Thanks Be Unto God

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.  For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.  And who is equal to such a task?”

                                                                                                                                                2 Corinthians 2:14-16

                Every Wednesday evening between the beginning of September and the end of June a group of us gather at First Baptist Church Brampton for a Bible Study.  It is such a joyful and wonderful thing to share together with a smaller group of Christian brothers and sisters a time of fellowship and prayer, while we look more deeply into the message of the Scriptures.  A number of years ago we spent time exploring the book of the Old Testament prophet Micah.  In this book we encounter the warnings of God regarding the coming judgement of the exile that the people of God would experience.  The reasons for this judgement are clearly spelled out by the prophet.  Mixed in with his words of warning and condemnation Micah gives us some of the most wonderful words of promise and hope. 

                Here we find the promise of a coming Messiah who will be eternal God come as a human being to serve His heavenly Father.  He was to be born into the town of Bethlehem, and would be of the family of David the King.  Micah tells us that this Messiah will lead His people into a deep and rich experience of the peace of God.  It is wonderful to discuss together the way in which this promise became living reality in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus Himself points to promises like this as He describes the purpose for which He has come.  The Apostle John records that Jesus taught that He is the Good Shepherd who lays His life down for His sheep.  Micah pointed to that very thing as being at the heart of the Messiah’s ministry.  In His Cross and Resurrection we are reconciled to God.

                As the Apostle Paul writes about this reality in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 he tells us that in these great promises of God we encounter the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In the message of the Gospel God brings both judgement and hope into our world.  What our experience of it will be is determined by how we respond to the Lord Jesus Christ.  If we by faith put our trust and obedience in Him we discover that He is our Savoir, who brings into our lives the abundant grace and love of the Gospel.  If we reject Him by refusing to believe in Him then to us He becomes our judge.  The question is ‘Who is He to you?

                Come and join us, if you can on Wednesday nights at 7PM so that you can share in the blessings we are experiencing in our Bible Study.

An Account Of Who He Is

                “‘Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.  See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua!  There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription upon it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.  In that day each of you will invite his neighbour to sit under his vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 3:8-10

                In taking a closer look at the third chapter of the Old Testament book of the Prophet Zechariah further treasure is revealed to us.  This chapter, which is right in the middle of the series of night visions that were given to Zechariah, gives us the central, redemptive message of redemption which was revealed to this post-exilic prophet.  Through His Messiah, who is pointed to by the High Priest, God is going to remove the sin of His people in one day.  Looking ahead we know that this prophetic word was fulfilled in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.  At Calvary, in the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ, God dealt with, and removed all of our sin.  Romans 5:8 the Apostle Paul tells us that “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  What great love God has given to us.  We are simply called to receive it.  It has been given to us in Christ simply based upon the unconditional love of God. 

                God’s great act of love given to us in Christ is astounding in its impact upon our lives.  It meets us in our brokenness, while we are rejecting Him, and offers us reconciliation, even though we do not deserve it.  No wonder the Lord immediately begins to speak through Zechariah about the celebration which breaks out when such sacrificial love is given and received.  The picture points back to the celebration that took place at the end of the Day of Atonement, when all of the events of the day were winding down people would invite others to join in a great celebration which broke out in response to God’s grace. 

                Perhaps the best picture of this celebration that we have is the reception we join in after a wedding ceremony.  A marriage Biblically is a picture of the relation between Christ and the Church.  Biblical marriage is an unconditional covenant relationship designed to point us to the love and commitment between Christ and His bride, the Church.  We, the church, are recipients of His love, not because of our worthiness, but simply because of His character as a gracious God.  He loves us based upon who He is.  This is powerfully illustrated for us in a story relayed by the New Tribes Mission on their Facebook page.

                “The verbs for a particular African language consistently end in one of three vowels,” Dennis Farthing writes from the NTM Missionary Training Center. He shares a translation story that a missionary recently shared with him.

“Almost every verb ends in i, a, and u. But the word for ‘love’ was only found with i and a. Why no u?” this missionary wondered.

Dennis says the Bible translation team included the most influential leaders in the local community.

In an effort to truly understand the concept of “love” in this African language, the missionary began to question them.

