Behold The Man!

                “Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord.’”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 6:12

                “When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!””

                                                                                                                                                                John 19:5

                There are times in the Word of God when an individual speaks a better word than they know.  The Gospels tell us that Caiaphas, being the High Priest, prophesied without knowing it when he stated that it was expedient that one man day in the place of the whole people.  Such is the case in John’s Gospel when Pilate utters the words recorded in John 19:5, “Behold the man!”  The more I have immersed myself in the Gospels the more I have become aware that the Gospel writers portray various speakers as stating things in ways that point to the fulfillment of the Prophetic Scriptures.  As John records these words, spoken by Pilate, it is as if the evangelist is stating that Pilate’s words must cause us to stop and reflect carefully and spiritually about the teaching of Scripture.

                The question each Gospel writer brings us to confront is what the evidence is that the Lord Jesus Christ is in fact God’s promised Messiah.  John stops us as we are following him through his account of the coming of our redeemer and causes us to take a careful look at the words that a pagan Roman official used to introduce the soon to be crucified Jesus to the crowd.  “Behold the man!”  These words are exactly what the prophet Zechariah wrote in the sixth chapter of his book as he pointed ahead to the coming of the Messiah.  “Behold the man whose name is the branch.”  Zechariah is calling his readers to recognise that the Messiah when He comes will fulfill some very specific promises.  Both Zechariah and the Apostle John are calling us to recognise the evidence as it is found in the Word of God so that we will be able to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ when He comes.  Today I want to spend a few moments reflecting upon what these Biblical writers are calling upon us to do.

  1. First, each writer is calling us to look carefully, and spiritually, at the evidence.  “Behold!”  Look carefully, reflectively at what we are being told.  The Scriptures make it clear that the evidence that we are presented with is only comprehended with the help of the Holy Spirit.  Unless God reveals this truth to us we will not believe it or even understand it for that matter.  Darrell Johnson in Discipleship on the Edge, his masterful exposition of the book of Revelation has a phrase that he constantly repeats.  This is that, “Things are not as they seem.”  This is true whether it is our lives, or history, our behaviour, or Biblical truth that we are considering.  There is more to reality than we will ever understand with our unaided senses.  We need God’s help in order to understand reality.  Given these facts we often find ourselves tempted to give up.  God’s truth is beyond our ability to discern.  We must not give up however because the Word of God is full of examples of ordinary people like us who have been ushered into God’s Wisdom so that they can understand His truth.  James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to Him.” (James 1:5)  The very fact that James, and the Biblical writers call upon us to look carefully tells us that God’s wisdom is in fact available to anyone who truly seeks to know it.  “Behold!”
  2. “The Man!”  As Pilate brings Jesus out, mocking Him with a crown of thorns and a purple robe his words call upon us to carefully look at this figure, Jesus of Nazareth, who in every way fulfills the promise God has made to us about the coming Messiah.  Look carefully at Him!  See how he fulfills the promise!  Zechariah had used a term, the Branch, to describe Him.  This term pointed to the fact that the Messiah, when He came would fulfill certain Scriptural teaching.  Listen to what Isaiah says about this one.
    1. Isaiah 4:2: “In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel.”
    1. Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”
    1. Isaiah 42:1: “Here is My servant, whom I uphold, My chosen one in whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on Him and He will bring justice to the nations.”

As we take a careful look at these promises what we discover is that this man who is to come will be more than man.  He will be God among us in human flesh.  He will come as God’s Servant, in the power of God’s Spirit in order to serve us by suffering in our place.  When Jesus describes His own ministry, as He does in Mark 10:45, it is in the light of this Biblical ministry of servant hood through the cross.  “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” 

Pilate did speak better than he knew when he called us to look carefully at the Lord Jesus Christ.  He alone fulfills all that the Scripture teaches about what the promised Messiah would be and do.  In beholding Him we are called to believe.

