For The Glory Of Christ

                “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”

                                                                                                                                                                Romans 8:26-27

                It is of vital importance that the Church of Christ recaptures an awareness of and commitment to the prayer meeting.  So much of the power which we need for genuine outreach in this world hardened by sin is dependent on prayer.  We need the presence of the LORD Jesus Christ among us.  We need an ever deepening awareness of His glory.  It is this which draws people to His holy presence.  In Matthew’s Gospel we read these words from the lips of our saviour.  For where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

                One of the key issues which we often find ourselves facing as we think about joining with others in prayer is our own lack of proficiency in prayer.  We hear about the effective and fervent praying of others and then look at ourselves and in reality we judge ourselves as being deficient in our prayer life.  Surely the reason for this is owing to our focus upon ourselves.  We are not looking at the LORD and His limitless resources, but at our own all too frequent failures and limitations. 

                I found this account given by Charles Haddon Spurgeon in a sermon entitled The Fatherhood of God, based upon the Lord’s Prayer.  “As one dear brother said the other day at the prayer meeting, — he could not get on in prayer, and he finished up on a sudden by saying, “LORD, I cannot pray tonight as I should wish; I cannot put the words together; LORD, take the meaning, take the meaning,” and sat down.” (Spurgeon’s Sermons, Vol. 5, Hendrickson publishers, Peabody, Mass. 2011, p. 109)

                This illustration helps us to understand the dynamic which the Apostle Paul is describing in the Romans 8 passage quoted at the beginning of this devotional.  We often don’t know how to pray.  Our words and our understanding are often so very limited and unsatisfactory.  We feel as if anything that we could add to the prayer meeting will be unhelpful.  We have forgotten something however.  This is that the prayer meeting, like everything else in the Christian life is not really about us.  It is all about the Glory of the LORD Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit comes to Glorify Christ.  He comes in and intercedes for us as one who knows just what the will of God is for us.  He knows what is really in our hearts and He will pray for us accordingly.  He knows what we are really seeking in life and will bring our desires into accord with the purpose and plan of God so that we might be conformed to the likeness of Christ.  It is not about us.  It is all about the LORD Jesus Christ.  In the prayer meeting, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are brought into the reality of a life lived for the Glory of Christ. 

                Ian Hamilton expressed this truth so well in a Pastoral Letter to the Cambridge Presbyterian Church in March of 2010, www.cambridgepres.org.uk/nl/nl1003.html.           “I shall lay the foundation of the ensuing meditations in this one assertion, — namely, that one of the greatest privileges and advancements of believers, both in this world and unto eternity, consists in their BEHOLDING THE GLORY OF CHRIST (1.286).”

                It is to this that the Holy Spirit leads us as we gather together with other believers to pray. 

His Great Plan

                “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.  So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables.””

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 6:1-2

                When we look carefully at the Book of Acts we see clear evidence of the hand of God upon His Church.  The fact is that the Gospel is God’s plan of redemption, decided on before the creation of anything and worked out in amazing detail within the events of history.  It should not surprise us that the whole plan is worked out in such amazing detail.  God would not have sent His Son into our world and then left the outcome of His work to chance.  When we look at the sixth chapter of Acts we discover another one of those events which had the potential to wreck the whole Church.  Satan’s attacks against the Gospel seem to come at those points where we are weakest.  Such attacks look to our eyes as if they are overwhelming in scope and power.  They always become the one thing that when overcome with Biblical Wisdom advances the Gospel’s impact in this world.

                Such was the case with the cross.  What looked to be the victory Satan was seeking was the very thing that led to the triumph of the Lamb of God over death.  Here in Acts six we see an attack which had been centuries in the making.  It concerned the friction between the Jews of the Diaspora and the Jews of Judea.  Ever since God had sent His people off into the exile there had been those who had been scattered throughout the world.  When others came home, many of these did not.  They had become immersed into the culture of their new cities.  Their language was Greek, the international language of the world.  Their culture was Greek.  Their ethnicity and faith was however still Hebrew.  Many of their widows had adopted the practice of moving to Jerusalem in their latter years in order that they might die and be buried in Jerusalem.  These widows were often impoverished needing the assistance of the synagogues for survival.  When they heard the Gospel and turned to Christ they were cut off from their source of assistance and therefore they needed the help which the Church was giving through the Apostles.  Problem was that the numbers were growing, the Church was being successful, and therefore the Apostles were being overwhelmed.  In this environment it is quite possible that some of these widows were falling through the cracks and that this lead to the type of grumbling and complaining that could have destroyed the New Testament Church.  This issue was even more pressing because it was falling on long held cultural divisions in the makeup of the church. 

