A Call To Serve

“And we will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

                                                                                                                                                                Acts 6:4

                Over the past few weeks, in conversations with others, in my reading, in message preparation, and in my own personal Bible Study the Lord has impressed on my heart the call to servant hood.  In Mark 9 as we trace through the Gospel account we are confronted by the means that the Lord Jesus Christ used to break up the hard heartedness of His disciples.  As I write this I am reminded of the statement of john Newton regarding his aim in preaching.  “My grand point in preaching is to break the hard heart, and to heal the broken one.”  It seems to me that this was also the intentional approach that the Lord Jesus Christ was following.  Mark presents Jesus as the suffering servant who has come to redeem His people.  His method of transforming His Disciples gives us a wonderful example of how He is dealing with us, as well a pattern for us to follow in serving others.

                The Disciples eventually got the message.  Acts 6 tells us that as they wrestled with a crisis in the Church in Jerusalem that they went back to the Godly priority that they had been called to.  They recognised that they had been appointed to serve the people of God through a commitment to the Word of God and to prayer.  This does not mean that they were not engaged in other tasks.  What it tells us is that they would not allow those other urgent things to move them away from the essential service that they had been called to.  We should be deeply thankful that this is the case because if they had given in to the temptation to neglect the Word of God and prayer we would not have the New Testament today.  In numerous places the Scriptures tell us that these Apostles we called to be taught of the Holy Spirit what the word was that the Lord was speaking to His people.  They listened, and they taught, and eventually they wrote down that New Testament word for the benefit of all of us.  We must praise God for their faithfulness in their calling.

                There is a story told about some Burmese Christian leaders who were in conversation with some missionaries and when the topic of discussion turned to the pioneer missionary Adoniram Judson, to a person they emphasized with tears that he was the one man that they all owed their salvation to because it was Judson who translated the Scriptures into their language.  What a wonderful legacy to leave behind.  In reality we can all say that from a human point of view we owe our salvation to the faithful service of those Apostles who were the human authors that God used to write the New Testament.

                What these thoughts teach us is that we are called to serve God by serving His people.  As servants of God we find that there are many things that we could be doing, some of which will seem to be incredibly urgent.  We must resist the call to be ruled by the urgent things that are thrust upon us so that we will be able to engage in the essential tasks of service which we have been called to.  A true servant is one who listens for his master’s voice.  That is the one who must be obeyed.  When our Lord calls us we obey by serving in that place and means that He appoints.  To serve in this way requires brokenness before the Lord because we will find ourselves following in a way that will always be hidden.  The Lord always gets the credit.  We are merely His faithful servants.

An Astonishing Invitation

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all.  Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.

                                                                                                                                                                Galatians 1:6-7

                How often have you found yourselves to be truly astonished by the things which you witness or experience?  You find yourselves in the middle of a set of circumstances that stretch your comprehension to the breaking point and you are left wondering just what this will mean for you and for others.  For a little while you find yourself struggling to understand how to respond to the things which you have witnessed.  In the summer of 1972 one such event happened in my life when I found myself responding to a set of disappointing circumstances by becoming bitter of spirit.  While struggling with this inward bitterness I found myself at a youth retreat.  The fact that I was there reluctantly and with a determination to involve myself in any positive way made the events that took place that weekend all the more astonishing.  While sitting through a worship service I found myself encountering such a strong impression of the love of God that I found myself yielding to the LORD Jesus Christ as Saviour and LORD.  In an instant everything in my life was changed.  Years later I found myself agreeing with John Wesley who wrote regarding his own conversion experience that, “I found my heart strangely warmed, and knew that my sins had been forgiven.”  This was my experience and it was very much as if the LORD Jesus Christ had called me to His grace.  I seemed to sense that that was the time for me to come to His grace.  The moment of decision had come unsought.  It was astonishing and completely life transforming. 

