Fulfillment Of Prophesy

                “The day for building your walls will come, the day for extending your boundaries.  In that day people will come to you from Assyria and  the cities of Egypt, even from Egypt to the Euphrates and from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain.  The earth will become desolate because of its inhabitants, as a result of their deeds.”

                                                                                                                                                Micah 7:11-13

                There is no substitute for the reading of the whole of the Bible as a means of building ourselves up in the faith.  To be sure we need the work of the Holy Spirit in our inner person to instruct us in the truth of God’s Word.  When we become committed to the study of all that the Bible teaches we find ourselves discovering some of the rich treasures which it contains.  Kenneth Wuest entitled one of his studies of the Greek New Testament Golden Nuggets from the Greek New Testament.  In that volume Wuest explored the riches of the New Testament in its original language and in doing so he served generations of believers by showing them just how rich the truths of the New Testament really are.  We make some of the same type of faith growing discoveries when we read all that the Word of God teaches.

                Such is the result that comes from reading the verses from the final chapter of the prophetic book of Micah.  As we are reading in the text quoted above we hear Micah’s description of the coming restoration of the Kingdom of God.  God’s people have been humbled by being sent into exile.  The day is coming when they will return from that exile.  They will return to Jerusalem from all over the world.  Micah sees that God’s people will be scattered into all of the lands around Judah.  From all of those lands they will return.  The books of Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah all describe that return.  It all happened historically in just the way that God had spoken through His prophets.  As we read these things in the Old Testament we find our faith growing because we discover the faithfulness of God in accomplishing those things He has promised.

                Our faith grows as well because in these prophesies we not only see historical fulfillment in Micah’s day, we also discover that these events are types, examples of future fulfillments.  There will come a day when the Kingdom of God will break into this world in a powerful and a spiritual way through the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  In Zechariah 9:9ff we read about this fulfillment in these words.

                “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!  Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!  See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken.  He will proclaim peace to the nations.  His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth.”

                This Prophet looks into the distant future and sees the inauguration of a Kingdom that will be heralded by a Triumphal entry into a great city, and then established in the blood of the covenant, the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This coming Kingdom will be established among the very same conditions that brought people to Nehemiah’s Jerusalem.  Listen to Luke’s description of the events on the day of Pentecost where the Church (the Kingdom of Christ) had its beginning.  It is found in Acts 2:5ff,

                “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.  Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?  Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues.”

                If you locate these places on a map of the ancient world you will discover that they encircle the city of Jerusalem.  On the day of Pentecost the three thousand who were saved were drawn out of all of these lands in fulfillment of prophesy. What a great God we serve.  He knows the end of things from there beginning.  What we are also led to understand here is that our vision of God’s Kingdom must match His description of it in its worldwide sweep and outreach.

Reflections On A Bible Study

“God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

                                                                                                                                2 Corinthians 5:21

                Over the past twenty or so years it has been my privilege to lead a Bible Study at the Hope Centre in Brampton.  Each Thursday morning a small group of men and women have met to study God’s Word in some detail in an interactive way.  Over the years the group has changed.  Some of our brothers and sisters who met with us are now rejoicing in the Lord’s presence.  Others have moved away and are now unable to join us.  New people have joined in and for that we rejoice.  These Thursday mornings have become a joyous time of fellowship for me.  It is my belief that every Christian must be seeking out Bible Study groups where real fellowship with other believers can be nurtured as we gather around the Word of God.

                What has been brought forcefully home to me through this Bible Study as well as through the regular studies at First Baptist Church, Brampton (Which also follows an interactive approach) is that there is often a correspondence between the discussions we have with each group.  I believe that this is evidence of the leading of the Holy Spirit in our gatherings.  Most often we are led to discover this correspondence through the questions which people ask at our gatherings. 

                This is a rather wordy way of introducing our text for today.  In today’s Bible Study at the Hope Centre our discussion turned to the fact that our salvation is found not in our works but in the grace revealed by God in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ as our substitute sin bearer.  In our text Paul sums up a chapter in which he appeals to us to become reconciled to God through the Lord Jesus Christ by pointing out that He is the perfect substitute for us.  Let’s look at the evidence Paul appeals to.

