Praying Together For Boldness

“On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.  When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.  “Sovereign LORD,” they said, “you made the heaven and earth and the sea, and everything in them.  You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:  ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The Kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against His anointed one’  Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, who you anointed.  They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.  Now, LORD, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the Name of your holy servant Jesus.”  After they had prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 4:23-31

                This is a wonderful passage of Scripture in which we are instructed in the reasons and the methods of godly praying.  Luke brings us to this passage with a lengthy description of a notable miracle, the healing of a man crippled from birth, and the controversy which arose out of it.  It is interesting that here we see that the Church is given a wonderful opportunity to proclaim the Gospel out of the crisis that arose out of the healing of the crippled man.  How often do our open doors for the proclamation of the Gospel come out of a crisis? 

                There is an opportunity here for the Gospel.  There is also great danger for believers.  They are threatened with harm if they persist in preaching and teaching in the Name of the LORD Jesus Christ.  What are they to do?  What would you or I do in their shoes?  It is here that Luke gives us some wonderful insight into the prayer life of the New Testament Church.  This insight helps us to discern our way forward as we seek to proclaim the Gospel to our generation.

  1. They prayed together in response to the crisis they were facing.  Luke tells us that they “lifted their voices together in prayer to God.”   They did not each come to this prayer meeting to present to God the differing insights that each of them had.  They came to god in agreement in prayer.  It seems as if they began their time together with meditation upon the teaching of Scripture.  They meditated upon God’s Word and obediently allowed it to direct their way forward.
  2. The Scripture that the LORD brought them to was Psalm two which had been understood as Messianic for at least the century before the coming of Jesus Christ.  The New Testament writers in fact go out of their way to apply this particular Psalm to the LORD Jesus Christ.  This Psalm describes clearly the situation in which the Church found itself in and also pointed the way forward for them. 
  3. To arrive at unity in our praying together it is vital that we begin with a meditation together upon the Word of God.  Our goal is not to convince others of our particular interpretation of Scripture, but to let God mould us into a fellowship that obediently follows the leading of the Spirit of God.  We are to be reformed by the Word of God.  This is what we see the New Testament Church doing here in Acts 4. 
  4. They then prayed asking God to enable them to boldly obey His calling upon them.  Recently I have been reading about the powerful way in which the LORD has been revealing Himself to people in various parts of our world.  Those who have been writing about these powerful movements of God’s Spirit consistently are asking one key question.  What is the Churches responsibility in response to what God is doing?  The answer that they have been coming up with is exactly what we see happening here in Acts 4:23-31.  We are to be a fellowship which is praying in unity for the boldness to testify to the grace that God is pouring out upon this world.  This is always the consequence of meditation together upon what the Spirit of God is revealing to us through God’s Word. 

A Thought On Discipleship

                “While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, He asked, “How is it that the teachers of the law say that the Christ is the son of David?  David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”  David himself calls Him ‘Lord’. How then can He be his son?””

                                                                                                                                                                Mark 12:35-37a

                As Mark continues to describe the means that the Lord Jesus Christ used to bring His disciples to faith he takes us further into the teaching of our Lord.  Mark has just presented us with a teacher of the law who is presented as a man who is “not far from the kingdom of God”.  Mark immediately goes on to this question asked of the crowds, and perhaps of the deeply convicted teacher.  It is a question raised by the teaching of the 110th Psalm.  In this Psalm, which was understood to be about the coming Messiah a confusing piece of teaching is given.  David is writing this Psalm about one of his descendants who was believed to be the Christ, the Hebrew Messiah.  As a descendant of David this person is assumed to be inferior to David, but David addresses him as his Lord.  How can this be?  That David was speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and therefore was writing Scripture was understood by all present in the Temple.  What was not understood was how the Messiah could be both David’s descendant and his superior at the same time.  It is this question which Jesus asks the crowd.  The approach that Jesus takes here is to ask a question which will force those who sincerely want an answer to engage in an intense, Spirit directed study of God’s Word in order to discern God’s answer.  James 1:5 tells us “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given him.”  This is the expectation that the Lord Jesus Christ has for everyone who truly wants to enter into the Kingdom of God. 

