, Jesus answers questions that His disciples have about the coming of the Kingdom of God.  This text challenges us.  It is so easy to look into this text for answers to questions which we might have regarding the timing and details of the coming of the Kingdom of God.  In doing so we fall into the danger of missing the focus which the Lord Jesus Christ gave to the subject of the Kingdom’s coming by failing to really hear what He is saying to His disciples.

What does Mark tell us here as He gives us the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ?  I want to reflect upon a number of brief points that will hopefully lead to some real Biblical thinking about the teaching of this chapter within the context of the gospel.

1)      One of my preliminary thoughts here is that Jesus is telling His disciples that they are about to be thrust into an Apocalyptic crisis that will shake the whole world.  It will lead to the covenant judgement of the people of Israel in 70 AD with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the dispersal of the Hebrew nation.  Craig A. Evans in his chapter in Porter’s Hearing the Old Testament in the New Testament, (The Beginning of the Good News and the Fulfillment of Scripture in the Gospel of Mark), points out that this crisis extended into the Roman world and their crisis over the death of three emperors over a very brief period of years.  Such was the crisis that they even began to hijack some of the Hebrew Messianic Scriptures applying them to specific Roman individuals.  It could be that this is one of the ways we respond to times of crisis by looking for the coming of a messiah.  Jesus’ point is that we must carefully watch and wait for Him to come.

2)      Jesus uses the phrase “birth pains” in this text.  The thing about birth pains is that they come repeatedly, one after another, leading ultimately to the birth of a child.  Mark tells us, “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed.  Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and Kingdom against Kingdom.  There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines.  These are the beginning of birth pains.” (13:7-8) Paul echoes this in Romans 8:22 when he writes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” What the Scripture seems to be telling us is that there will be regular and repeated contractions of trial which Christians will have to endure as we patiently await the coming of our Lord.

3)      Jesus calls us to stand firm in our faith in these times.  To maintain a life of witness to the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ in the middle of the crisis of our times is our calling.  This calls us to prayerful consideration and assistance of one another.

4)      Jesus also calls to a lifestyle of mission.  The Gospel is to be preached to all nations while we are awaiting the coming of the Lord.  Mark 13 tells us that the Disciples, as well as every believer will be thrust out into the world as those who give testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is to be our life.

These are just a few preliminary thoughts intended to help us to focus upon the answer that Jesus gives to His disciples so that we will follow Him on the road to the cross.