The Intercession Of The Lord

                “Then the angel of the Lord said, “Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?”  So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 1:12-13

                It seems as if the Lord has been calling His people to a commitment to special and earnest prayer for the revival of His Church.  We are living through a time of increasing difficulty as Christian people.  Everywhere we look we see the fruits of unbelief exhibited in the lives of others.  When we look within ourselves we discover that we are not immune to the blight of this unbelief.  We struggle with it, even becoming increasingly disturbed and discouraged by all that we discover in our lives.  What are we to do?  What are we to think?  In Zechariah 1:3 we hear the command of the Lord to return to our God, so that He will return to us.  This is what we want, but still we feel as if we are engaged in a great, if not impossible battle. 

                It is here that our text from Zechariah 1:12-13 is so helpful to us.  This text comes in the first of the night visions which Zechariah receives in one night.  These visions chart out what God’s people are to think and do in the centuries to come as they look forward to the coming day of the Lord.  This first vision shows the Angel of the Lord, the second person of the Triune God, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, riding on a red horse which is standing in the midst of myrtle trees in a great deep.  It is a vision, and is therefore to be understood with Biblical imagination as we seek to see what Zechariah saw.  I do not have space to go into all the evidence here regarding the meaning of these images, it is sufficient for our purposes here to note that Zechariah is seeing the Lord among His people, standing with them, while they are immersed in the nations around them.  As Jesus described in Luke 21:24 the times of the Gentiles have come upon them.  These, it seems, began with the taking of Israel into exile, and as Daniel two begins to show they will continue until the full number of the Gentiles have been brought into the Kingdom of God. 

                I do not want our focus today to be upon the prophetic interpretation here however, because there is something much greater to be explored here.  This is that, as Israel is wrestling with all of the difficult implications of her plight, the Lord is present, standing among His people.  He is doing something much more significant however.  Zechariah tells us that the Angel of the Lord is interceding for the people of God.  He is lifting His voice in prayer for us.  This is another passage in God’s Word that tells us that we are not alone as we live out our lives as believers.  The Lord is praying for us.  To understand the significance of this we need to turn to a nineteenth century preacher and author by the name of Robert Murray McCheyne who wrote the following, “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies.  Yet distance makes no difference.  He is praying for me!”   So why then do we fear?  Why do we get discouraged?  Our Lord is interceding for us.  Right now, as we face the particular trials that are part of our lives, as we face persecution, as our lives seem to be almost impossible to deal with, the Lord is interceding for us.  He is bringing our need before the Father.  We are secure in His hands. 

                There is more here however.  Not only is the Lord interceding for us but He is receiving an answer.  God speaks kind and comforting words to Him.  These are words that are meant for God’s people.  That is these kind and comforting words are spoken to us, and are meant to bring great comfort.   What are these words from God?  To simplify what Zechariah records here they are words that tell us that God is working out His plan for our redemption even in these times of the Gentiles.  Do you hear what God is saying to you?  No matter how deep your trial is.  No matter how discouraging or hopeless it seems, the Lord Jesus Christ is praying for you.  Therefore your redemption is sure.  He is using all of your circumstances for eternal good in your life.  The bottom line is this He is standing with you in all that you are currently wresting with.  Therefore Praise Him!

Gospel Repentance

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

                                                                                                                                                                2 Corinthians 7:10-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pointing The Way Forward

                “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.”

                                                                                                                                                                Acts 4:33

                As Luke describes the New Testament Church for us he presents us with a series of significant events which move it forward in witness to the world interspersed with summary statement which describe the general life of the community of believers.  Both perspectives are of vital importance.  We need to meditate upon the specific events.  We need as well to hear about the routine life of the Church.  In the description Luke gives us here in Acts 4:32-37 we read about the creation of a Christ Centred Fellowship that has at its heart a dynamic relation with the Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is something which God has created in Christ.  Luke reflects here on how the Lord answered the Biblical Prayers of the Church which were offered in response to the crisis of chapters three and four.  It is of tremendous significance that as the church gathered to reflect upon the threats that the leaders in Jerusalem had given that they looked to the second Psalm and its message, which they then took as direction regarding the will of God for His Church and they then prayed for boldness to carry out the will of God by boldly preaching the Gospel of the Resurrected Christ as the only hope for this world. 

