Exalting Christ

                “Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.  Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.  But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself.”  He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.”

                                                                                                                                                John 12:30-33

                In their book Preaching the Cross, Mark Dever, J. Ligon Duncan III, R. Albert Mohler Jn., and C. J. Mahaney argue for a recovery of cross centred preaching in the Christian Church.  This is that one central theme which is able to give power to the proclamation of the Gospel.  It is at the heart of the Gospel of John as the task of Christians everywhere.  In our text Jesus calls us to exalt Him by lifting Him up from the earth.  We preach a crucified redeemer, who was raised from the grave and who is now ever living to make intercession for us.  Three times in his Gospel John returns to this theme of lifting up the Lord Jesus Christ.  He does so in John 3:14ff when he writes,

                “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

                Or in John 8:28 when he comes back to this same theme,

                “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the father taught me.”

                In our text the Lord Jesus Christ tells us that in His cross the judgement or crisis of the world will take place.  What He means is that it will be that one event in which all sin will be judged.  Satan’s hold on this world will be broken.  For all who will receive it forgiveness will be offered in the Cross.  Nothing is more important than to proclaim this message.  We must ask however what this will look like in our churches.

                John Piper in his chapter in Preaching the Cross, “Preaching as Expository Exultation for the Glory of God” quotes extensively from Arnold Dallimore’s biography of George Whitefield regarding his proclamation of the cross of Christ.

                “Yea…that we shall see the great Head of the Church once more…raise up unto Himself certain young men whom He may use in this glorious employ.  And what manner of men might they be?  Men mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace.  They will be men who have learned what it is to die to self, to human aims and personal ambitions; men who are willing to be “fools for Christ’s sake”, who will bear reproach and falsehood, who will labor and suffer, and whose supreme desire will be, not to gain earth’s accolades, but to win the Master’s approbation when they appear before His awesome judgment seat.  They will be men who will preach with broken hearts and tear filled eyes, and upon whose ministries God will grant an extraordinary effusion of the Holy Spirit, and who will witness “signs and wonders following” in the transformation of multitudes of human lives.” (Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1970)

                This is what the Apostle John is calling for in his Gospel.  We must be praying that God will raise up people who will exalt the Lord Jesus Christ by proclaiming the cross centred message of God’s transforming grace.

One Day

                “One day Peter and John were going up to the Temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon.  Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the Temple gate called beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going up to the Temple courts.  When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.  Peter looked straight at him, as did John.  Then peter said, “Look at us!”  So the man gave him his attention, expecting to get something from them.  Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you.  In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk.  Then he went with them into the Temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.”

                                                                                                                                                                Acts 3:1-8

                What a wonderful passage of Scripture.  Luke has been presenting the account of the birth of the Church on the day of Pentecost.  After describing the powerful scene of the events of that day and Peter’s first Christian sermon followed by the conversion of three thousand people, Luke then gives us, in chapter 2:42-47 a description of the routine life of the Church.  He describes how the LORD was working powerfully among His people bring people daily to salvation.  Part of his description focuses upon certain sigh miracles which the Apostles where used to accomplish.  These were miracles which demonstrated that the LORD Jesus Christ was in fact God’s promised Messiah come to redeem for Himself a people.  The miracle was meant to bring people to faith in Christ.  Usually such a miracle pointed to Biblical teaching which was meant to be believed and obeyed.

                Luke begins chapter three with a clear connection to this teaching at the end of chapter two.  “One Day,” is the way this chapter begins.  Luke is telling us that this will be an illustration of the type of things that the LORD was doing.  In looking at this miracle we are immediately confronted by several facts about the New Testament Church. 

  1. This Church was committed to prayer.  It was the time for prayer at the Temple and Peter and John were on their way up to the House of God to pray with others.  They had come to understand that there was nothing more important than communion with God in Christ.  They knew that God answered prayer in the Name of Jesus and so they availed themselves of every opportunity to pray.  What place does prayer have in your life or Church? 
  2. The sign miracle glorified the Name of the LORD Jesus Christ.  This was its purpose.  The LORD dealt with the crippled man’s real need.  He was begging for money.  What he needed was healing.  It was this that the LORD gave to him through the ministry of the Apostles.  The whole event pointed beyond just a restoration to health however because the man’s response I the praise God and to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.  Luke makes this clear in the third chapter.  What we are called to be and to do as Christians must always point to that one who can meet the deepest needs of our lives.  We are called to live out a faith that is centred upon the LORD Jesus Christ as the Messiah who delivers us from all that separates us from communion with God. 
  3. The text breathes with faith.  Peter and John are revealed as men who have faith in the power of the LORD Jesus Christ to answer prayer and fulfill His promises.  So too is the crippled man revealed to be a man who comes to faith in Christ.  Are you finding that you are increasingly being called to a life of faith?  For this is a key point in God’s plan for our discipleship. 