                This text tells us several things about the process by which we become disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

  1. What is required is that we come to real faith in Christ as He is revealed to us in the Scriptures.  The Lord convicted His hearers on this point.  He asked them questions designed to force them to wrestle with what the Scriptures really taught.  How often do find ourselves failing to take the teaching of Scripture seriously?
  2. He put His disciples in positions where their failure to live up to God’s standards would be exposed.  He does the same to us.  So often we fail to see the reality of our hardness of heart.  Paul writes in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the Kingdom of God.”  He writes “all” not “some”.  The way into God’s Kingdom is always through real humility. 
  3. The Discipleship process for Jesus’ followers was an intense and lengthy one.  There was some much unbelief and hardness of heart to deal with.  Can we expect that it will not be as difficult for us?   If we are to bear fruit for Him then we must expect trials.
  4. He was with them through the whole process.  Not even the atoning death on the cross could remove Him.  On the third day He arose. 
  5. At the heart of the process that Mark describes here is the cross.  Jesus sets His face to obey His Father by going to the cross.  The teaching of the Gospels is that we to must travel the way of the Cross if we are to be Disciples of Christ.

The Lord Our Refuge

                “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.””

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 91:1-2

                This week we begin another season of Bible Study.  (We meet on Wednesday evenings at 7PM).  We will be resuming our study of the Book of Psalms with Psalm 91.  These studies have been a great blessing to many in our Church and community.  It is vital that we engage in a program of regular and consistent study of the Word of God.  If we claim, as we do, that the LORD is our refuge in life then it is incumbent upon us to know Him as He has revealed Himself to us in His Word.  We can do this in our own personal quiet time, this is a great benefit and I would encourage each one of us to commit to reading and studying the Bible for themselves.  Personally I have been committed to the McCheyne Reading plan for the past several years.  I have been amazed at the new treasures I am finding in the bible after many years of following this course of reading.

                Many years ago, when I was about to head off to Seminary in preparation for Pastoral ministry, a professor encouraged me to read and study the Bible for myself.  His advice was to make sure that I was very well versed in the Bible so that I would know exactly what I believed, that it was Biblical and that I could defend my beliefs from the Bible.  I have spent the past forty five years seeking to follow this advice.  My professor friend is now with the LORD, but his advice is still bearing fruit in my life and ministry.  My desire is to encourage others to do the same. 

                Our approach is interactive.  We encourage those who are in attendance to ask questions and make comments.  This allows me as the leader to find out where the Bible Study group is at in their faith, as well as allowing all of us to grow together in our faith. 

                We seek to understand not only what the bible is saying to us, but also why it is saying it.  Personally I have been forced to grow spiritually as I have prepared and led these studies.  Come and join us, if you are in the Brampton area, every Wednesday evening at 7PM.  We would love to see you.

A Call To Arms

“The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.”

                “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

                                                                                                                                                                Titus 1:5, 9

                When we wrestle with the message of the Pastoral Epistles we are led to the conclusion that these three books are something much more than just manuals for church order.  So often what we do is to look to these New Testament books for answers to questions about how we are to organize our churches.  There is something much deeper and more powerful written here however.  Steve Timmis in a Blog Post entitled “The Pillar of Truth” explores this in the following two paragraphs.  Timmis is writing specifically about 1 & 2 Timothy, but what he writes applies equally well to the book of Titus.

                “He wants Timothy to get the church at Ephesus back on gospel tracks because she has departed from the gospel.  The Pastoral Epistles are not simply manuals for church order.  They are an urgent call to arms.  Timothy needs to go to war because the gospel is at stake in this city and region.

                But critical to this strategy is the church herself.  The church, formed by the gospel, is for the gospel, and by her life and witness, she commends the gospel and is the primary apologetic for the gospel before the world.  John Stott, in his commentary on 1 Timothy and Titus, put it well when he wrote, “The church depends upon the truth for its existence; the truth depends upon the church for its defence and proclamation.”” (Timmis, Steve, “The Pillar of Truth” )

                What Timmis is pointing to here is the fact that Timothy and Titus have been given the task to put their churches and the lives of the disciples in each city on a footing that will cause them to enter successfully into the great spiritual conflict that is taking place in each of their cities.  It is simple for us to drift away from the gospel footing as an individual or for that matter as a church.  We begin to enjoy the fruit of a saved life forgetting the sin that we have been saved out of.  We become uncomfortable engaging in the conflict which is before us in this world.  Titus and Timothy are to call their churches back to the conflict through which they are living as believers.  That conflict existed in their world, and it exists in ours as well.  We and our churches need to heed the calling back to sound doctrine that Paul issues here.  This sound doctrine is doctrine that radically transforms our lives so that we engage the world around us with the grace that the Lord Jesus Christ is building into our lives. 