                Here is the potential for disaster.  It is also the path forward which God has set out for His Gospel.  The Twelve called together the disciples, note the term used here for the first time in the Book of Acts.  A disciple is a person who is committed to a lifelong path of learning from a teacher.  The Church is a fellowship of those who are learning from the Lord Jesus Christ.   The Twelve exercise Biblical Wisdom here.  They seem to be applying the lesson learned from Moses’ commissioning of Joshua to lead the people of Israel in Numbers 27:15-23.  Many scholars have pointed to the connections between these two passages.  That teaching is blended with an absolute faith that God’s purpose in grace was being fulfilled right before their eyes.  Perhaps they reflected on the message of the Book of Daniel which describes in great detail the centuries through which they were living.  God’s plan to scatter and then gather His people in the exile surely was a part of what they were experiencing. 

                Therefore they decide on a plan that involves the Grecian Jews selecting a task force of seven men.  This was a typical number for the synagogues to choose for a task.  This vital ministry would be turned over to these seven and the Apostles would continue in the calling they had received from the Lord.  The consequence was even greater blessing for the Gospel.  God’s Wisdom was revealed in a powerful and liberating way. 

                The lesson for us today is that all of our stresses and crisis’ are part of God’s great plan to bring us face to face with the Gospel.  He is constantly putting us in circumstances where we see this clearly.  Are we willing to patiently trust Him as we seek to walk into His plan for our lives?  This is what we see the New Testament Church doing.  Will we?

Compelled By The Love Of Christ

                “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.”

                                                                                                                                                                2 Corinthians 5:14-15

                “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

                                                                                                                                                                2 Corinthians 5:21

                These verses focus our attention on the heart of the gospel proclamation which, Paul tells us, is the power of God to redeem us.  This gospel is the foundation of all the Paul is and does.  If you are to understand Paul you must begin by coming to terms with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  So often, in biographies we encounter a question about the secret of the subject of the biography’s success.  Many theories are put forward as to why that particular person accomplished what they did.  If the subject was a Christian however there is one chief cause of their fame.  Such is the case with Paul, and all true preachers of the gospel.  This is that they are people whose lives have been mastered by the gospel of Christ.  They are who they are on account of this one tremendous fact, the Lord Jesus Christ has died for them and as a consequence they have died with Him to their own selfishness and sin, so that they might now live for Him.  He is their sin offering, the only ground on which they are reconciled to God.  They therefore have now committed their lives to making this gospel known to as many people as will listen to them. 

                This truth has been ably communicated by John Piper in his book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, (B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tenn., 2013, pages 3 & 4). 

                “ “The life-giving preacher is a man of God, whose heart is ever athirst for God, whose soul is ever following hard after God, whose eye is single to God, and in whom by the power of Gods Spirit the flesh and the world have been crucified and his ministry is like the generous flood of a life-giving river.” (John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991, 16.))

                We are most emphatically not part of a social team sharing goal with other professionals.  Our goals are an offense; they are foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23).  The professionalization of the ministry is a constant threat to the offense of the gospel.  It is a threat to the profoundly spiritual nature of our work.  I have seen it often: the love of professionalism (parity among the world’s professionals) kills a man’s belief that he is sent by God to save people from hell and to make them Christ-exalting, spiritual aliens in the world.

                The world sets the agenda of the professional man; God sets the agenda of the spiritual man.  The strong wine of Jesus Christ explodes the wineskins of professionalism.  There is an infinite difference between the pastor whose heart is set upon being professional and the pastor whose heart is set on being the aroma of Christ, the fragrance of death to some and eternal life to others. (2 Cor. 5:15-16)

                “God, deliver us from the professionalizers!  Deliver us from the “low, managing, contriving, manoeuvring temper among us.” (Richard Cecil quoted by E. M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1972) p. 59)  God, give us tears for our sins.  Forgive us for being so shallow in prayer, so thin in our grasp of holy verities, so content amid perishing neighbours, so empty of passion and earnestness in all our conversation.  Restore to us the childlike joy of our salvation.  Frighten us with the awesome holiness and power of Him who can cast both soul and body into hell (Matt. 10:28).  Cause us to hold to the cross with fear and trembling as our hope-filled and offensive tree of life.  Grant us nothing, absolutely nothing, the way the world views it.  May Christ be all in all (Col. 3:11).

