An Advent Meditation

                “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the LORD appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what it 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.”  All this took place to fulfill what the LORD had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel” – which means “God with us”.    

                                                                                                                                                                Matthew 1:19-23

                As Matthew relates the account of the birth of the LORD Jesus Christ to us at the beginning of his gospel he also speaks to us about the proper way to prepare ourselves for the celebration of the Christmas miracle.  In fact Matthew shows us how to go about seeking to know the LORD as our redeemer.  He does this as he relates to us the manner in which Joseph deals with the news of Mary’s pregnancy.  Most of us would have responded to such news by dismissing Mary’s tale of the Angel Gabriel’s announcement and its consequences.  Whether through hurt pride, anger, fear, or simply through unbelief we would have broken off the marriage and gone our own way.  Word of the virgin birth would not have seemed true to us.  That is not how Joseph responded.  His actions lead us to examine our own responses to the difficult things that God calls us to experience in our lives.  Matthew tells us that Joseph was a righteous man.  His righteousness seems to be something much more than the self righteousness which we often encounter.  He genuinely sought to obey God’s leading in this situation.  This crisis in his relationship with Mary would be another opportunity for Joseph to live out the obedience of faith.  Therefore Joseph pondered it.  The words means to think deeply, perhaps even to meditate upon a subject.  It seems apparent that part of this meditation involved reflecting upon the message of the scriptures.  He wanted to understand God’s purpose for all of this so that he could be believingly obedient even in this hard time. 

                Joseph’s meditation bore fruit in two ways.  It led him into the book of the Prophet Isaiah where he would have read in chapter seven about the necessity of standing firm in faith.  God had promised that a day was coming when Emmanuel would come.  This coming would in fact be God with us.  Could it be that the tale that Mary had told was true?  The second was that an angel came to Joseph in a dream giving him specific promises and instructions that must be received and obeyed in faith.  Now Joseph had a decision to make which would test him to the very core of his being.  He was to take Mary as his wife and raise Jesus as his own child.  All of this was to be done in obedience to God who was now among us. 

                Phillips Brooks in his delightful Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” writes these words which not only describe the reality of that first Christmas day, but which continue to describe our own situation today.  “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”  Life is filled with hopes.  We constantly look forward to something better which is just around the corner.  Life is also filled with fears.  We have learned through bitter experience that life is hard and that things constantly go wrong.  How are we to respond?  Joseph meditates upon his situation responding with the Word of God which he then obeys in faith.  His response can be described with this classic quotation of Martyn Lloyd-Jones from his book on the Puritans.  I found the quotation on the internet this morning.  “There are many scriptures which demonstrate that repentance always comes first.  You find this in the gospels.  John the Baptist precedes our LORD and he preached a baptism of repentance.”  Joseph faced his hopes and fears with a desire to cast himself upon the purposes of God.  In faith he repented, seeking to yield his circumstances to the LORD.  He then obeyed God.

                Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of the Incarnation of the Christ.  Preparation for the believer always involves real repentance which brings us to submit all of our hopes and fears to the LORD’s plan and purpose for us.  Such repentance leads us to obey the calling of God upon our lives.  In recent days we have all been asked on numerous occasions, “Are you ready for Christmas?”  Following Joseph’s example that question takes on a much deeper significance.  “Are you ready for Christmas?”

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.

A Gospel Psalm

“Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led captivity captive: Thou hast received gifts for men; yea for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 68:18

                There is a gospel sense to this verse within the context of Psalm 68.  It is quoted powerfully in the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  The context there is the Holy Spirit’s work in advancing the proclamation of the Gospel through the witness of the Church.  This work of proclamation is that of the Risen and Ascended Christ who has entered into His heavenly sanctuary to bring redemption to His people.

                In looking carefully at Psalm 68 we are confronted with a Psalm written for the occasion of David’s bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the city of Jerusalem.  Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit David makes a connection with the events of the Exodus as Israel is led out of Egypt to Mount Sinai and then onward through forty years of wandering in the wilderness until they were brought into the Promised Land.  In all of this they were led by the Angel of the LORD in the form of the fiery pillar.

                The book of Exodus ends with this reality stated clearly.

                “In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out – until the day it lifted.  So the cloud of the LORD was over the Tabernacle by day and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all of their travels” (Exodus 40:36-38).