“Could you dvi your wife?”

“Yes,” they answered, “that would mean that the wife had been loved, but the love was gone.”

“Could you dva your wife?”

“Yes,” they responded, “that kind of love depends on the wife’s actions. She would be loved as long as she remained faithful and cared for her husband well.”

“Could you dvu your wife?”

Everyone in the room laughed.

“Of course not!” they replied. “If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water and never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would have to just keep on loving her. No, we would never say dvu. It just doesn’t exist.”

The missionary sat quietly for a while, thinking about John 3:16, and then he asked, “Could God dvu people?”

Dennis writes that there was complete silence for three or four minutes; then tears started to trickle down the weathered faces of the elderly men of the tribe.

Finally they responded, “Do you know what this would mean? This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, while all that time we rejected His great love. He would be compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.”

The missionary noted that changing one simple vowel changed the meaning from “I love you based on what you do and who you are,” to “I love you, based on who I am. I love you because of me and not because of you.”

“God encoded the story of His unconditional love right into this African language. For centuries, the little word was there—unused but available, grammatically correct and quite understandable.”

            Such is the astounding nature of the love that God has given us in Christ.  No wonder we celebrate.

A Call To Serve

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

                                                                                                                                                                Acts 6:4

                A number of years ago, 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.

Testimony About Jesus

“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.  There is another who testifies in my favour, and I know that His testimony about me is valid.”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 5:31-32

                Just recently as I was relaxing and watching a comedy on television the situation was presented whereby a young man began to express a romantic interest in a young woman.  He announced that he was not going to give up until she agreed to be his.  As you can imagine, given that nature of this sinful world in which we live, his pursuit of the young woman descended into an awkward stalking relationship.  The point I found myself reflecting upon as that television show proceeded was from a much purer point of view.  This was the young man’s commitment to building a relationship with the woman.  He took a long view of how the relationship might develop.   How like the point that the Apostle John brings us to as He describes the life and ministry of the LORD Jesus Christ in his gospel. 

                In the fifth chapter of that gospel John describes the defence that Jesus gives as He responds to the constant persecution which comes from His enemies.  His defence focuses upon the truth about Himself and the rules of evidence which are set out in the Scriptures.  In everything that Jesus says here He has a long view of the issues that are involved.  His enemies want to put Jesus to death.  Jesus looks beyond His own death to the Day of Judgement which was coming.  When Jesus brings in the very human testimony of John the Baptist which these enemies had sought out and even gloried in for a season he speaks about the fact that human testimony and opinion does not amount to very much when it comes to the things of God.  There is a much weightier testimony available which is that which the Father Himself has given in His Word.  Jesus however makes use of John’s testimony, because He knows that it is something which these enemies had witnesses and to a certain extent it was something that they respected.  He make use of it for one reason only, in verse 34 Jesus states this, “I mention it that you might be saved.”  With this we are given a glimpse into the heart of the LORD Jesus Christ.  While these enemies as committed to a policy of bringing Jesus to the cross He is pursuing a very different path.  The LORD Jesus Christ is seeking to save these enemies.  He is presenting evidence that just might touch their hearts and bring them to repentance.  He is demonstrating Himself as the friend of sinners.  The Apostle Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Romans.  “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) 

                Think about this for a few moments.  While you were the enemy of God Christ was dying for you.  What does this mean?  It means that while you were rebelling, committed to a sinful path in life, seeking to destroy the testimony of the Gospel, behaving in all kinds of wicked ways, the LORD Jesus Christ was not sitting in the wings of history waiting for the opportunity to destroy you.  He was dying for you.  He is interceding for you.  He is reaching out his hands in gracious love to you offering you hope and healing.  He has taken upon Himself your sin.  He bore it all in agony upon the cross of Calvary.  In essence He is speaking to you and saying it does not matter what you have done in the past.  It does not matter how deep into iniquity you have descended.  There is no amount of sin which will be able to keep from you the love of God.  If you will come to Him, believing that He is the Son of God who gave His life as a ransom for you, then you will be saved.  The question is however will you come to Him in faith?

Commissioned To Preach

                “Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His Name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  I am going to send you what My Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.””