A Call To Prayer and Praise

                “Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 90:1

                “For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 100:5

                A number of years ago, as I was meditation of the message of the 100th Psalm I came across an interesting set of thoughts contained in the notes in the NIV Study Bible.  These were concerned with the connections between the various Psalms in the Scriptures.  Psalms 90 through 100 are said, by the NIV Study Bible to be a collection of Praise Psalms which are contained within a framework consisting of Psalm 90:1 and Psalm 100:5.  I am certain that there is a lively debate that could be had over whether these Psalms were grouped together in the type of collection that my study Bible suggests but this suggestion did give me some useful material for my meditation on the Scriptures.  If one is to focus upon those two “frame” verses they do bring us to understand an essential truth about this life of discipleship to which we as believers are called.

  1. The Lord is our eternal dwelling place.  He is this dwelling place for all of His people throughout all generations.  There is security and comfort in this awesome reality for everyone who believes in the Lord for all of time. 
  2. The Lord is a good God.  His covenant love endures for all of eternity.  He will always be found faithful to His promise to us as His people.  There will never come a time or place or experience where the Lord will not be seen to be faithfully working our His gracious purposes for us, His people. 

There is an invitation and a calling upon us to enter into this precious relationship with the Lord our God by faith.  In John 16:33 the Lord Jesus Christ extends the same invitation of grace to us when He says, “In this world you will have trouble (pressure).  But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  If we come to Him in faith we will discover that He is the one who has overcome every evil that the world can bring into our lives.  There is nothing which can stand between us and the love of God which is revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

                The framework for these Psalms encloses wonderful truths upon which our lives of faith are being built.  The collection of Psalms begins with a prayer of Moses for God’s people.  In the centre of the collection is the 95th Psalm with its warning which references Moses warnings from Deut. 6:13-18.  This warning in verses 7b to 11 is quoted in the Book of Hebrews which applies it to the invitation of the Lord Jesus Christ where He calls us to faith in Him.  It is a warning for us to heed the voice of the Lord when we hear Him calling us today.  This warning reminds us of God’s judgment upon those who failed to heed in the days of the Exodus. 

                Going on from the 95th Psalm we are led to Psalm 96:8 which once again invites us into the presence of the Lord.  “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His Name; bring an offering and come into His courts.”  We cannot come into God’s courts without the appropriate offering.  What is the offering however?  In the 99th Psalm we are drawn further along on our inquiry.  The Lord sits enthroned on the mercy seat.  He is approached in only one way and that is through the sacrifice of atonement which in the Old Testament pointed ahead to a final, once and for all, sacrifice of atonement which took place on the cross of Calvary where the Lord Jesus Christ offered His precious, sinless life for us.  As the Lord Jesus Christ stated in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many.”  This God calls us to worship Him at His pillar of cloud coming into His holy presence recognising that He is a God who forgives and punishes sin.  He forgives because He has punished our sin in the cross.

                Given these precious truths the 100th Psalm commands that we come into the presence of God rejoicing in His gracious, eternal intervention in our lives.  We come to Him in faith through the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and we find that He is eternally faithful to us.  What precious truth!

An Answer About Grace

                “To this he replied: “Brothers and Fathers, listen to me!  The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran.  ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go into the land I will show you.’  So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran.  After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living.  He gave him no inheritance here, not even a foot of ground.  But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child.  God spoke to him in this way: ‘your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.  But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,’ God said, ‘and afterward they will come out of that country and worship Me in this place.’  Then He gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 7:2-8a

                These words begin the Spirit inspired answer that Stephen gave to the Sanhedrin’s charges which were levelled at him.  He was accused of being a man who spoke against the Temple and the Law of Moses and as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The question which was asked of Stephen by the High Priest was whether these charges were in fact true.  His answer seems to focus on these three accusations as they are answered by the history of the Hebrew people as it is revealed in their Scriptures.  Stephen begins his answer by pointing to the God of glory and His gracious calling of a man named Abraham out the life he was leading in the pagan society of Mesopotamia.  Steven J. Cole in his sermon entitled “Stephen: The Message” which can be found at www.fcfonline.org/content/1/sermons/021101m.pdf writes the following about the defence that the first martyr for the Christian Gospel makes.