  1. This is the work of God for us.  Paul writes, “God Made Him”.  Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to appeal to a great statement in the Word of God as evidence of the supernatural nature of our salvation, “But God”.  So much was going wrong for us, but God, and everything was transformed.
  2. He is the sinless one.  The Lord Jesus Christ can save us because He is the sinless one.  He perfectly obeyed His Father in everything.  J. Gresham Machen wrote shortly before his death that he was deeply thankful for “the active obedience of Christ.”  In Christ we discover that Holy God became human flesh all for the purpose of redeeming us.
  3. Paul goes on to write, “To be sin for us”. The Lord Jesus Christ substituted Himself for us.  He carried our sin to the cross and there He died with it.  It is here that we find ourselves reconciled to God. 
  4. Then Paul leads us to a very special truth, “So that in Him we might become the righteousness of God”.  Through faith in Christ we participate in a destiny altering exchange.  Our sin is taken and place upon the sinless one and in exchange His perfect righteousness is taken and placed upon us.  Now when God looks upon us He sees that we have been forgiven through the cross, and He also sees the perfect righteousness of Christ.  Everything has now changed.  However it is only as we are in Christ by faith.  There is no other way forward.  Have you participated in this great exchange?


Dealing With Error

                “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?”

                                                                                                                                                                                Mark 12:24

                Every day we are bombarded by thoughts which are in error.  We have to deal with the thoughts of others, whether through the news media, or on television or radio, or even those things which we hear in casual conversation which are in error.  I will never forget the person who at a time of significant grief in my family told one of my children that the person who had been lost had gone to live on the moon, never to return.  The consequence of that comment, given with the best of intentions to be kind to a small child was difficult to overcome.  We constantly have to deal with teaching, and advice which is in error.  Some of it is not so easy to detect. 

                In addition to the errors of others we also have to deal with the erroneous thoughts that we find arising in our own hearts and minds.  These can be devastating, leading us into all manner of destructive patterns of living.  To this the Lord Jesus Christ asks us a simple question which is designed to redirect us into Godly living.  The question is found in Mark 12:24 “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?”  This question was asked of the Sadducees, who came to ridicule Jesus by asking Him a ridiculous question which arose out of their belief that there was no such thing as the resurrection of the dead.  They believed that this question would expose Jesus as a spiritual bumbler out of His depth in dealing with those who had received a real education in the Scriptures.  I once sat at a Ministerial meeting at which a senior pastor in a large church spoke at length about the fact that many uneducated Pastors believed evangelical doctrine, which anyone with half a brain would immediately dismiss.  Those precious doctrines of the Evangelical faith are the foundation of all that I believe.  The more I search them out the more precious they become to me.

                Jesus tells us that we fall into error, in doctrine and in life, because we do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.  For those Sadducees the error was that they believed that this life was all that there was.  There was therefore no accountability before God for how we live our lives.  They then found themselves living as those who had no hope.  Perhaps the error that these Sadducees believed can be described by the words of the Apocryphal book called “The Wisdom of Solomon” which predates the time of Christ. 

                                “For we were born by mere chance, and hereafter we shall be as though we have never been, for the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts; when it is extinguished, the body will return to ashes, and the spirit will dissolve like empty air.  Our name will be forgotten in time, and no one will remember our works, our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud, and be scattered like mist that is chased by the rays of the sun and overcome by its heat.  For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow, and there is no return from our death, because it is sealed up and no one turns back.” (Wisdom of Solomon 2:2-5)

                What a hopeless philosophy to live by.  There is no comfort here.  It is this type of thing that Jesus was confronting with the question of the Sadducees.  In all kinds of practical ways we find ourselves drawn into a lifestyle of hopelessness, because we do not know the teaching of Scripture or the power of God.  If however we give ourselves over to a Spirit led study of the Word of God we will come to live with a deep awareness of the power of God at work in us.  The fruit of this will be a real and living hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Nothing will ever be the same again.

He Was In 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.  The word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 1:10-14

                At times I am asked, as I was recently in an email, how we can live a holy life while living in this sinful world.  This is a vital question for us to ask.  So often people find themselves drifting through life, without really examining how they live.  We push down those questions and moral struggles which we face because we are engaged in the struggle to just survive.  There are times when we find ourselves facing that insistent inner discomfort which tells us that all is not right with our world.  What are we to do in response?

                In order to adequately deal with this question we need to first of all answer the number one question of life which is, are we a Christian?  Have you been born again?  As the Apostle John introduces his Gospel this is the first thing that he confronts us with.  In fact it seems that this question of being born again is central to all that John writes in his Gospel.  Have you been born again?  What does John mean by this?  Why is it so important to him?