A Christmas Message

                “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

                                                                                                                                                                Matthew 1:20-21

                  Christmas is the time when we focus our attention on one of God’s great promises.  This is the promise of Immanuel, God with us.  Isaiah and Matthew point us to this promise when they write, “Behold, the virgin will conceive and bring forth a son and you will call him Immanuel, meaning God with us.”  (Isaiah 7:14 & Matthew 1:23)  This tremendous promise changes everything about the lives that we live. 

                In thinking about this I came across this quotation which formed the inspiration for Anne Ross Cousin’s Hymn originally entitled “Last Words” but now known by the name “The Sands of Time are sinking.” 

                “But the summons found him ill and like to die, and the court prepared to try him, received the treasured and characteristic answer: “I am summoned before a superior court and judiciary; and I behove to answer my first summons and ere your day arrive, I will be where few Kings and great folks come.”

                He died at St. Andrews, March 20th, 1661.  Late in the afternoon of the final day of his stormy life, just as the sun was sinking, he was asked by one of the friends standing by the couch.  “What think you now of Christ?”  To which he gave the answer: “Oh that all my brethren in the land may know what a Master I have served, and what peace I have this day!  I shall sleep in Christ, and then I awake I shall be satisfied with His likeness.  This night shall close the door, and put my anchor within the veil; and I shall go away in a sleep by five in the morning.  Glory! Glory: to my Creator and my redeemer forever!  I shall live and adore Him.  Oh for arms to embrace Him!  Oh for a well tuned harp!  Glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land!”  At precisely five in the morning as predicted, he crossed the border into Immanuel’s land, there to feast his eyes on “the King in His beauty.”

                Here are the lyrics to Anne Ross Cousin’s hymn inspired by these words.

                                “The sands of time are sinking.  The dawn of heaven breaks, the summer morn I’ve sighed for, the fair sweet morn awakes.  Dark, dark has been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand.  And glory, glory dwelleth In Immanuel’s land.

                                Oh, Christ, He is the fountain, the deep sweet well of love; the streams on earth I’ve tasted, more deep I’ll drink above;  There to an ocean fullness, His mercy doth expand, and glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                With mercy and with judgment, my web of time He wove, and aye the dews of sorrow, were lustred with His love.  I’ll bless the heart that planned, when throned where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                Oh, I am my Beloved’s, and my beloved’s mine; He brings a poor vile sinner into His “house of wine.”  I stand upon His merit; I know no safer stand, not e’en where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear bridegroom’s face; I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of grace; not at the crown He giveth, but on His pierced hand: The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.”

                The original version of this hymn contained over twenty verses.  Our modern version has retained these five.  I want to draw your attention to one of the other verses however as it expresses the hope that is ours in Christ in the Gospel message.  Ours is indeed a resurrection faith.

                                “I shall sleep sound in Jesus, fill’d with His likeness rise, to live and to adore Him, to see Him with these eyes, ‘Tween me and resurrection but paradise doth stand; Then – then for glory dwelling in Immanuel’s land.”

                 This message of Immanuel is the heart of the Christmas celebration.  Here we find a hope which is firmly rooted in the promise of God to redeem us so that we will live in His land eternally.  Praise God for His great love for us.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year.

A Call To Faith

““Go,” He told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent).  So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 9:7

                C. H. Spurgeon once gave an illustration of the Providence of God which helped me to see the truth that the Apostle John is proclaiming in this ninth chapter of his Gospel.  Spurgeon told of a time in which he was preaching in a large temporary structure which had been set up for his preaching outside of London.  Several hours after the final service was over, when everyone was out of the building it collapsed on account of an extremely heavy snowfall.  Spurgeon used this event to introduce an exposition of Matthew 10:30 “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”  In this message the preacher explored the doctrine of the Providence of God and called his hearers, and I might add his readers as well, to a vibrant faith in the Lord (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass., Volume 5, pages 370 – 371). 