                                                                                                                                                                                Luke 24:45-49

                There is something truly wonderful about the way in which each of the gospel writers closes out their books.  In each one there is a form of the great commission in which the disciples of the LORD Jesus Christ are sent out with the responsibility to proclaim the message of grace to the whole world.  With Matthew the commission comes with the promise that the LORD Jesus Christ will go out with them.  Here in Luke the promise is that the Promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit will be given in order to empower the witness of the disciples.  The point that each of them is making is that the commission given to the church is the primary responsibility of the Triune God who is going with us and empowering us for cross centred witness. 

                Each gospel writer has his own focus.  For Luke the focus is upon the gift of the Holy Spirit who comes to bear witness to the LORD Jesus Christ.  He opens our minds to the truths of the Scriptures so that we can understand that the things with the Christ suffered were necessities proclaimed by the Old Testament Prophets.  These things must happen.  He must suffer the cross.  He must rise from the dead.  We must proclaim the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins, which is the Biblical definition of the Gospel, to all nations.  The Holy Spirit is the Missionary Spirit.  The Church is a Missionary Church.  Luke labours in his Gospel as well as in the Book of Acts to make this clear. 

                The Apostle John reinforces this when he writes in John 14:26 these words, “But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  The Holy Spirit causes us to understand the message of the Scriptures, particularly as it points to the suffering of the Christ upon the cross as atonement for our sins.  Luke quotes Jesus as pointing to this fact in the quotation regarding the Great Commission.  He must suffer and die and He must be raised again.  This is the heart of the Gospel.  There is no salvation apart from this great event.  Jesus without the cross simply gives us an impossible example to follow.  With the cross and the resurrection He encounters us in the depth of our miserable slavery to sin and He redeems us from it by taking our place.  In the account quoted by John regarding the woman caught in adultery Jesus does not condemn her for one reason alone.  This is because He will soon be taking her place.  The condemnation will rest upon Him for her sin, but also for your sin and mine (John 7:53-8:11).  It is this message of grace that we are called to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit to every nation in this world.  It is the message of grace.                 The proclamation of the Gospel of grace calls us to repentance for one very powerful reason.  This is because it is of grace.  We cannot earn it.  It is not dependant on our own goodness.  It calls us no cease depending upon anything which we could do for ourselves.  We must put our trust in the LORD Jesus Christ.  The Apostle Paul put it this way as he wrote to the Philippians Church.  “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reasons for such confidence.  If anyone else thinks that he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the Church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.  But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my LORD, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead.” (Philippians 3:3-11)


                “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted.  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.””

                                                                                                                                                Matthew 28:16-20

                Throughout the long history of the Christian Church there has always been an intense wrestling with the task of the expansion of the Christian Church.  We might call the task evangelism, or disciple making.  Some might refer to such terms as Church Growth or a missonal approach to Church life.  As we have debated, and developed our work we have had a whole variety of approaches, some better than others.  At the heart of the debate however has been a desire to see people brought into a genuine discipleship.  Hugh Halter, in his book The Tangible Kingdom points to the absolute necessity of the working of the Holy Spirit in our attempts to carry out our call to lead others to genuine faith.  A century ago a missionary writer by the name of Roland Allan touched upon the same theme in his books Missionary Methods: Ours or Saint Paul’s? And The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church.  In both Allan pointed us towards faith in the Holy Spirit as He causes us to abide in the Lord Jesus Christ as the power source for authentic expansion of the Kingdom of God.

                It seems as if our present debate is leading us back to a real wrestling with the Great Commission as it is found at the end of Matthew’s Gospel.  In Matthew 28:16-20 we encounter several helpful thoughts which push us forward in mission.  The first is that such a work is in fact the response that we make to genuine worship.  Worship requires faith.  Matthew tells us that when the Disciples met Jesus on the mountain in Galilee they worshipped Him, “but some doubted”.  What was required was faith.  We might ask however; “Faith in what?”  As Jesus delivers the commission He leads us into that faith.  What these disciples have experienced, and what we are called to believe is that the Lord Jesus Christ has fulfilled in His ministry the prophesy Daniel delivers which is really the promise of a coming Kingdom.  In Daniel 7:14 we read, “He was given authority, glory, and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”  Later on in Daniel 7:27 we read further that, “Then the sovereignty power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High.  His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and adore Him.”  There are many things that could be said about these verses and how we can understand them, but for our purposes here I will confine myself to these thoughts.