                The Apostle Paul tells us in the book of Galatians that this Gospel of the LORD Jesus Christ is a truly liberating thing.  It delivers us from this actively evil world and brings us into the liberty of Christ.  It does this by calling us to repent and to put our faith in the LORD Jesus Christ who is the Son of the Living God and who became human flesh in order to bear our sins upon His cross.  Just this morning a group of us were sharing at a Bible Study  and reflecting upon the fact that what was taking place on the cross of Christ was that the LORD Jesus Christ was bearing all of our sin, all of our brokenness, everything that keeps us away from communion with the Living God, in His body.  Therefore He understands and identifies with every part of our current struggle.  When we feel guilty over our sin, He reminds us that He bore that, and it is forgiven.  He was at all points tempted as we are yet without sin.  What precious freedom this brings into our lives when we begin to see what He has done for us.  What prayerfulness this creates in us when we understand that there is nothing that we can ever bring before the LORD which He has not already borne.  Imagine that you were to go onto a website for an organization which promises that it has made provision to deal with every circumstance you might face in life.  No matter what you describe there is a plan to deal with it.  No matter how costly provision has been made to deal with your circumstance graciously because the organization has already paid for it.  Would you not rush to receive the grace that was being offered to you?

                Imagine further that you were to discover that some people having received knowledge of this gracious gift turned away from it in order to pursue another plan that did not deal adequately with your need and which enslaved you to the evil principles of this world.  Would you not be astonished by this turn of events?  This is the point that the Apostle Paul is at in Galatians one.  Those who had made a start with the LORD Jesus Christ are now deserting Him for something that could not hope to save them.

                Years ago the LORD Jesus Christ called me to grace.  In receiving that grace I found myself meeting one who set me free from sin by bearing it for me.  He gave His life that I may be set free from this evil world so that I might live in His glorious light.  It was astonishing that He might be so gracious to one who was so bound up in sin.  I have never regretted accepting His invitation.  Perhaps today you have heard Him inviting you to receive His grace.  Today is the day of salvation for you.  How will you respond?

Come and Worship

                “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care.  Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried Me, though they had seen what I did.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 95:6-9

                There is something delightful about walking past a Church and hearing a congregation of the Lord’s people singing the praises of the Lord.  One senses an invitation to come in out of the cold of unbelief and to warm oneself at the fire of God’s grace.  Iain Murray tells about an event that took place around the time that D.M. Lloyd-Jones was converted.  It is contained in the first volume of Murray’s wonderful biography of Lloyd-Jones, and tells about how he was out with some friends attending some sort of social event when a Salvation Army Band passed by them.  As Lloyd-Jones listened to the music being played, and being at that time being drawn by the Holy Spirit to faith, he suddenly had an overwhelming sense that “these were my people.”  There was an unmistakeable invitation to a faith that would alter every part of Lloyd-Jones’ life.

                This compulsive nature of God’s invitation to us to receive His grace is what I believe that the Psalmist is focusing our attention upon in this particular Psalm.  Of all of the suggestions that I have encountered regarding how to analyse the 95th Psalm I find myself agreeing with Spurgeon most.  Spurgeon divides the Psalm into two parts.  In the first five verses Spurgeon sees and invitation followed by convincing reasons why we must believe.  In the second half of the Psalm, verses six through eleven, we have the invitation restated followed by a warning that we not harden our hearts to it.  In presenting the invitation in this way the Psalmist leads us into a real warm hearted faith in the Lord.  He shows us who the God is that we are worshipping.  Then he defines the faith that worships the Lord by showing us examples of what it is not. 

                In leading us into worship in this way the Psalmist answers one of the chief questions that we must wrestle with in our lives.  This is to define just what saving faith really is.  Here we discover that the faith that saves us is first of all a faith in someone.  It is not faith in general.  It is not, if you will, faith in faith, as we find ourselves encouraged to think by so many in our world.  It is not a belief that it will all work out somehow in the end.  It is faith in the real, living God who has created all things, ourselves included, and who sovereignly rules everything for His own glory.  It is faith in one who has entered into our world in order to redeem us.  Like a good Shepherd He has come and cared for us, laying His life down for His sheep. 