                It seems to me that this illustration helps us to understand the point that John is making in John 9:7.  The chapter is leading us to a key question which is asked in the second half of the 35th verse, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  How John does this is by telling the story of a man who was born blind.  The reason for his blindness is so that the work of God might be done in his life.  Every circumstance is leading to this one key point that we might come to believe in the Son of Man.  In the text at the head of this reflection we see the instruction which Jesus gives to the man born blind.  He is to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.  John explains that this name means Sent.  There is a richness of biblical meaning behind the instruction which is meant to confront us with the identity of the Lord Jesus Christ and the purpose of His ministry.  He has constantly been referring to the fact that He has only been doing the work of the One who sent Him, namely the Father.  Now he confronts this blind man with a command.  The Pool of Siloam was located in the southern part of Jerusalem and was fed with water from the Gihon Spring at the base of the Temple Mount.  If we are inquiring about the reasons why Jesus would issue this command we would first be confronted by the fact that it would require and act of faith on the blind man’s part.  What is the content of that faith however?  It is entirely possible that Jesus is confronting us with a Biblical testimony about who He is and what He requires of us.  The name Siloam refers to the name Shiloah which is referred to in Isaiah 8:6-8. 

                “Because this people has rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah and rejoices over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the River – the King of Assyria with all his pomp.  It will overflow all its channels, run over all its banks and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it, passing through it and reaching up to the neck.  Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land.  O Immanuel!”

                The context of these verses is Isaiah’s confrontation with King Ahaz who is the representative of the House of David to which an eternal promise has been made.  Ahaz is an unbelieving King who is facing a crisis and looking for worldly solutions to it.  Isaiah calls him to believe the promise which the Lord has made.  In Isaiah 7:9b and 7:14 that promise is spelled out clearly for the King.  “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”  “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”  Ahaz is to believe the Lord’s promise.  The Redeemer is coming.  He will be clearly recognised as God with us.  Isaiah in these chapters keeps going back to this word.  The one who will come to redeem us will be God among us.  He will be sent by the Father to reveal the nature of God to us.  He is the One who is sent.

                Jesus sends the blind man to the Pool called Sent.  As He does this he is confronting the blind man with a decision.  Will he receive the gently flowing waters of Shiloah or will he turn to the world?  This same choice is put before everyone else in this chapter.  It is also put before you and me.  Will we recognise who Jesus Christ is and receive Him?  Or will we turn to all of the worldly schemes that promise us so much but deliver so little?  What will it be?

A Christmas Blessing

                This past Advent season has been a time of reflection for me upon the theme of the Incarnation of our LORD Jesus Christ.   This Biblical theme is established in the Gospels in a number of ways, and is a call to real faith.  Matthew tells us the story of the crisis which Joseph faced when he received news of Mary’s virgin pregnancy.  As he meditated on how he should respond to such news Joseph was led to God’s Word through the prophet Isaiah.  This word was to be understood and obeyed, and this is exactly what Joseph did.  What a wonderful example Joseph sets for us as we face the various trials and crises of our lives. The Word was Isaiah 7:14, in context, the prophesy of the coming of Immanuel.  In Isaiah’s context King Ahaz is called to “Take heed, be calm, don’t be afraid, and don’t be discouraged.”  In verse 11 he is called to be established in faith.  It seems that Joseph is called to the same thing.  He obeys God in faith. 

                The lesson for us is that we must respond to the crises in our lives with obedience to the same Word from God.  We are to, by faith, receive the life that Immanuel offers to us.    This is in fact the message of Christmas.  God became flesh and came to dwell among us in order to redeem us.  This redemption must be received by obedient faith.

                It seems to me that Phillips Brooks expresses this response of obedient faith beautifully as he writes in his Christmas Hymn. “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

                                                                O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie!

                                                                Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by:

                                                                Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light;

                                                                The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

                                                                For Christ is born of Mary; and gathered all above,

                                                                While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.

O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth,

                                                                And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth.

                                                                How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!

                                                                So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.

                                                                No ear may hear His coming; but in this world of sin,

                                                                Where weak souls will receive Him, still the dear Christ enters in.

                                                                O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;

                                                                Cast out our sin, and enter in; be born in us today.

                                                                We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;

                                                                O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.”

                Have a very merry and blessed Christmas.

