“Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When He received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.”
Every year when we come to celebrate Holy Week I find myself wrestling with the tremendous mystery of the events that took place around the cross and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel writers present these events as being the fulfillment of many prophesies. It seems as if one of John’s favourite expressions is, “so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” This is surely more meaningful than that Jesus did certain things in order to fulfill the Scripture. Instead John and all of the other Gospel writers go out of their way to point out that all of these events, affecting numerous people, as well as the flow of history itself, were being worked out in a way that conformed them to Word of God. The words that John uses here point out that all of these things fulfilled God’s Word completely. What a wonderful aide to our faith. God revealed these things through His prophets, had them write them down for our benefit, and then brought all of history together in a grand accomplishment of all that He said.
The point here is much bigger than just the fulfillment of some promises, as important as that is in building our faith. God revealed these things so that we would understand just what He was doing in Christ. Here we discover God’s plan, decided on before the foundation of the world, and accomplished in Christ. John tells us what is in the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ as He hung upon the cross. “It is finished.” Literally John tells us that Jesus was crying out to His Father that the purpose for which He had come into this world was completed. This was to set us free from sin and death through His atoning death upon the cross. The Living Word had become flesh and dwelt among us in order to go to the cross and lay His life down as a ransom for us. In Him we can now be reconciled to God. God revealed it to us through His Word, and He accomplished it in the Lord Jesus Christ. What amazing love we are shown, to use Charles Wesley’s phrase.
These events which form the heart of our Christian faith are a call from God to us so that we will come to have real faith in God. It is this to which Jesus calls His disciple in Mark 11. It is at the heart of the Gospel invitation. Zechariah 4:6-7 speaks to us about this, “So he said to me, “This is the Word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of God bless it! God bless it!’” It is a call to believe God. He is at work carrying out His Sovereign purposes in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing can overturn that purpose.
The anonymous author of The Kneeling Christian puts it this way in calling the church to prayerful faith, “The secret of failure is that we see men rather than God. ….. Is it not time that we get a new vision of God – of God in all His glory? Who can say what will happen when the Church sees God? But let us not wait for others. Let us, each one for himself, with unveiled face and unsullied heart, get this vision of the glory of the Lord.”
“As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”
“I tell you,” He replied, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” As He approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you.””
Luke’s account of the Triumphal Entry of the Lord Jesus Christ into the city of Jerusalem is rich with Biblical symbolism. As we read what Luke records here we are caught up into an awareness that more is going on than meets our eyes. The Triumphal Entry is presented as the culmination of the travel narrative that Luke began in chapter 9 verse 51. There Jesus resolutely sets His face to go to Jerusalem and the cross. Luke tells us that this journey begins when the time approached for Jesus to be taken up into heaven. Have you ever stopped to meditate upon the numerous times that the Word of God tells us that an event took place at exactly the right time? At the time that God had chosen a Word of Prophesy was fulfilled. The Apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 4:4 that “when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” Here is a tremendous aid to our faith; God’s timing is always perfect whether we are talking about world events such as the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, or of the detail of our own lives. Here is a word of comfort and hope for us as we face the uncertainty of our lives. God knows what He is doing. Everything happens according to His sovereign will. Praise God!
When the time was coming for Him to be offered up to heaven Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem and the cross. The next ten chapters describe key events in the journey towards this event. As Luke presents it in his Gospel we see it as the fulfillment of the prophesies in Malachi and Habakkuk regarding the arrival of the holy God among His people. When He comes He will refine His people. Malachi asks, “Who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” (Malachi 3:2) Habakkuk tells us that on that day the very stones will testify against us for all that we have done in our sin. It is with this understanding that Luke tells us what happened as Jesus arrived at Jerusalem as their Messiah. God was visiting them, coming among them, and they did not recognise it. So they fell under judgment. It was a judgment prophesied by the Lord Jesus Christ. It fall upon the city in 70 AD just exactly as Jesus had said. I don’t know about you, but this certainly gives me confidence that everything else that God’s Word tells us about the fulfillment of His promises will come to pass at just the right time as well.
There is a key question raised here however. Who can stand when the Holy God comes among us? How do we stand? How do we recognise the day of His visitation, meaning when He comes in either judgment or mercy? There really is only one way to answer this question and that is to see the Lord Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the Word of God as the fulfillment of all that God had promised to us in His word. Again the Apostle Paul puts it in the strongest possible terms when he describes Abraham as one who did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Romans 4:20-25)
It is only by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as God incarnate come among us as our redeemer from sin. In Him we are able to stand because we have been credited with the righteousness of God in the cross of Christ.
“Rejoice in the LORD always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The LORD is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
As the Apostle Paul concludes his letter to the Philippians he must draw their attention back to the circumstances that they are facing. The Church in Philippi is a Macedonian Church. When Paul writes to the Corinthians, seeking to encourage them in the ministry of giving that they have been committed to, he makes reference to the Macedonians. He writes in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, “We want you to know brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the Churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favour of taking part in the relief of the Saints – and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the LORD and then by the will of God to us.” The Philippians were a Church that knew trials and affliction. This is why Paul’s concluding thoughts in his letter to them are of such great help to us in our present circumstances.