                Banish professionalism from our midst, Oh God, and in its place put passionate prayer, poverty of spirit, hunger for God, rigorous study of holy things, white-hot devotion to Jesus Christ, utter indifference to all material gain, and unremitting labor to rescue the perishing, perfect the saints, and glorify our Sovereign Lord.

                Humble us, O God, under your mighty hand, and let us rise, not as professionals, but as witnesses and partakers of the sufferings of Christ.  In His awesome Name.  Amen.””

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.

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!”

For He Himself Is Our Peace

                “For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ephesians 2:14-15

                Sometimes we are swept away in wonder over the power and the beauty of the Word of God.  It has a way of sweeping away the cobwebs of our cluttered lives in order to breathe in the pure wind of the Spirit.  It is useful, at times, to step back and take a wide angled view of the Word noting the huge context of the message.   In the book of Ephesians the Apostle Paul gives us a powerful description of the Body of Christ, the Church in all of its wonder.  God has created something new, a new creation, in which He will overrule all of the distinctions that we draw up in order to determine who we think, is acceptable to God.  In Paul’s world, the Jews rejected the Gentiles, calling them a lesser form of humanity, the Gentiles rejected the Jews calling them the enemies of all peoples.  Each one used human distinctions to reject people who were not like them.  We are guilty of this as well.  We are perfectly willing to accept others provided they change and become like us. 

                Paul tells us, in the wider view that God’s solution is to create one new people in Christ.  There is now no longer Jews or Gentiles, there is now Christians, those who are like Christ.  That is the wide angled view of what God is doing in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We must take a closer view however.    John Calvin, in his Sermons on Ephesians (Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1998) draws us in closer with these words.

                “Furthermore, the title that St. Paul gives to our Lord Jesus Christ, namely, that ‘he is our peace’, ought to be carefully considered,”

A.Skevington Wood in his commentary in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1978) takes us further as he writes the following.

                “”He Himself” is emphatic (cf. V. 15, “in Himself”).  Christ and no other “has solved the problem of our relationships with God and man” (Barclay, p. 120).  He draws men to God and to each other in His own person.  It is not simply the message He proclaimed or even the message proclaimed about Him that effects this reconciliation.  It is Himself.  There is an echo here of Micah 5:5.  “Peace” is recognised by the Talmud as a name of God.  So Paul can announce that Christ is peace as well as life (Col. 3:4) and hope (Col. 1:27).  The “I am” sayings recorded in the fourth Gospel provided a foundation in the claims of Jesus for such assertions.”

                When we take a close look at what Paul writes here it is clear that his focus is not on the message of Christ which urges us to be at peace with others.  It is that Christ Himself is our peace.  It is only in Him that the deepest needs of our lives are met.  It is only in Him that we are reconciled to God.  Wood points us to a quotation from Micah 5:1-5 which speaks to us about the coming Messiah.

                “Marshall your troops, O city of troops, for a siege is laid against us.  They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod.  But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me on who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.  Therefore Israel will be abandoned until them time when He who is labour gives birth and the rest of His brothers return to join the Israelites.  He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the Name of the Lord His God.  And they will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.  And He will be their peace.”             

Exalting Christ

                “Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.  Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.  But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself.”  He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.”

                                                                                                                                                John 12:30-33

                In their book Preaching the Cross, Mark Dever, J. Ligon Duncan III, R. Albert Mohler Jn., and C. J. Mahaney argue for a recovery of cross centred preaching in the Christian Church.  This is that one central theme which is able to give power to the proclamation of the Gospel.  It is at the heart of the Gospel of John as the task of Christians everywhere.  In our text Jesus calls us to exalt Him by lifting Him up from the earth.  We preach a crucified redeemer, who was raised from the grave and who is now ever living to make intercession for us.  Three times in his Gospel John returns to this theme of lifting up the Lord Jesus Christ.  He does so in John 3:14ff when he writes,

                “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

                Or in John 8:28 when he comes back to this same theme,

                “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the father taught me.”