                What a powerful conclusion to the book of Exodus.  They followed the cloud.  The LORD was in the cloud.  Twice in Psalm 68 we are confronted by “Him who rides in the clouds.”

                In verse 4 we read “Sing to God, sing in praise of His Name, extol Him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before Him – His Name is the LORD.”  Then in verse thirty two and thirty three we again confront the One who rides in the clouds when we read, “Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth, Sing praise to the LORD, to Him who rides across the highest heavens, who thunders with mighty voice.”

                In the Gospels we read that the disciples followed Jesus as He made His way to Jerusalem, the cross, the resurrection, and His ascension to His Father’s right hand in order to redeem us.   Luke even calls this journey His Exodus.  It is part of His advent, His manifestation of Himself, and of His Father, to this world.

                In Ephesians 4:7ff the Apostle Paul quotes from Psalm 68:18 in the following context.  “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  This is why it says; ‘When He ascended on high, He took many captives and gave gifts to His people.’  (What does ‘He ascended’ mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions?  He who descended is the very One who ascended higher than the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)”

                The point is that the very One who came among us also went to be with His Father so that the Holy Spirit might be poured out upon us, gifting us as the church so that we might proclaim this Gospel of Salvation, purchased upon the cross, to this dark sin filled world.  We are called to the reality of being the community of light because we have met the One who demonstrated such great love for us.  This is the advent message!  This is the only word of hope for this sin weary world!  We must hear it and follow Jesus to His Cross so that we can share with Him in His resurrection.

Hearing And Believing The Gospel

“When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”  Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.  Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.””

                                                                                                                                                                Matthew 11:2-6

                A few years ago I engaged in a study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.   To do an exposition of one of Paul’s Gospel letters was both a challenge and a joy for me as it caused me to explore once again the subject of regeneration, the new birth, from the point of view of the Congregation’s need as well as from the point of view of my own personal need.  I can remember reading years ago about the Victorian Baptist preacher C. H. Spurgeon that after a number of years spent in the preaching of the Gospel to others that he began to wonder whether it still had the same joyful hold that it once did upon his own life.  Had he become too familiar with it?  His response was to go and to hear a humble Gospel preacher expound on the subject of God’s redeeming love for us.  With tears streaming down his face Spurgeon was able to say that the Gospel still had the same precious hold on him that it had had when he first believed it.  To carefully study and expound the book of Galatians has renewed my feeling of wonder that I first had when I came to believe this precious truth.  For that I am deeply grateful.

                Today I want to focus attention for a few minutes upon an extended quotation from Iain Murray’s biography of Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, 1899-1939.  It concerns the nature of the new birth.  I hope over the next few weeks to explore this theme more fully.  I share this quotation as a brief exposition of the text from Matthew 11:2-6 which was shared above. 

                “Perhaps Dr. Lloyd-Jones did not altogether appreciate at this point the struggle which E. T. Rees was having in his own mind.  Certainly the Church Secretary believed in a type of Evangelical religion, but he was later to feel that he had been as ignorant of the doctrine of regeneration as Nicodemus and he long studies in Socialism had led him to suppose that the coming of the Kingdom of God could scarcely succeed simply by the rebirth of individuals.  But under the new preaching he was hearing, there came increasing doubts about the rightness of his position.

                The crisis came on Sunday October 2, 1927, when the sermon was on the doubt of John the Baptist which led him to send the message to Jesus, ‘Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?’ (Matt. 11:2-5)  Dr. Lloyd-Jones argued that the meaning of Christ’s reply to John’s question – ‘The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them’ – was proof that the Baptist’s problem arose out of his wrong views of what Christ had come to do.  John did not appreciate the true significance of what Christ was actually doing and he supposed that the Messiah would have made political deliverance from Rome one of His priorities.  ‘So great was the tyranny of his pre-conceived ideas,’ said the preacher, ‘that he even began to doubt what he had actually seen with his own eyes and what he had actually heard with his own ears.’  As the sermon proceeded, E. T. Rees’ whole system of thought finally collapsed and even from the pulpit the preacher could see from the look on his face what was happening.  ‘I shall always remember how you rushed to speak to me before I was down from the pulpit,’ Dr. Lloyd-Jones was to comment twenty years later.”  (Murray, Iain, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: the First Forty Years, 1899 – 1939, The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1998, p. 164-165)

                What a wonderful Biblical reality.  When we hear and believe that the LORD Jesus Christ has come to regenerate us everything is changed.  This reality ushers us into the presence of the LORD, walking, and leaping, and praising God.

