Have You Ever Wondered?

“So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it up in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock.  Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.  Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where He was laid.”

                                                                                                                                                                Mark 15:46-47

                “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth.”

                                                                                                                                                                Isaiah 53:9

                Have you ever wondered why the Gospel writers go to such lengths to include the thought of the burial of Jesus in their accounts?   It would seem to be self evident that if Jesus died, that He also was buried.  The Roman custom with crucifixion seems to have been that the bodies would be left on the crosses for several days as a warning to others, and then they would be taken down and thrown unceremoniously into a mass grave.  That is not what happened with Jesus.  The writers of the books of the New Testament seem to go out of their way to tell us what happened here.  They have a very specific reason for doing so.  The Apostle Paul also gives us this teaching in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5. “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.  Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve.”  In the series of statements that Paul gives as a summary of the important points of the Gospel’s fulfillment of the promise of the Scriptures the Apostle Paul includes “He was buried.”  The Gospel writers all emphasize it as being of importance.

One reason for this focus is that the Gospel writers want us to continue to explore the evidence for the resurrection.  If they had not emphasized the evidence of the burial of the lord Jesus Christ there would have been no conclusive proof of His resurrection.  How would we prove the empty tomb if Jesus had been buried with the other condemned in a mass grave?  If there had been no witnesses, like Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and the women who had followed Jesus ever since the beginning of His ministry there would have been no way to discover what had happened to His body.

The Gospel writers however tell us that this evidence is available to us because there were witnesses and Joseph did bury Jesus in his own garden tomb.  On the first day of the week when the women went to the tomb that they had seen Jesus buried in they found the stone rolled away and the tomb was empty.  What condensation of God to our need for evidence.  He supplied all that we need right here.

There is another reason given here as well, and it is of great importance.  The Gospel writers include this account to tell us something else as well.  It is this that Paul focuses upon in his account.  Even the burial of the Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled Scripture.  Isaiah 53:9 tells us that the plan would be to bury Him with the wicked, but the reality would be that he would be buried with the rich.  That is exactly what happened in the providence of God.  Over the past few months I have been engaged in an intense study of the Gospels.  What I have been discovering is faith stretching because it lets us know that there is far more buried in this tiny gospel than I could ever have imagined.  I feel as if I am just scratching the surface here.  That is an incentive for a growing commitment to Bible Study by each of us.  There are treasures to be found here.

Gospel Fruit Through Intercessory Prayer

“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; be patient, 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 – one 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

In focusing upon the message of this text we see that we are called to live in a way consistent with the Gospel of Christ.  In Christ we have been delivered out of this dark world and translated into the Kingdom of the Son of God.  This is a Kingdom which is characterized by the light of the grace of Christ.  Paul writes that we are to be diligent in pursuing the unity which the Holy Spirit has created within the Body of Christ.  In the real, concrete trials and tribulations of our lives we are to maintain this reality.  Notice that Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit has already brought this into being in the Gospel.  It is our responsibility to maintain it.

The life we are called to live is a consequence of the powerful reality of what God has accomplished in the Gospel.  Paul roots this in the eternal plan and purpose of God which is centred upon the sacrificial work of Christ upon the cross.  Christopher Seitz towards the end of his chapter, entitled “Prayer in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible”, in Prayer in the New Testament, edited by Richard Longenecker writes about this reality in the following extended quotation.

“In Isaiah, the “one and the many” relationship is extended, quite specifically, to the nations outside of God’s covenant.  The use of Moses suggests an awareness of his ongoing, figuratively real presence.  Yet the “new thing” of Isaiah points to an enlargement of thought: that the servant is a man of prayer.  We see into his heart of anguish and find firm resolve there (50:7).  His prayer is but the utterance of his life itself, which is given up in obedience – like Moses before him.  But his intercession, even though very similar to that of Moses, costs him his life, brings life to a whole generation, and removes their iniquity – something that Moses did not do.  And in the context of this vocation, the servant of Isaiah 49-53 sees the final eschatological moment released for a split second in the confession of the nations (cf. 52:15).