                In our text the Lord Jesus Christ tells us that in His cross the judgement or crisis of the world will take place.  What He means is that it will be that one event in which all sin will be judged.  Satan’s hold on this world will be broken.  For all who will receive it forgiveness will be offered in the Cross.  Nothing is more important than to proclaim this message.  We must ask however what this will look like in our churches.

                John Piper in his chapter in Preaching the Cross, “Preaching as Expository Exultation for the Glory of God” quotes extensively from Arnold Dallimore’s biography of George Whitefield regarding his proclamation of the cross of Christ.

                “Yea…that we shall see the great Head of the Church once more…raise up unto Himself certain young men whom He may use in this glorious employ.  And what manner of men might they be?  Men mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace.  They will be men who have learned what it is to die to self, to human aims and personal ambitions; men who are willing to be “fools for Christ’s sake”, who will bear reproach and falsehood, who will labor and suffer, and whose supreme desire will be, not to gain earth’s accolades, but to win the Master’s approbation when they appear before His awesome judgment seat.  They will be men who will preach with broken hearts and tear filled eyes, and upon whose ministries God will grant an extraordinary effusion of the Holy Spirit, and who will witness “signs and wonders following” in the transformation of multitudes of human lives.” (Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1970)

                This is what the Apostle John is calling for in his Gospel.  We must be praying that God will raise up people who will exalt the Lord Jesus Christ by proclaiming the cross centred message of God’s transforming grace.

The Crisis Of This World

                “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will be.  My father will honour the one who serves me.  Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 12:23-28a

                In John chapter 12 something changes.  The Lord Jesus Christ has entered the Temple area in triumph.  Lazarus has been raised back to life from the dead.  The crowds are in a frenzy of excitement about Jesus and Lazarus.  The opposition to Jesus and His word has solidified with the intention to put Him to death.  Up to this point in the gospel Jesus has kept stating that His hour had not yet come (John 2:4; 7:30; and 8:20).  Now something has changed, a delegation of Gentiles, John calls them Greeks, are brought by Andrew and Philip to Jesus.  Their conversation with the Lord Jesus Christ is not recorded by John.  What he does record for us is the statement which Jesus makes on this occasion.  Something has changed.  Jesus’ hour has now come.  In verse 31 Jesus says that the judgment of the world and its prince has now come.  Literally what Jesus says here is that the time has come for the division, separation, judgment of this world.  The actual word here is crisis.  The crisis of the world has come.  A crisis is an event which brings change.  This is the hour that Jesus has now come to. 

                There is something about the coming of some Gentiles to Jesus which brings Him to the hour of His glorification.  He speaks to them, and His disciples, about what this crisis will require of Him and of them.  The Son of Man is about to be glorified through the cross.  Jesus’ hour is a cross centred hour.  So Jesus begins to speak about how He will glorify the Name of His father through His death on the cross.  He must die so that God’s redemptive purpose can be accomplished. 

                God is glorified through the cross of Christ.  Those who follow Jesus must be those who are crucified with Him.  We are called to heed the call of the Lord to follow Him to the cross.  There is no life for us or for others apart from the cross of Christ.  In fact Jesus tells his audience here in chapter 12 that, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am my servant must be.” We serve and follow Christ crucified.  The disciples, and us today, are called to follow Him to the cross.  Where He is found we are found and that is living the crucified life.

                George Whitefield tells us about this crucified life, which he applies to preachers, but which can be reasonably be applied to all true disciples of Christ when he writes the following.

                “Yea…that we shall see the great Head of the Church once more…raise up unto Himself certain young men whom He may use in this glorious employ.  And what manner of men will they be?  Men mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace.  They will be men who have learned what it is to die to self, to human aims and personal ambitions; men who are willing to be “fools for Christ’s sake”, who will bear reproach and falsehood, who will labour and suffer, and whose supreme desire will be, not to gain the earth’s accolades, but to win the Master’s approbation when they appear before His awesome judgment seat.  They will be men who will preach with broken hearts and tear-filled eyes, and upon whose ministries God will grant an extraordinary effusion of the Holy Spirit, and who will witness “signs and wonders following” in the multitudes of human lives.” (Dallimore, Arnold, George Whitefield, Edinburgh, Banner of Truth Trust, 1970, Vol. 1 page 16)

Spiritual Mindedness

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.  Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 1:19-22

                A number of years ago, when I first read John Miller’s little book Outgrowing the Ingrown Church I was struck by one of the phrases that he used.  This was that for him faith involved his giving himself to God without reservation, and then taking his courage in his hands and obeying God in everything that God commanded.  I wondered just what Miller meant by such a powerful statement.  It seemed that he was trying to define for us just what a life of faith looked like.  How do we know if we are living by faith or in the flesh?  How do we live in the Spirit, being spiritually minded as we live out our lives?  We use these expressions so glibly.  What does a truly spiritual life look like?

