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.

The Intercession Of The LORD

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

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 1:12-13

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving Grace

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

                                                                                                                                                1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

                A number of years ago at the Hope Centre Bible Study we were discussing the ways in which Joseph demonstrated his faith by the decisions he made and the attitude he demonstrated throughout his life.  His whole character seemed to be marked by a trusting in the providence of God.  Even as he discussed the betrayal which he had suffered at the hands of his brothers, a betrayal which had in many ways defined his life, he did so with a deep trust in God’s leading.  “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)  At its heart what Joseph demonstrated was the radical thankfulness which is at the heart of the Christian life.

                This weekend we celebrate Thanksgiving.  For one weekend we remind ourselves that we need to be thankful for all of the blessings which God has given to us.  Being Thankful is really something much deeper than this.  Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 that it is in fact the will of God for us.  It is the character which He has designed us to live in.  As Paul puts it here we are to become people who are walking into a lifestyle which is constantly joyful, prayerful, and thankful.  When it comes to the word Paul uses for thankful we find that it is defined as “properly acknowledging that God’s grace works well.  It works towards our eternal gain and His glory.  We are called to be thankful for God’s good grace.” (According to Helps Wordstudies)  Later in the verse Paul adds this provision for all of the traits he has been discussing, “for this is God’s gracious design for you.”  This is, in other words, what God has designed for you to be.  The circumstances you experience in your life are moving you towards this design.

                Joseph understood this.  He knew that God had been moving him through a lifetime of experiences towards the man he had become.  He was strong in faith, and therefore submissive to God.  In all of his circumstances Joseph was seeing God at work.  So too do we see God at work in our circumstances.  In God’s providence we find ourselves being led into the very places where we meet God in all of his graciousness.  Eventually we find ourselves responding to His leading with trusting praise because we are beginning to discover that He is in fact a trustworthy God who is displaying His matchless grace in our lives.

                Bruce Theilman in a sermon on the book of Ruth tells a story about his Mother who went through a whole series of great difficulties in her life as a young woman.  These experiences were painful but they led her to a place where she would meet a godly young man who would become Theilman’s Father.  In due time her experiences led to her conversion and marriage.  Theilman told this story to demonstrate how she was in fact walking into the purposes of God just as Ruth had done.   Years later Bruce Theilman was attempting to define expository preaching and he said this, “There is no special honor in preaching, there is only special pain.  The pulpit calls those anointed to it as the sea calls its sailors.  And like the sea, it batters and bruises and does not rest.” Such is the life of service we are called to as believers.  God is transforming us into this image of Christ.  Like Joseph we are learning to rejoice in His leading because we know that it is leading us into something wonderful.  Be continually thankful!

A Debtor To Mercy Alone

For Christs 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.  So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

                                                                                                                        2 Corinthians 5:14-17

            The Apostle Paul writing in 2 Corinthians has a long central section of the letter, from 2:14 to 7:4, in which he focuses our attention on the great central fact of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Its working is in many ways unseen, requiring us to respond to it in faith rather than by sight.  As Paul reflects upon it he brings us to wrestle with two central convictions that bring us to real faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is those two convictions that I want to highlight briefly as 2012 draws to a close, and as we look forward to 2013. 

  1. The Lord Jesus Christ, as our incarnate redeemer, died on behalf of and in the place of all men and as a consequence all men have undergone death in Him.  This substitutionary death has immense consequences of us.  On account of it not only do we die with Christ, but we are also raised in Him.  The benefit of this death and resurrection are made available to us but and they are received by us through faith which unites us with the Lord Jesus Christ.
  2. The consequence of our Lord’s great redeeming act is that we are given new resurrection life in Him.  Paul tells us that we are made into a new creation in Him if we are in fact “in Him.”

 All of this is received by faith that looks upon the Lord Jesus Christ as God in human flesh who came among us to be our mediator.  What a tremendous blessing this is.  It is all given to us based upon the mercy of God.  Such mercy leads us to worship the Lord.  There can be no other response to such great love.  As this year draws to a close, and as we look ahead to a brand new year I would encourage you to focus upon a real response of worship.  To lead us in this worship please prayerfully read the words of Augustus Toplady’s wonderful hymn “A Debtor to Mercy Alone.”  God bless each of you in 2013.

