An Advent Reflection

                “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.  You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea.  You will be true to Jacob and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago.”

                                                                                                                                                                Micah 7:18-20

                This coming Sunday will be the first Sunday of Advent.  For many this will be a delightful day in which we begin to sing Christmas carols and which we light the first Advent candle.  The songs of the Incarnation always seem to move our hearts in joyful worship.  I must confess that I love singing the Christmas carols, as they are among some of the most delightful of the hymns of the Church.  Advent looks ahead to the main event, the celebration of Christmas itself.  We love every part of that day.  We eagerly anticipate its coming each year.

                This week I looked up the definition of advent and made some discoveries.  For the Christian Church Advent is a season of anticipation where we look forward to the coming of our Redeemer, the Incarnate Lord Jesus Christ.  With this anticipation of His arrival we find ourselves immersed in hope that all that His coming means with become reality in our lives.  As Phillips Brooks writes in his masterful hymn “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”  That line from O Little Town of Bethlehem captures our mood as we enter into advent this year.

                There is however a third element to the definition of Advent for the Christian Church.  This is the call to repentance which the season brings.  John the Baptist came and called people to prepare the way of the Lord.  In doing so John was letting his world and ours know that any communion with God requires repentance.  We must turn to Him.  This was as well the message of the Prophets.  They were sent to call God’s people back to Him.  Their message is filled with the word of the Advent.  God is coming among us.  Isaiah even has a Word or a Name to designate His coming, Emmanuel, God with us.  Therefore it should not surprise us that a substantial portion of the focus of Advent is upon the Prophetic message.

                That message consistently confronts us with the character of the God we worship.  Micah writes, “Who is a God like you?”  In fact that is the meaning of the Prophet’s name.  This is a key thought for us to focus upon this Advent season.  What do the Scriptures tell us about the character of God?  How is this reflected in the mighty works which He accomplished in the Incarnation of Christ? 

                Here we encounter the God of grace who became human flesh and dwelt among us so that He could redeem us from our sin.  The only response that is adequate to such great grace is one of believing worship.

The Gospel Is The Power of God

                “For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.”

                                                                                                                                                                1 Thessalonians 1:4-5a

                “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere.  Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.  They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead – Jesus who rescues us from the coming wrath.”

                                                                                                                                                                1 Thessalonians 1:8-10

                “The sixth Angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the horns of the golden altar that is before God.”

                                                                                                                                                                Revelation 9:13

                For anyone who is born again there is a deep awareness of the power of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to save or to condemn.  The Apostle Paul certainly understood this.  The conversion experience which is described in Acts chapter nine and then which is testified to twice more in Luke’s description of the early years of the Church bear’s eloquent testimony to the power of the gospel.  Here was a man opposed to everything Christian, arrested on the Damascus road and turned into a powerful evangelist when he met Christ.

                Paul did not just have his own experience to rely upon here.  Time and again he had encountered the same power in the Gospel confronting a person and bringing them into a vibrant faith in Christ.  It is this which he gives thanks for as he begins his first letter to the Thessalonians.  This gospel has come to the Thessalonians with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.  As the Word of the Gospel was preached among them it began to do a deep work of conviction and conversion that ended up delivering them from the darkness into the light of the Lord’s Kingdom.  Describing his own conversion Paul recounts the words of the Lord Jesus Christ to him in Acts 26:16-18.

                “Now get up and stand on your feet.  I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you.  I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles.  I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

                Paul believed that the Gospel of Christ crucified was the power of God to save anyone who believed it.  He was so convinced of the power of the Gospel that he preached it to all who came under the sound of his voice.  He prayed that his preaching would impact all who heard him.  He not only prayed himself, he encouraged others to pray as well. 

                Paul was not the only Apostle to believe in the power of the Gospel of Christ and to link that power with the prayer of the Church. Repeatedly in the book of Revelation John links the spread of the Gospel with the symbolic prayers of the saints which God answers with warnings, calls to worship, and judgment.  