                The summary statement in verses 32-37 reveals how God answered their prayer.  They were emboldened to preach powerfully the message of the Resurrection of Christ with great power.  The Spirit was in their preaching because they were proclaiming God’s message in obedience to His leading. The type of proclamation required that they die to themselves and their own desires and ambitions.  The Apostles needed to be Christ Centred leaders.  What Luke describes here is what results when a congregation of Christians becomes fully devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ.  We know that this is the case because Luke tells us that the Apostles witnessed to the resurrection with great power.  To witness was to testify with ones whole life to a truth.  They were martyrs to Him.  It is not their power which is at work here.  It is the power of God’s Holy Spirit which is powerfully at work in their testimony. 

                In Ephesians 1:18-23 the Apostle Paul describes this power when he writes, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.” 

                Such is the power which is at work in the Church of Christ.  It transforms us as it conforms us to the image of the Son of God.  Luke describes the impact of that power in the fruitful witness of the Church to the resurrection of Christ.  He also shows us how it comes about.  Luke gives us at least three points to help us along the way.

  1. The Believers are committed to the Lordship of Christ.  In their prayer the recognise God as the Sovereign Lord.
  2. They are committed to Christ Centred reflection on the Scriptures.  Their use of Psalm 2 demonstrates this.  The will of God for His church will be found in prayerful meditation upon the Word of God.
  3. They are also committed to heartfelt, earnest, Biblical praying.  Nothing happens without God’s power working in them. 

All of these points show us the way forward as we seek to bring the Gospel to a world that is every bit as hostile to it as was the one that the apostles were trying to reach.  We are called to seek the presence and power of the Resurrected Christ in His Church so that we can share in the great grace of the Lord Jesus as we boldly proclaim His truth.

Our Greatest Need

                “I would not have known Him, except that the One who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.””

                                                                                                                                                                                John 1:33

                There is a question which I have been turning over in my mind for the last little while.  It concerns the greatest need which the Church, and presumably each of us individually, has.  There are always conflicting voices which urge all manner of actions upon us.  I constantly find myself pushed and pulled in almost every direction as a Pastor regarding programs and priorities for the ministry of the congregation I serve.  What are we to do?  Robert Murray McCheyne was once asked about the greatest need of his congregation.  His answer was to state that “the greatest need of my Church is a holy Pastor.”  Holiness is the greatest need of each and every congregation and Christian.  The question is however how do we get there?  The immediate response is to think that we must make a supreme effort to make ourselves holy so that we can be blessed of God.  We then become discouraged when our holiness does not measure up to God’s standard.  The question remains then, “what are we to do?” 

                This is where the message of the Gospels becomes immensely tangible and helpful.  We are called to come to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith in order to receive from Him that which we need.  This is not a calling to a once and finished blessing.  It is a calling to a continuous relationship with our Lord in faith.  God’s blessing comes through what the Bible calls the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Does this come when we first believe, at what the Bible calls regeneration?  The answer is yes.  Does it come later on when we exercise faith?  Again the answer is yes.  The Bible speaks about a continual experience of receiving the Spirit and His blessing by faith.  We can only receive this blessing when we come to the Crucified One in constantly abiding faith, drinking of His Spirit. 

                What do I mean by this?  Perhaps an extended illustration from Darrell Johnson’s book Who Is Jesus?  will help us here.  Johnson is dealing with the point that the Lord Jesus Christ baptizes us in and with the Holy Spirit.  In looking at all of the options regarding when and how this blessing is received Johnson then writes this.

                “As I have wrestled with this, I have come to the conclusion that each of the options is wrong, and each of the options is right.  And each of the options is wrong and right for the same reason.

                You see, each option works from the same assumption, the assumption that Jesus baptizes us only once.  We make that assumption because we are ordinarily baptized in and with water only once.  But that is not how John the Baptizer sees it.  Listen carefully to the way he puts it.  “[The One] who sent me to baptize in

[and with]

water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in [and with] the Holy Spirit.’” (John 1:33 [emphasis added])

                Baptizes.  Present tense.  This is crucial to note.  In New Testament Greek the tenses of verbs point to the time of action.  But more importantly, they point to the kind of action.  In Greek, the present tense emphasizes continuous action, and is best rendered “keep on.”  “Abide in me and I in you,” literally means “Keep on abiding in Me and I in you.”  “All who come to Me and believe in Me will never hunger or thirst,” literally means “All who keep on coming to Me and keep on believing in Me will never hunger or thirst.”  John the Baptizer is saying of Jesus the Baptizer,   “This is the One who keeps on baptizing.”  Continuous action.  Keeps on Baptizing.