A Christmas Greeting

                “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born the King of the Jews?  We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

                                                                                                                                                                Matthew 2:1-2

                Matthew with his characteristic simplicity describes an event which reveals in turns the graciousness of our great God and the necessary response which we must make to such great love.  In the account of the Magi we see first of all the graciousness of God.  Centuries before God had brought judgement upon His people by sending them off into exile.  Some of them, like Daniel had been brought to Babylon where they had been chosen to be among the Magi teaching them about the greatness of the God of Israel and I am sure speaking about the beliefs, customs and practices of the Hebrew people.  Centuries later some of that teaching still had a hold on these Magi.  There was an expectation of the coming of a Hebrew Messiah.  Then God began to speak to these specific Magi showing them through a star that the one that they had been expecting had finally come.  God, in His grace, spoke to them in a way that they could understand.  So often the beginnings of a work of grace in our lives is bound up in those things which are commonplace in our lives, but through which God begins to reveal His Gospel truth to us. 

                Now I think that it is important that we note what happens next.  They followed the revelation they had been given.  I am sure that the truth that God was revealing here was revealed to many others.  Matthew tells us that these Magi followed the revelation they were given.  Others ignored the revelation they were given.  Many today hear the Gospel.  Through the circumstances of their lives they are brought to the point where they recognise their need of the grace of God.  One day as they are struggling with their need they hear or see something that points them to the truth of the Gospel.  It may be that they hear someone preaching, someone gives them a Gospel tract, or a friend tells them about Jesus.  They may hear one of the hymns of our faith being sung.  However it happens it seems as if God is speaking to them directly.  “Today is the day of salvation.”  Matthew tells us that the Magi saw the star and they followed it.  In obeying the revelation they received they were eventually given more truth.  They were told about the word given to Micah regarding the Messiah coming from Bethlehem.  They then headed for that town and as they went the star went before them until it led them to the house where Jesus was.  They obeyed the revelation and were guided by God’s grace until they arrived at the place where the Messiah was to be found.  Matthew tells us that their whole purpose was to go and worship Him.  This is the response of faith to God’s gracious revelation.  To come to Him in submitting, committed faith, that is what God is calling us to. 

                Matthew includes this account here in order to bring us to the true response of a disciple of Christ.  Those who belong to Christ hear the word of revelation which God gives to them calling them to faith and they respond with committed worship.  They come to Jesus in faith, believing that He is in fact the Incarnate Son of God who has come to bear their sin on the cross.  They come and submit to Him in reverent worship laying their lives down at the foot of the cross and being committed to following Him wherever He leads them.  I would urge each one today to come and adore the Living Christ today.  This is the only way in which this will truly be a Merry Christmas for Christmas is all about Christ.

The Lord’s Gift Of Grace

                ““You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”  But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”  Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today – yes, tonight before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”  But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”  And all the others said the same.”

                                                                                                                                                                Mark 14:27-31

                We must note here the consideration of the Lord to our weakness.  His disciples are facing up to a great testing.  Judas has gone off to betray Jesus and each of the other disciples is facing up to the great pressure which has been brought to bear upon their hearts by the enemy of their souls.  The Lord begins to speak to them about the events that they are facing.  He speaks to them and to us with great honesty.  There is no sense burying the truth about what they are wrestling with.  So He speaks truth to them.  We love the truth when it is spoken to someone else.  It is hard to take when it is spoken to us.  This is the gift that our Lord gives to His disciples.  He quotes an Old Testament prophesy from Zechariah 13:7 to them.  “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”  This word from God was spoken about them He tells them.  It is about to be fulfilled in their experience.  In speaking this way Jesus exposes their great need.  Peter speaking on behalf of all the disciples declares his denial.  He will not fall away, and neither will any of the others.  They are not weaklings like Judas turned out to be. 

                What Peter revealed here however was the weakness of his own nature.  There are all manner of things which we think that we are capable of accomplishing for the Lord.  Self-righteousness raises itself up as we face the threats of this life.  It boasts about the great things it is about to accomplish.  What it has failed to take into account is our real nature.  This was Peter’s struggle.  So the Lord tells him honestly about how he will fail, so that when it happens he will recognise that Jesus knew him in the depth of his weakness.  Think about what mark is saying here.  Make it personal.  He knows you in the great depth of your weakness and failure.  While you are revelling in your sin He is on the way to the cross to bear your sin.   “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While you were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)  While Peter was denying His Lord Jesus was on His way to the cross for him.  While you and I were living weak, rebellious, broken lives with all of the depth of sin that that entails Christ went to the cross for you and me. 

