Standing Your Ground

“Then the High priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.  They arrested the Apostles and put them in the public jail.  But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the Temple Courts,” He said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.””

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 5:17-20

                There is something wonderful about the way that Luke keeps alternating in the early chapters of the Book of Acts between the general and the specific.  He writes, as a summary, in chapter 5:12-16, about how the Church is growing dramatically in response to the prayer of Acts 4:25ff.  Then in the seventeenth verse of chapter five Luke goes back to his specific account.  Now it is about the way that the world around the believers, in the form of the High Priest and Sadducees is roused to jealousy and responds to the growth of the Church by putting the Apostles in jail, and subjecting them to a trial with the hope that they might be put to death.  Fruitfulness leads to persecution here in Acts five, as it always does in one form or another.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in his sermon, “The Outpouring of the Spirit” proclaims the following about an awakening that took place in the United States in the late 1850’s and early 1860’s.

“The work still progresses, if anything, at a more rapid rate than before, and that which makes me believe the work to be genuine is just this – that the enemies of Christ’s holy gospel are exceedingly wroth at it.  When the devil roars at anything, you may rest assured there is some good in it.  The devil is not like some dogs we know of; he never barks unless there is something to bark at.  When Satan howls, we may rest assured he is afraid his kingdom is in danger.  Now this great work in America has been manifestly caused by the outpouring of the Spirit, for no one minister has been a leader in it.  All the ministers of the gospel have cooperated in it, but none of them has stood in the van.  God Himself has been the leader of His own hosts.  It began with a desire for prayer.  God’s people began to pray: the prayer meetings were better attended than before; it was then proposed to hold meeting at times that have never been set apart for prayer; these also were well attended; and now, in the city of Philadelphia, at the hour of noon, every day of the week, three thousand persons can always be seen assembled together for prayer in one place.”

                Looking at Acts 5:17-20, and the verses which follow, we see that in response to the preaching of the gospel the Jewish Leaders rise up, in opposition.  They are going to do everything in their power to bring this movement to an end.  The Apostles are arrested and put in the public jail.  Plans are put into effect for the calling of a trial of these apostles for the purpose of putting them to death.  The problem that the Christians posed was to be brought to a speedy end.  They made their plans, but God intervened.  The Angel of the Lord, at the very least an angel, but perhaps the Lord Himself, set the Apostles free.  The point here is to confirm what Luke has been saying right from the beginning of the book, this is about the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the prime mover behind the spread of the Gospel.

The Apostles are set free and told to stand their ground in the face of the opposition they will be facing.  Sometimes the only way forward for believers is to stand our ground in the face of severe opposition.  The leaders rise up and the Apostles stand firm with the Gospel message.  This can only be the result of a prayerful abiding in Christ.  They stand firm in the Spirit of God and the consequence is the advance of the Gospel in the face of opposition.  This is what the Apostle Paul calls the Church at Ephesus to in Ephesians 6:10-13.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

A Great Word Of Hope

“A ruin!  A ruin!  I will make it a ruin!  It will not be restored until He comes to whom it rightfully belongs; to Him I will give it.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ezekiel 21:27

                In days such as this it is extremely helpful to be engaged in a program of regular Bible reading.  Every day as I begin my day my pattern is to spend time reading, and meditating upon the passages suggested by the McCheyne Bible reading plan a link to which can be found on the service page on the website of First Baptist Church, Brampton.  Its address is www.firstbaptistbrampton.org.   I have been amazed as over the years that I have been following this plan that regularly the passage set for the day is the very thing that I need for that day.  J. Kent Edwards, in Deep Preaching, writes that if we commit ourselves to a systematic exposition, or I might add a reading, of the Word of God that it will demonstrate to us its relevance.  We will not have to scramble around trying to demonstrate relevance; we will see it for ourselves.

Earlier this year one of the chapters to which McCheyne called our attention to was Ezekiel 21.  This is one of those surprising passages that so often speak directly to our present situation.  As we struggle with the uncertainty of life in this world, looking at world history which seems to be spiralling out of control, we find ourselves wondering just how we believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are to respond.  It is to this that we find Ezekiel 21 speaking.  This is a passage where the people of Jerusalem are facing the threat of the advancing armies of the King of Babylon.  They are comforting themselves with all kinds of false hopes which are anchored in the popular misunderstandings of their time.  They are the people of God who have received the promise of an eternal Kingdom.  Therefore they are a righteous people, no matter what they do.  God will deliver them at the last minute, by His gracious intervention, just as He had always done.  It is to this that Ezekiel speaks when He pronounces God’s judgment upon them.