                John, in chapter three of his Gospel tells us that we must be born from above, or again.  He confronts us with this as he reports on a conversation that Nicodemus had with the LORD Jesus Christ.  In explaining His meaning Jesus tells Nicodemus that to be born again is to be born spiritually.  It is a work of the Holy Spirit making us alive spiritually.  Technically we will call this to be regenerated.  Historically Christians like John Wesley called it the New Birth.  John tells us in the first chapter of his Gospel that this is the work of God given to those who receive the LORD Jesus Christ by believing on His Name.  This text leads us to that precious work of God where His only begotten Son came and dwelt among us revealing His glory in the cross of Calvary.  D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once stated that we cannot adequately deal with the issues we face in life until we answer the primary issue, are we a Christian?  It is to this point that John brings us in his Gospel. 

                Behind what John is writing here is a rich vein of Old Testament Prophetic teaching which speaks to us about the necessity of God changing our nature so that we will live holy lives.  We cannot live a holy life in our own flesh, no matter how hard we try to do so.  Ezekiel 18:30-32 speaks about this to us.

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

                Earlier Ezekiel tells us in chapter 11:19-20 that this work is in fact the work of God, graciously accomplished within us when he writes.

                “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  They will be my people and I will be their God.”

                Here Ezekiel points us to the Covenant which God has made with His people.  Jeremiah, in chapter 31:31-34 echoes these thoughts telling us that God is going to give His people a New Covenant written by the Spirit on their hearts, and causing them to walk in His ways.  I believe that this is what Jesus describes in John’s Gospel. 

                To be born of God is to be given this new heart which is responsive, and obedient to God’s purposes as revealed in His Word.  We delight ourselves in His Word.  It is a work of God in us.  It is vital that we are born again if we are ever to live a holy life in this sinful world.

                Once we are saved then we are called to actively live out our life of obedience to His Word by faith in His power to work in us.  There are a number of scriptures we could appeal to here, (Romans 13:11-14, Philippians 2:12-13, 3:12-14).  I will only quote one here in conclusion.

                “And do this understanding the present time.  The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because your salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.  So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather, clothe yourselves with the LORD Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Romans 13:11-14) >

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.

Spiritual Exercise

                “If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.  Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

                                                                                                                                                                                1 Timothy 4:6-8

                Whenever we are able to witness the Olympic competitions we see many wonderful athletic accomplishments.  If you are like me you may marvel at the feats of athletic glory which are displayed.  I often find myself thinking, and saying on occasion, that I could never do what I have seen.  Even in my prime, which was many, many years ago I could not have performed in the way those athletes have been.  When interviewed these athletes each have a story to tell of an all consuming, passionate commitment to training their bodies and minds so that they can compete at a world class level.  What they do, eat, and think is carefully controlled so that they arrive at the Olympics in the peak of physical shape. 

                Perhaps this is what the Apostle Paul was thinking about as he wrote his first letter to Timothy.  In the first century Roman and Greek world in which Paul lived there was a commitment to competitive games that rivaled, if not exceeded, our own.  As Paul writes to Timothy he uses this fact as an illustration of the type of commitment that a believer has to have if they are to live the Christian life.  In essence Paul is pointing at the Athlete and asking us to examine their commitment and self disciple.  They do this in order to win a prize that will fade away.  Does anyone of us know the list of winners in the Olympic Games in the first century AD?  Even over a period of some 50 to 80 years our recollection of past winners fades away.  Yet the commitment that each athlete exhibits is awesome. 

                Paul’s point is that the believer’s commitment to the practices of godliness should be equally great.  How often do we let other things interfere with our single minded pursuit of the knowledge of the LORD?  We are told that we cannot expect people to come out to worship services because there are some many things that compete with that commitment.  We expect that they best that we can hope for is a nominal commitment from volunteers.  We even question how much we should expect of ourselves.  Then we witness the Olympics.  There is a slogan I have heard a number of times in respect to these Olympics.  It is why not me?  I want to take that slogan and apply it to myself in respect to those practices that lead to godliness in life.  These are such things as we see in the Scriptures as being marks of the godly life.  Do I have a growing prayer life, seeking the Glory of God in prayer?  Am I growing in my understanding of and commitment to the Word of God?  Do I find myself increasingly rejoicing in fellowship with other believers?  Am I developing a growing burden for those who are lost in their sin? 