Paul calls us to real rejoicing in the LORD in our present circumstances. Notice that we are not called to rejoice in our circumstances. We are called to rejoice in the LORD. Our circumstances are a call to real Godly living, which is always the work of the Spirit of God in us. At its heart this Godly living is to be centred upon the LORD Jesus Christ.
Such a life is always lived by faith. And it is characterized by a gentle, loving care for one another. Even now, especially now, we must be caring for one another. The reason for this caring is because the LORD is near. In times of testing we can be confident that He draws near to comfort us.
Again Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians 1:3-6. “Blessed be the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.”
What Paul calls us to is a gentle and compassionate life of faith where we deal prayerfully with the trials which make us anxious. This includes the one which we currently find ourselves facing. God’s people always cry out to Him in prayer. As we live this way we find ourselves guarded by the peace of God. Faith, hope, joy and love are maintained as we cry out to God.
Paul goes a couple of steps further here. He calls us to godly, Biblical thinking and to a life of Christian discipleship. Biblical thinking and living are crucial. Right now we are confined to our homes and as a result we have the opportunity to spend time in the reading of the Bible, and good Christian books that will stimulate us to wholesome, Biblical thinking.
I am praying that during this time you are being blessed by God as you trust Him in faith.
“Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is My Son, Whom I love. Listen to Him!”
As Mark continues to lead his readers into an understanding of the steps by which the Lord Jesus Christ led His followers into real discipleship he brings us to his description of the transfiguration. The more I examine this text in each of the three Gospels in which it appears the more I am convinced that it is the event that best describes the Kingdom of God coming in power which Jesus states that some of His followers will see before their death. It may also be one of the events which John is referring to when he writes that, “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 1:14) On the mount of transfiguration the disciples saw the Majestic Glory of God descending upon Jesus, and they heard the Father speaking about Him. So many things are of great significance here, but I want to focus upon just one today.
This is the command of God for these disciples, and one would presume us as well, to listen to Jesus. The grammar here supports a translation that would call us not just to hear Him but to listen obediently. It is God’s command that we listen obediently to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to be doing this constantly in the present. In 2 Peter 1:12ff the Apostle tells us that this was his understanding of the significance of the transfiguration. They may have seen a wonderful and powerful vision but what they heard was a command to listen to the word of the Lord. Peter’s doctrine of the Scriptures seems to come out of this experience. He has heard from the author of Scripture that he must listen to God’s word through the Prophets. Now that word is being spoken by the Son of God. It must be listened to obediently.
Surely this is the meaning behind the introduction to the book of Hebrews where we read, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2) It is interesting that Hebrews follows this introduction with a repeated call for us to not harden our hearts when we hear His voice. Here is another call to obedient listening. How much would our world be changed if we truly listened to the Lord with hearts and minds which are committed to the obedience of faith?
March 25, 2020 -Rev. David West
“Pray without ceasing”
1 Thessalonians 5:17
In recent weeks we have been reminded that we live in an increasingly dangerous world. There are all kinds of reasons for us to become nervous. We have the Covid-19 Pandemic, as well as the threat of financial instability, job losses, as well as the seemingly routine day to day bad news that inundates us. We look ahead and think that things must get better someday. However someday never seems to come. For some the solution to our troubles seems to be to turn to God in Prayer. In the past we would find ourselves organizing and attending great prayer rallies. These were wonderful things. Today we are joining in virtual prayer meetings and Worship Services. Still somehow we find ourselves thinking that something more is needed. When we hear a call to prayer and find ourselves moved to participate we must make sure that we really do pray. What is needed is secret and real prayer. We are called to seek the face of God in genuine repentance. I believe that it was this that W.C. Burns was writing about in his journal entry regarding the day of solemn fasting on March 1, 1840. (In God’s Polished Arrow: W.C. Burns Revival Preacher, by Dr. Michael McMullen, Christian Focus Publications, 2000)
“We had this day a solemn fast, kept by many I have no doubt very strictly, as far as the duty of abstinence is concerned. We met at two o’clock P.M. and I spoke upon the exercises appropriate for this day:
- Self examination in order to the discovery of sin, of the heart and nature as well as of the tongue and life, by the law and the Spirit of Jehovah.
- Humbling the soul before God under sins discovered.
- Confession of sin, full and particular, free and filial.
- Penitent turning from all sin.
- Entering into the covenant of grace by the receiving of Emmanuel and the surrender of the soul to Him and to God through Him.
- Special prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon this city, and the other places united with us in this fast, the great end designed in its appointment. There was great solemnity.”
The beginning of any great movement of prayer must always be found in individuals who genuinely begin to seek God for themselves. This always requires heartfelt Gospel repentance. Leonard Griffith once asked an assembly of believers who had gathered to consider some great cause whether “they really meant it”. When we endeavour to share the love of Christ in a city such as ours, or in a world such as we find ourselves living we must always begin by asking ourselves whether we really mean it. Are we serious about the love of God? This means that we must personally examine ourselves to see whether we have received that Gospel love, and then, are we truly living in it. For this is the starting point. We must join with others to really pray for God’s blessing in revival. This is a vital thing. Before we join with others we must find ourselves on our knees in secret prayer. This is the way forward.