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.”

“God encoded the story of His unconditional love right into this African language. For centuries, the little word was there—unused but available, grammatically correct and quite understandable.”

            Such is the astounding nature of the love that God has given us in Christ.  No wonder we celebrate.

Rekindling Prayer

“There remains therefore, a Sabbath rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His.”

                                                                                                                                                                Hebrews 4:9-10

                When the middle of June rolls around each year I find myself, as I am sure each of you does, looking forward to the summer months in which the pace of our Church life slows down for a while.  I look forward to vacation time when I can get rested and renewed in order to return to the full pace of all of our ministries in the fall.  Summer is a time of a slower pace, of resting, of reconnecting with family and friends.  As I look back on all of my years in Pastoral ministry I find that most of my best family times came during the summer.  In these coming two months my most significant relationships will be rekindled.

If that is true for my family relationships how much more should it be true for my most significant relationship?  During the summer I hope to reconnect with the LORD Jesus Christ in prayer.  So much of what we are called to as believers is dependent upon our life of prayer.  We speak about it often, but how often does it become the reality of our lives?

The Book of Hebrews calls us into this significant relationship with the LORD Jesus Christ.  We enter into it through faith in the LORD Jesus.  Chap Clark, at the recent CBOQ Assembly Meetings spoke to us about this faith in Christ.  It is a trust relationship, which is what the word means.  It means to turn from everything else that we have been trusting in, to put our whole trust in the LORD Jesus Christ.  This means that if we are to enter into this type of relationship we must become people of prayer, not because the amount of prayer in our lives is significant, but because we must communicate with the one we trust.  We listen to His Word as the Holy Spirit opens up our understanding of it.  We also speak to the LORD laying the burdens of our lives down at His feet.

As the fourth chapter of Hebrews concludes the focus becomes overtly upon this calling to become people of prayer.

“Therefore, since we have a great High Priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.  Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

                                                                                                                                                                Hebrews 4:14-16

                Such prayer leads us into worship, praise, and petition for our needs and the needs of others.  It also has a crucial place in the advancement of the mission and ministry of the Gospel in this world.  Please, this summer hear the calling of these words from the Apostle Paul.

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.  And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we might proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.”

                                                                                                                                                                Colossians 4:2-3

Standing Your Ground

“Then the High priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.  They arrested the Apostles and put them in the public jail.  But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the Temple Courts,” He said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.””

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 5:17-20

                There is something wonderful about the way that Luke keeps alternating in the early chapters of the Book of Acts between the general and the specific.  He writes, as a summary, in chapter 5:12-16, about how the Church is growing dramatically in response to the prayer of Acts 4:25ff.  Then in the seventeenth verse of chapter five Luke goes back to his specific account.  Now it is about the way that the world around the believers, in the form of the High Priest and Sadducees is roused to jealousy and responds to the growth of the Church by putting the Apostles in jail, and subjecting them to a trial with the hope that they might be put to death.  Fruitfulness leads to persecution here in Acts five, as it always does in one form or another.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in his sermon, “The Outpouring of the Spirit” proclaims the following about an awakening that took place in the United States in the late 1850’s and early 1860’s.

“The work still progresses, if anything, at a more rapid rate than before, and that which makes me believe the work to be genuine is just this – that the enemies of Christ’s holy gospel are exceedingly wroth at it.  When the devil roars at anything, you may rest assured there is some good in it.  The devil is not like some dogs we know of; he never barks unless there is something to bark at.  When Satan howls, we may rest assured he is afraid his kingdom is in danger.  Now this great work in America has been manifestly caused by the outpouring of the Spirit, for no one minister has been a leader in it.  All the ministers of the gospel have cooperated in it, but none of them has stood in the van.  God Himself has been the leader of His own hosts.  It began with a desire for prayer.  God’s people began to pray: the prayer meetings were better attended than before; it was then proposed to hold meeting at times that have never been set apart for prayer; these also were well attended; and now, in the city of Philadelphia, at the hour of noon, every day of the week, three thousand persons can always be seen assembled together for prayer in one place.”

                Looking at Acts 5:17-20, and the verses which follow, we see that in response to the preaching of the gospel the Jewish Leaders rise up, in opposition.  They are going to do everything in their power to bring this movement to an end.  The Apostles are arrested and put in the public jail.  Plans are put into effect for the calling of a trial of these apostles for the purpose of putting them to death.  The problem that the Christians posed was to be brought to a speedy end.  They made their plans, but God intervened.  The Angel of the Lord, at the very least an angel, but perhaps the Lord Himself, set the Apostles free.  The point here is to confirm what Luke has been saying right from the beginning of the book, this is about the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the prime mover behind the spread of the Gospel.

The Apostles are set free and told to stand their ground in the face of the opposition they will be facing.  Sometimes the only way forward for believers is to stand our ground in the face of severe opposition.  The leaders rise up and the Apostles stand firm with the Gospel message.  This can only be the result of a prayerful abiding in Christ.  They stand firm in the Spirit of God and the consequence is the advance of the Gospel in the face of opposition.  This is what the Apostle Paul calls the Church at Ephesus to in Ephesians 6:10-13.

“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, 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.”

And When You Pray

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.  This then is how you should pray:  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…..”

                                                                                                                                                Matthew 6:5-9

                Last evening as I was reading in the third volume of Wilhelmus A Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service in a section, in which the author deals with the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, I came across the following helpful phrase regarding prayer.

God hallows Himself: “And I will sanctify My great Name” (Ezek. 36:23) God hallows Himself both in the works of nature and of grace, revealing to man what manner of God He is.”  (page 499)

                What A Brakel is saying here, and I believe that this is absolutely crucial for believers to understand is that the first principle of prayer is to hallow, or reverence God’s Name.  When we pray we are engaged in something much deeper than just making requests of God.  In God’s grace we are invited to bring our requests before Him (Philippians 4:6-7).  What we are doing is really much more however.  We are engaged in a relationship in which we are being fundamentally changed (what the Bible calls being sanctified) by our encounter with our Lord.  2 Corinthians 3:17-18 makes this clear.  So much of our experience in prayer, and the struggles we have with prayer are owing to this transformation.  There are times when prayer is a real joy.  Other times it is characterized by dryness and real struggle.  I believe that this is when we are being refined by God.

God’s purpose for our praying is to cause us to develop a sincere reverence for Him.  If we were to use the word glory to describe our purpose here, as in to “glorify God”, what we would mean by this is that we would be giving God His proper weight.  Our struggle is centred upon the fact that we keep thinking of God as if He is like us.  We keep falling short in our understanding of God’s true greatness.  God will not allow us to persist in this attitude for long.  A Brakel tells us that God “Hallows His own Name”, meaning He will always be bringing us to reverence Him for who He really is.  Prayer brings us to the point where this happens in our lives.  We, in prayer begin to see that He alone is God, there is no other, including all the false views of God that we create for ourselves.  In prayer God shows us His goodness, or graciousness.  He consents to be reconciled to us through the Lord Jesus Christ entirely on His merit not ours.  I do not believe that we truly understand just how gracious He is towards us.  In prayer He reveals to us His justice in judgement.  He really does deal with sin, but provides a way of redemption through His Son.  In prayer we are confronted with His omnipotence as He works out His purpose in our lives.

Once we begin to pray we find that nothing is ever the same again because God meets us and we begin to see His glory revealed through His Son.  He offers us and invitation to come to His throne of grace in real prayer.  Shall we pray?