                I don’t know about you but these texts of Scripture call me to believe that the Gospel preached has the power of God to convert anyone who will believe it.  Therefore I must witness and preach in faith.  I must also be committed to a growing prayer life, calling on the Lord to rescue all who hear.  That is my calling; it is also yours as well.  Do you believe that the Gospel is the power of God to save?

Is Anyone of You in Trouble?

                “Is any one of you in trouble?  He should pray.  Is anyone happy?  Let him sing songs of praise.  Is any one of you sick?  He should call upon the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the Name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; and the Lord will raise him up.  If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you might be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 5:13-16

                Whenever we wrestle with the Scriptures, in earnest study we quickly discover that they contain riches of teaching that has the potential to completely change our lives.  Such is the case with the final verses of the letter of James.  Kim Riddlebarger, in a sermon on James 5:12-20 points us to the continuation of one of the main themes in the book of James.  This is the promise of our Lord to be with us and use all of the trials and distresses of our lives to mature us in Christ.  Riddlebarger complains that too often we confine these verses to merely giving us teaching about physical healing in response to prayer when in reality there is so much more here.  God does call us to bring all of our needs before Him in prayer.  We must be committed to praying for one another.  However we miss much of what James is writing here when we confine his thoughts to that limited approach. 

                As we carefully engage in a study of the words that James uses in these verses we find that rich teaching is opened up to us.  When he refers to those who are sick, in verse 14, the word he uses can also be translated as to be deficient in strength, weak, to be unsettled, afflicted, distressed, or needy.  The same word is translated as “powerless” in Romans 5:6, as “weak” in Romans 6:19 and as “unimpressive” in 2 Corinthians 10:10.  Riddlebarger correctly suggests that what James is referring to here is the trials and distress that persecuted believers were facing as they sought to faithfully lived the Christian life.  To these, many of whom were becoming so weakened by all that they were facing that they were tempted to give up all together, James gives a word of great encouragement.  This distress often does include all many of physical distress and ailment.  It is not limited to that however.  When we face distress like this what are we to do?  We are to call upon the Spiritual leaders of our Church to come, anoint us with oil, which can be understood as a symbol of our consecration to the will of God, and to pray for us.  The outcome of this prayer is that the Lord lifts us up; He encourages us, strengthening us to continue to live for His glory.  The reason for this is that we come to see clearly that in His providence He is working in us to recreate us into the image of His dear Son.  Sin is forgiven here.  Weakness is overcome.  In these few verses James calls us to see that we are delivered from sin, saved from its power over us, restored in fellowship with our Lord, and healed of all of the consequences of our sin.  Some of the consequences of this great gift will only be fully revealed in eternity but they are becoming an increasing reality for us today.

                Perhaps the author of Hebrews is reflecting upon the same reality when he writes,

                                “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as Sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father.  If you are not disciple (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.  Moreover we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it.  How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!  Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we might share in His holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.  Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” (Hebrews 12:7-13)

                This is the reason we are called into fellowship with other believes so that we can pray for one another.

A Call To Arms

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                Titus 1:5, 9

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

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

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

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

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

A Living Sacrifice

                “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

                                                                                                                                Romans 12:1-2

                The twelfth chapter of Romans begins a long section of the letter in which the Apostle Paul applies the doctrinal message which he has been exploring in the first eleven chapters of the letter.  What this tells us is that practical Christian living is always the result of correctly understanding and incorporating Biblical Christian doctrine into our lives.  The doctrine describes the fundamental way in which we come to abide in the Lord Jesus Christ.  A Christian is a person who by faith abides in Christ.  It is not a philosophy or a lifestyle, it is not even membership in a Church, it is a relationship which is characterized by a trusting commitment to the Son of God.  The Apostle Paul outlines this in the first eleven chapters of the letter.  Then he begins to apply these truths to the life we live.  He starts with a very interesting statement in the first two verses of chapter twelve.