                There is more here however.  Saving faith is revealed in the way in which we respond to the trials we face in our lives.  The Psalmist issues an invitation to us to submit to the Lord with warm hearted obedience to His voice.  When He speaks to us, through His Son (Hebrews 1:1ff), or through His written Word, we listen to Him with a heart that is already obedient.  The Psalmist points us to two Old Testament events, found in Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1ff, to show us how not to submit to God.  In Hebrews 3:7-4:13 the New Testament takes these definitions and applies them.  People with saving faith have hearts which are submissive to the calling of the Lord upon our lives.  Our desire is to obey Him even in the deepest, darkest days of our lives.  Steven J. Lawson illustrates this in The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Trust Publishing, Crawfordsville, Indiana, 2008) when he quotes these words from Sarah Edwards to her daughter Esther on the occasion of Jonathan Edwards death.

                My very dear child, What shall I say?  A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud.  O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands upon our mouths!  The Lord has done it.  He has made me adore His goodness, that we had him so long.  But my God lives; and He has my heart.  O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us!  We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be.”

Exalting Christ

                “Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.  Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.  But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself.”  He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.”

                                                                                                                                                John 12:30-33

                In their book Preaching the Cross, Mark Dever, J. Ligon Duncan III, R. Albert Mohler Jn., and C. J. Mahaney argue for a recovery of cross centred preaching in the Christian Church.  This is that one central theme which is able to give power to the proclamation of the Gospel.  It is at the heart of the Gospel of John as the task of Christians everywhere.  In our text Jesus calls us to exalt Him by lifting Him up from the earth.  We preach a crucified redeemer, who was raised from the grave and who is now ever living to make intercession for us.  Three times in his Gospel John returns to this theme of lifting up the Lord Jesus Christ.  He does so in John 3:14ff when he writes,

                “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

                Or in John 8:28 when he comes back to this same theme,

                “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the father taught me.”

                In our text the Lord Jesus Christ tells us that in His cross the judgement or crisis of the world will take place.  What He means is that it will be that one event in which all sin will be judged.  Satan’s hold on this world will be broken.  For all who will receive it forgiveness will be offered in the Cross.  Nothing is more important than to proclaim this message.  We must ask however what this will look like in our churches.

                John Piper in his chapter in Preaching the Cross, “Preaching as Expository Exultation for the Glory of God” quotes extensively from Arnold Dallimore’s biography of George Whitefield regarding his proclamation of the cross of Christ.

                “Yea…that we shall see the great Head of the Church once more…raise up unto Himself certain young men whom He may use in this glorious employ.  And what manner of men might they be?  Men mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace.  They will be men who have learned what it is to die to self, to human aims and personal ambitions; men who are willing to be “fools for Christ’s sake”, who will bear reproach and falsehood, who will labor and suffer, and whose supreme desire will be, not to gain earth’s accolades, but to win the Master’s approbation when they appear before His awesome judgment seat.  They will be men who will preach with broken hearts and tear filled eyes, and upon whose ministries God will grant an extraordinary effusion of the Holy Spirit, and who will witness “signs and wonders following” in the transformation of multitudes of human lives.” (Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1970)

                This is what the Apostle John is calling for in his Gospel.  We must be praying that God will raise up people who will exalt the Lord Jesus Christ by proclaiming the cross centred message of God’s transforming grace.

One Day

                “One day Peter and John were going up to the Temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon.  Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the Temple gate called beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going up to the Temple courts.  When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.  Peter looked straight at him, as did John.  Then peter said, “Look at us!”  So the man gave him his attention, expecting to get something from them.  Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you.  In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk.  Then he went with them into the Temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.”