                “Stephen demonstrates clearly that God initiated the process of calling out a people for His Name and that He continued to pour out His grace on these people in spite of their own rebellion.  He began by calling Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran (7:20).  Stephen refers to God as “the God of glory,” showing His majesty and separateness from sinful humanity.  Abraham was a pagan idolater, living in a pagan culture, with no merit in him for God to appear to him and make a covenant with him.  Why did God not call Abraham’s entire family, or why did He not tell Abraham to reach out to the cities of Ur or Haran, rather than to make the long journey to the land of Canaan?  We do not know.  All we know is that God sovereignly chose Abraham and poured out His grace upon him.  God’s sovereignty is further underscored in 7:4 where Stephen states that God removed Abraham into this country.  The nation of Israel owed its existence to God’s gracious promise to make a great nation out of Abraham’s descendants and to give them the land of Canaan.”

                Stephen’s answer is to focus the Sanhedrin upon the message of grace which is found at the heart of the Word of God.  This message, which manifests itself to a man living in an ungodly society, calling him out of it into a new place and way of living.  Abraham responds with faith and obedience going to the place where God leads him.  He would never have become the redeemed man of faith that the Scriptures reveal him to be if God had not graciously revealed Himself to him.  Stephen then begins his answer by pointing us to an essential truth about the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the one who reveals the Father to us.  As Jesus says to Philip, “Don’t you know Me Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?  Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father.  How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me?  The words I say to you are not just My own.  Rather, it is the Father, living in Me, who is doing His work.” (John 14:9-10)

                At its heart Stephen’s answer calls each person who confronts it with a powerful question.  Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the manifestation of God’s grace sent into this world to redeem you?

Exalting In The Gospel

                “That is why I am suffering as I am.  Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.”

                                                                                                                                                                                2 Timothy 1:12

                In From Embers To A Flame – “How God Can Revitalize Your Church” Harry L. Reeder III focuses upon the need for us to develop a Gospel centred approach to the work of evangelism as well as to living the Christian life.  It is this gospel centredness which unleashes the power of God’s grace into our real life circumstances in order to redeem us.  On page 66 of his book Reeder makes a comment about preaching, which he follows up with a quotation from Bryan Chappell (in Christ Centered Preaching page 12).

                “What we must avoid at all costs is the kind of preaching and teaching that is mere moralism.  Bryan Chappell explains this well:  “However well-intended and biblically rooted may be a sermon’s instruction, if the message does not incorporate the motivation and enablement inherent in a proper apprehension of the work of Christ, the preacher proclaims mere Pharisaism.  Preaching that is faithful to the whole of Scripture not only establishes God’s requirements, but also highlights the redemptive truths that make holiness possible.””

                Chappell and Reeder agree with the Apostle Paul as he writes his second letter to Timothy.  Paul calls Timothy, and incidentally we as well, to a Gospel centred ministry.  This is in fact the only hope for the Church that Timothy is responsible for.  This Gospel has led Paul into suffering, but he is not ashamed.  What Paul is saying here is that despite the great suffering he is facing he is rejoicing in the Gospel.  Paul says the same thing in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans.  “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith, from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”” (Romans 1:16-17)  What Paul writes here is that he is far from being ashamed of the Gospel.  He exalts in it.  He rejoices in it.  It is at the heart of all his motivation for Godly living.  Nothing is a greater importance for Paul than this gospel message that the Lord Jesus Christ gave His life on the cross in order to reconcile us to God.  In Him we receive grace to cover over all of our sin. 

                There is more here however, Paul tells Timothy that the Gospel is much more than just a message, or a plan of salvation, it is in reality Christ Himself.  “I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.”  He knows Christ.  Christianity is Christ.  We have come into a personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We know His character because by the Holy Spirit He is indwelling us.  We know His power, because all that we have entrusted to Him, our lives, our hope of eternity, and our holiness is secure in His all powerful, eternal hands. 

                When Paul writes to the Church at Corinth reflecting on the wisdom of God which is active in our world in Christ he makes this telling point.  “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”  (1 Corinthians 3:11) This is the object of all that we hope for and rely upon, the Lord Jesus Christ our redeemer and King.  Everything else fails us but Christ never will, because He alone is able.