Back in 2 Samuel 7:14 & 15 God had made a promise to David which had both conditional and unconditional elements to it.  Here is what God said to David.

“I will be his Father, and he will be my son.  When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men.  But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.”

                Earlier, in the book of Genesis, God made a promise to Judah when He said, “The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to who it belongs and the obedience of the nations is His.” (Genesis 49:10)  Now notice what God tells the people of Jerusalem, all of this prophetic word is being fulfilled.  Judgement is coming, in the form of the King of Babylon.  It will be a human chastisement.  The consequence will be that the rulership of the House of David will be removed from over Jerusalem as a Kingdom in this world, but that a New Kingdom is coming in the form of the long awaited Messiah.  To Him the sceptre will be returned.

What God promises here He fulfills perfectly.  God overrules every means of decision making of the pagan King so that He will in fact accomplish God’s purpose.  That purpose will lead, in time, to the accomplishment of the promise of redemption which God has made to us.

Here is the message for us today.  God is still working out His plan of redemption.  The details may seem confusing to us, but we can trust ourselves to the great fact that the Sovereign God is in control of everything.  Therefore we can trust Him as we look into His Word, and see how He calls us to live.  This is the hope that is brought to us as we read God’s Word each day.

A Gospel Psalm

“Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led captivity captive: Thou hast received gifts for men; yea for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 68:18

                There is a gospel sense to this verse within the context of Psalm 68.  It is quoted powerfully in the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  The context there is the Holy Spirit’s work in advancing the proclamation of the Gospel through the witness of the Church.  This work of proclamation is that of the Risen and Ascended Christ who has entered into His heavenly sanctuary to bring redemption to His people.

In looking carefully at Psalm 68 we are confronted with a Psalm written for the occasion of David’s bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the city of Jerusalem.  Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit David makes a connection with the events of the Exodus as Israel is led out of Egypt to Mount Sinai and then onward through forty years of wandering in the wilderness until they were brought into the Promised Land.  In all of this they were led by the Angel of the LORD in the form of the fiery pillar.

The book of Exodus ends with this reality stated clearly.

“In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out – until the day it lifted.  So the cloud of the LORD was over the Tabernacle by day and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all of their travels” (Exodus 40:36-38).

What a powerful conclusion to the book of Exodus.  They followed the cloud.  The LORD was in the cloud.  Twice in Psalm 68 we are confronted by “Him who rides in the clouds.”

In verse 4 we read “Sing to God, sing in praise of His Name, extol Him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before Him – His Name is the LORD.”  Then in verse thirty two and thirty three we again confront the One who rides in the clouds when we read, “Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth, Sing praise to the LORD, to Him who rides across the highest heavens, who thunders with mighty voice.”

                In the Gospels we read that the disciples followed Jesus as He made His way to Jerusalem, the cross, the resurrection, and His ascension to His Father’s right hand in order to redeem us.   Luke even calls this journey His Exodus.  It is part of His advent, His manifestation of Himself, and of His Father, to this world.

In Ephesians 4:7ff the Apostle Paul quotes from Psalm 68:18 in the following context.  “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  This is why it says; ‘When He ascended on high, He took many captives and gave gifts to His people.’  (What does ‘He ascended’ mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions?  He who descended is the very One who ascended higher than the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)”

                The point is that the very One who came among us also went to be with His Father so that the Holy Spirit might be poured out upon us, gifting us as the church so that we might proclaim this Gospel of Salvation, purchased upon the cross, to this dark sin filled world.  We are called to the reality of being the community of light because we have met the One who demonstrated such great love for us.  This is the advent message!  This is the only word of hope for this sin weary world!  We must hear it and follow Jesus to His Cross so that we can share with Him in His resurrection.

Following Jesus

“Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I am bringing Him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against Him.”  When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”  As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw Him they shouted, “Crucify!  Crucify!”  But Pilate answered, “You take Him and crucify Him.  As for me, I find no basis for a charge against Him.”

                                                                                                                                                                John 19:4-6

                Lately I have found myself meditating upon the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I have come to do this because I have been involved in an extended series of sermons on the Gospels of Mark and Luke.  Initially my desire was simply to do an exposition of the real nature of our Redeemer.  As the series have progressed I have found myself forced to grow in my understanding of just what that nature was all about.  The truth is that if we are ever to truly follow the Lord Jesus Christ into the abundant life that He has called us to it will involve us in a complete reorientation of every part of our lives.  I am not sure yet that I completely understand what this will mean for me and the work that I am called to do, but I am becoming more deeply aware that it will lead me into a way of dying and living which is characterized by the Biblical principles of the cross centred life.  Today in looking at the trial of the Lord Jesus Christ before Pilate, as it is portrayed in Mark 15:1-20 James McGowan made the following observation in his Commentary on Mark’s Gospel.