                This is that our response to God’s mercy which has been revealed in the Gospel must be to surrender ourselves to God.  In verse one Paul uses the word “offer” or “present” here.  Back in chapter six verses 13, 16, and 19 he uses the same word which is always translated as “offer”.  The word refers to the offering of a sacrificial animal on the altar.  The animal so offered was considered to be fully and unconditionally devoted to God.  The Apostle Paul is stating here that the consequence of God’s grace revealed in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is that we surrender every part of our lives unconditionally to God in Christ.  Such surrender is not partial or conditional.  It is total and complete.  John Miller in Outgrowing the Ingrown Church describes it in this way in regard to his own life.  He says that when he came to terms with his own unbelief which resulted in ingrownness in his life he recognised that the way out was through first of all giving himself unconditionally to God.  Then he began to courageously obey God in every area of his life.  The ability or power to do this came, he recognised, not from himself, but from God’s Spirit. 

                This is what the Apostle Paul is writing about as he applies God’s truth to our lives.  It requires courage to obey God in this.  It also requires a growing faith.  This is the test, do we truly believe that God will keep the promises that He has made to us in His Word?  When we truly do believe it then the results are life transforming.  It all begins with a living sacrifice.

The Word Of The LORD Almighty

                “Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: “Ask all of the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?  And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?  Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?’””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 7:4-7

                The seventh chapter of the book of Zechariah asks us a key question regarding our motivation for the things which we do in worship.  A delegation of prominent men from Bethel has come to Zechariah to inquire of the Lord regarding the fasting which they have been engaged in ever since the city of Jerusalem and the Temple had been destroyed.  It seems as if their inquiry is motivated by the fact that the Temple is nearing completion and the nation seems to be recovering nicely from its long ordeal.  When can they stop the fasting and mourning?  The reasons for these observances have all but vanished.  Perhaps life can now get back to normal.  Isn’t this just like us.  When we face a crisis we fall all over ourselves seeking the Lord’s blessing so that we can recover.  When the crisis is passed us we forget all about Him.  It is as if we think we no longer need Him. 

                That these motivations are behind the question from Bethel is made clear as the Lord confront them with His answer.  That Bethel was asking the question that was on the hearts of many of God’s people is also made clear as the Lord directs His answer not only to the men from Bethel, but also to all of the people. 

                It is so much like us that we want the blessings which the Lord gives, but we do not want to truly know Him.  “Was it really for me that you fasted?”   Did they want to know Him, or did they merely want Him to prop up their lives?  There is a fundamental issue here for us.  Is the focus of our hearts upon ourselves, or Him?  Too easily we absolve ourselves of this motivation by thinking that a self centred motivation is not central to us.  The reality is much more complicated.  How often do we find ourselves praying, reading God’s Word, Worshipping, or serving the Lord in some way that produces a benefit for ourselves?  Each aspect of our service of the Lord brings a benefit to our lives.  Without realizing it we find ourselves engaging in service or worship in order to secure the blessing.  Test yourself with this, how often have you found yourself motivated to have your quiet time in the morning because the day just seems to go better when you begin with the Lord?  Pretty soon you become concerned when there is insufficient time for a devotional time that it will result in a disaster of a day.  You are looking more for the Lord’s blessing than for the knowledge of Him.  God’s Word through Zechariah confronts this in us.  It is a call to genuine repentance.  What we need is to know Him!  Nothing can be allowed to take the place of this relationship.  “Was it for me that you fasted?”  “Was it so that you might know me that you were engaged in this discipline?” 

                The Psalmist writes, and he is echoed in many other places in the Word of God, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow His precepts have good understanding.  To Him belongs eternal praise.” (Psalm 111:10)  Reverence for the Lord is the key.  It is the start of all true wisdom.  Nothing is more important than that we know the Lord as He has revealed Himself to us in His Word.  Were we fasting, and grieving so that we might Know Him? The Word of God calls us into the adventure of really and truly knowing Him.  Therefore we must seek Him with all of our hearts.  The Lord Jesus Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount makes this abundantly clear. 

                                “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven’.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil doers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

                Is it for Him that you are doing the things you are doing?