                Perhaps this is what Paul means when he writes at the conclusion of his letter to the Ephesians these words.  “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.   Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:10-18)

Praying For True Revival

                “He sends His command to the earth; His word runs swiftly.  He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes.  He hurls down His hail like pebbles.  Who can withstand H icy blast?  He sends His word and melts them; He stirs up His breezes, and the waters flow.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 147:15-18

                “I looked again – and there before me was a flying scroll!  He asked me, “What do you see?”  I answered, “I see a flying scroll, thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide.”  And He said to me, “This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished.  The Lord Almighty declares, “I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of him who swears falsely by My Name.  It will remain in his house and destroy it, both its timbers and its stones.””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 5:1-4

                David Pao in his Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Michigan,2000, page 176) writes,  “In this chapter, I have shown that the word of God in the narrative of Acts is an active agent that travels to the end of the earth.  The goal of this journey is to conquer the world and to create a community as the true people of God.  Even when the suffering of the ministers of the word is mentioned throughout the narrative, the word itself is portrayed as undefeated.”  Earlier Pao had identified the Word of God as the Lord Jesus Christ actively at work in the world, creating a people for Himself.  “The relationship between the identity of the word and that of Jesus can be seen in Acts 6:5 where it is said that the apostles will be devoted “to the service of the word.”  The Lord whom they serve is of course the risen Jesus who called His followers to be His servants (cf. Acts 26:160.” (Pao, p. 161)

                What David Pao is describing is the focus of the prophetic words of God in both the book of Psalms and Zechariah.  God’s Word is sent out as a living agent confronting the world not only with the holiness of God, but also with the depth of our sinfulness.  This is the foundation of any discussion of revival, or of evangelistic fruitfulness.  To pray for revival is to be praying for the conquering ministry of God’s Word of truth to be going out into our world.  Where God’s Word goes forward sin is always exposed.  The Apostle Paul tells us that, “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)  So often we pray for evangelistic fruitfulness, or revival, as if it is something which will touch the life of others, bringing them painlessly into God’s Kingdom, and never coming near us.  Historical revival is another matter however.  When Jonathan Edwards described the revival that he lived through he showed us that this was a sovereign work of God’s Spirit that began with a deep encounter with God’s truth.  People hear the Word of God with deep conviction.  They saw clearly their sin, becoming aware of their desperate need for Christ.  So thorough was the conversion of these people that it began to impact the way they lived.  Others saw in them something real.  The gospel went out and conquered, creating a people who would forever belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

                I believe that this spread of God’s Word is what is at the heart of Zechariah’s prophesy of the scroll, containing God’s Word, which God caused to fly throughout the whole land entering into every house, bringing a curse, conviction of sin, so that each one would be brought to embrace God’s Word and by that great encounter being saved.

                What about you?  Have you met the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ?  Have you encountered His holiness?  Have you been brought to see clearly your sin?  Have you discovered that He did not come just to expose your sin so that you would be convicted?  He came that you might be saved in Him. 

                To pray for revival is to pray that this reality would once again spill over our whole land and that, to paraphrase St. Francis of Assisi, “It would begin with me!”

A Summer Reflection

                “It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.’””

                                                                                                                                                                Mark 1:2-3

                Rikki E. Watts in his helpful study of Mark’s Gospel makes the point that the opening verses of that Gospel summarize its essential point which is that what God was doing in Christ was bringing about a new exodus of His people.  What the prophets had spoken about was being brought into being in the Lord Jesus Christ.  In Christ God will be calling a people for Himself out of this world.  They will be redeemed from their sin and brought into a covenant relationship with God through the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.  God will, by His Spirit, write His law upon their hearts and minds.  He will give them a brand new nature.  This is the tremendous news which is contained in the Gospel.  It is this that mark describes in such vivid and vibrant detail. 