                                                                                                                                                                Acts 3:1-8

                What a wonderful passage of Scripture.  Luke has been presenting the account of the birth of the Church on the day of Pentecost.  After describing the powerful scene of the events of that day and Peter’s first Christian sermon followed by the conversion of three thousand people, Luke then gives us, in chapter 2:42-47 a description of the routine life of the Church.  He describes how the LORD was working powerfully among His people bring people daily to salvation.  Part of his description focuses upon certain sigh miracles which the Apostles where used to accomplish.  These were miracles which demonstrated that the LORD Jesus Christ was in fact God’s promised Messiah come to redeem for Himself a people.  The miracle was meant to bring people to faith in Christ.  Usually such a miracle pointed to Biblical teaching which was meant to be believed and obeyed.

                Luke begins chapter three with a clear connection to this teaching at the end of chapter two.  “One Day,” is the way this chapter begins.  Luke is telling us that this will be an illustration of the type of things that the LORD was doing.  In looking at this miracle we are immediately confronted by several facts about the New Testament Church. 

  1. This Church was committed to prayer.  It was the time for prayer at the Temple and Peter and John were on their way up to the House of God to pray with others.  They had come to understand that there was nothing more important than communion with God in Christ.  They knew that God answered prayer in the Name of Jesus and so they availed themselves of every opportunity to pray.  What place does prayer have in your life or Church? 
  2. The sign miracle glorified the Name of the LORD Jesus Christ.  This was its purpose.  The LORD dealt with the crippled man’s real need.  He was begging for money.  What he needed was healing.  It was this that the LORD gave to him through the ministry of the Apostles.  The whole event pointed beyond just a restoration to health however because the man’s response I the praise God and to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.  Luke makes this clear in the third chapter.  What we are called to be and to do as Christians must always point to that one who can meet the deepest needs of our lives.  We are called to live out a faith that is centred upon the LORD Jesus Christ as the Messiah who delivers us from all that separates us from communion with God. 
  3. The text breathes with faith.  Peter and John are revealed as men who have faith in the power of the LORD Jesus Christ to answer prayer and fulfill His promises.  So too is the crippled man revealed to be a man who comes to faith in Christ.  Are you finding that you are increasingly being called to a life of faith?  For this is a key point in God’s plan for our discipleship. 

A Christmas Message

                “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

                                                                                                                                                                Matthew 1:20-21

                  Christmas is the time when we focus our attention on one of God’s great promises.  This is the promise of Immanuel, God with us.  Isaiah and Matthew point us to this promise when they write, “Behold, the virgin will conceive and bring forth a son and you will call him Immanuel, meaning God with us.”  (Isaiah 7:14 & Matthew 1:23)  This tremendous promise changes everything about the lives that we live. 

                In thinking about this I came across this quotation which formed the inspiration for Anne Ross Cousin’s Hymn originally entitled “Last Words” but now known by the name “The Sands of Time are sinking.” 

                “But the summons found him ill and like to die, and the court prepared to try him, received the treasured and characteristic answer: “I am summoned before a superior court and judiciary; and I behove to answer my first summons and ere your day arrive, I will be where few Kings and great folks come.”

                He died at St. Andrews, March 20th, 1661.  Late in the afternoon of the final day of his stormy life, just as the sun was sinking, he was asked by one of the friends standing by the couch.  “What think you now of Christ?”  To which he gave the answer: “Oh that all my brethren in the land may know what a Master I have served, and what peace I have this day!  I shall sleep in Christ, and then I awake I shall be satisfied with His likeness.  This night shall close the door, and put my anchor within the veil; and I shall go away in a sleep by five in the morning.  Glory! Glory: to my Creator and my redeemer forever!  I shall live and adore Him.  Oh for arms to embrace Him!  Oh for a well tuned harp!  Glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land!”  At precisely five in the morning as predicted, he crossed the border into Immanuel’s land, there to feast his eyes on “the King in His beauty.”

                Here are the lyrics to Anne Ross Cousin’s hymn inspired by these words.