                Each of these questions leads us into recognition of my need to grow in these godly practices.  The consequence is an increasing awareness of God’s grace at work in us in this life, but even more eternally.  We see the fruit of this in the lives of some of the heroes of the faith, now and in the past.  We excuse ourselves by saying that that was them.  They were, or are, in some way especially gifted individuals.  That is where the Olympic slogan comes in.  “What about me?”

A Tale About Grace

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus.  “Why are you bothering her?  She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them anytime you want.  But you will not always have me.  She did what she could.  She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.””

                                                                                                                                                                Mark 14:6-9

                As Mark continues to tell us the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ he continues to lead us along the road to the cross.  Real Christian discipleship is always cross centred.  It is at the foot of the cross that we see our sin in all its awfulness.  It is exposed in order to convict us.  At the foot of the cross we also see the grace of God in all its glory.  It meets us in our sin and redeems us.  That is if we receive the grace that God offers us in Christ.  At the cross we see ourselves as we really are.  Our response is either to be broken by grace receiving what God has won for us, or we are hardened by our sin, choosing to stay on our own way which leads down to eternal death.

                Mark presents both choices in the first eleven verses of the fourteenth chapter of his Gospel.  As is often his custom Mark uses a parenthesis in order to convey to us this truth in all of its starkness.  The Messiah has come to His own people and they are rejecting Him and in the process becoming hardened in their sin.  Passover is two days away when our account begins.  It begins with a description of the chief priests and teachers of the law who are determined to maintain their own political position at all costs.  They arrive at a conclusion, a plan to find some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill Him.  They were not interested in the truth or justice of the situation that Jesus confronted them with.  Self interest and fleshly ambition was their motivation.  They made their plans not recognising that God had already decided every detail of the sacrifice of the Christ.  It was God’s sovereign plan that would be worked out.  Mark makes sure that we see human self seeking and covetousness displayed here.  He makes this even clearer as he closes the parenthesis with the account of Judas Iscariot going off to betray Jesus for a few coins.  John 13:18 tells us that this was a fulfillment of God’s Word by quoting Psalm 41:9 “He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.”  Judas motivated by covetousness betrays Jesus, thinking that his motivations are his own, but they fit into the sovereign plan of God.  There is material for hours of fruitful meditation in these facts alone. 

                There is more here however.  We see here the awfulness of our sin.  We are confronted by it.  We see ourselves in our self interest going off and betraying our Redeemer for the smallest of treasures.  Mark does not leave us at that point however.  He shows us grace at work.  As Jesus reclines at table in the home of Simon the Leper something significant happens.  Stop and reflect for a moment here.  Simon the leper was perhaps a man well known in the New Testament Church.  He would have been ostracised by Hebrew society on account of his leprosy.  Perhaps Jesus had healed him.  Now Jesus is sitting down to a meal with this man.  How things have been changed in the Kingdom of God.  A woman comes in and breaks an expensive container of perfume over Jesus’ head, filling the whole room with the fragrance of her extravagant gift.  Its value was estimated to be more than a year’s wages.  She wasted it on Jesus, or so some thought.  What Mark is telling us in contrast with the selfishness of others is that this is the type of extravagant love that is the characteristic of those who have been touched by the grace of the Lord.  Here is a woman who loves Jesus with all her heart.  This love leads here to anoint Jesus for His burial.  The perfume was poured out upon Him in love.  In two days His precious blood will be poured out in love in order to bring God’s gracious gift to us. 

                The Apostle Peter understood this truth.  Wherever he went he preached it as part of his Gospel, just as Jesus had predicted.  That he understood this is revealed by these words which Peter wrote in his first letter.  “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.  He was chosen before the foundation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.  Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God. 

                Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply from the heart.  For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:18-23)

                Which part of Mark’s parenthesis are you living in?  Is it selfishness or extravagant love for the Lord? e

Behold The Man!

                “Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord.’”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 6:12

                “When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!””

                                                                                                                                                                John 19:5

                There are times in the Word of God when an individual speaks a better word than they know.  The Gospels tell us that Caiaphas, being the High Priest, prophesied without knowing it when he stated that it was expedient that one man day in the place of the whole people.  Such is the case in John’s Gospel when Pilate utters the words recorded in John 19:5, “Behold the man!”  The more I have immersed myself in the Gospels the more I have become aware that the Gospel writers portray various speakers as stating things in ways that point to the fulfillment of the Prophetic Scriptures.  As John records these words, spoken by Pilate, it is as if the evangelist is stating that Pilate’s words must cause us to stop and reflect carefully and spiritually about the teaching of Scripture.