Revealing The Glory of Jesus

                At this the Jews exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon possessed!”  Abraham died, and so did the Prophets, yet you say that if anyone keeps your Word, he will never taste death.  Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the Prophets.  Who do you think you are?”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 8:52-53

                James T. Dennison in his article “The Gospel of John: An Introduction” (www.kerux.com/doc/0801A3.asp) writes this comment on the purpose behind the Gospel of John.  “John asks his readers to continually reflect on the question, “Who is Jesus?”  This Christological question is answered from the Prologue to the Epilogue – He is the Word/Logos, the son of God, who is God Himself.” (P.1)  Ever since I began my walk with the LORD Jesus Christ I have encouraged those who are seeking to know the LORD Jesus to begin by reading John’s Gospel.  This has been partly because that is where I began.  More importantly however I encourage this because John presents us with such a Glorious view of our living redeemer that this book is a nature and extremely helpful place to begin. 

                In John 8:53 the Apostle leads us to ask a key question of Jesus.  Worded literally the question is, “Who do you make yourself out to be?”   Who does Jesus claim to be?  John gives us an abundance of material to help us answer the question.  The question is not asked for Jesus’ benefit.  He knows who He is.  It is asked for our benefit.  We must wrestle with the question, “Who is Jesus?  Dennison points out that John’s Gospel seems to have been written in order to bring the answer to this question to our minds and hearts.  John does not do this as a random bit of conversation in this Gospel which is quickly passed over as we read.  John is presenting a view of Jesus which reveals Him in all of His awesome glory.  This is a glory which is entirely consistent with the revelation given to us in Scripture.  Recently I have been reading with considerable agreement the arguments of a number of scholars who point out that when we drift away from the Word of God we inevitably fall into dangerous error.  John does not make this mistake.  Everything He tells us is firmly anchored in the revelation given to us in Scripture.  The LORD Jesus Christ is the Redeemer promised in Scripture.  He has come and reconciled us to God through His cross.  It is on this solid ground that we stand.

                John confronts us with the question of Jesus’ identity.  He then gives us abundant material with which to come to a conclusion about Jesus.  His whole purpose is summed up in the words of John 20:30-31, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.”  John’s Gospel is a selective account, as is our reflections upon it today.   The purpose of the Gospel and our study today is the same.  This is to lead us into a life of faith in Him.

                Who Is Jesus?  John describes Him in the following incomplete list as the One who is.

  1. The Incarnate Word/Logos who redeems us through the cross. (1:14)
  2. As God – “It is I” (6:20)
  3. As the Bread of Life (6:35)
  4. As the Light of the World (8:12)
  5. As Eternal God (8:58)
  6. As the Gate for the Sheep (10:7)
  7. As the Good Shepherd (10:11)
  8. As the Resurrection and the Life (11:25)
  9. As the True Vine (15:1, 5)

Every one of these statements is a reference to a Biblical metaphor which leads us into an understanding of part of the Scriptural revelation of the character and mission of our redeemer.  As we reflect on these incomplete descriptions of all that John tells us may we come into an ever deepening faith in Him.  For John has pointed us to a vision of the Glory of the Lord in the face of Christ.

A Life Worthy Of The Gospel

                “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – on Lord, One faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ephesians 4:1-7

                As I sit down to write a reflection on the first few verses of the fourth chapter of Ephesians I find myself wrestling with the richness of the doctrine which is contained here.  With the simple word “therefore” the apostle brings in the glorious things he has just been writing about in the first three chapters of the letter.  Those chapters focus upon the power of the Gospel which has taken us out of this world of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This new kingdom into which we have entered is in fact the Church, or the Body of Christ.  In Christ we have come to know a love that has completely transformed our lives.  On the foundation of this life changing Gospel Paul then calls us to live a life which is worthy, or suitable, or becoming of our calling.  In the rest of this letter we will read about just what such a worthy life is like.  We are told how we are to actively pursue this life as Paul begins to use a series of present participles to move his argument forward.  These participles describe earnest and continual activity of our part in response to the infinite and continuous action of the Spirit of God through the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We must be submitting our lives to the powerful love of God which is being poured into us by the Holy Spirit.

                In verses two and three we encounter these two participles, “to be enduring patiently with one another” and “to be making every effort”.  Both participles call us to constant activity.  Both push us along in a life that is truly Christ-centred.  This is in fact the foundation for our transformed lives.  The Lord Jesus Christ is the One who was crucified and raised for us.  In Him we have life if we pick up our cross and follow Him.   