                                “The sands of time are sinking.  The dawn of heaven breaks, the summer morn I’ve sighed for, the fair sweet morn awakes.  Dark, dark has been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand.  And glory, glory dwelleth In Immanuel’s land.

                                Oh, Christ, He is the fountain, the deep sweet well of love; the streams on earth I’ve tasted, more deep I’ll drink above;  There to an ocean fullness, His mercy doth expand, and glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                With mercy and with judgment, my web of time He wove, and aye the dews of sorrow, were lustred with His love.  I’ll bless the heart that planned, when throned where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                Oh, I am my Beloved’s, and my beloved’s mine; He brings a poor vile sinner into His “house of wine.”  I stand upon His merit; I know no safer stand, not e’en where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear bridegroom’s face; I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of grace; not at the crown He giveth, but on His pierced hand: The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.”

                The original version of this hymn contained over twenty verses.  Our modern version has retained these five.  I want to draw your attention to one of the other verses however as it expresses the hope that is ours in Christ in the Gospel message.  Ours is indeed a resurrection faith.

                                “I shall sleep sound in Jesus, fill’d with His likeness rise, to live and to adore Him, to see Him with these eyes, ‘Tween me and resurrection but paradise doth stand; Then – then for glory dwelling in Immanuel’s land.”

                 This message of Immanuel is the heart of the Christmas celebration.  Here we find a hope which is firmly rooted in the promise of God to redeem us so that we will live in His land eternally.  Praise God for His great love for us.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year.

A Call To Faith

““Go,” He told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent).  So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 9:7

                C. H. Spurgeon once gave an illustration of the Providence of God which helped me to see the truth that the Apostle John is proclaiming in this ninth chapter of his Gospel.  Spurgeon told of a time in which he was preaching in a large temporary structure which had been set up for his preaching outside of London.  Several hours after the final service was over, when everyone was out of the building it collapsed on account of an extremely heavy snowfall.  Spurgeon used this event to introduce an exposition of Matthew 10:30 “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”  In this message the preacher explored the doctrine of the Providence of God and called his hearers, and I might add his readers as well, to a vibrant faith in the Lord (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass., Volume 5, pages 370 – 371). 

                It seems to me that this illustration helps us to understand the point that John is making in John 9:7.  The chapter is leading us to a key question which is asked in the second half of the 35th verse, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  How John does this is by telling the story of a man who was born blind.  The reason for his blindness is so that the work of God might be done in his life.  Every circumstance is leading to this one key point that we might come to believe in the Son of Man.  In the text at the head of this reflection we see the instruction which Jesus gives to the man born blind.  He is to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.  John explains that this name means Sent.  There is a richness of biblical meaning behind the instruction which is meant to confront us with the identity of the Lord Jesus Christ and the purpose of His ministry.  He has constantly been referring to the fact that He has only been doing the work of the One who sent Him, namely the Father.  Now he confronts this blind man with a command.  The Pool of Siloam was located in the southern part of Jerusalem and was fed with water from the Gihon Spring at the base of the Temple Mount.  If we are inquiring about the reasons why Jesus would issue this command we would first be confronted by the fact that it would require and act of faith on the blind man’s part.  What is the content of that faith however?  It is entirely possible that Jesus is confronting us with a Biblical testimony about who He is and what He requires of us.  The name Siloam refers to the name Shiloah which is referred to in Isaiah 8:6-8. 

                “Because this people has rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah and rejoices over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the River – the King of Assyria with all his pomp.  It will overflow all its channels, run over all its banks and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it, passing through it and reaching up to the neck.  Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land.  O Immanuel!”

                The context of these verses is Isaiah’s confrontation with King Ahaz who is the representative of the House of David to which an eternal promise has been made.  Ahaz is an unbelieving King who is facing a crisis and looking for worldly solutions to it.  Isaiah calls him to believe the promise which the Lord has made.  In Isaiah 7:9b and 7:14 that promise is spelled out clearly for the King.  “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”  “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”  Ahaz is to believe the Lord’s promise.  The Redeemer is coming.  He will be clearly recognised as God with us.  Isaiah in these chapters keeps going back to this word.  The one who will come to redeem us will be God among us.  He will be sent by the Father to reveal the nature of God to us.  He is the One who is sent.