                It is striking, however, that the content, technique, or spirituality of the servant’s prayer is hidden.  His intercession is known by its results and by its ongoing, dynamic character.  Its fruit (“he shall see seed”) is encountered in the final chapters of Isaiah in the “servants” who follow where he once walked.” (Prayer in the New Testament p. 21)

                What I understand Seitz to be saying here is that Isaiah’s prophesy of the Servant of the Lord is of one who sacrificially lays down His life to redeem a people for Himself out of the Nations of our World.  At the heart of this Gospel work, which we know to be fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ is His intercessory praying.  This is a task that the Holy Spirit joins in accomplishing.  Those who believe are invited to join their own small voices to this great intercessory work.  Such intercession produces Godly, Gospel fruit.  There is life in it, life that comes from God Himself.  What Isaiah saw, was, and is, fulfilled in Christ, and we are the fruit of it.  Praise God!

Be Patient

“Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming.   See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.  You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.  Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged.  The Judge is standing at the door.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 5:7-9

                In meditating upon the final chapter of the book of James it becomes apparent that he has been working out a key principle of Christian living throughout the letter.  This is that the Christian life is one continuous pursuit of the promise and purpose of God in every area of our living.  Eugene Peterson focused his study of the Psalms of Ascent upon the premise that the Godly life is in reality “a long obedience in the same direction.”  This seems to be the focus of the letter that James wrote to a group of struggling Christians in the mid first century AD.  He begins the letter with these words,

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given him.” (James 1:2-5)

In the fifth chapter, after describing a whole host of trials that the Christian must overcome as we live out our faith in this world which is so hostile to the purposes of God, James returns to this theme, commanding believers to be patient as we await the coming of the Lord.  God has called us to become people of faith who passionately pursue the Lord Jesus Christ, and His matchless Holiness, while awaiting His return in Glory.   It is in this patient pursuit of the Lord that we find our faith tried and matured so that it will be revealed as genuine in the Day when the Lord returns.

In thinking of this I am reminded of those days when I was a middle distance runner.  The glorious days were those in which we ran a race.  To do well in the race however required that we be disciplined in the hidden days of training, when we ran many hard miles.  We struggled through those hard days, but they brought about a strength that saw us through the race that we were running.  James commands his readers to be strengthened in their hearts as they look ahead to the Lord’s return.  This is the work of the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:14-21.  The Holy Spirit uses means however.  James calls us to walk with the Spirit in those disciplines to which the Spirit calls us so that we will be strong and mature as we face the difficulties of our lives.

What are the disciplines that the Spirit calls us to engage in for this purpose?  They must surely begin with the following three things.

1)      A disciplined commitment to developing our lives of prayer.  God has called us to enter into the great privilege of fellowshipping with Him in Christ.  Nothing happens in our lives apart from a growing fellowship with God in prayer.

2)      The meditative application of the Word of God in our lives.  We must be engaged in more than just the reading of the Bible.  It must be transforming our lives as it is applied by the Holy Spirit.

3)      Increasingly we must find that our lives are becoming centred upon the one goal that is worthy of life.  This is the pursuit of the Kingdom of God as it is revealed in the return of Christ.

Being Found Faithful

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles to word of truth.”

                                                                                                                                                                                2 Timothy 2:15

                One of my favourite verses is 2 Timothy 2:15.  Nearly forty years ago I used this verse as my year book quotation as I was graduating from High School.  It was a verse that had captured my attention as I had first begun to feel that the Lord was calling me into full time Christian service.  It is a verse which has stuck with me all these years.  Recently I was delighted to discover that it was a verse that Charles Haddon Spurgeon used as he introduced a catechism to his congregation.  His purpose was to lead the people of God into the security which comes from being firmly anchored in Biblical doctrine.  This is one of our purposes in the building of the Church, to discuss and apply biblical doctrine to our lives so that we will be living securely in this Christian life.

To look carefully at this verse we find that we can highlight a number of the words that the Apostle Paul uses here.  The first is the word at the beginning of the sentence which means to show full diligence, fully applying ourselves, or acting with full and speedy commitment.  This is what Spurgeon meant when he wrote in An All Around Ministry (London: banner of Truth Trust, 1972, p. 125).

“Brothers, I beseech you, keep to the old gospel, and let your souls be filled with it, and then may you be set on fire with it!  When the wick is saturated, let the flame be applied.  “Fire from heaven” is still the necessity of the age.  They call it “go,” and there is nothing which goes like it; for when the fire once starts upon a vast prairie or forest, all that is dry and withered must disappear before its terrible advance.  May God Himself, who is a consuming fire, ever burn in you as in the bush at Horeb!  All other things being equal, that man will do most who has the most of the Divine fire.  That subtle, mysterious element called fire – who knoweth what it is?  It is a force inconceivably mighty.  Perhaps it is the motive force of all forces, for light and heat from the sun are the soul of power.  Certainly fire, as it is in God, and comes upon His servants, is power omnipotent.  The consecrated flame will, perhaps consume you, burning up the bodily health with too great ardour of soul, even as a sharp sword wears away the scabbard; but what of that?  The zeal of God’s house ate up our Master, and it is but a small matter that it should consume His servants.”