                Each us faces a constant challenge to this type of Christ-centred living.  Our flesh does not die easily.  Naturally we live lives which are conformed to the pattern of this world.  Basically this means that we desire to put ourselves first in every situation.  To this Paul calls us to live with “humility, gentleness, enduring patiently with one another.”  We are to actively pursue this patience.  In essence we begin to live out the long suffering sacrificial love that we have received from the Lord.  How has He put up with us?  What has He done for us?  How far is He willing to go in order to redeem us?  It is here that we find ourselves challenged as we see the ways our flesh shrinks back from really following the Lord into this cross centred living.  We are not certain that we can pay the cost of such a life.  In fact we are certain that we cannot.  Before we move on to look at the resources that make us able to live in a way befitting the Gospel we need to look at the other participle in verse three.  Paul says that we are “to make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Again he calls us to constant and earnest pursuit of the unity of the Spirit.    Our ambition is to share together with others in the Body of Christ the common life that we have been called to.  Do we really catch the meaning of what Paul writes here?  Have we confronted its challenge?  Our flesh looks for ways to be self sufficient and separate from one another.  The Gospel calls us to participate in the life of Christ together. 

                To be sure there are times when we must separate ourselves from those who do not share in this life of Christ.  I question at times whether we do so too easily.  It is in answering this question that we find our flesh being crucified.  It is too easy for us to begin to build our own little self-centred kingdom.  Paul calls us to Christ-centred, Spirit directed following of the one who redeemed us through the Gospel of the cross.  As Paul describes it here in these chapters of Ephesians we find ourselves reflecting on something which is truly glorious because it is of God.

It Is All About Jesus

                “From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.  “You do not want to leave too, do you?”  Jesus asked the twelve.  Simon Peter answered Him, “LORD, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

                                                                                                                                                                John 6:66-69

                One of the chief features of the New Testament Gospels is their single minded focus upon the person of the LORD Jesus Christ.  There are so many individual points that we have to wrestle with in these Gospels and it is very easy for us to get bogged down some of the details and as a consequence miss the call to know and love the LORD Jesus.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones in a sermon recorded in his book Living Water points this out in connection with the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel with these words.

                “Do you ever sit down and contemplate Him?  Do you think of Him – the effulgence of the everlasting and eternal God who was born as the babe in Bethlehem?  Does that move you?  Does it thrill you?  If it does not, I must ask you a question, are you a Christian?  This is most important.  Let me tell you what a friend from Africa once told me.  He had experienced revival in Africa, and he and others came over to this country on a visit.  He had gone around telling people about the revival, and everyone had greatly enjoyed listening to him.  But a year later he came back again, and he began going around to the same churches.  But he had a feeling, indeed he felt certain, that it was the leading of the Holy Spirit that this time he should preach the gospel about the LORD Jesus Christ, and he began to do so.  He told me that people would come up to him at the end of the meeting, good, evangelical, Christian people, and say, “Thank you very much for the message, but we did hope that you would tell us some more about the revival.”  He said, “You see, they did not want to hear about Jesus.  They wanted to hear about the thrills and the excitements of revival.”  How devastating that is!”

                (Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn, Living Water, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 2009, p. 423-434)

                I am focusing on this today because I have, from time to time, taught course on the Pastor and Mission.  As vital and as glorious as this topic is it can lead us into the danger of focusing upon our mission to the exclusion of the person of the LORD Jesus Christ.  This is what I see as the root of the issue that the LORD Jesus Christ has with the people in Galilee in John 6.  They want to see, and experience more of the miraculous nature of the ministry of Jesus.  Jesus is teaching them about Himself.  They need to recognise that He is in fact the fulfillment of all that the Scriptures have taught about the coming Messiah.  What is needed is the personal, life transforming, knowledge of Jesus Christ.  What they were looking for is those things which He could do for them. 