  1. Jesus is claiming, in Matthew 28:16-20 that this promise has been fulfilled in Him.
  2. Faith that this is so is a necessity if we are to be part of the promised kingdom.
  3. It is fulfilled in Him and in His people, who are in fact “in Him.”
  4. We abide in Him as the Holy Spirit unites us with Him.  This is one of the central doctrines of our faith.
  5. John Miller in Outgrowing the Ingrown Church describes how this became a reality for him as he gave himself without reservation to the Lord Jesus Christ by faith.  Miller goes on to say that he then stepped out in faith obeying that command of the Lord even when he did not feel like it.
  6. This is what Jesus means when He tells His disciples that they are to make disciples of all nations as they are going.”  For me this means that in every place that I find myself I am called to obey my Lord’s command to make disciples of Him.
  7. This command is for all Christians.  It is not restricted to Disciples, or Apostles, or Pastors, or to those who some hired to serve.  It is for every believer.
  8. The command requires faith that recognises that as we are going, He is going with us.

In times of revival in the church I believe that we draw close to this reality.  We begin to pray and to live as those who have heard the call of the Lord to go out with this faith, courageously making disciples of the nations. 

For The Glory Of Christ

                “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”

                                                                                                                                                                Romans 8:26-27

                It is of vital importance that the Church of Christ recaptures an awareness of and commitment to the prayer meeting.  So much of the power which we need for genuine outreach in this world hardened by sin is dependent on prayer.  We need the presence of the LORD Jesus Christ among us.  We need an ever deepening awareness of His glory.  It is this which draws people to His holy presence.  In Matthew’s Gospel we read these words from the lips of our saviour.  For where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

                One of the key issues which we often find ourselves facing as we think about joining with others in prayer is our own lack of proficiency in prayer.  We hear about the effective and fervent praying of others and then look at ourselves and in reality we judge ourselves as being deficient in our prayer life.  Surely the reason for this is owing to our focus upon ourselves.  We are not looking at the LORD and His limitless resources, but at our own all too frequent failures and limitations. 

                I found this account given by Charles Haddon Spurgeon in a sermon entitled The Fatherhood of God, based upon the Lord’s Prayer.  “As one dear brother said the other day at the prayer meeting, — he could not get on in prayer, and he finished up on a sudden by saying, “LORD, I cannot pray tonight as I should wish; I cannot put the words together; LORD, take the meaning, take the meaning,” and sat down.” (Spurgeon’s Sermons, Vol. 5, Hendrickson publishers, Peabody, Mass. 2011, p. 109)

                This illustration helps us to understand the dynamic which the Apostle Paul is describing in the Romans 8 passage quoted at the beginning of this devotional.  We often don’t know how to pray.  Our words and our understanding are often so very limited and unsatisfactory.  We feel as if anything that we could add to the prayer meeting will be unhelpful.  We have forgotten something however.  This is that the prayer meeting, like everything else in the Christian life is not really about us.  It is all about the Glory of the LORD Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit comes to Glorify Christ.  He comes in and intercedes for us as one who knows just what the will of God is for us.  He knows what is really in our hearts and He will pray for us accordingly.  He knows what we are really seeking in life and will bring our desires into accord with the purpose and plan of God so that we might be conformed to the likeness of Christ.  It is not about us.  It is all about the LORD Jesus Christ.  In the prayer meeting, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are brought into the reality of a life lived for the Glory of Christ. 

                Ian Hamilton expressed this truth so well in a Pastoral Letter to the Cambridge Presbyterian Church in March of 2010,           “I shall lay the foundation of the ensuing meditations in this one assertion, — namely, that one of the greatest privileges and advancements of believers, both in this world and unto eternity, consists in their BEHOLDING THE GLORY OF CHRIST (1.286).”

                It is to this that the Holy Spirit leads us as we gather together with other believers to pray.