                The second word I want to highlight here is the one translated as one approved.  This word has as its meaning “to be found genuine because you have passed the test.”  Here is a word that was applied to the testing of an object, especially of coins, so that their genuineness can be demonstrated.  What Paul means here is that we will be tested so that the genuine reality of our Christian profession can be demonstrated.

Thirdly, Paul uses a word that means to present ourselves for service.  It means to be standing close beside the leader, ready for action.  We all know about those times when volunteers are needed and we find some moving to the front of the group so that they will be included.  Others are looking around at the ground or moving to the back of the group.  They do not want to be seen as uninterested, but they also do not want to be picked.

Finally Paul uses a word here which means to cut a straight line.  The meaning here is that we are called to understand, apply, and consistently follow the clear teaching of God Word in every part of our lives.  Real, genuine Christian faith is a powerful thing as it is lived out in our world.  We live in times when such Christian faith is desperately needed.  May we be found faithful.

Seeking The Lord

SEEKING THE LORD

                “I wait for you, O Lord; you will answer, O Lord my God.”

                                                                                                                Psalm 38:15

                In reflecting upon the thirty eighth Psalm I have noted that it is a call for the believer to confession of sin and prayer for forgiveness.  David here writes a carefully crafted twenty two verse confession of sin with petitions for forgiveness interspersed throughout.  In the fifteenth verse quoted above he writes that he will wait patiently, hoping in the Lord, because he knows that the Lord his God will listen attentively to his prayer.  There is a powerful element of faith in this prayer of confession of sin.  He believes because the Lord has made a promise to him.  O. Palmer Robertson in The Flow of the Psalms: Discovering Their Structure and Theology writes,

“In considering the present arrangement of the Psalter, we see that a large grouping of Psalms known to be David’s has been positioned in the forefront of the collection.  This grouping reflects the confrontation of David with numerous and varied enemies as he seeks to establish his messianic kingship (Book I, Psalms 1-41).”

                This opening book of Psalms ends with four Psalms of petition for the forgiveness of sin.  David’s confession is focused upon his fleeing for refuge in the Lord upon his faith that the Lord will faithfully keep his promise to David that he will never take his love away from him.  There will be a Messianic ruler on the throne of Israel eternally.  This ruler will be a descendant of David.  As David faces enemies bent on destroying his rule, and even his own sinfulness he knows that the faithful God will never turn away from this promise because He will hold true to His own word.  The Lord can be trusted to keep His promises.  Taking it even further David is casting himself doe refuge upon the Lord from all of the devastation of his life because he sees it all in light of the coming Kingdom of God.

As we look at this Psalm we must reflect upon the vital importance of our reflecting upon the mystery contained in this book of Psalms.  We really do encounter Christ here.  To turn back to Robertson’s book we encounter these thoughts.

“This distinctive role of David as God’s anointed Messiah explains the centrality of his person in the Psalms.  These I-psalms (Robertson’s term for Psalms in book one) describe the various situations in life faced by this singular servant of the Lord.  Indeed, each of these psalms contains a message for the individual believer.  But to understand these I-psalms in their fullest significance for the individual, they must first be appreciated for their role in speaking for God’s anointed servant, the messianic king.  Then a principle regularly at work in the Psalter will become clear in its significance: As it fares with the messianic king, so it fares with each member of the messianic kingdom.”

                With each Psalm of confession we find ourselves called to a life of confession and prayer for the Lord’s gracious forgiveness.  It is vital that we become committed to a growing life of prayer.  These Psalms are a call to real faith in the living covenant God who is actively at work in us.  We discover this reality in the various trials and crisis’ that we face in our lives.  In fact, the devastation that we often see in our lives leads us to flee for refuge in the Lord.