                That is, John is saying something about the nature and character of Jesus.  John is saying that it is the nature of Jesus, the Saviour of the world, to baptize and keep on baptizing, to immerse and keep on immersing, to soak and keep on soaking, to flood and keep on flooding, to fill and to keep on filling, to infuse and to keep on infusing.  This is the One who baptizes not once, not twice, not three times, but again and again and again.  Jesus keep on infusing His followers with Divine life and will keep on doing so until every fibre of our being radiates with the Glory of God!  How is that for good news?”

                This is why we are called to come to Him the Crucified One, in faith.  Such faith meets Him at the cross each moment and is lifted up in the power of the resurrection.  That is why we must be a holy people, filled with the life of Christ.  That is why we are called to Spirit filled praying.  The presence of the Lord Jesus Christ among us and in us is our only hope.  I for one praise God that this is so.

Holy, Holy, Holy!

                “The LORD reigns, let the nations tremble; He sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake.  Great is the LORD in Zion; He is exalted over all the nations.  Let them praise Your great and awesome Name – He is holy.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 99:1-3

                “Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His footstool; He is holy.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 99:5

                “Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His holy mountain, for the LORD our God is holy.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 99:9

                Reginald Heber writes in the first verse of his wonderful hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” these penetrating and powerful words.

                “Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee; Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty!  God in three persons blessed Trinity!”

                In writing these words the hymn writer leads us into a world of praise to the LORD God who is described as three times holy.  There is a focus upon the doctrine of the Trinity in Heber’s hymn.  It is a focus and a doctrine which is woven into much of the praise, worship and teaching of the Scriptures.  Psalm 99 is an example of how that is worked out.  The LORD God is the focus of the invitation to worship which we find here.  He is introduced to us as three times holy.  In fact the Psalm is divided up in such a way that we meet with three refrains around which the Psalm’s teaching and invitations are woven.  In each refrain we find ourselves crying out “Holy!” 

                The message of the Psalm is that we have encountered a LORD God who is absolutely holy in every way.  So often we find ourselves attracted to the various attributes of God.  We love that God is a being of infinite power.  We especially love this attribute when we think that we can somehow bend the infinite power of God to accomplish our purposes.  That God would be on our side is a word of great comfort to us as we live in this uncertain world.

                We also find ourselves attracted to the concept of the love of God.  This is even more comforting to us if we define that love as a type of mushy commitment on God’s behalf to only act in such ways as to do good to everyone no matter how they live. 

                What we find more challenging is the teaching in the Scriptures which tells us that God is Holy.  Many years ago I encountered this description of the LORD God that He was a God of Holy Love.  His love is tempered with holiness and His holiness is tempered with love.  Here we are getting closer to the biblical portrayal of God’s character.  Holiness is defined as God being set apart from everything which is not God.  He is a being who lives in such absolute purity that He is completely and totally opposed to all sin.  For Him all sin must be judged, either in the second death or in the cross.  These are the only options available to a sinner.  To encounter the living God in His absolute holiness is to be overwhelmed with this reality.

                The Biblical writers confront us with this reality in various ways.  In Hebrews 12:28-29 we are confronted with this description. 

                “Therefore, since we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

                In the third chapter of the book of Exodus Moses encounters God in the burning bush and is told to take off his sandals for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.  In Isaiah 6:3-7 the Old Testament Prophet has his encounter with God and is overwhelmed by the holiness of the LORD and of his own sinfulness.

                And they were calling out to one another:  “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory. “ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.  “Woe to me! “ I cried. “I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.“  Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for. ““                This is the word of hope which we find in the 99th Psalm.  The Lord God is three times holy.  His sovereign holiness is revealed in His justice which brings us to His throne of grace where sin is judged and punished.  There however we meet with the offer of grace because at the throne of grace we meet with the holy God who has provided in His own dear Son the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the World for all who will receive Him.  What a tremendous hope.  All you have to do is receive Him.

