Trusting Christ

“So He said to me, “This is the Word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.  What are you, o mighty mountain?  Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground.  Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it!  God bless it!’” 

                Then the Word of the Lord came to me: “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this Temple; his hands will also complete it.  Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.  Who despises the day of small things?  Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.  (These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range throughout the earth.)””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 4:6-10

                Over the past fifty or sixty years it seems as if the Christian Church here in the west has fallen on hard times.   By nearly every measure we use we seem to be in decline.  Fewer people are attending worship services, our influence is declining, and hostility to our beliefs is increasing.  For many, there is a growing longing for those glorious days of the past when things were so much better.  We pray for revival, which is a vital necessity at all times.  We engage in personal evangelism, trying to lead as many as possible to salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Still we find ourselves feeling increasingly out of step with the world around us.

The question we must confront in our present situation is whether our current struggles are really that unusual.  Recent research shows that we live in a time when there is an abundance of persecution directed against Christians.  We know that there have been other times in which there has been a lot of hostility directed against the faithful.  The Bible describes an abundance of times when believers have faced hostility for their faith.  One such time was the time described by the Old Testament books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah where the Temple was being rebuilt by those who had returned from the exile.  It was being rebuilt while the believers were facing an abundance of hostility.  For believers like Zerubbabel, the descendant of King David who was a leading figure in the Hebrew community it must have seemed to be a hopeless task.  What was he to do in such an environment?

It was here that God’s Word came to him reminding him that the task was not his, it was God’s.  “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord.”  There was only one way the task was going to be accomplished and this was through the gracious working of God’s Spirit.  This is not to say that Zerubbabel did not have tasks that he must carry out in faith.  He did in fact have many.  The assurance he was given however was that God was at work in this task to which he had been called.  God assured him of the ultimate success of his work.

As we examine the few verses that head this page we see that God’s promise is that the rebuilding of the Temple is an example of something truly significant that God is going to do in the future.  The Temple is a step along the way to an incredibly powerful event which was even then drawing close.  This was the building of the Kingdom of God through the coming ministry of the Messiah.  God’s promise to Zerubbabel points ahead to this great event.  The struggle that God’s people returning from the exile were facing was in fact the same conflict that the Son of Man would face when He came and which we are currently are facing in our time as we testify to His gracious gift to us.

In each case the solution to our dilemma is the same.  This is to put our faith in that thing which God is doing in the Christ.  At all times success is guaranteed because it is the Sovereign, All Powerful God who is doing the work.  Therefore we are called to prayerful obedience to God’s call to service.  He has called us to testify in every place that He puts us to the wonderful grace that has been given to us in Christ.   The question is this; do we truly believe that the Spirit of God is actively at work in us, through us, and around us, accomplishing God’s great purpose in Christ?  If we believe this truth will we follow Him into the difficult places He leads us, sharing the love of Christ with those whose lives are broken and corrupted by sin?  This has always been God’s plan of redemption.

Love Your Enemies

     “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone slaps you on the cheek, turn the other also.  If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Luke 6:27-31

In continuing an examination of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain we are led into a reflection on just what it means to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The sermon is directed towards the disciples of Jesus.  They have been called to follow Jesus to the cross.  His teaching which is given to them here will point out just what it means to be a disciple.  They are to deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow Jesus.  All of their lives, their relationships, their purpose, will now be centred upon the person and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Ross Hastings in his book, “Missional God, Missional Church” writes,

“In sheer grace, again, when the risen Christ comes to them He does not do so with condemnation.  He comes instead with outstretched arms and words of shalom upon His lips.  How precious was the real presence of Jesus for those disciples–the same yet different Jesus.  There was a continuity of identity.  He was still fully divine and fully human, yet there was a discontinuity with respect to the nature of the humanity.  This picture is a strong encouragement for Christians in Churches that have lost their way missionally because they have lost their centre in Christ.  Instead of discussing the glories of the risen Christ, they now squabble over carpet colors and who’s in charge of what and how much money should be given to whom.” (Pages 123 – 124)

For Hastings a Church which has lost its focus upon the crucified and risen Christ has ceased to be a Church.  Jesus calls His disciples into a lifestyle of Agape love, which the Scriptures make clear can only be lived in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.  That is the way that our mission work is carried out.  That is the way that we truly live as the Church in this hostile world.  I will be reflecting more upon this in the coming weeks.

Advancing the Gospel

“Yes and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”

                                                                                                                                                Philippians 1:18b- 19

The Apostle Paul is writing a very joyful letter to the Church in Philippi, and dealing with some of the difficulties that he has been facing.  As he writes this Paul gives us the proper, Biblical perspective on the circumstances that we face in our lives.  As believers we are called to love and glorify God with every aspect of our lives.  At times it seems as if this is impossible on account of the overwhelming nature of our circumstances.  When we look at the context of what Paul writes here we discover his perspective, which must become ours if we expect to enjoy the love of our God.  Paul’s perspective was Gospel centred.  The one question that he wrestled with was whether the Gospel would be advanced by his circumstances.  The facts were that he was imprisoned, chained to a guard, and prevented from freely serving the Lord.  For us such circumstances would be an intolerable hardship.  For Paul they served to advance the Gospel cause.  So he rejoiced in them.