                The question each Gospel writer brings us to confront is what the evidence is that the Lord Jesus Christ is in fact God’s promised Messiah.  John stops us as we are following him through his account of the coming of our redeemer and causes us to take a careful look at the words that a pagan Roman official used to introduce the soon to be crucified Jesus to the crowd.  “Behold the man!”  These words are exactly what the prophet Zechariah wrote in the sixth chapter of his book as he pointed ahead to the coming of the Messiah.  “Behold the man whose name is the branch.”  Zechariah is calling his readers to recognise that the Messiah when He comes will fulfill some very specific promises.  Both Zechariah and the Apostle John are calling us to recognise the evidence as it is found in the Word of God so that we will be able to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ when He comes.  Today I want to spend a few moments reflecting upon what these Biblical writers are calling upon us to do.

  1. First, each writer is calling us to look carefully, and spiritually, at the evidence.  “Behold!”  Look carefully, reflectively at what we are being told.  The Scriptures make it clear that the evidence that we are presented with is only comprehended with the help of the Holy Spirit.  Unless God reveals this truth to us we will not believe it or even understand it for that matter.  Darrell Johnson in Discipleship on the Edge, his masterful exposition of the book of Revelation has a phrase that he constantly repeats.  This is that, “Things are not as they seem.”  This is true whether it is our lives, or history, our behaviour, or Biblical truth that we are considering.  There is more to reality than we will ever understand with our unaided senses.  We need God’s help in order to understand reality.  Given these facts we often find ourselves tempted to give up.  God’s truth is beyond our ability to discern.  We must not give up however because the Word of God is full of examples of ordinary people like us who have been ushered into God’s Wisdom so that they can understand His truth.  James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to Him.” (James 1:5)  The very fact that James, and the Biblical writers call upon us to look carefully tells us that God’s wisdom is in fact available to anyone who truly seeks to know it.  “Behold!”
  2. “The Man!”  As Pilate brings Jesus out, mocking Him with a crown of thorns and a purple robe his words call upon us to carefully look at this figure, Jesus of Nazareth, who in every way fulfills the promise God has made to us about the coming Messiah.  Look carefully at Him!  See how he fulfills the promise!  Zechariah had used a term, the Branch, to describe Him.  This term pointed to the fact that the Messiah, when He came would fulfill certain Scriptural teaching.  Listen to what Isaiah says about this one.
    1. Isaiah 4:2: “In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel.”
    1. Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”
    1. Isaiah 42:1: “Here is My servant, whom I uphold, My chosen one in whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on Him and He will bring justice to the nations.”

As we take a careful look at these promises what we discover is that this man who is to come will be more than man.  He will be God among us in human flesh.  He will come as God’s Servant, in the power of God’s Spirit in order to serve us by suffering in our place.  When Jesus describes His own ministry, as He does in Mark 10:45, it is in the light of this Biblical ministry of servant hood through the cross.  “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” 

Pilate did speak better than he knew when he called us to look carefully at the Lord Jesus Christ.  He alone fulfills all that the Scripture teaches about what the promised Messiah would be and do.  In beholding Him we are called to believe.

A Call To Prayer and Praise

                “Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 90:1

                “For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 100:5

                A number of years ago, as I was meditation of the message of the 100th Psalm I came across an interesting set of thoughts contained in the notes in the NIV Study Bible.  These were concerned with the connections between the various Psalms in the Scriptures.  Psalms 90 through 100 are said, by the NIV Study Bible to be a collection of Praise Psalms which are contained within a framework consisting of Psalm 90:1 and Psalm 100:5.  I am certain that there is a lively debate that could be had over whether these Psalms were grouped together in the type of collection that my study Bible suggests but this suggestion did give me some useful material for my meditation on the Scriptures.  If one is to focus upon those two “frame” verses they do bring us to understand an essential truth about this life of discipleship to which we as believers are called.

  1. The Lord is our eternal dwelling place.  He is this dwelling place for all of His people throughout all generations.  There is security and comfort in this awesome reality for everyone who believes in the Lord for all of time. 
  2. The Lord is a good God.  His covenant love endures for all of eternity.  He will always be found faithful to His promise to us as His people.  There will never come a time or place or experience where the Lord will not be seen to be faithfully working our His gracious purposes for us, His people. 