A Call To Personal Faith

                “Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.  But this is how God fulfilled what He had foretold through all the Prophets, saying that His Christ would suffer.  Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the LORD, and that He might send the Christ, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 3:17-20

                There is nothing more satisfying than a well written story in which the reader is engaged in the mystery that is at its heart.  When the reader gets to the end of the story and all is revealed then all of the little hints along the way suddenly fall into focus.  They make sense now that the purpose of the story has been revealed.  Sometimes the final revelation leaves us wondering why it was that we did not “see” it all along.  The Apostle Paul tells the Colossians that the mystery of the Gospel has finally been revealed and it is “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). 

                It seems that this is what is at the heart of the sermon which the Apostle Peter is preaching in the Temple on the occasion of the healing of the man born crippled.  As Peter begins to explore the message of the cross he does so from the point of view of those who are listening to him.  This is a sermon which has as its purpose the convicting of Peter’s hearers of their personal responsibility for the cross of Christ.  Conversion always begins with conviction.  God must first bring us to a clear understanding of our own personal lostness in sin.  It is this which Peter is aiming at.  True it is that the cross of Christ was God’s plan of redemption.  The LORD Jesus Christ came and freely went to the cross in order to bear our sin.  So why are Peter’s hearers, and we ourselves, responsible for crucifying Him?  Peter will explain that it is owing to our unbelief.  We will look more carefully at this below.  For our purposes here Peter tells us that what we, his readers and hearers, did was done in ignorance.  We did not know who He really was, because we did not understand what the Scriptures said about Him. 

                This is how God fulfilled His plan which was foretold by all the prophets.  The constant teaching of the Old Testament is that when the Christ comes He must suffer for His people.  Isaiah 53 tells us that He will take upon Himself our iniquities.  It is as if Peter is saying here that what Isaiah stated received a hearty amen from all of the other Prophets.  What was done in ignorance resulted in the fulfillment of God’s plan.  We are however responsible for what we have participated in ignorantly. 

                Now in the fullness of time the mystery has been made clear to us.  God has pulled back the veil and allowed us to see exactly what we have done.  Therefore we are now responsible to repent and turn to God so that the cross of Christ might cover over our sins.  God is at work in our world fulfilling the plan that He announced through His Prophets so long ago.  What His purpose in the cross of Christ is has now been made clear to us.  He calls us to believe Him as He speaks His Word of truth to us in Christ.  His call is a call to faith.  We must turn away from our unbelief so that we might embrace His Christ. 

                Peter makes his appeal to his hearers and readers with an abundance of evidence from the Scriptures.  There is Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19, Samuel and the others Prophets appealing to the evidence of David in 1 Samuel 16:13, and 2 Samuel 7:12-16, Abraham in Genesis 22:18, and 26:4, as well as the reference that the Apostle Paul makes to these truths as he writes to the Galatians (Galatians 3:16).  All of this evidence calls us to faith.  We have heard the Gospel call repeatedly and we can no longer claim ignorance. 

                Therefore the question for each of us is this.  Do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s Christ come to deliver you from your personal sin?

A Communion Hymn

This Sunday morning we will be celebrating the Lord’s Table.  Sometimes when we celebrate the Lord’s Table we sing Horatius Bonar’s great hymn “Here, O My Lord, I See Thee face to face.”  This is a hymn that brings us into one of the central mysteries of our Christian faith.  This is the gospel call upon our lives to abide in Christ.  As the Apostle Paul writes to the Colossians, “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27.

                Here are the words of that glorious hymn.

                                                “Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face;

                                                Here would I touch and handle things unseen,

                                                Here grasp with firmer hand th’eternal grace,

                                                And all my weariness upon Thee lean.

                                                Here would I feed upon the bread of God;

                                                Here drink with Thee the royal wine of heaven;

                                                Here would I lay aside each earthly load,

                                                Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven.

                                                I have no help but Thine; nor do I need

                                                Another arm save Thine to lean upon;

                                                It is enough, my Lord, enough indeed;

                                                My strength is in Thy might, Thy might alone.