The Prophet Jeremiah calls us to a different perspective on life from what is normal for us.  He writes,

“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man of his riches,  but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight, declares the Lord.”

                                                                                                                                                Jeremiah 9:23ff

In the book of Job we read,

“Keep silent and let me speak; then let come to me what may.  Why do I put myself in such jeopardy and take my life in my hands?  Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him; I will surely defend my ways to His face.  Indeed this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before Him!”

                                                                                                                                                Job 13:13-16

                The Job quotation hints at the defence which Paul gives for his ministry.  No matter what happens to him he is praying that the purposes of the Gospel will be advanced through his life or his death.  This is the joyful approach that we are to take to our circumstances.  Our prayer and our commitment must be that the Gospel purpose will be advance by what we are facing.

Reflections On The Cross

“Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.”  Luke 6:22

This week I have begun a reading of “The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ” by Fleming Rutledge.  (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2015.)  This marvelous book is leading me into a deepening reflection on the cross of Christ.  Some of these reflections I hope to focus upon in these Blog Posts over the next few months.  Rutledge makes the powerful point that Christ Crucified is really central to the whole life of the Christian Church.

Today I just want to include a couple of quotations in order to sharpen our focus on the life that we are called to as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“This chapter has been about the primacy of the cross.  We have not yet said enough about the godless nature of it; that is the subject of the next chapter.  Episcopal v=bishop Philip Rhinelander, in the “Faith of the Cross”, summarizes for us the astonishing but insufficiently noted fact that the first Christians were determined to make the godlessness primary:

“If ever mortal men found a real hero on this earth, those men were the disciples.  They, indeed, were hero worshippers.  Then think of the horrid shock and shame which overwhelmed them at the Cross.  It was no splendid martyrdom for a great cause, no glorious conquest won at the cost of life; no epic to be sung and celebrated.  No, the Cross was simply an utter overthrow, a speechless failure.  It was all sordid, cruel, criminal, a gross injustice, and intolerable defeat of good by evil, of God by devils…..  He, their hero, their chosen leader, He was numbered with the transgressors.  He was cast out with a curse upon Him.  Think how loyalty would burn to right this wrong, to clear His memory, to save His reputation, to prove that gross outrage had been done to Him, to magnify the life so that the death might be forgotten…. But nothing of the kind seems to have occurred to the Evangelists.  They literally glory in the Cross…. They are clear, with an absolute conviction, that the best and most wonderful thing He ever did was…to die a felon’s death, between two robbers.  It was their hero’s greatest heroism that He was executed as a common criminal.”

To summarize then: the crucifixion is the touchstone of Christian authenticity, the unique feature by which everything else, including the resurrection is given its true significance.”

At the beginning of the next chapter Rutledge quotes from Kenneth Leech from “We Preach Christ Crucified”.

“In order to speak of the crucified God we need a theology of  abandonment, of dereliction, of an alienation so profound that it can only be expressed in a language marked by paradox and by great daring and risk.  The crucifixion of the Son of God by one of the most advanced civilizations in the ancient world does not seem to be an acceptable or reasonable method of redeeming the world.  There is something so outrageous and obscene about it that the agony of Gethsemane becomes the only comprehensible part of the whole saga.”

I hope this leads you into your own profitable reflections on Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

A Great Old Hymn

“Then David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said, Who am I, O Lord God, that you have brought me this far?  And as if this were not enough in your sight, O God, you have spoken about the future of the house of your servant.  You have looked upon me as though I were the most exalted of men.”

                                                                                                                                                1 Chronicles 17:16-17

                Richard Cecil in The Life of John Newton (edited by Marylynn Rouse, Published by Christian Focus Publications, 2000) writes in Appendix 7 regarding Newton’s great hymn “Amazing Grace” that it was written to accompany a sermon on the above Scripture passage.  This was a sermon in which called God’s people to an attitude of mind that expressed real gratitude to God for all of His blessings to us.  Newton entitled the hymn “Faith’s review and expectation”.  The original expresses real hope and gratitude to God, responding in faith to the marvellous grace given in Christ.

Here is the version which Cecil preserves for us.

“Faith’s Review and Expectation

1 Chronicles 17:16-17

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)

                That saved a wretch like me!

                I once was lost, but now am found,

                Was blind, but now I see.

 

                ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

                And grace those fears relieved;

                How precious did that grace appear,

                The hour I first believed!

 

                Through many dangers, toils and snares,

                I have already come;

                ‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,

                And grace will lead me home.

 

                The Lord has promised good to me,

                His Word my hope secures;

                He will my shield and portion be,

                As long as life endures.

 

                Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

                And mortal life shall cease;

                I shall possess within the veil,

                A life of joy and peace.

 

                The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,

                The sun forebear to shine;

                But God, who called me here below,

                Will be forever mine.”