                Jesus honestly exposes the sin of His disciples.  He does not leave them there however. He gently speaks to them about their restoration afterwards.  “When I have risen.”  The shepherd might be struck and killed, but that would not be the end of the story.  There is a resurrection coming for Jesus, and for all who believe in Him.  He tells them where He will meet them.  This will be the place where they will be restored into fellowship with Jesus.  The way to be restored however will take them through the cross.  It is in that horrible place of suffering and death that they will finally see themselves as they really are.  That is the place where they will be finally weak and honest enough to receive the gracious gift that God wants to give to them.  This grace we receive has always been the Lord’s gift to us.  We can never earn it.  It is not by merit.  The strong do not receive it as a reward.  It can only come into our lives as a gift from the Spirit of God.  What great love the Lord Jesus Christ gives to us.

When The Son Of Man Comes In His Glory

                “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory.  All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”

                                                                                                                                                                Matthew 25:31-32

                It is a humbling experience to engage in a prolonged study of the Word of God.  When examining a Gospel like Matthew’s for instance we often find ourselves amazed to see how the whole book fits together, along with the rest of the Scriptures to bring us to a real and Biblical faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Immanuel, God among us.  In Matthew 25:31-46 we are brought to consider the final judgment of God upon the nations.  It is presented within the framework of the work of the Gospel in calling us to real faith in Christ.  When the Son of Man comes in His glory He will gather everyone to Himself for judgment.  Matthew quotes the Lord Jesus Christ as saying here that this coming, what we call the Second Advent, is first of all a certainty.  He does not say “if He comes” He says “When He comes.”  There is no doubt about it.  There will come a day when He will come.  We are never told when it will be.  We are however told that it will be.  Therefore we are called by the Gospel to prepare ourselves for this reality.  We will stand before the judgment seat of Christ.  Our only hope on that day will not lie in our works or goodness, it will be found in one fact only.  This is that our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. 

                The second point that Jesus makes here is that this coming will be in His glory.  When He comes we will see Him as He is.  His full character, His holiness, purity, power, sacrificial love, and infinite wisdom will be perfectly revealed on that day.  What we will be confronted with on that day will be such and encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ that all of our pretension and rationalizing of our sin will be done away with. 

                What seems apparent here is that there will be a clear connection between His first and second advent when He comes.  In His first advent the Lord Jesus Christ came in humiliation.  He set aside all of His glory as God in order to become human flesh.  He humbled Himself in His death on the cross for us.  The Bible makes it clear that the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ was most fully revealed in the cross.  As the Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2:6-11, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  The backdrop to the judgment throne of Christ is the cross.  Our judge is also our sacrifice.  He gave His precious life in order to redeem us from our sin.  That is the glory which will be revealed when He comes again.  Nowhere is this pictured more clearly for us than in Revelation 5:5-6 where the Apostle John writes, “Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep!  See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.  Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne.”  What unfolds in the rest of the book of Revelation are warnings and judgments all carried out from the throne of God and right at the centre of that throne is a little slain and resurrected lamb.  Here is the glory of the Son of Man as He comes to gather us together for judgment.

                The price for your redemption has been paid by the Lamb.  When you stand before Him on the Day of Judgment know this the judge is also the sacrifice.  Today He is calling you to faith in Him.  Will you come to Him and receive life?

A Debtor To Mercy Alone

For Christs love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore, all died.  And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.  So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

                                                                                                                        2 Corinthians 5:14-17

            The Apostle Paul writing in 2 Corinthians has a long central section of the letter, from 2:14 to 7:4, in which he focuses our attention on the great central fact of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Its working is in many ways unseen, requiring us to respond to it in faith rather than by sight.  As Paul reflects upon it he brings us to wrestle with two central convictions that bring us to real faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is those two convictions that I want to highlight briefly as 2012 draws to a close, and as we look forward to 2013. 

  1. The Lord Jesus Christ, as our incarnate redeemer, died on behalf of and in the place of all men and as a consequence all men have undergone death in Him.  This substitutionary death has immense consequences of us.  On account of it not only do we die with Christ, but we are also raised in Him.  The benefit of this death and resurrection are made available to us but and they are received by us through faith which unites us with the Lord Jesus Christ.
  2. The consequence of our Lord’s great redeeming act is that we are given new resurrection life in Him.  Paul tells us that we are made into a new creation in Him if we are in fact “in Him.”