Please consider this an invitation for you to begin to pray with others.  I believe that it is entirely fitting that as we begin a new year of Bible Study and Prayer meetings that we do so by reflecting upon these four final psalms in book 1.  As we do so we will find that our faith is deepened.  Robertson suggests that it would be a wonderful thing for believers to meditate upon and memorize many, if not all of the psalms.  For here we find ourselves encouraged in a lifestyle of Christ-centred worship.

A Word of Great Hope

                “Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the Angel.  The Angel said to those who were standing before Him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”  Then He said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away all of your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 3:3-4

                ““Listen, o High Priest Joshua and his associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring My Servant, the Branch.  See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua!  There are seven eyes on that stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it, says the Lord Almighty, and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 3:8-9

                Over the past weeks we have been inundated with various kinds of bad news.  With each new event we find ourselves cast anew into the fears that dominate much of our lives.  We wonder what the future will hold.  What will happen to us?  Will there ever be joy and peace again?  Who will stand up and fight the battles which we fear we are about to face?  We wonder where the word of hope is in our uncertain times.

It is in times like these that the words of the prophetic scriptures are so helpful and comforting.  In reading Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I came across a reference to Bonhoeffer’s study of the Psalms in which he made reference to the tremendous comfort that could be found there by people who were facing dangerous and difficult times.  What Bonhoeffer had learned was something which God’s people have always known.  This is the Word of God has the power to lift us out of our secular, unbelieving, frame of mind, and to cause us to focus upon the word of hope which we find in the Gospel.  It is this that we find the Prophet Zechariah doing as he passes along the visions that he had received.  He was providing ministry to people who were facing very uncertain and disappointing times.  Zechariah finds his visions pointing ahead to an incredible event that was to come.  This event, the coming of a Savoir, who would, in one day cleanse his people from all of their sin, would become a word that would provide comfort and joy for people right down to today.  Imagine what Zechariah is recording for us.  Personal, and National, sin will be cleansed away.  A new start would be given.  The benefit of what the redeemer to come would accomplish would be of eternal.  Hope is rooted in One who is eternally faithful.  It is not given by shifting people, or governments who can never be counted on.  It is not a security that is based upon fallible and weak people.  Our hope is established in the Redeemer who is unchanging, eternal God, who in love took upon Himself flesh, and came to live among us so that He could die in our place bearing our personal sin.  This hope can never be lost because it is in Him, not in us, or anything human.

At the heart of our hope is the forgiveness of our sin.  The wonder of this forgiveness can be illustrated by a testimony recorded by David Baron in his commentary on the book of Zechariah (David Baron, The Visions and Prophesies of Zechariah, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1975, p. 93-94)

“Some of my readers may have visited the Wartburg and had pointed out to them the black spot on one of the walls of the room which Luther occupied during his benevolently intended imprisonment.  The legend connected with it is this.  One night during this mournful solitude, when suffering from great depression, because, as he himself expresses it in a letter to Melanchthon, dated May 24, 1521, “I do see myself insensible and hardened, a slave to sloth, rarely, alas! Praying – unable even to utter a groan for the church, while my untamed flesh burns with a devouring flame” – the great reformer dreamt that Satan appeared to him with a long scroll, in which were carefully written the many sins and transgressions of which he was guilty from his birth, and which the evil one proceeded to read out, mocking the while that such a sinner as he could ever think of being called to do service for God, or even of escaping himself from hell.  As the long list was being read, Luther’s terrors grew, and his agonies of soul increased.  At last, however, rousing himself, he jumped up and exclaimed: “It is all true, Satan, and many more sins which I have committed in my life which are known to god only; but write at the bottom of your list, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleansesth us from all sin,’”  and grasping the inkstand on his table he threw it at the devil, who soon fled, the memorial of it being left in the ink-splash on the wall.”

                Amen!!  It is in that completed, holy work of the Son of God that we have hope.  It is that work that brings the joy into our lives in this new year.

Being The Church

                “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.  Don 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.  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith that God has given you.  Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

                                                                                                                                                Romans 12:1-5

                As I have been wrestled with the book of James and the Gospel of Mark over the years it has occurred to me that one of the themes that they share together is a cross-centred discipleship.  James calls believers to live with Christ-centred sacrificial love for one another.  Mark calls His disciples to follow Him to the cross where real sacrificial love will be demonstrated for this sin sick world.  These same Disciples were then to be called to follow His example in living lives of cross-centred service for this world in all its lostness.