                                                Mine is the sin, but Thine the righteousness;

                                                Mine is the guilt, but Thine the cleansing blood.

                                                Here is my robe, my refuge, and my peace.

                                                Thy blood, Thy righteousness, O Lord, My God.”

Then I Looked Up And Saw

“Then I looked up – and there before me were four horns!  I asked the Angel who was speaking to me, “What are these?”  He answered me, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.”  Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen.  I asked, “What are these coming to do?”  He answered, “These are the horns that scattered Judah so that no one could raise his head, but the craftsmen have come to terrify them and throw down these horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter its people.””

                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 1:18-21

                One of the great principles of the message of the Bible is that there is a purpose to history.  Whether we are thinking about our own personal history, that record of our experiences and circumstances that we have faced, or the historical record of our world, the message is that behind everything experienced is the plan and purpose of the Living God who is working everything out according to His own good and holy will.  To come to understand that this is the truth and to submit ourselves to the will of God is the definition of real worship.  The Scriptures keep reminding us that God is sovereignly in control of everything.  “All things work together for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)  That God has a purpose for everything that happens is a tremendously comforting doctrine for us as we live our lives facing events which at times seem to be chaotic and out of control. 

                It is to this issue that the Prophet Zechariah speaks in our text today.  He is describing a series of visions that he received during one night as God’s people were returning to Jerusalem from exile.  They were struggling with a great amount of uncertainty and danger.  Zechariah receives these visions in which the Angel of the Lord, the pre-Incarnate Christ, intercedes for the people of God and then begins to speak comforting words to the prophet, so that the people of God could be comforted.  These words outline how God is at work refining His people.  Over the centuries to come they will be shaped by events which God will allow them to experience so that they will be brought to the point of really believing God.  God will judge His people through the nations that He allows to overrun them.  Their response will either result in these experiences being judgements, hardening them in sin and eventually destroying them, or their response of faith will lead to them experiencing it as a refining fire that will produce real Godliness among them.

                At the heart of all that God was doing, and is doing in our lives, is this principle.  He wants to bring us to hear and submit to His Word.  God has revealed His truth to us in the Lord Jesus Christ.  He calls us to trust Him as the one who was offered for our sin.  God arranges our circumstances so that we are brought to see our need of Christ.  We come to understand our sin, that we are in fact ruined by sin, and desperately in need of Christ.  He shows us the glory and the beauty of Christ crucified the one and only offering for our sin.  We hear His invitation to come to Him and to receive life from His gracious hand.  That revelation brings us to a choice, to believe Him receiving the life He offers, or to reject Him and suffering the consequences.

                Perhaps Charles Haddon Spurgeon put it best when he wrote, “Every Christian student of history knows that the circumstances of the outward world have ever been arranged by God so as to prepare the way for the advance of His great cause.  How strangely Providence works to spread the truth of God.  They said of Martin Luther’s writings, that they were scattered by angels.  No such distributors were employed.  But still they were scattered so widely that it was a perfect mystery how it was done.  There was scarcely a little peddler who went about with jewels who did not somewhere in his stock keep a copy of the Word of God or Luther’s Psalms.

                It was said in England, out of every three persons you met with in the road, though they might be but peasants breaking stones, there would be one of the three a Wickliffe – for Wickliffe’s translation of the New Testament spread marvellously though it was continually hunted after and burnt when discovered.  You will find, if I am not mistaken, that soon God will broadcast over all lands those testimonies which are most clear and full of Christ!”

The Prayer Of An Afflicted Man

“A prayer of an afflicted man.  When he is faint and pours out his lament before the Lord.”

                “Hear my prayer, O Lord; let my cry for help come to you.  Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress.  Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly.”

                                                                                                                                Psalm 102: Title and first two verses

                 A number of years ago while on vacation I was able to spend some time with my Grandchildren.  I have had this opportunity several times in recent years.  It is always wonderful, but exhausting.  That particular vacation enabled me to observe and reflect upon a number of things.   As I observed the young families around us I was struck by just how much life has slowed down for my wife and me.  As I tried to keep up with my own Grandchildren I found myself deeply thankful for that reality.  There is a lesson to be learnt there which will become apparent as we begin to explore Psalm 102.