                Jesus sends the blind man to the Pool called Sent.  As He does this he is confronting the blind man with a decision.  Will he receive the gently flowing waters of Shiloah or will he turn to the world?  This same choice is put before everyone else in this chapter.  It is also put before you and me.  Will we recognise who Jesus Christ is and receive Him?  Or will we turn to all of the worldly schemes that promise us so much but deliver so little?  What will it be?

A Christmas Blessing

                This past Advent season has been a time of reflection for me upon the theme of the Incarnation of our LORD Jesus Christ.   This Biblical theme is established in the Gospels in a number of ways, and is a call to real faith.  Matthew tells us the story of the crisis which Joseph faced when he received news of Mary’s virgin pregnancy.  As he meditated on how he should respond to such news Joseph was led to God’s Word through the prophet Isaiah.  This word was to be understood and obeyed, and this is exactly what Joseph did.  What a wonderful example Joseph sets for us as we face the various trials and crises of our lives. The Word was Isaiah 7:14, in context, the prophesy of the coming of Immanuel.  In Isaiah’s context King Ahaz is called to “Take heed, be calm, don’t be afraid, and don’t be discouraged.”  In verse 11 he is called to be established in faith.  It seems that Joseph is called to the same thing.  He obeys God in faith. 

                The lesson for us is that we must respond to the crises in our lives with obedience to the same Word from God.  We are to, by faith, receive the life that Immanuel offers to us.    This is in fact the message of Christmas.  God became flesh and came to dwell among us in order to redeem us.  This redemption must be received by obedient faith.

                It seems to me that Phillips Brooks expresses this response of obedient faith beautifully as he writes in his Christmas Hymn. “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

                                                                O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie!

                                                                Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by:

                                                                Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light;

                                                                The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

                                                                For Christ is born of Mary; and gathered all above,

                                                                While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.

O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth,

                                                                And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth.

                                                                How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!

                                                                So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.

                                                                No ear may hear His coming; but in this world of sin,

                                                                Where weak souls will receive Him, still the dear Christ enters in.

                                                                O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;

                                                                Cast out our sin, and enter in; be born in us today.

                                                                We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;

                                                                O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.”

                Have a very merry and blessed Christmas.

A Christmas Greeting

                “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born the King of the Jews?  We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

                                                                                                                                                                Matthew 2:1-2

                Matthew with his characteristic simplicity describes an event which reveals in turns the graciousness of our great God and the necessary response which we must make to such great love.  In the account of the Magi we see first of all the graciousness of God.  Centuries before God had brought judgement upon His people by sending them off into exile.  Some of them, like Daniel had been brought to Babylon where they had been chosen to be among the Magi teaching them about the greatness of the God of Israel and I am sure speaking about the beliefs, customs and practices of the Hebrew people.  Centuries later some of that teaching still had a hold on these Magi.  There was an expectation of the coming of a Hebrew Messiah.  Then God began to speak to these specific Magi showing them through a star that the one that they had been expecting had finally come.  God, in His grace, spoke to them in a way that they could understand.  So often the beginnings of a work of grace in our lives is bound up in those things which are commonplace in our lives, but through which God begins to reveal His Gospel truth to us. 