“Although Pilate delivered Jesus up for scourging, John notes that he made one final appeal to release Jesus, declaring, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no guilt in Him” (John 19:4).  It was only after the multitude and the leaders saw Jesus in this wretched state that they ultimately cried out for His death.  Ray Stedman explains:

                “Now I think we have to ask why they chose Barabbas.  The answer seems to be that they were disappointed with Jesus.  This was the crowd which, just a few days before, had welcomed Him into Jerusalem.  The city was filled with people Jesus had healed.  The eyes of the blind had been opened, the deaf made to hear, and the lame made to walk.  There must have been hundreds and probably thousands of people in Jerusalem at that time whom Jesus had touched personally.  He had awakened within the people the hope, the flaming desire, that this was indeed the Messiah come to deliver them from the yoke of Rome.  All their ideas of messiah-ship centred around the thought that He would be the one who would set them free from the hated bondage of Rome.  Now when they saw Him standing helpless before the Roman governor, saw His apparent unwillingness or inability to make any defence, or to get out of this by any means, or to do anything against the Romans, all of their loyalty to Him collapsed.”” (Ray Stedman, Expository Studies in Mark 8-16: The Ruler Who Serves, Word, Waco Texas, 1976, page 190)

                Earlier in Mark 14:27 Jesus told His disciples that “you will all be offended in Me.”  This was a fulfillment of Isaiah 52:13- 53:12, in which God’s Word points us to the fact that the servant of the Lord will come as one in whom we will be offended.  Such was His calling, in obedience to His Father.  Such is also the calling of each of us who will follow Him on the Gospel road.

The Doubter

“My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism.  Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.  If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here is a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

                                                                                                                                                                James 2:1-4

                I continue to be amazed at the use of words that I find in this letter of James.  As he develops his argument in a logical way James keeps reminding us of the central concepts which he has already established in our minds.  One of these concepts is that of real Biblical faith which leads us through the trials of the lives that we are living.  Each of us is tried and tested by the circumstances which we face in life.  God uses these experiences to mature us in Christ.  As we face the reality of our lives we are invited to ask God for wisdom, which James tells us God will give to us without wavering.  He will be committed to His purposes for us, and will give us all that we need.  We must ask without doubting.  The word that James uses here in James 1:5-6 is the same word which he also uses in chapter 2:4.  It is there translated as discriminated.  The basic meaning of the word is to doubt or to make a distinction.  Mussner defines the word this way, “an inner conflict between trust and distrust of God.”  The reason why we make sinful distinctions regarding other people is owing to the fact that we are distrustful of God’s plan and purpose for our lives.

James is heading here towards an exposition and application of the Royal Law, “Thou shall love your neighbour as yourself.”  The true believer in Christ is one in whom the fruit of such sacrificial love is being produced.  To bring us into the type of repentance that produces such fruit James must first bring us to the point where we are broken from our worldly approach to life.  So James confronts us with a Biblical parable much like that used by the Prophet Nathan with King David in 2 Samuel 12:1-7.

                “The LORD sent Nathan to David.  When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought.  He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children.  It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms.  It was like a daughter to him.  Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him.  Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”  David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die!  He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”  Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”

James follows the same Biblical principle as he illustrates one of the ways that we make distinctions among ourselves, all because we do not believe that God knows what He is talking about when He calls to “Love our neighbours as ourselves.”  Over the next few weeks I want to explore what this means for us who are seeking to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in this 21st century.

Rejoice Greatly

                “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.”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 9:9-10

Reflection on the Word of God always seems to usher me into a feeling of awe as I encounter the tremendous promises which our God makes through His servants the Prophets and Apostles.  The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:20 that “No matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.  And so through Him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.”  Such is the feeling I have as I reflect upon the tremendous word spoken by the Prophet Zechariah in the quotation which heads this page.  This promise, which is fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of the week leading up to His cross, comes in the middle of the first part of Zechariah’s twin burdens regarding the events which are coming for the people of God.  As God speaks through the prophet about the judgment of the nations and the salvation of God’s people He gives us this tremendous word of hope.  “Your King comes to you.”   A better translation of this is “Your king comes for you.”  He is coming for our good, in order to sanctify us.  All that God is doing has this end to make us fit for eternity.  Apart from what our King comes to do, in His cross, resurrection, and intercession for us, we will find ourselves without hope when we stand before God in judgment.