                Before we do that however I need to reflect upon one other event from that vacation.  I was able to spend some time reading Ron Gleason’s wonderful biography of the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck, some of whose works I have read and found to be immensely helpful.  Bavinck was a man who wrote pastorally.  His purpose was to clearly expound the scriptures so that Christians could receive real help in living the Christian life.  His struggles in life formed the background to his writings in that they gave context to all that he was attempting to communicate. 

Gleason’s biography helped me while on vacation in a couple of ways.  First it gave me opportunities to be a witness for the Lord.  Several people took the time to ask me what it was that I was reading leading to some fruitful conversations about the Lord Jesus Christ.  Second, reading the biography of another person always gives me a strong dose of reality about my own life.  It is here that I want to connect with Psalm 102.

This wonderful Psalm is a pastoral reflection on the way that a godly person responds to affliction and deep distress in their life.  The title of the Psalm tells us that it is the prayer of a person who is overwhelmed with affliction.  Their response is to prayerfully come before God and pour out their complaint to him.  Step one is to acknowledge the reality of affliction.  So often we assume that trials should never touch the life of a believer.  We face a difficult circumstance in our life and we cry out “Why Me!”  The Psalmist assumes that afflictions will come and at times they will seem to be overwhelming.  There is a biblical way to respond in such situations.  The Psalmist leads us through the process as he pours out his heart to the Lord.  His first step is to acknowledge that he is at the point of fainting under the strain of the circumstances he is facing.  The Apostle Paul expresses exactly the same thought when he writes in 2 Corinthians, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8b-9)  Here Paul seems to be pointing back to passages such as Psalm 102 as he reflects upon his own experience of affliction and the fruit it bore in his life.    Secondly the Psalmist goes before the Lord in prayer.  His prayer however is a confession of the biblical reality that he is discovering in his trial.  As Paul wrote, “That we might not rely upon ourselves.”  The Psalmist has discovered that he is a limited human being whose life is vanishing away.  It is a precious gift that God gives to us when He draws back the curtain on our lives in order to show us that we are frail mortals whose lives vanish away like smoke. 

There is another lesson here and that is found in the prophetic portion of the Psalm (vs.12-28).  “But you, O Lord, sit enthroned forever” (Psalm 102:12).  We may wither away like smoke, but the Lord does not.  He is eternal.   His plans and purposes will be worked out because He is constantly alive and at work.  He does not grow weary.  He does not fail.  His purpose is to reveal His own glory in all of creation because this alone accomplishes that which is for our good.  As the psalmist prays he begins to reflect upon the message of God’s Word.  God has spoken.  We must listen.  There is one more thing here however.  As the Psalmist reflects prophetical on the circumstances of his life he is brought to understand something which is woven into the message of God’s Word.  This is the message of resurrection.  The reflection of the Psalmist looks ahead to one who will come as the eternal redeemer.  God will cut short His life, but He will live on because He will be raised.  Because He is raised the Godly, those who are in Him will share in His resurrection.  This is our ultimate hope even in the most severe of affliction.  We worship the One who raises the dead.

A Call To Love Sacrificially

                “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for His mercy, as it is written:  “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your Name.”  Again it says, Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.”  And again, “Praise the lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to Him, all you peoples.”  And again, Isaiah says, “The root of Jessie will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in Him.”  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

                                                                                                                                                                Romans 15:8-13

                As we focus in on God’s call upon our lives together as the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ to be the instrument through which He proclaims the Gospel of grace to this broken, sinful world, it is vital that we begin with a vision of all that God has called us to become as recipients of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We are called to receive such grace as the Apostle Paul describes in Romans 15:8-13.  This grace awakens us to that which is given us in Christ.  Joy, peace, love, and hope are ours as we are immersed into the Spirit of Christ.  This is the precious gift God has given us in Christ.  In receiving it we find ourselves also immersed into the purposes of the Lord.  We must “Deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Him.” (Mark 8:32)  At its heart this purpose seems to be calling us to a life in which we sacrificially begin to follow our Lord in His lifestyle of love for this lost world.  The question is how do we do this?  What does it look like in our lives?  Here Michael Haykin in the final chapter of his wonderful little book The God Who Draws Near gives us some wonderful illustrations from Baptist history to help to live out this life.

                “Reflect on these three examples — all taken from the Baptist tradition.