There is an invitation and a calling upon us to enter into this precious relationship with the Lord our God by faith.  In John 16:33 the Lord Jesus Christ extends the same invitation of grace to us when He says, “In this world you will have trouble (pressure).  But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  If we come to Him in faith we will discover that He is the one who has overcome every evil that the world can bring into our lives.  There is nothing which can stand between us and the love of God which is revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

                The framework for these Psalms encloses wonderful truths upon which our lives of faith are being built.  The collection of Psalms begins with a prayer of Moses for God’s people.  In the centre of the collection is the 95th Psalm with its warning which references Moses warnings from Deut. 6:13-18.  This warning in verses 7b to 11 is quoted in the Book of Hebrews which applies it to the invitation of the Lord Jesus Christ where He calls us to faith in Him.  It is a warning for us to heed the voice of the Lord when we hear Him calling us today.  This warning reminds us of God’s judgment upon those who failed to heed in the days of the Exodus. 

                Going on from the 95th Psalm we are led to Psalm 96:8 which once again invites us into the presence of the Lord.  “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His Name; bring an offering and come into His courts.”  We cannot come into God’s courts without the appropriate offering.  What is the offering however?  In the 99th Psalm we are drawn further along on our inquiry.  The Lord sits enthroned on the mercy seat.  He is approached in only one way and that is through the sacrifice of atonement which in the Old Testament pointed ahead to a final, once and for all, sacrifice of atonement which took place on the cross of Calvary where the Lord Jesus Christ offered His precious, sinless life for us.  As the Lord Jesus Christ stated in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many.”  This God calls us to worship Him at His pillar of cloud coming into His holy presence recognising that He is a God who forgives and punishes sin.  He forgives because He has punished our sin in the cross.

                Given these precious truths the 100th Psalm commands that we come into the presence of God rejoicing in His gracious, eternal intervention in our lives.  We come to Him in faith through the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and we find that He is eternally faithful to us.  What precious truth!

An Answer About Grace

                “To this he replied: “Brothers and Fathers, listen to me!  The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran.  ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go into the land I will show you.’  So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran.  After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living.  He gave him no inheritance here, not even a foot of ground.  But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child.  God spoke to him in this way: ‘your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.  But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,’ God said, ‘and afterward they will come out of that country and worship Me in this place.’  Then He gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 7:2-8a

                These words begin the Spirit inspired answer that Stephen gave to the Sanhedrin’s charges which were levelled at him.  He was accused of being a man who spoke against the Temple and the Law of Moses and as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The question which was asked of Stephen by the High Priest was whether these charges were in fact true.  His answer seems to focus on these three accusations as they are answered by the history of the Hebrew people as it is revealed in their Scriptures.  Stephen begins his answer by pointing to the God of glory and His gracious calling of a man named Abraham out the life he was leading in the pagan society of Mesopotamia.  Steven J. Cole in his sermon entitled “Stephen: The Message” which can be found at www.fcfonline.org/content/1/sermons/021101m.pdf writes the following about the defence that the first martyr for the Christian Gospel makes.

                “Stephen demonstrates clearly that God initiated the process of calling out a people for His Name and that He continued to pour out His grace on these people in spite of their own rebellion.  He began by calling Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran (7:20).  Stephen refers to God as “the God of glory,” showing His majesty and separateness from sinful humanity.  Abraham was a pagan idolater, living in a pagan culture, with no merit in him for God to appear to him and make a covenant with him.  Why did God not call Abraham’s entire family, or why did He not tell Abraham to reach out to the cities of Ur or Haran, rather than to make the long journey to the land of Canaan?  We do not know.  All we know is that God sovereignly chose Abraham and poured out His grace upon him.  God’s sovereignty is further underscored in 7:4 where Stephen states that God removed Abraham into this country.  The nation of Israel owed its existence to God’s gracious promise to make a great nation out of Abraham’s descendants and to give them the land of Canaan.”

                Stephen’s answer is to focus the Sanhedrin upon the message of grace which is found at the heart of the Word of God.  This message, which manifests itself to a man living in an ungodly society, calling him out of it into a new place and way of living.  Abraham responds with faith and obedience going to the place where God leads him.  He would never have become the redeemed man of faith that the Scriptures reveal him to be if God had not graciously revealed Himself to him.  Stephen then begins his answer by pointing us to an essential truth about the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the one who reveals the Father to us.  As Jesus says to Philip, “Don’t you know Me Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?  Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father.  How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me?  The words I say to you are not just My own.  Rather, it is the Father, living in Me, who is doing His work.” (John 14:9-10)

                At its heart Stephen’s answer calls each person who confronts it with a powerful question.  Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the manifestation of God’s grace sent into this world to redeem you?