On Account Of Who He Is

                “‘Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.  See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua!  There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription upon it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.  In that day each of you will invite his neighbour to sit under his vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 3:8-10

                In taking a closer look at the third chapter of the Old Testament book of the Prophet Zechariah further treasure is revealed to us.  This chapter, which is right in the middle of the series of night visions that were given to Zechariah, gives us the central, redemptive message of redemption which was revealed to this post-exilic prophet.  Through His Messiah, who is pointed to by the High Priest, God is going to remove the sin of His people in one day.  Looking ahead we know that this prophetic word was fulfilled in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.  At Calvary, in the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ, God dealt with, and removed all of our sin.  Romans 5:8 the Apostle Paul tells us that “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  What great love God has given to us.  We are simply called to receive it.  It has been given to us in Christ simply based upon the unconditional love of God. 

                God’s great act of love given to us in Christ is astounding in its impact upon our lives.  It meets us in our brokenness, while we are rejecting Him, and offers us reconciliation, even though we do not deserve it.  No wonder the Lord immediately begins to speak through Zechariah about the celebration which breaks out when such sacrificial love is given and received.  The picture points back to the celebration that took place at the end of the Day of Atonement, when all of the events of the day were winding down people would invite others to join in a great celebration which broke out in response to God’s grace. 

                Perhaps the best picture of this celebration that we have is the reception we join in after a wedding ceremony.  A marriage Biblically is a picture of the relation between Christ and the Church.  Biblical marriage is an unconditional covenant relationship designed to point us to the love and commitment between Christ and His bride, the Church.  We, the church, are recipients of His love, not because of our worthiness, but simply because of His character as a gracious God.  He loves us based upon who He is.  This is powerfully illustrated for us in a story relayed by the New Tribes Mission on their Facebook page.

                “The verbs for a particular African language consistently end in one of three vowels,” Dennis Farthing writes from the NTM Missionary Training Center. He shares a translation story that a missionary recently shared with him.

“Almost every verb ends in i, a, and u. But the word for ‘love’ was only found with i and a. Why no u?” this missionary wondered.

Dennis says the Bible translation team included the most influential leaders in the local community.

In an effort to truly understand the concept of “love” in this African language, the missionary began to question them.

“Could you dvi your wife?”

“Yes,” they answered, “that would mean that the wife had been loved, but the love was gone.”

“Could you dva your wife?”

“Yes,” they responded, “that kind of love depends on the wife’s actions. She would be loved as long as she remained faithful and cared for her husband well.”

“Could you dvu your wife?”

Everyone in the room laughed.

“Of course not!” they replied. “If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water and never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would have to just keep on loving her. No, we would never say dvu. It just doesn’t exist.”

The missionary sat quietly for a while, thinking about John 3:16, and then he asked, “Could God dvu people?”

Dennis writes that there was complete silence for three or four minutes; then tears started to trickle down the weathered faces of the elderly men of the tribe.

Finally they responded, “Do you know what this would mean? This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, while all that time we rejected His great love. He would be compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.”

The missionary noted that changing one simple vowel changed the meaning from “I love you based on what you do and who you are,” to “I love you, based on who I am. I love you because of me and not because of you.” e

The Treasure of the Trial

                “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” He said to them.  “Stay here and keep watch.”

                                                                                                                                                                Mark 14:34

                Mark’s Gospel is really a masterful exposition of the Gospel account.  With great brevity the sacred author describes the events surrounding the Passion of our Lord with incredible detail, leading us to feel that we are present bearing witness to the life, humiliation, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Nowhere is this more obvious than in the account Mark gives us of the prayer of the Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Here we find ourselves hidden away in a corner of the garden with the young man of Mark 14:51.   Could this be Mark?  We are bearing witness to a mysterious event.  There is the Son of Man at prayer.  He is in agony in prayer.  We see Him overwhelmed by the sorrow which has overtaken Him.  Nearby three of His disciples are sleeping.  Jesus is utterly alone, locked in battle with an unseen enemy.  He has one weapon, and that is prayer.  He is talking with His Father, and sweating great drops of what looks like blood.

                As we hide and watch we become aware that a significant spiritual battle is being fought the outcome of which will determine our eternal salvation.  Looking at the clues that Mark gives us here it becomes apparent that Jesus is wrestling with the nature of the mission He has been engaged in.  It is not an antiseptic, feeling less, sacrifice that He will offer.  He has come to become our substitute sin bearer.  All the wrath of God for all of human sin will be poured out upon this holy Son of God.  He will be humiliated, beaten, disserted by everyone, family, disciples, His nation, and even finally and most hurtfully by His Heavenly Father.  As Jesus does battle with the reality of this its horror begins to fall upon Him in the garden.  How can He bear up under such an awesome load of wrath?  Ivor Powell suggests that this may even have brought Jesus to such an intense feeling of despair that He feared that He might even die before He reached the cross.  Powell wonders if this is the cup that Jesus seeks deliverance from.  We may never be able to understand the depth of the mystery which is described here.  At the very least He is struggling with a temptation to flee away from the cross and the entire wrath of God that it will involve.  To do this will mean that God’s great, gracious plan of redemption would never be accomplished.  We would not be saved if that were to happen.  Over a prolonged struggle in prayer the Lord Jesus Christ commits Himself to the cross and our salvation.