Gospel Repentance

                “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.  See what this Godly sorrow has produced in you:  what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.  At every point you proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”

                                                                                                                                                                2 Corinthians 7:10-11

                At the heart of the Apostle Paul’s defence of his ministry to the Corinthians he shares these thoughts in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 in which he describes for us the reality of Gospel repentance.  These are such important verses that every Christian should commit them to memory, bringing them to mind constantly so that we can truly begin to live the time of experienced Christian faith that the Bible calls us to.  What Paul does here is to contrast Godly sorrow which leads to a real repentance and abundant life through Jesus Christ with a worldly sorrow that leads to a false, fleshly repentance that only continues us on the downward spiral to death. 

                What are the characteristics of each?  This calls for self-examination as we explore each one briefly today. 

  1. Godly sorrow is the creation of the Holy Spirit as He convicts us of our rebelliousness towards God.  We constantly want our own way.  We want to solve our problems ourselves, so that our pride can be satisfied with what we have made ourselves to be.  God’s Spirit confronts this attitude of heart, and exposes its bankruptcy.  Such sorrow is always centred upon God.  We come to know that there is a fundamental brokenness in our lives which comes from our estrangement in life.  At this point we understand the wickedness of our sin.  It has separated us from the only source of real life.  As a consequence we find ourselves unable to know God in any real sense.  We may know all about Him.  But we do not know Him.  Here Godly sorrow leads us to the only real help available to us.  This is the grace of God in Christ.  God, in His great love for us, has done everything necessary to make us alive in Christ.  We are humbled because we have come to know that we can never solve the problem of us, on our own, in our own flesh.  The only solution is found in God’s grace.
  2. Worldly sorrow on the other hand is the creation of our own flesh.  It is self-centred instead of Christ-centred.  It is characterised by sorrow over the consequences of our rebellion against God.  How often have we found ourselves only beginning to feel concern over sin when we discover that we might get caught in it?  We want to escape its consequences, but not necessarily from sin itself.  When caught in our sin, worldly sorrow leads to a false repentance which leads us to try to reform our lives in our own flesh.  The best we can hope for here is that our behaviour will improve, but we are still left dead in our sin.  The consequence is that we are made to become increasingly self-righteous with no saving knowledge of Christ.

John Miller in Repentance and 29th century Man explores this theme with the following encouraging words.

                “If conviction of sin is demanded as though this were the goal of things, if human unrighteousness is exposed apart from faith in Christ, then men will be left in a state of penance, and they will return to pre-Reformation misery, with salvation made entirely unstable because it is founded on what man does to recover himself.

                Sinners in such a state have no way of knowing whether God loves them and will receive them into His heart.  Psychologically and morally, all is left dark and shoreless.  When sin is exposed apart from the promises of God, reality for the man outside of the Lord becomes increasingly inverted and twisted.  The aching conscience cannot possibly find relief in this way.

                In other words, repentance can only be genuine and lasting when the evildoer sees that God’s mercy is available to him.  Put grace in an unreachable realm and you simply deepen the convicted sinner’s despair and opposition to God.  But John’s Gospel banners forth the absolutely finished character of Jesus’ work (John 4:34, 17:4, 19:30).  There is enough love, and more, accessible to any sinner who wants it.  One drop of Jesus’ blood will, as it were, atone for the worst of man’s sins.  How then can we fail to respond when we are assured that cleansing love flows in superabundance from Calvary?”  (John Miller, Repentance and 20th Century Man (Fort Washington, Pa.; Christian Literature Crusade, 1980) p. 80)

Confronted By The Word Of God

                “So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?”  “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied.  “But you and your father’s family have.  You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals.  Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mt. Carmel.  And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”  So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mt. Carmel.  Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions?  If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Ball is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing.”

                                                                                                                                                                1 Kings 18:16-21

                M. B. Van’t Veer in My God Is Yahweh, writes regarding Elijah that he is, as a Prophet of God, the embodiment of the Word of God to the people of Israel during the years of his ministry.  The New Testament book of Hebrews makes this truth clear, as well as applying it when it says, “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 in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)  Elijah spoke to Ahab, and to all of Israel, not with his own authority, but with the authority that came from the Word of the Lord to God’s covenant people.  As one with such authority Elijah could then issue commands which were binding upon the King. 

