The Apostolic Church

“They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.  In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as a guide for those who arrested Jesus – he was among our number and shared in this ministry.””

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 1:14-17

                 This week we are celebrating the 146th Anniversary of our Church here in Brampton.  It is appropriate that we do so with an examination of Acts 1:12-26.  There are several themes which run through these verses but I want to focus on just one in this devotional study.  This is that the New Testament Church portrayed in these early chapters of the Acts is an Apostolic Church.  This means that it lives under the apostolic authority and follows the apostolic method in its life and outreach.  This devotional will reflect upon this briefly.  There is much more that could be said about these verses, perhaps we will explore some more of this in the future, but I believe that there are certain truths that it is vital for us to reflect upon here today. 

                First, it almost seems self evident, but it must be said, the church in Acts is an Apostolic Church because it had apostolic leadership.  The leaders in Jerusalem were Apostles or those closely associated with the Apostles.  Luke gives us the guidelines which were used to determine who could be considered an Apostle.

  1. They were those who had been with Jesus from His baptism until His ascension.  These gentlemen had witnessed every part of the ministry of the LORD Jesus Christ. 
  2. They were those who had witnessed the resurrection of the LORD Jesus Christ.  They could speak about this tremendous new reality because they had personally witnessed it.
  3. They were also those who had been called by the LORD Jesus Christ personally into this responsibility. 

Luke outlines how Judas had fallen from his calling as one of the twelve Apostles to the Jews.  He needed to be replaced and a means was put forward which allowed Matthias to be chosen, and which incidentally also gives us some insight into the nature of the Apostolic Church.  Under the leadership of Peter the whole church began to do two things which led to a solution to the crisis they were facing.  They joined together in prayer constantly and they began to search the Scriptures for guidance which they eventually received from two Psalms.  These were Psalm 69:25, and psalm 109:8.  This then introduces the second apostolic feature of their response. They began to search the Scriptures.  The LORD had told the disciples that they would receive help from the Holy Spirit so that they would recall what He had taught them.  At its heart this teaching from Jesus was based upon a right interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures.  It is interesting that in the time of transition between the ministry of the LORD in person and His continuing ministry through the Holy Spirit that the disciples turned to the Word of God and to prayer.  They then received guidance which established principles for the ongoing life of the Church. 

The Nature of the apostolic ministry was that it would only be for the first generation of the Church.  Beyond that generation no one would fulfill the Biblical qualifications for this ministry.  Even in the calling of Paul as an Apostle to the Gentiles we see these qualifications being worked out.  His own teaching, as well as the threefold repetition of his conversion story, tells us that he was a witness of the resurrected Christ.  His teaching in Galatians 1:11ff, 18ff, and 2:7-8 tell us that he was commissioned by the LORD Jesus Christ and that commissioning was recognised by the other Apostles.  They recognised that he was the Apostle to the Gentiles, just as Peter was the Apostle to the Jews. 

What is of vital importance for us is that we as an Apostolic Church today continue to live under the authority of the apostolic teaching, which is found in the New Testament.  We also continue to live by the apostolic example which is to devote ourselves to prayer and to the Word of God.  When we neglect this then the Church suffers.  When we recapture this then revival usually comes as well.  What these Apostles recognised was that their “success” was dependent upon maintaining a personal and living relationship with the LORD. 

                There is much else which could be said about this passage.  This is sufficient for now.  Luke is calling us to recognise that the authority under which we live and minister is in fact that of the Living Christ.  val u

The LORD Lives!

                “I love you, O Lord, my strength.  The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.  He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.  I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 18:1-3

                In his book Outgrowing the Ingrown Church C. John Miller describes his battle with a debilitating sense of failure which led to his resignation from all of his working as a Pastor and a teacher.  He found himself growing tired of all of the strain of the seemingly impossible task of singlehandedly holding the Church together.  Like all of us at one time or another he had become burned out by the responsibilities he was facing.  Dr. And Mrs. Howard Taylor relate Hudson Taylor’s description of something similar in their book Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret.  Brought to the end of his own resources Taylor discovered the principle of the “exchanged life,” the looking unto the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Miller describes how he engaged in a period of intense prayer and Bible Study, which gradually lifted him out of a deep depression and into faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the one who is living and active in His Church.  It is this principle that I believe that the Lord is calling us, His Church, to relearn today.  Our natural tendency is to assume this work as our own.  We begin to believe that it all depends upon our skills, wisdom, programs, and methods.  To be sure we are called to a life of costly obedience.  We must recognise that, in our sin, we will always be tempted to take God’s work and make it our own in the sense that it becomes centred upon, and dependent upon us.