It should therefore come as no surprise that the Apostle Paul’s discussion of the giftedness of the Roman Church should be rooted in imagery that calls believers to cross-centred living.  So often we want the gifts of the Spirit as a means of exerting power over others.  This is not the Jesus way.  His way is one of service to others.  So when Paul reflects upon the giftedness that we are given by the Holy Spirit he begins with a call to sacrifice.  We are to be living sacrifices.  In fact Paul tells us that this is what it means for us to truly Worship God.  Until we can follow Jesus to the cross, being immersed into His sufferings, we will never be able to share in His Glory.  We will therefore be of very little use in His Kingdom, and we will bear very little fruit for Him.  The reason for this failure on our part is because we will still be living for ourselves.  This is why the Corinthians were pursuing the more sensational gifts.  It was all about their own glory, rather than the glory of the God who had redeemed them.   They were unable as a result to build a Christ exalting Church.

To the Romans Paul lays the foundation for real Christian fellowship in the call to the cross.  It is at that place of suffering that we find that our desire to conform ourselves to the pattern of this world is broken because we have died to it.  We have been given a new orientation in life.   This is to live with a mind transformed by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that we are now centred upon His will.  Now we live to glorify God by serving one another.  In this environment the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in fact the whole of the life of the Church operates as it should, and God is glorified.

In Mark 10:32 we read that Jesus was going up to Jerusalem.  He was going up to worship.  His altar of worship was the cross of Calvary.  His Disciples were following Him, as must we.

A New Heart

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be.  Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?  My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?  Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 3:9-12

                Whenever we engage in an intense inspection of the Gospel of Mark or of the Book of James one thing becomes increasingly clear.  This is that the Bible is a book that calls us to become disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Mark seems to be describing the process by which the disciples became faith filled followers of the Lord.  Their hardness of heart is exposed, and the way that the Lord led them to faith is described for us in great detail.  James outlines for us the vital place that discipleship plays in our lives as believers.  In fact it is possible to argue that without such a living, vital walk with the Lord Jesus Christ we cannot make a claim to be a Christian.  Saving faith according to James bears fruit.

As James explores this he tells us that there is fundamentally wrong with us when we live apart from Christ.  This is that we are double minded.  We focus our lives, and the affections of our hearts upon the things of this world.  We are not pursuing the purpose for which God has created us, which is to love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.  We do not live in order to glorify God.  Our glory is ourselves.  This is what we find ourselves seeking.

As James looks at this reality he explores it by looking at our speech.  He tells us that what we say is a direct reflection of what is in our hearts.  Just like the rider controls the horse through the bridle, a very small thing, and the pilot controls the ship through the rudder, another small thing.  The body is controlled through another small thing, the tongue by the heart.  What is in our hearts is manifested to the world around us by the things which we say.  In writing this James is really only quoting his older half brother, the Lord Jesus Christ.  In Matthew 12:33-37 we read these words of our Lord.

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognised by its fruit.  You brood of vipers, how can who are evil say anything good?  For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.  But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

                What James leads us to understand here is that we need a new heart.  It must be transformed by the grace that God has given to us in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We must come to Him asking for His help.  We must ask in faith, believing that God will give to us what He has promised to give.  We believe this because we have come to believe that God is faithful and just to fulfill His promises to us.  This is how we become disciple of Jesus rejoicing in the grace that He went to the cross to purchase for us.

A New Year Hope

“I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and the mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.  Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.  Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done.  The things you have planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.  Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.  Then I said, “Here I am, I have come — it is written about me in the scroll.  I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.””

                                                                                                                                                Psalm 40:1-8

                Happy New Year!  How often have you given and received this greeting over the past few days?  Have you made any resolutions for this coming year?  Perhaps more importantly, will you keep the resolutions you are making?  I must begin my last blog post for 2017 by letting each of you know that I am praying that this coming year will be a year that will be richly filled with the Lord’s blessings for all of us.  As I write this however I am aware that these greetings and hopes betray something of the deep inner longing that is part of every one of our lives.  We sincerely hope that our lives will indeed become better in the coming year.  In our hearts we find ourselves longing for a better world.  We want peace on earth.  We want solutions to the sin, failure, and brokenness that we struggle with each day.  We feel this way because we have been created with a desire for something better.  In Ecclesiastes 3:11 we read, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”  We know that there is a better reality than that which we experience each day.  We find ourselves turning to all manner of different solutions to our longings.  What are we to do?