                At the heart of the confrontation recorded for us in 1 Kings 18:16-21 is a dispute over who is causing trouble for the people of Israel.  They are suffering through a prolonged period of drought which came about at the word of Elijah.  Ahab accuses Elijah of being the troubler of Israel as a consequence.  If Elijah had just kept to himself, minding his own business then this trouble would not have come.  Isn’t this always the charge brought against those who prophetically proclaim God’s Word today?  If they would just keep to themselves, we think, then we would not have any trouble.  The reality is much more convicting.

                Elijah rejects Ahab’s charge.  The reality is that the trouble that Israel is facing is the consequence of the rebellious unbelief of the King and His family.  Van’t Veer puts it this way.  “Ahab’s confession confronts us with another side of his sin, for he makes it clear that he refuses to discharge his duties as theocratic King.  The first thing this office involves is that the King is Israel’s “Shepherd,” who always leads “the Lord’s flock” in accordance with the Word of the One to whom the sheep belong.  This is just what Ahab refused to do.

                He refused to examine the great question raised in such a powerful way by Elijah’s appearance, the question illuminated by the light of Scripture.  He failed to help the people with this question, whereas he should have led the way in seeking an answer.  He never wanted to formulate the problem in its proper terms.” (Van’t Veer, My God Is Yahweh, Paideia  Press, St. Catherines, ON, 1980, p. 181)

                What Van’t Veer is pointing us to is Ahab’s calling as King which gave him the responsibility to lead God’s people in obedience to His Word.  The people of God were called to be a people living in obedience to the Word of God.  This is our calling today.  We are to live by faith, obediently following the Living Word wherever He leads us.  Elijah confronted Ahab on his refusal to obey God’s covenant call upon his life, to scripturally examine the Word that the prophets delivered so that he and God’s people could walk obediently with Him.  As I reflect upon this calling I see the King being called to function as a Pastor, or Shepherd for God’s people.  This meant that he was called to examine the Scriptures in order to determine God’s Word for His people.  Ahab was to be a man of the Word, just as all true leaders in the Church today must be people of the Word.  He must be a leader who applies the Word of God to the life of the Nation. 

                Israel’s only hope, and for that matter ours as well, could only be found in an obedient walking with God in His covenant.  For us today this calls us to obediently walk in faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  God’s Word leads us to this faith by asking us a question, “How long will you waver between two opinions?”  We so often find ourselves in this place.  Who do we worship?  Who is our God?  These are the questions we must ask.  To answer them biblically holds the key to living eternally in the blessed life God has created us for.  Who do you worship?

I Will Open My Mouth In Parables

                “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter hidden things, things from of old.”

                                                                                                                                                Psalm 78:2

                Psalm 78 is an instruction Psalm written by Asaph.  Its purpose is to anchor God’s people in the Biblical means of understanding and applying their history.  Such Biblical history must be understood, applied to real life, and taught to the coming generations.  It is to be the means by which God’s people become rooted in the covenant that God has made with them. 

                In introducing his theme Asaph writes prophetically.  In Psalm 78:2 he speaks about his method.  He will open his mouth in parables; he will utter mysteries of old.  These words are later to be quoted by the LORD Jesus Christ as the method by which our LORD will proclaim the Gospel of His Kingdom to this sin sick world.  This is made clear in Matthew 13:35.  Asaph, the prophet, point to the Biblical method used by our LORD Jesus Christ.

                If this is the method of the Psalmist, and of the LORD Jesus Christ, why then would we not continue to follow it today?  What Asaph instructs us in, is a deep familiarity with, and application of the Biblical message.  Such preaching and teaching casts us back into the message of the Word of God, with its doctrines, its invitations, and its warnings.

                In his book Knowing the Times (The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1989, p. 5-6) D.M. Lloyd-Jones outlines this Biblical approach for our days in the proclamation of the Gospel.