                First, that quintessential nineteenth-century Baptist, C. H. Spurgeon, who at the age of twenty-five and not long after he had been called to be the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, solemnly resolved: ‘God sparing my life, if I have my people at my back I will not rest until the dark county of Surrey [which lay to the south of London, where his Church was located] be covered with places of worship.’

                Andrew Fuller, the respected eighteenth-century theologian and pastor, echoed similar sentiments when he declared that the ‘true Churches of Jesus Christ travail in birth for the salvation of men.  They are the armies of the Lamb, the grand object of whose existence is to extend the Redeemer’s Kingdom.’

                Finally, John Bunyan, the seventeenth-century pastor and author of the Christian classic Pilgrim’s Progress, who was deeply admired by both Spurgeon and Fuller, once said that the ‘great desire’ of his heart was

                ‘to get into the darkest places in the Countrey, even amongst those people that were furthest off of profession; yet not because I could not endure the light (for I feared not to shew my Gospel to any) but because I found my spirit leaned most after awakening and converting work, and the Word that I carried did lean itself most that way; Yea, so I have strived to preach the Gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation, rom. 15:20.  In my preaching I have really been in pain, and have as it were travailed to bring forth children to God; neither could I be satisfied unless some fruits did appear in my work;  if I were fruitless it matter’d not who commended me; but if I were fruitful, I cared not who did condemn.’” (Haykin, The God Who Draws Near p. 85-86)

                Such sacrificial love and vision when it is genuine only comes about as a result of real dependant prayer as we seek to walk into God’s vision for our world.  What has He put into your heart that you would pray for and sacrificially love so that Christ would be formed in them?  Is it a person, or a people?  Is it a community or a nation?  It is my desire that we begin to pray together that the love of Christ might be spread to the ends of the earth.

Beholding God’s Promise

                “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.  The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Isaiah 65:17-18

                There is a certain quality to really good literature which causes us to become lost in the world that is being described to us.  We begin to see, if not live in, the world of the author.  For a time our present tribulations seem to recede from our attention as we truly become lost in the book.  Such is the case with much that we read in the Word of God.  It lifts our attention away from this world and its trials and focuses our attention upon the world to come.  In Isaiah 65:17 the prophet does exactly that with one word, “Behold.”  He calls us to lift our eyes away from all that we are currently facing and to “see” the world which is to come.  We are to put our attention upon that world, discovering that it is the creation of God and that He is calling us to enter into it by faith in the LORD Jesus Christ.

                Isaiah has been engaged in a long prophetic book in which he has been warning the people of Israel about the judgment which is coming as well as explaining the reasons why it must certainly come.  It is the fulfillment of long established warnings and promises that God had spoken of in His Word right from the beginning.  Isaiah is merely reminding God’s people of what God Himself had promised them.  Now it is becoming a reality for them.  When it comes they will know that it comes from the hand of a holy and gracious God and that it is given as a chastening in order to call them back to their God. 

                Isaiah weaves into his prophesy some strong strands of hope which are there for anyone to see who approaches God’s Word with the eyes of faith.  Such is the promise here in chapter sixty five.  After describing in great detail the consequences of judgement Isaiah cries out “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.”  Look up, he seems to be saying, your redemption is drawing near.  It will be the work of God so its coming is a certainty.  It does not depend upon the efforts of fickle and failing people.  God is doing it.  We could look at what Isaiah writes here and see it as something which God is already doing.  He has begun the work.  We can expect that He will bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.   We behold it with the eyes of faith.

                The book of Hebrews in the first three verses of chapter eleven defines this faith that sees so clearly in this way.  “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.  By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Hebrews 11:1-3)

                R.C. Sproul describes faith in this way.  “It is one thing to believe in God; It is quite another to believe God.” (Ligonier Twitter Page)   Faith is believing God when He speaks revealing His truth to us.  It is taking Him at His Word.  It is looking at His promise and believing that what He has promised He can do.  It is Mary hearing the Angel’s promise that she will have a child and believing him because he came with God’s Word and nothing will ever be impossible with God.  It is Isaiah giving us this a promise of a new heavens and a new earth and us believing it because God has not only said it to us repeatedly but He has also told us how he will do it through the coming Messiah who will come and bear our iniquities on the cross (Isaiah 11:1-10; 53:4-6).  God has said it and He will do it.  In fact He is already doing it in the cross of Christ.  The only question is, do you believe God?