Thomas Boston, in a quotation found on the Puritan at Heart website, puts this powerfully as he reflects upon our hope for eternal happiness. 

“When death comes, they have no solid ground to hope for eternal happiness. “For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he has gained, when God takes away his soul?” Job 27:8. Whatever hopes they fondly entertain, they are not founded on God’s word, which is the only sure ground of hope; if they knew their own case, they would see themselves only happy in a ‘dream’. And indeed what hope can they have? The law is plain against them, and condemns them. The curses of it, those cords of death, are about them already. The Savior whom they slighted, is now their Judge; and their Judge is their enemy! How then can they hope? They have bolted the door of mercy against themselves, by their unbelief. They have despised the remedy, and therefore must die without mercy. They have no saving interest in Jesus Christ, the only channel of conveyance through which mercy flows– and therefore they can never taste it.

The ‘sword of justice’ guards the door of mercy, so as none can enter in, but the members of the mystical body of Christ, over whose head is a covert of atoning blood, the Mediator’s blood. These indeed may pass without a harm, for justice has nothing to require of them. But others cannot pass, since they are not in Christ– death comes to them with the sting in it– the sting of unpardoned guilt. It is armed against them with all the force which the sanction of a holy law can give it. 1 Cor. 15:56, “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.” When that law was given on Sinai, “the whole mount quaked greatly,” Exodus 19:18. When the Redeemer was making satisfaction for the elect’s breaking it, “the earth did quake, and the rocks rent,” Matt, 27:51.

What possible ground of hope, then, is there to the wicked man, when death comes upon him armed with the force of this law? How can he escape that fire, which “burnt unto the midst of heaven?” Deut. 4:11. How shall he be able to stand in that smoke, that “ascended up as the smoke of a furnace?” Exod. 19:18. How will he endure the terrible “thunders and lightnings,” verse 16, and dwell in “the darkness, clouds, and thick darkness?” Deut. 4:11. All these comparisons heaped together do but faintly represent the fearful tempest of wrath and indignation, which shall pursue the wicked to the lowest hell; and forever abide on those who are driven to darkness at death.”
Thomas Boston–Human Nature in its four-fold state]

Food For Thought

While I was preparing a message on Mark 11:12-26 I came across this passage from Malachi 3:1-5 which certainly gives us some food for thought.

“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.  Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His Temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

                But who can endure the day of His coming?  Who can stand when He appears?  For He will be like a refiners or a launderers soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.  Then the Lord will have men will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

                “So I will come near to you for judgment.  I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but who do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.”

                It is a passage which predicts a specific Messianic event which Mark records for us following the Triumphal entry.   Our Lord comes suddenly to His Temple as the messenger of the covenant.  Within one week of this event the Lord Jesus Christ will establish a New Covenant in His blood upon the cross.  He comes to His Temple to refine His people.  His actions cleansing the Temple, and everything which happened afterwards which seemed so much like a judgment was in fact a refining.  Its ultimate purpose is to restore and to cleanse a people who will bring worship which is acceptable to God.

As Mark describes it this promise of God was definitely fulfilled.  The Disciples, along with each and every one of us are called to have active and continuous faith in God.  No matter how impossible it might seem God’s will come to pass.  Sunday morning we will be reflecting on this great truth.  God says it and then He does it.  Malachi prophesies it, and then God does it in the person of His incarnate Son.  We must never double the infinite power of God to fulfill His promises to us.

Devote Yourselves To Prayer

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.  And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.  Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.  Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

                                                                                                                                                                Colossians 4:2-6

                A number of years ago I was privileged to hear a seasoned preacher addressing a denominational gathering in which the weighty theme of demonstrating the reality of the Gospel was being considered.  The preacher announced the theme he had been given to consider, then asked those gathered a simple but profound question.  “Do you really mean it?”  In thinking about that question it occurs to me that that must be at the heart of every one of our worship services, or devotional times.  Do we really mean it when we pray seeking God’s will in our lives?  Do we really mean it when we study the Word of God, seeking to trace out God’s revealed purposes for our lives?  Do we really mean it?

Steven J. Lawson, in The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards, wrestles with the seventy resolutions which Edwards penned as a young man.  Lawson quotes these words from the preamble to Edward’s Resolutions.