                “Having done that, we shall find that the following great foundation principles stand out very clearly as governing this whole subject.

  1. The supreme object of this work is to glorify God.  That is the central thing.  That is the object that must control and override every other object.  The first object of preaching the gospel is not to save souls; it is to glorify God.  Nothing else, however good in itself, or however noble, must be allowed to usurp that first place.
  2. The only power that can really do this work is the Holy Spirit.  Whatever natural gifts a man may possess, whatever a man may be able to do as a result of his own natural propensities, the work of presenting the gospel and of leading to that supreme object of glorifying God in the salvation of men, is a work that can be done only by the Holy Spirit.  You see that in the New Testament itself.  Apart from the Spirit, we are told, we can do nothing.  You read in the Bible of men attempting to do things in their own strength, but they fail completely.  In the subsequent history of the Christian church you find men who cease to be instruments of the Holy Spirit, and their ministry at once becomes barren.  There was no change in their natural powers, proving, therefore, that the work is a work which ultimately can only be achieved by the Holy Spirit Himself.
  3. The one and only medium through which the Holy Spirit works is the Word of God.  That is something which I can prove quite easily.  Take the sermon which was preached by Peter at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.  What he did really was to expound the Scriptures.  He did not get up and give an account of his own personal experiences.  He unfolded the Scriptures; that was always his method.  And that was also the characteristic method of Paul, the ‘he reasoned out of the Scriptures’ (Acts 17:2).  When he dealt with the Philippian jailer you find that he preached to him Jesus Christ and the Word of the LORD.  You will remember his words in the First Letter to Timothy, where he says that it is the will of God that all men should be saved, and brought to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tem. 2:4).  The medium which is used by the Holy Spirit is the truth.
  4. The fourth principle, therefore, is that the true urge to evangelization must come from apprehending these principles, and, therefore, from a zeal for the honour and glory of God and a love for the souls of men.
  5. There is a constant danger of error and of heresy, even among the most sincere, and also a danger of false zeal and the employment of unscriptural methods.  There is nothing to which we are exhorted more frequently in the New Testament than for the need for a constant self-examination and a return to the Scriptures themselves.

There, I think, you have five foundation principles which are taught very clearly in the Word of God, and which are confirmed abundantly in the subsequent history of the Christian church.”

Come and Worship

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

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 95:6-9

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Wisdom

“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.  We all stumble in many ways.  If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 3:1-2

                “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 3:17-18

                “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 1:5

                One of the central themes of the book of James is that of Biblical wisdom.  This is the wisdom which comes from God, is consistent with His Word, and which is written into our hearts in the New Covenant.  It is this to which James turns his attention in the third chapter of his book.  There is much that we could focus on in this theme, but I will confine my thoughts today to a couple of brief points. 

  1. This wisdom is first of all something which defines mature Christian faith.  We are as believers moving towards it.  This side of Glory, however, we will never completely reach it.  James tells us that we “all stumble in many ways.  If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.”  We are all sinners who fall short in many ways.  We have held out before us God’s perfect standard which we will constantly be falling short of.  Such a truth when rightly understood must drive us to the Lord Jesus Christ for His gracious redemptive work within.  James uses this truth from God’s law to bring us to Christ.
  2. Such wisdom from God is not given to us for informational purposes only.  It is meant to be applied.  The purpose for which God sends out His word, which will never return to Him without accomplishing His purpose, is to transform our lives by grace.  It will either transform us or judge us.  As James unfolds his argument here he shows us that the end result of receiving God’s wisdom is to produce in us the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
  3. One of the primary ways that this transformation of our inner nature will be revealed will be in speech that is Spirit controlled.  It will be conversation which honours Christ in every way.  This calls for us to examine our speech, asking what it reveals to us about our reception of God’s grace.
  4. James warns teachers for a number of reasons.  Among the chief of those reasons is the ease with which we can deceive ourselves.  Seldom do we arrive at a sober minded assessment of our Spiritual state.  That is why we must rely upon God’s wisdom. 