                He prays.  He agonizes in prayer.  When was the last time that you or I agonized in prayer over the struggle that God has brought into our lives to walk with the Lord Jesus and to testify to His Gospel which is the only hope of this sin sick world?  In Hebrew 12:1-4 God’s Word encourages us in our struggle.

                                                “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,

Let us throw off everything which hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

He did all this for you.  What have you done to serve Him? d

Carmen Christi

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 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 every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

                                                                                                                                                Philippians 2:5-11

                There are some weeks when the task of wrestling with the Scriptures becomes a real joy.  To be sure some weeks are difficult as I engage in the process of understanding the Word of God so that I can prepare an expository message upon it.  Other weeks, begin with the same difficulties but become a joy as the passage leads to some wonderful discoveries.  One week as I was studying Paul’s great poetic passage on the incarnation in the second chapter of Philippians I was overjoyed to discover precious truth.  Verses six through eleven are a very powerful and poetic exploration of the doctrine of the Incarnation of the Christ.  Paul presents this doctrine as an example to us of how we are to live as believers.

                In my reading about this doctrine as it is outlined in this passage I came across the following quotes that helped me in my understanding of the doctrine.

                Bishop Lightfoot wrote the following,

                “He divested Himself not of His Divine nature, for this was impossible, but of the glories, the prerogatives, of Deity.  This He did by taking upon Him the form of a servant.  The three parts of the doctrine so far given in the Carmen Christi (Hymn of Christ) is nowhere more beautifully summed up than in Milton’s immortal lines from his poem “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”.  That glorious Form, that Light insufferable, And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty, wherewith He wont at Heav’n’s High Council Table, to sit the midst of Trinal Unity, He laid aside; and here with us to be, Forsook the courts of everlasting day, and chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.”

                In the fourth century Ambrose wrote the following verse to a hymn.

                                “From God the Father He proceeds

                                To God the Father back He speeds;

                                Proceeds as far as very hell,

                                Speeds back to light ineffable.”

                Finally we have these words from Samuel Rutherford in his letters.

                                “If there were then thousand thousand  millions of worlds, and as man heavens full of men and angels, Christ would not be pinched to supply all our wants, and to fill us all.  Christ is a well of life, but who knoweth how deep it is to the bottom.”

Another Characteristic Of The Church

                “Great fear seized the whole Church and all who heard about these events.”

                                                                                                                                                                Acts 5:11

                One of the characteristics of the book of Acts is the combination of key significant events which move the account of the creation of the Church forward and editorial summaries which describe the characteristic live of the believing community.  After four chapters in which the new Testament Church is shown to be growing in grace and commitment to the LORD Jesus Christ Luke begins to describe the challenges which they will begin to face.  The Apostle Paul makes this clear while writing in 2 Timothy 3:12 “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  This is a certainty which we must expect and which we begin to see developed in the fifth chapter of Acts.  We must expect that there will be challenges to living the Christian life which we will have to face which come from the world around us, our own flesh and satanic deception.  This is what the fifth chapter draws our attention to.  Ananias and Sapphira are clearly deceived by Satan, being led astray by their own fleshly desires to pursue things which are rooted in a worldly approach to life.  At its heart this passage reveals an attitude of heart which takes God lightly and elevates our own fleshly desires for security in the things which this world provides.  Satan takes something which they need and deceives this couple so that they lie to the Holy Spirit. 

                To dig down into the heart of the account which Luke gives us here we see that the whole purpose of this event was to lead the New Testament Church into the development of a reverent fear and awe of God.  At the beginning of the fifth chapter of Acts Ananias and Sapphira have an attitude which assumes that God now takes sin lightly.  Again, as Paul asks in Romans 6:1 “Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase?”  This is certainly a danger that the Church faces as the Gospel is proclaimed.  We receive grace from God and then forget that His purpose is to make us holy with the Righteousness of Christ.  Luke shows us how this event brought the Church back to a reverent fear of God.  He tells us that the Church came into, or developed, a reverent fear or awe of God. 