                In the process of describing this new covenant relationship Mark also leads us along a road that takes to the cross of the Lord Jesus.   The new exodus can only be established at the cross.  It can only be accessed by a faith that picks up our own cross in loving, and obedient self denial.  Mark’s discipleship is cross-centred.  What this means for us is that we must begin our journey where the Gospel begins this is with the preparation that follows the road of repentance.  The longer the disciples followed Jesus the more the encountered this sifting nature of His way.  The life of faith that He called them to was one in which they would be constantly refined by the holiness of God.  So Mark begins by summarizing the main point.  The King is coming, and the way must be prepared in our hearts.  It is literally as if Mark is asking us a key question.  “Will you receive Jesus by faith or reject Him in unbelief?”   That question cuts through all of our hopes, dreams, ambitions, and works, exposing them for what they are.  As the Gospel unfolds the disciples are seen wrestling with their own personal unbelief, until we see them scattered by the events of the cross.  In their weakness and failure however they are brought to the place of resurrection.  Finally they are broken; they put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ without reservation.    The whole process however is centred upon the cross.

                The lesson for us is that our discipleship can only be established at the cross.  We cannot experience God’s power in our lives until we die to ourselves.  Dying is always difficult and unpleasant.  It is however the only way through to the resurrection.  To be a disciple means to be denying ourselves, picking up our cross and following Him.  What Mark invites us to is the road that requires repentance.  There is no other way.

                This whole reflection is a long and rambling invitation to make use of this summer by engaging in a time of Biblical reflection leading up to real, genuine and fruitful repentance.  Our purpose must be to really seek the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in our midst and then to make Him known to others.  This is what I believe that Mark is calling every reader of his Gospel to do. 

The Grace of the Cross

Today I want to spend a few moments meditating upon the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and its wonderful impact upon our lives.  Everything about us is changed when we encounter the Lord Jesus Christ crucified.  In 1 Corinthians the Apostle Paul writes about the message of the cross as the solution to the brokenness which had come upon the Church in Corinth as a consequence of their sin.  Like them we too live lives which are constantly in need of the grace of the cross of Christ.  Today I came across this prayer which is part of a collection of Puritan Prayers published by the Banner of Truth Trust in a book entitled Valley of Vision.  It speaks to us about the grace of the cross of Christ.  Let this be our prayer today.

O my Saviour,

I thank thee from the depths of my being

for thy wondrous grace and love

in bearing my sin in thine own body on the tree.

May thy cross be to me

as the tree that sweetens my bitter Marahs,

as the rod that blossoms with life and beauty,

as the brazen serpent that calls forth

the look of faith.

By thy cross crucify my every sin;

Use it to increase my intimacy with thyself;

Make it the ground of all my comfort,

the liveliness of all my duties,

the sum of all thy gospel promises,

the comfort of all my afflictions,

the vigour of my love, thankfulness, graces,

the very essence of my religion;

And by it give me that rest without rest,

the rest of ceaseless praise.

O my Lord and Saviour,

Thou hast also appointed a cross for me

to take up and carry,

a cross before thou givest me a crown.

Thou hast appointed it to be my portion,

but self-love hates it,

carnal reason is unreconciled to it;

without the grace of patience I cannot bear it,

walk with it, profit by it.

O blessed cross, what mercies dost thou bring

with thee!

Thou art only esteemed hateful by my rebel will,

heavy because I shirk thy load.

Teach me, gracious Lord and Saviour,

that with my cross thou sendest promised grace

so that I may bear it patiently,

that my cross is thy yoke which is easy,

and thy burden which is light.

A New Robe

                “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.  They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.  Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.  You, however, did not come to know Christ in that way.  Surely you heard of Him and were taught in Him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ephesians 4:17-21

                “If it feels good, do it!”  If there is a slogan that describes our times this is it.  We live in a time which is dominated by our feelings.  In the past we may have spoken about what we thought, but now we speak about how something feels to us.  Just this week as I was listening to a Newscast about Hurricane Sandy and its impact upon the East Coast of the United States I was startled to here the Reporter use the Word feel in place of think.  We really are a people dominated by feelings.  To be sure it is a sign of good mental health to be in touch with our feelings.  We love to be around people who are genuine in their feelings of affection, especially when those feelings are under control and expressed appropriately.  The Apostle Paul, although being a person of warn affections was not a man dominated by them.  His feelings we under the control of his thinking as can be seen in his application of the doctrine of the unity which the Gospel creates when it brings us into the Body of Christ.