 All of this is received by faith that looks upon the Lord Jesus Christ as God in human flesh who came among us to be our mediator.  What a tremendous blessing this is.  It is all given to us based upon the mercy of God.  Such mercy leads us to worship the Lord.  There can be no other response to such great love.  As this year draws to a close, and as we look ahead to a brand new year I would encourage you to focus upon a real response of worship.  To lead us in this worship please prayerfully read the words of Augustus Toplady’s wonderful hymn “A Debtor to Mercy Alone.”  God bless each of you in 2013.

· A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing,
Nor fear, with God’s righteousness on,
My person and off’rings to bring.
The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do;
My Savior’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.

·  The work which His goodness began,
The arm of His strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now,
Not all things below or above,
Can make Him His purpose forego,
Or sever my soul from His love.

·  My name from the palms of His hands
Eternity will not erase;
Imprest on His heart, it remains
In marks of indelible grace.
Yes! I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is giv’n;
More happy, but not more secure,
When all earthly ties have been riv’n.”

Source: http://www.hymnal.net/hymn.php/h/292#ixzz2GHLQqF1G

Paul’s Spiritual Secret

                “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

                                                                                                                                                Philippians 4:13

                At the close of his short letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul makes an astounding claim that comes straight out of his experience of the sanctifying work of the Lord in his life.  All through the letter Paul has been rejoicing in the triumphant way the Lord has been leading him, using every circumstance to advance the cause of the Gospel and to reveal the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ in his life.  He has taken us into the reality that he now puts no confidence in his flesh.  Neither should we trust in our flesh because it stands in the way of our receiving and growing into the righteousness of Christ.  Along the way Paul illustrates the way God has solved a huge problem in Paul’s life.  He has brought Paul to the point where he has learned the secret of being content in any and every circumstance.  He has been brought to this point because God has infused into him the strength which comes from the Spirit of God.  “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” 

                As I wrestle with what Paul writes in Philippians 4 I am brought to the point where I must ask how I can experience the growth that Paul describes here.  He is pointing to the wonderful reality of a life that is lived in trust of the Lord’s provision for him.  He is content because he has that one thing that is really needed in life, which is a personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He has come to recognise that the Lord Jesus is completely sufficient for everything.  Therefore he can rest content because he is living in the will of God.

                For most of us, and I am presuming for Paul as well it is not an easy process to come to such faith.  Our flesh rebels against the will of God.  We have our own self-centred, fleshly ambitions and desires which are in conflict with the work of the Holy Spirit within us.  What Paul is describing in Philippians four is the culmination of a long process of crucifying the flesh.  Such a process can be painful.  Our flesh dies hard.  It is absolutely crucial that we do indeed die to ourselves so that we can live to Christ.  How then does this take place in us?

                It is with this question that I found myself wrestling recently as I was reading a little book entitled Rejoice…..Always by John Gwyn-Thomas (Banner of Truth, 1989).  In this short devotional study of the fourth chapter of Philippians Gwyn-Thomas reflects on the means by which we move into the reality of the contented life Paul describes in these verses. 

                “I also believe that we fail so often because we do not wrestle with God over our reactions to His will and purpose for us.  We must realize that in the school of faith God is always calling on us to grow – to apply our faith afresh.  It is not enough to say, ‘I am saved, I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’, and then grumble like the unregenerate.  That is not the Christian life as we see it in the Bible.  We have got to recognize that there are times in our lives when there is a fundamental clash between what I believe God ought to give me and what God actually does give me, and the two things may be very different.  There has to be a reconciliation, a real bending and breaking of my own will to accept the will of God; there has to be a conflict and the first thing we have to do is recognize that there is a conflict between our wills and the will of God.  Then we must go back to God about this conflict and say to Him, as Job said to Him, ‘I do not understand You.’  What is more, we have to deal with God concerning this conflict.  We must seek for a change of heart, we must seek strength from the Word of God and we must pray about it.  Unless we are seriously concerned about the conflict between our will and God’s will for us, I do not believe that we will ever enter into that peace that Paul knew when he said, ‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens [or empowers] me.’” (Pages 111-112)

                All we can say to such wisdom is Amen!