                As Jesus discusses with the people of Galilee the focus of the conversation becomes increasingly heated and personal.  They will not have life as long as they refuse to come to Him as their only hope for redemption.  The consequence of the discussion is reached in verse 66 where many of those who have been following Jesus turn back from following Him.  I believe that this is one of the main reasons why John shares this lengthy account.  It brings us to the key question which Jesus asks Peter. 

                “You do not want to leave too, do you?”  This is the question of the LORD Jesus to each one of us.  He asks it whenever our discipleship becomes too real and hard.  Are you going to turn back as well?

                There is only one answer to such a question which will sustain us through the difficult times as a disciple of Christ.  This is the confession which Simon Peter gives in verses 68-69.  “LORD< to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”  There is no other hope or way.  It is all about the LORD Jesus Christ.  Do you know Him?

Open Your Eyes And Look

                “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’?  I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields!  They are ripe for harvest.”

                                                                                                                                                                                         John 4:35

                When we look carefully at John chapter four and explore the concept of the Divine Appointment which Jesus had while on His way to Galilee we discover some precious truths.  It is clear here that Jesus has an appointment with the Samaritan woman who He leads to ask Him for living water.  It is equally clear that Jesus has an appointment with the people of Sychar, many of whom come to believe in Him after they have met Him for themselves.  There is a third Divine Appointment here as well however.  This is the appointment which Jesus has with His disciples.  There is a lesson which they needed to learn, which could only be taught in that Samaritan village at the foot of Mt. Gerizim.  Here in the heart of the lost nation of the Samaritans these disciples were about to learn about the wonderful grace of the LORD Jesus Christ which would justify the ungodly.  As we explore this text we too can learn some valuable lessons.

  1. We can learn a lesson about the expectations which we have as we encounter people in our day to day lives.  These disciples were following Jesus into a region which was characterized by ungodliness.  The Samaritans were a people who were ethnically the result of the racial mixture of poor Jews who had been left behind at the exile of Israel with pagan people who had been resettled in the region.  Their religion was a mixture of the Hebrew faith with all manner of pagan beliefs and practices.  They had even set up a rival religious centre to that of Jerusalem on Mt. Gerizim.  As the disciples drew near to this Samaritan centre of worship one can imagine what they must have thought about the hopeless, ungodly people they were encountering.  Perhaps these disciples were hoping that they would be able to pass through this region quickly and without incident.  If ever there was a people beyond the touch of God’s grace it was these people of Sychar.  Yet it is here that Jesus stops to rest.  Like us, these disciples see a people that they will not associate with because they are just too lost.  A number of years ago while serving in one of my first charges after graduation from Seminary I spoke to one of the leaders of the congregation about my intention to visit a family that lived down the street from the church in order that I might encourage them to attend services at our church.  The leader looked at me as if I was insane or at the very least hopelessly naive.   “These people will never darken the door of the Church.” he told me, “They are just too lost.”  I went anyway inviting the family to come to worship and sharing with them the gospel.  Not only did they begin to attend our church, they came to faith in Christ and brought many of their relatives who seemed to be even more lost than they.  We learned a lesson in those days about the way that the LORD was working in the hearts of that family.  Nothing is impossible with the LORD.  He can even bring hardened Samaritans to faith in Christ.
  2. Jesus tells His disciples that they need to have their eyes open so that they can really look and see what is going on around them.  The fields are ripe for harvest.  The word of the LORD has been doing its work.  Prayer is being answered.  People are finding that their hearts are being prepared for that day when they hear the Gospel.  The text tells us that the work does not depend upon us alone because others are at work as well.  The Word of God has been doing its work, quietly, almost imperceptivity, but surely.  It has been preparing the way for the harvest.  The disciples are not to think that everything depends upon them.  They are not to look at a people as being beyond grace.  They are simply to keep offering the message of grace to everyone who will listen to it.  We are to offer it with the love of God.  We are to offer it humbly.  But offer it we must.  Robert Murray McCheyne once remarked regarding his work among the slum dwellers of his city that “the flesh dies well there.”   This work is not about us, it is about the LORD.  He is powerfully at work in our world.  We are called to obey His call to witness, wherever He takes us, believing that He has already prepared the way for His Gospel.