“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat Him by His grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to His will, for Christ’s sake.  Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.” (Page 157)

                Lawson presents Edwards as a man who really meant it.  He recognised his own weakness, being desperately in need of the Holy Spirit’s help.  He sought that help on a daily basis.  Edwards also recognised that he had a great need for self-control and discipline in his life; therefore he set up a means by which he could engage in a lifelong pursuit of God.  That was his goal, to grow in Godliness.

These thoughts help us as we approach the command that the Apostle Paul gives to the Colossians in our text today.  When we begin to think about being people who are committed to prayer do we really mean it?  If we do really mean to be a people at prayer what steps are we taking to make sure that it will become a reality among us?  As Paul writes to the Colossians he uses the present tense to tell us that we must be continually engaged in a life of prayer.  It is not a onetime thing; it must be a continuous activity or a habit in our lives.

The reason for this is that we are people who are always fallible, desperately in need of the help that the Holy Spirit gives.  The work of living out the Christian life, and engaging in evangelism requires so much of us that it cannot be engaged in successfully apart from the help that God gives us by His grace.  If this was true for the Apostle Paul, and it certainly seems to be from the way he pleads for the prayers of the Church, then it must also be true for us.  We must be people who prayerfully seek an open door for the proclamation of the mystery of Christ.  Even in chains Paul is looking for an open door.  He is asking for boldness to make this gospel clear to his hearers.  Some of them might react violently to Paul’s message but he still must preach it clearly.  Is anything less required of us in these difficult and indifferent days?  The question remains.  Do we really mean it?

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.

The Lord Answered Moses

“The LORD answered Moses, “Is the LORD’s arm too short?  You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.””

                                                                                                                                                                Numbers 11:23

                The context for this verse is another time of judgement for the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness.  No matter how faithful God was to them they were constantly complaining and asking for greater blessings from God.  Finally Moses had had enough of their complaining.  He gets to the point where his mental and physical exhaustion overwhelm him and he begins to complain to the LORD.  He can no longer carry them.  It may very well be that this is in fact the place that God wanted to lead Moses.  He needed to recognise that the work was not his alone.  He needed simply to be obedient to his God.  God would carry the people Himself, as He had been doing right from the beginning.  The people wanted meat; they were tired of the manna that God was providing for them.

God tells Moses that He is about to provide meat for the people and Moses responds as if such a provision was incredible.  Notice what Moses says to God, see if it sounds like something you or I might say, or think.  “Here am I among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’  Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them?  Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” (Numbers 11:21-22)  God makes a promise through Moses to the people and Moses responds to it by thinking that he must find the provisions that God has promised all on his own.  It sounds like the disciples when Jesus tells them that He is about to feed a huge crowd with a few loaves and fishes.  Where were they going to find the food?  Our default response to God’s promises always seems to be that we think the burden of getting it done falls on us.

Where was Moses’ faith, or the disciple’s?  Where is our faith?  Do we believe that the God who calls us to serve Him will provide the resources that we need to accomplish His will?  That is the issue that this text confronts us with.  Taking it deeper this text confronts us with all of the ways that we are unbelieving when it comes to God’s calling upon our lives.  The life of faith is too hard for us, we say.   It scares us because it robs us of all of those things that we put our security in.  We are really much more comfortable finding our own way.  Except, that there will come a day when we will have to give account to God for our unbelief.

George Muller wrote in his autobiography that he lived his life and conducted his ministry in such a way as to show the Christian Church that it is possible, in fact necessary for us to live by faith.  Here is how Muller describes it.  “Some individuals are in professions which they cannot continue with a good conscience.  But they fear leaving their profession lest they become unemployed.  I long to strengthen their faith by proving that the promises from the Word of God of His willingness to help all those who rely on Him are true.  I know that the Word of God ought to be enough.  But by giving my brothers visible proof of the unchangeable faithfulness of the LORD, I might be able to strengthen their faith.  I want to be a servant of the Church in the particular point on which I had obtained mercy – in being able to take god at His Word and rely on it.  This seems to me to be best done by establishing an orphan house – something which could be seen with the natural eye.  If I, a poor man, simply by prayer and faith obtained, without asking any individual, the finances for establishing and carrying on an orphan house, this might strengthen the faith of the children of God.  It might also be a testimony to the unconverted of the reality of the things of God.” The Autobiography of George Muller (1984 Whitaker House)

That is exactly what Muller did over a long and productive ministry.  He demonstrated that any Church, Ministry or life can be conducted according to principles that are by faith in the power of God.  God will always demonstrate Himself to be faithful to His promises.