                Of all places to find answers to these questions the book of James seems to be an unlikely place.  Here is a book that seems to teach salvation by works.  At least that is what we think.  However, when we take a closer look we discover that James is really calling us to live a lifestyle which is truly spiritual because it has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  What does such a life look like?

                James tells us that God has willed to give us new birth through the word of truth.  He anchors the Christian life in regeneration, the work of the Holy Spirit bringing us to new life through faith in the LORD Jesus Christ.  In the eighteenth century young missionaries like John and Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield discovered this teaching about regeneration by the work of the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ.  Their testimony was that as they came to believe in Christ they found, to use John Wesley’s word, “their hearts strangely warmed.”  They began to preach this Word throughout the villages and towns in Britain and many thousands came to faith in Christ.  They had returned to the Gospel message of the New Testament.

                In tremendously practical terms James outlines for us in his letter this message of regeneration.  It is characterized by the righteousness of God being created within us.  This is not our righteousness it is His given to us through faith.  Almost immediately it begins to work itself out in our lives.  It produces the fruit of righteousness transforming our speech and our attitudes.  It causes us to obey the Word of God.  It is almost as if that word is being written into our hearts.  In fact that is what two Old Testament Prophets said God would do.

                Jeremiah writes, ““The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah.  It will not be like the Covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my Covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.  “This is the Covenant I will make with the House of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD.  “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.”” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)

                Ezekiel echoes Jeremiah’s words in this way, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

                                                                                                                                                (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

                James tells us that Spiritual Christianity is a faith that leads us to obey God’s Word through the power of God’s Spirit in all manner of practical ways.  It starts with our accepting by faith the implanted word of God which comes to us in the Gospel.

It Is Finished

                “Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”  A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  When He received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”  With that He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 19:28-30

                Every year when we come to celebrate Holy Week I find myself wrestling with the tremendous mystery of the events that took place around the cross and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Gospel writers present these events as being the fulfillment of many prophesies.  It seems as if one of John’s favourite expressions is, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.”  This is surely more meaningful than that Jesus did certain things in order to fulfill the Scripture.  Instead John and all of the other Gospel writers go out of their way to point out that all of these events, affecting numerous people, as well as the flow of history itself, were being worked out in a way that conformed them to Word of God.  The words that John uses here point out that all of these things fulfilled God’s Word completely.  What a wonderful aide to our faith.  God revealed these things through His prophets, had them write them down for our benefit, and then brought all of history together in a grand accomplishment of all that He said.

                The point here is much bigger than just the fulfillment of some promises, as important as that is in building our faith.  God revealed these things so that we would understand just what He was doing in Christ.  Here we discover God’s plan, decided on before the foundation of the world, and accomplished in Christ.  John tells us what is in the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ as He hung upon the cross.  “It is finished.”  Literally John tells us that Jesus was crying out to His Father that the purpose for which He had come into this world was completed.  This was to set us free from sin and death through His atoning death upon the cross.  The Living Word had become flesh and dwelt among us in order to go to the cross and lay His life down as a ransom for us.  In Him we can now be reconciled to God.  God revealed it to us through His Word, and He accomplished it in the Lord Jesus Christ.  What amazing love we are shown, to use Charles Wesley’s phrase. 

                These events which form the heart of our Christian faith are a call from God to us so that we will come to have real faith in God.  It is this to which Jesus calls His disciple in Mark 11.  It is at the heart of the Gospel invitation.  Zechariah 4:6-7 speaks to us about this, “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!’”  It is a call to believe God.  He is at work carrying out His Sovereign purposes in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Nothing can overturn that purpose. 

                The anonymous author of The Kneeling Christian puts it this way in calling the church to prayerful faith, “The secret of failure is that we see men rather than God. ….. Is it not time that we get a new vision of God – of God in all His glory?  Who can say what will happen when the Church sees God?  But let us not wait for others.  Let us, each one for himself, with unveiled face and unsullied heart, get this vision of the glory of the Lord.”