                Now I think that it is important that we note what happens next.  They followed the revelation they had been given.  I am sure that the truth that God was revealing here was revealed to many others.  Matthew tells us that these Magi followed the revelation they were given.  Others ignored the revelation they were given.  Many today hear the Gospel.  Through the circumstances of their lives they are brought to the point where they recognise their need of the grace of God.  One day as they are struggling with their need they hear or see something that points them to the truth of the Gospel.  It may be that they hear someone preaching, someone gives them a Gospel tract, or a friend tells them about Jesus.  They may hear one of the hymns of our faith being sung.  However it happens it seems as if God is speaking to them directly.  “Today is the day of salvation.”  Matthew tells us that the Magi saw the star and they followed it.  In obeying the revelation they received they were eventually given more truth.  They were told about the word given to Micah regarding the Messiah coming from Bethlehem.  They then headed for that town and as they went the star went before them until it led them to the house where Jesus was.  They obeyed the revelation and were guided by God’s grace until they arrived at the place where the Messiah was to be found.  Matthew tells us that their whole purpose was to go and worship Him.  This is the response of faith to God’s gracious revelation.  To come to Him in submitting, committed faith, that is what God is calling us to. 

                Matthew includes this account here in order to bring us to the true response of a disciple of Christ.  Those who belong to Christ hear the word of revelation which God gives to them calling them to faith and they respond with committed worship.  They come to Jesus in faith, believing that He is in fact the Incarnate Son of God who has come to bear their sin on the cross.  They come and submit to Him in reverent worship laying their lives down at the foot of the cross and being committed to following Him wherever He leads them.  I would urge each one today to come and adore the Living Christ today.  This is the only way in which this will truly be a Merry Christmas for Christmas is all about Christ.

The Lord’s Gift Of Grace

                ““You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”  But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”  Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today – yes, tonight before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”  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 14:27-31

                We must note here the consideration of the Lord to our weakness.  His disciples are facing up to a great testing.  Judas has gone off to betray Jesus and each of the other disciples is facing up to the great pressure which has been brought to bear upon their hearts by the enemy of their souls.  The Lord begins to speak to them about the events that they are facing.  He speaks to them and to us with great honesty.  There is no sense burying the truth about what they are wrestling with.  So He speaks truth to them.  We love the truth when it is spoken to someone else.  It is hard to take when it is spoken to us.  This is the gift that our Lord gives to His disciples.  He quotes an Old Testament prophesy from Zechariah 13:7 to them.  “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”  This word from God was spoken about them He tells them.  It is about to be fulfilled in their experience.  In speaking this way Jesus exposes their great need.  Peter speaking on behalf of all the disciples declares his denial.  He will not fall away, and neither will any of the others.  They are not weaklings like Judas turned out to be. 

                What Peter revealed here however was the weakness of his own nature.  There are all manner of things which we think that we are capable of accomplishing for the Lord.  Self-righteousness raises itself up as we face the threats of this life.  It boasts about the great things it is about to accomplish.  What it has failed to take into account is our real nature.  This was Peter’s struggle.  So the Lord tells him honestly about how he will fail, so that when it happens he will recognise that Jesus knew him in the depth of his weakness.  Think about what mark is saying here.  Make it personal.  He knows you in the great depth of your weakness and failure.  While you are revelling in your sin He is on the way to the cross to bear your sin.   “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While you were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)  While Peter was denying His Lord Jesus was on His way to the cross for him.  While you and I were living weak, rebellious, broken lives with all of the depth of sin that that entails Christ went to the cross for you and me. 

                Jesus honestly exposes the sin of His disciples.  He does not leave them there however. He gently speaks to them about their restoration afterwards.  “When I have risen.”  The shepherd might be struck and killed, but that would not be the end of the story.  There is a resurrection coming for Jesus, and for all who believe in Him.  He tells them where He will meet them.  This will be the place where they will be restored into fellowship with Jesus.  The way to be restored however will take them through the cross.  It is in that horrible place of suffering and death that they will finally see themselves as they really are.  That is the place where they will be finally weak and honest enough to receive the gracious gift that God wants to give to them.  This grace we receive has always been the Lord’s gift to us.  We can never earn it.  It is not by merit.  The strong do not receive it as a reward.  It can only come into our lives as a gift from the Spirit of God.  What great love the Lord Jesus Christ gives to us.