                Biblically we see this in Mark’s account of Peter’s denial of the Lord in Mark 14:66-72.  When we look at this passage and connect it with Mark 14:54, “Peter followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the High Priest.  There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire,” we see something of great significance for our discipleship.  Woven into this passage which is describing the humiliation and death of the Son of God for us is a strand that leads us to discover how we receive the blessing that the Lord Jesus Christ purchased for us upon the cross.  Peter must die to himself.  He must be broken.  There is no other way to receive God’s blessing.  Peter, in all of his pride, and supposed self sufficiency is in reality standing in the way of God’s blessing.  Just like Jacob had to discover in Gen.32:22ff when he wrestled with God at Peniel, so did Peter have to discover.  He must die to himself, picking up his cross, and following Jesus if he is ever to experience the life of God in his soul.  So too must we die to ourselves.  Our weariness, frustration, and anxiety have their roots in our self sufficiency.  Like Jacob, Peter, and countless others we must be brought to the place where we die with Jesus.  It is in our brokenness that we find His grace.  Paul tells the Corinthians in his second letter that God’s word to him was “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) 

                Whenever we explore this theme as a foundation for our building of our ministry in the community we are brought face to face with the cross and the resurrection of the LORD Jesus Christ.  We are called to boast in the Lord not in ourselves.  It is He who is actively and powerfully at work among us.  The 18th Psalm ends with a triumphant proclamation of this when it states.

                                “The Lord lives!  Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior! (Psalm 18:46)

It Is Finished

                “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.”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 19:28-30

                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.”

Fulfillment Of Prophesy

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

                                                                                                                                                Micah 7:11-13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections On A Bible Study

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

                                                                                                                                2 Corinthians 5:21

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

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

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

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


Dealing With Error

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

                                                                                                                                                                                Mark 12:24

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

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

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

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

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

He Was In The World

                “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him,   the world did not recognise Him.  He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.  Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  The word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 1:10-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Your Eyes And Look

                “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’?  I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields!  They are ripe for harvest.”

                                                                                                                                                                                         John 4:35

                When we look carefully at John chapter four and explore the concept of the Divine Appointment which Jesus had while on His way to Galilee we discover some precious truths.  It is clear here that Jesus has an appointment with the Samaritan woman who He leads to ask Him for living water.  It is equally clear that Jesus has an appointment with the people of Sychar, many of whom come to believe in Him after they have met Him for themselves.  There is a third Divine Appointment here as well however.  This is the appointment which Jesus has with His disciples.  There is a lesson which they needed to learn, which could only be taught in that Samaritan village at the foot of Mt. Gerizim.  Here in the heart of the lost nation of the Samaritans these disciples were about to learn about the wonderful grace of the LORD Jesus Christ which would justify the ungodly.  As we explore this text we too can learn some valuable lessons.

  1. We can learn a lesson about the expectations which we have as we encounter people in our day to day lives.  These disciples were following Jesus into a region which was characterized by ungodliness.  The Samaritans were a people who were ethnically the result of the racial mixture of poor Jews who had been left behind at the exile of Israel with pagan people who had been resettled in the region.  Their religion was a mixture of the Hebrew faith with all manner of pagan beliefs and practices.  They had even set up a rival religious centre to that of Jerusalem on Mt. Gerizim.  As the disciples drew near to this Samaritan centre of worship one can imagine what they must have thought about the hopeless, ungodly people they were encountering.  Perhaps these disciples were hoping that they would be able to pass through this region quickly and without incident.  If ever there was a people beyond the touch of God’s grace it was these people of Sychar.  Yet it is here that Jesus stops to rest.  Like us, these disciples see a people that they will not associate with because they are just too lost.  A number of years ago while serving in one of my first charges after graduation from Seminary I spoke to one of the leaders of the congregation about my intention to visit a family that lived down the street from the church in order that I might encourage them to attend services at our church.  The leader looked at me as if I was insane or at the very least hopelessly naive.   “These people will never darken the door of the Church.” he told me, “They are just too lost.”  I went anyway inviting the family to come to worship and sharing with them the gospel.  Not only did they begin to attend our church, they came to faith in Christ and brought many of their relatives who seemed to be even more lost than they.  We learned a lesson in those days about the way that the LORD was working in the hearts of that family.  Nothing is impossible with the LORD.  He can even bring hardened Samaritans to faith in Christ.
  2. Jesus tells His disciples that they need to have their eyes open so that they can really look and see what is going on around them.  The fields are ripe for harvest.  The word of the LORD has been doing its work.  Prayer is being answered.  People are finding that their hearts are being prepared for that day when they hear the Gospel.  The text tells us that the work does not depend upon us alone because others are at work as well.  The Word of God has been doing its work, quietly, almost imperceptivity, but surely.  It has been preparing the way for the harvest.  The disciples are not to think that everything depends upon them.  They are not to look at a people as being beyond grace.  They are simply to keep offering the message of grace to everyone who will listen to it.  We are to offer it with the love of God.  We are to offer it humbly.  But offer it we must.  Robert Murray McCheyne once remarked regarding his work among the slum dwellers of his city that “the flesh dies well there.”   This work is not about us, it is about the LORD.  He is powerfully at work in our world.  We are called to obey His call to witness, wherever He takes us, believing that He has already prepared the way for His Gospel.

Spiritual Exercise

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

                                                                                                                                                                                1 Timothy 4:6-8

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

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

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

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

A Tale About Grace

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

                                                                                                                                                                Mark 14:6-9

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

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

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

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

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

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