                To take God’s Holiness lightly is a danger which the Church is always facing.  To fall into this error robs us of the grace and power which the Lord has promised to us.   The Scriptures constantly call us to a life of reverence for God. 

                “Then the Church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace.  It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit; it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 9:31

                “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.  Fear the lord, you saints, for those who fear Him lack nothing.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 34:8-9

                “An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 36:1

                “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Proverbs 1:7

                “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

                This reverent awe and fear of God is desperately needed by the Church today.

Awake

                “”Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, against the man who is close to me!”  Declares the LORD Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn My hand against the little ones.  In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one third will be left in it.  This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.  They will call on My Name and I will answer them; I will say, “They are My people.” And they will say, “The LORD is our God.””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 13:7-9

                Right in the middle of the final oracle in the book of Zechariah we find this little poetic passage which refocuses our attention upon the central theme of this wonderful prophetic book.  The book is concerned with the promise of God which is to act on behalf of His people through one whom He calls the Good Shepherd in order to redeem them by establishing a new blood covenant.  Israel is facing a crisis in leadership; the shepherds have failed to lead God’s people into godliness therefore God Himself will intervene on their behalf.  This text brings us into an awe inspiring encounter with the tremendous promises that the LORD has made to us in His Word.  What is required is that we stop and meditate upon God’s Word to us here.

                Verse seven contains two commands from God as He speaks to the sword of Divine Judgement.  The LORD commands that the sword awaken and then that it strike the shepherd, presumably killing Him.  What Zechariah is confronting us with here is that whatever will happen to the Good Shepherd it will be a direct result of God’s initiative in bringing judgement upon a people ruined by their sin.  It will not be an accident or an event out of the control of God.  Zechariah tells us that it will be the direct response of God’s Word.  He will speak the word of judgement and the sword will fall upon the Good Shepherd.  There is more here as well for us to meditate upon.  The sword will fall upon “My Shepherd.”  It is the shepherd who belongs to God that Zechariah is referring to here.  The definition is taken further as the Prophet writes, “against the man who is close to me.”  More literally the word that is used here refers to the man who is my fellow, one who participates in the nature of the poetic speaker, or God Himself.  David Baron explores this in his commentary on the book of Zechariah.

                “The unique and peculiar relationship between this “Shepherd” and Jehovah is fully brought out in the words which follow: “the man that is my fellow.”  The word (‘amith) is found elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible only in Leviticus.  It seems to be a substantive, and denotes “fellowship,” “neighbourship,” in the abstract.  But the only other place in the Hebrew Bible where this word is found, namely, in Leviticus, it is used only as the synonym of (“brother”), in the concrete sense of the nearest one.  The two words (“man”) and (“My fellow”) must therefore be regarded as apposites, and have been properly so rendered in the English Bible…..”

                “No Owner of a flock, or lord of a flock, would call a hired or purchased shepherd his ‘amith.  And so God would not apply this epithet to any godly or ungodly man whom He might have appointed shepherd over a nation.  The idea of nearest one (or fellow) involves not only similarity in vocation, but community of physical or spiritual descent, according to which he whom God calls His neighbour cannot be a mere man, but can only be one who participates in the Divine nature, or is essentially Divine.  The shepherd of Jehovah, whom the sword is to smite, is therefore no other than the Messiah, who is also identified with Jehovah in chapter 12:10; or the Good Shepherd, who says of Himself, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30).” (Baron, David, The Visions and Prophesies of Zechariah, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1975, p. 476-477)

                What a wonderful prophetic word.  Zechariah gives us much to meditate upon here.  The promise of God is that one will come who will share in the Divine nature and who will be struck down by the express plan of God that he might be the refiner of his people so that they will be brought into the covenant relationship with God through him.  For this reason Jesus point to this Scripture as being fulfilled in the scandal of the Cross.

                “Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”  But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”  (Matthew 26:31-32)

                The word for “fall away” used here is to be caused to stumble, to be offended, or shocked, by what they have observed.  That God would deliberately afflict His only begotten Son with our punishment so that we could be redeemed in Him seems offensive to us.  In reality however we find here the power of God for our salvation revealed here.  For this we praise God!  o