· A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing,
Nor fear, with God’s righteousness on,
My person and off’rings to bring.
The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do;
My Savior’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.

·  The work which His goodness began,
The arm of His strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now,
Not all things below or above,
Can make Him His purpose forego,
Or sever my soul from His love.

·  My name from the palms of His hands
Eternity will not erase;
Imprest on His heart, it remains
In marks of indelible grace.
Yes! I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is giv’n;
More happy, but not more secure,
When all earthly ties have been riv’n.”

Source: http://www.hymnal.net/hymn.php/h/292#ixzz2GHLQqF1G

Jesus’ Crucial Question

                “Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when He found him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 9:35

                One of the principles which I have been following in much of my recent reflection on the Gospels is to notice and take seriously the questions which the text asks.  I believe that the Gospel writers meant for their readers to ask themselves the questions found in the text.  In John 9:35 there is a key question asked of us towards the end of the ninth chapter.  The chapter has focused upon the Lord Jesus Christ opening the eyes of a man who was born blind, and the resulting controversy and investigation that came of it.  Here we discover the power of the Lord to create functioning eyes in a man who never had them.  Sight is given at the working of the Son of God.  This is, however, also a teaching event.  To open the eyes of the blind was one of the Biblical signs of the coming of the Messiah as these passages from Isaiah tell us.

                “In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of the gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Isaiah 29:18

                “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Isaiah 35:5

                “This is what God the Lord says – He who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.  I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Isaiah 42:5-7

                For the person who loves God and who is open to the teaching of the Holy Spirit regarding the revelation which God has given to us in His Word these passages and those like them are signposts pointing to the identity of the Son of Man.  To see these sign miracles taking place is to be brought to faith in the One that God has sent into this world in order to be its Redeemer.  This is why the question of John 9:35 is of such vital importance to us today.  “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  The title “Son of Man” is a crucial title that the Old Testament Prophets applied to the coming Messiah.  Here in John’s Gospel Jesus takes that Messianic title and appropriates it for Himself.  “You have now seen Him; in fact, He is the One speaking with you.”  The blind man, as well as the hearers of Jesus and everyone who reads John’s Gospel, are confronted with this question. 

                It is crucial for us to answer Jesus’ question.  The word believe is a present active verb meaning that it describes the continuing action of believing which takes place in the present.  Jesus is not asking whether we once believed in the past, or whether we will one day believe in the future.  He is asking whether you and I are engaged in believing right now. 

                For you today is the Lord Jesus Christ the One who has been promised in the Word of God who will come and give His life as a ransom for all of you sin?  The blind man answers that He is and then falls down and worshipped Him.  How will you respond to the Son of Man?

Reverence For God

                “Listen! The Lord is calling to the city — and to fear your Name is wisdom — “Heed the rod and the One who appointed it.””

                                                                                                                                                Micah 6:9

                George Truett used to speak about how he did the work of personal evangelism.  He would focus upon the needs of the person’s family, how they would be helped by having a Godly parent. He would remind the person that he was visiting that “your children need to have a better parent.”  In doing this Truett seems to be faithfully following the words of the Prophet Micah who brings God’s accusation against the city of Jerusalem.  Judgement is coming upon them because of certain sinful practices that they have been engaged in.  At the heart of God’s word to them is the fact that they are lacking in real reverence for God.  They are treating God’s words as if they are empty. 

                This is a foundational thought for us.  Reverence, or fear, of God is vital to living a successful life.  In the Scriptures we read this.

                                “The fool says in his heart.  There is no God.  They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 14:1

                “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.  Fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him lack nothing.  The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.  Come my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.  Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.  Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 34:8-14

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

                                                                                                                                                                Proverbs 1:7

                In Romans 3:10-19 the apostle Paul summarizes this teaching from the Old Testament by showing us that each of us has fallen into a hard hearted disobedience to the purposes of God for our lives.  We have not reverenced Him as we ought; therefore we have disobeyed His commands and fallen short of His standards.  It is this hard hearted “lostness” that keeps us from enjoying the blessings of God in our lives.

                Paul tells us this so that he can lead us to the free gift of redemption which we find in the Lord Jesus Christ.  What we cannot do for ourselves God has done for us in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Through faith in Him we find ourselves set right with God.