I Am He

                “Even to your old age and grey hairs I Am He, I Am He who will sustain you.  I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will carry you.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Isaiah 46:4

                What a wonderful text of Scripture containing one of the most precious of promises for every human being.  Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached upon this text in a sermon preserved in the second volume of Spurgeon’s Sermons (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, 2011, p. 361-379).  The sermon entitled “The God of the Aged” develops the theme of this text in Isaiah 46 by looking at the text’s doctrine and application to believers who are advancing in age.  To me this is becoming a doctrine which grows sweeter with age.  It has now been 41 years since I first gave my life to Christ.  In the beginning years of my walk with Christ my faith was strong but untested.  Now it has been tempered in the testing fires of life and has as a result become more precious.  As Spurgeon focus our attention on the doctrine in this text his desire is for us to focus upon God’s faithfulness to His covenant promise to us in love.  He is unchanging and therefore remains faithful in the carrying out of His unchanging purpose to redeem us through the cross of Christ.  There is more here however.  When we take a careful look at this text some other doctrines leap out at us.

  1. As Spurgeon stated our God is unchangingly faithful to His promise to love us sacrificially.  For Him to become unfaithful would be to deny His very nature.  Isaiah cries out “I Am He!”  God’s Name, His very nature tells us that He will be faithful because He is the eternal, covenant keeping God.  He will not become ill, or weary, or uninterested in the promise He has made to us.  This is true over the whole span of our lives.  It is also true over all of the years since the LORD Jesus Christ was crucified.  In fact it is true over all of the years of recorded history. 
  2. The doctrine of humanity is found here as well.  We are described as those in old age with grey hair.  There was a time when we were youths.  All of the future was before us.  We revelled in our strength and energy, feeling that nothing was impossible for us.  The years have passed and the toxic consequences of sin have borne their fruit in our lives.  With each passing day we find ourselves feeling that our best days are behind us.  Here is a wonderful learning opportunity for us however.  The LORD is preparing us for eternity.  We may be weakening but we are also discovering that He is unchanged.  As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)  He is trustworthy to continue to lead us in the same way He did when He first called us to faith.
  3. This is a promise of great scope and comfort for all who put their trust in Christ.  For the youth just beginning to follow Jesus it is a promise that the ending of their lives they will find that He is still faithfully with them.  For the middle aged who are just beginning to see the weakening of their physical bodies it is a promise that He who called you is still faithfully working out that same calling today.  For the aged who feel that they can no longer serve the LORD with the vitality they once had it is a promise that His grace is still sufficient for their every need.  It has always been about grace.  It has never been about our own personal strength. 
  4. For each of us, no matter what our age it is another promise as well.  This is that He is mighty to save us today.  Many have reflected upon the necessity of evangelising the young.  It is then that they can most easily be brought to Christ we think.  The reality is that the work of evangelism is an impossible work at any age if we are depending upon our flesh to accomplish it.  It is not our work, it is the LORD’s.  Nothing is impossible for Him.  He can save the youth and how we rejoice when a youth comes to put their faith in Christ.  He can also save the elderly.  It brings even greater joy to us when an aged man or woman comes to faith in Christ.  About twenty years ago an eighty eight year old man surprised his young Pastor with a simple question.  “Can you baptize an old man?”  It seems that after a lifetime of living as an unbeliever this man had come to understand the Gospel and had given his life to Christ.  He then said to his Pastor “I have been living for myself all these years.  Now I want to live the rest of my life for Him.  I must bear witness to my faith in Christ because I have children and grandchildren who must come to know that it is necessary at any age for a person to begin to follow Christ.”  About a year later an eighty year old woman with a heart condition moved into a home near our Church, she began to attend services and gave her life to Christ.  One Sunday she showed up at the Church Service with a doctor’s note stating that her health was sufficiently good for her to be baptized by total immersion.  She had done her homework so that she could bear testimony to her new found faith before family and friends.  As each of these senior saints was baptized there was not a dry eye in the Church such was our joy in what the LORD had done.  The lesson that we learned on those days was that our faithful God has the power to save anyone at any age who comes to the LORD Jesus Christ in faith.