These thoughts are a somewhat lengthy introduction to the reflections of King David in Psalm 40.  Like us, David is living a life that is tried by a variety of harsh circumstances.  I am sure that there were many times when he wondered whether there was any solution to his struggles.  He tells us in the twelfth verse that he is overwhelmed by his sin.  He has discovered a solution however.  This is the promise that God has given Him in His Word.  In 2 Samuel 7:18-19, as David is humbly coming before God and prayerfully reflecting upon the promise that God has made to him that his house will produce a ruler who will sit on an eternal throne as God’s King, he makes the following statement.  “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me thus far?  And as if this was not enough in your sight, O Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant.  Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign Lord?” (NIV)  Walter Kaiser Jr. In The Messiah in the Old Testament, makes a convincing case that that last line could be better translated as “this is your charter for humanity.” (Kaiser p. 79-80)   What David recognises is that God has made a promise here that will fundamentally redeem everyone who believes it.  David must now live believing that what God has promised God will do.  Everything is changed as a result.

David opens the Psalm with praise to the Lord, who has made such an astounding promise to his people.  Such praise looks ahead to God’s promised blessing with what David calls expectant hope.  He is looking for the promise to be fulfilled.  He has a deep longing for God’s promise to become reality.  In the meantime however David will fix his gaze upon that promise.  He will pray for it to come.  He will live his life secure in the promise that God has made.  He will even die full of faith in what God has promised.  You see, David knows that God is present, and actively at work in his life working out the promise that has been made.

This is the faith that we are called to live by.  The promise was not just for David, it is for every believer.  As David reflects upon the promise his thinking becomes prophetic.  He looks ahead and sees the coming King as one who will bring in God’s promised gift of righteousness through a sacrificial act that will astound the world and make believers righteous.  It will be the Lord’s doing when it comes.  It will humble us to the very core of our being, and then produce in us a deep and abiding praise.

What we long for is biblical.  God has created us for a better world.  Our ways of satisfying this longing are often not very biblical at all.  We turn away from trusting Him, in order to put our hope in all manner of things that can only fail us.   David calls us to put our trust in the Lord.

Will you?

And When You Pray

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.  This then is how you should pray:  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…..”

                                                                                                                                                Matthew 6:5-9

                Last evening as I was reading in the third volume of Wilhelmus A Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service in a section, in which the author deals with the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, I came across the following helpful phrase regarding prayer.

God hallows Himself: “And I will sanctify My great Name” (Ezek. 36:23) God hallows Himself both in the works of nature and of grace, revealing to man what manner of God He is.”  (page 499)

                What A Brakel is saying here, and I believe that this is absolutely crucial for believers to understand is that the first principle of prayer is to hallow, or reverence God’s Name.  When we pray we are engaged in something much deeper than just making requests of God.  In God’s grace we are invited to bring our requests before Him (Philippians 4:6-7).  What we are doing is really much more however.  We are engaged in a relationship in which we are being fundamentally changed (what the Bible calls being sanctified) by our encounter with our Lord.  2 Corinthians 3:17-18 makes this clear.  So much of our experience in prayer, and the struggles we have with prayer are owing to this transformation.  There are times when prayer is a real joy.  Other times it is characterized by dryness and real struggle.  I believe that this is when we are being refined by God.

God’s purpose for our praying is to cause us to develop a sincere reverence for Him.  If we were to use the word glory to describe our purpose here, as in to “glorify God”, what we would mean by this is that we would be giving God His proper weight.  Our struggle is centred upon the fact that we keep thinking of God as if He is like us.  We keep falling short in our understanding of God’s true greatness.  God will not allow us to persist in this attitude for long.  A Brakel tells us that God “Hallows His own Name”, meaning He will always be bringing us to reverence Him for who He really is.  Prayer brings us to the point where this happens in our lives.  We, in prayer begin to see that He alone is God, there is no other, including all the false views of God that we create for ourselves.  In prayer God shows us His goodness, or graciousness.  He consents to be reconciled to us through the Lord Jesus Christ entirely on His merit not ours.  I do not believe that we truly understand just how gracious He is towards us.  In prayer He reveals to us His justice in judgement.  He really does deal with sin, but provides a way of redemption through His Son.  In prayer we are confronted with His omnipotence as He works out His purpose in our lives.

Once we begin to pray we find that nothing is ever the same again because God meets us and we begin to see His glory revealed through His Son.  He offers us and invitation to come to His throne of grace in real prayer.  Shall we pray?