                Paul has called the Ephesians to be diligent in maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:3)  He then digresses into a very important exposition of the doctrine of the Body of Christ and the giftedness through which God in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit maintains and builds us up in the love of Christ.  Paul wants us to understand here with our minds the principles upon which the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ are built up.  These are biblical principles which bring us Godly wisdom on which our lives together as Christians are advanced.  With the help of the Holy Spirit we are called to understand and apply this Wisdom to our lives.  After establishing the doctrine clearly here Paul then turns back to the application of this truth to our lives.  Unity in the Spirit is maintained through thousands of obedient actions on our part as we live out the Christian life.  This is Paul tells us the thing that he is constantly testifying to as he leads the Churches into ever deepening discipleship. 

                Paul points out that this involves us in putting off our sin (Ephesians 4:17-19), in order that we might put on Christ (Ephesians 4:2032).  What we are to put off it a nature which is enslaved by sin and its characteristics.  What we are to put on is a new nature which is characterized by the Righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is done through, faith filled, obedient, thoughtful obedience to the characteristics of the life of Christ that has been given to us.  What this means is that we put off a lifestyle dominated by slavery to our feelings.  We put on a brand new way of living which is dominated by the Biblical Wisdom which we find embodied in the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is a creation of God’s grace which comes from something new being created in the attitudes of our minds (Ephesians 4:23).

                Perhaps this can be best illustrated by looking at Zechariah 3 where the prophet is given a vision of Joshua the High Priest as he is being accused by Satan.  He is standing before the Angel of the Lord dressed in filthy rags, symbolic of his, and his people’s sin.  The Lord acts to cleanse him, symbolically removing Joshua’s filthy clothing and replacing them with clean garments.  The Lord tells him that the meaning of this is that the Lord has taken away his sin.  Looking ahead the Lord gives the meaning of this vision. When the Messiah comes He will fulfill this vision by taking away the sin of the land in a single day.

                This is exactly what God does through the cross of Christ.  The calling upon the lives of those who are thus cleansed is to put off their old way of living which was to be in slavery to their inner lusts which lead them away from the life of God so that they can put on the righteousness  of Christ which has been given to us by God in Christ. 

The Doubter

                “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism.  Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.  If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here is a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

                                                                                                                                                                James 2:1-4

                I continue to be amazed at the use of words that I find in this letter of James.  As he develops his argument in a logical way James keeps reminding us of the central concepts which he has already established in our minds.  One of these concepts is that of real Biblical faith which leads us through the trials of the lives that we are living.  Each of us is tried and tested by the circumstances which we face in life.  God uses these experiences to mature us in Christ.  As we face the reality of our lives we are invited to ask God for wisdom, which James tells us God will give to us without wavering.  He will be committed to His purposes for us, and will give us all that we need.  We must ask without doubting.  The word that James uses here in James 1:5-6 is the same word which he also uses in chapter 2:4.  It is there translated as discriminated.  The basic meaning of the word is to doubt or to make a distinction.  Mussner defines the word this way, “an inner conflict between trust and distrust of God.”  The reason why we make sinful distinctions regarding other people is owing to the fact that we are distrustful of God’s plan and purpose for our lives.

                James is heading here towards an exposition and application of the Royal Law, “Thou shall love your neighbour as yourself.”  The true believer in Christ is one in whom the fruit of such sacrificial love is being produced.  To bring us into the type of repentance that produces such fruit James must first bring us to the point where we are broken from our worldly approach to life.  So James confronts us with a Biblical parable much like that used by the Prophet Nathan with King David in 2 Samuel 12:1-7.

                “The LORD sent Nathan to David.  When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought.  He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children.  It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms.  It was like a daughter to him.  Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him.  Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”  David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die!  He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”  Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”

                James follows the same Biblical principle as he illustrates one of the ways that we make distinctions among ourselves, all because we do not believe that God knows what He is talking about when He calls to “Love our neighbours as ourselves.”  Over the next few weeks I want to explore what this means for us who are seeking to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in this 21st century.

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!”