Praying Together For Boldness

                “On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.  When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.  “Sovereign LORD,” they said, “you made the heaven and earth and the sea, and everything in them.  You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:  ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The Kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against His anointed one’  Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, who you anointed.  They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.  Now, LORD, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the Name of your holy servant Jesus.”  After they had prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 4:23-31

                This is a wonderful passage of Scripture in which we are instructed in the reasons and the methods of godly praying.  Luke brings us to this passage with a lengthy description of a notable miracle, the healing of a man crippled from birth, and the controversy which arose out of it.  It is interesting that here we see that the Church is given a wonderful opportunity to proclaim the Gospel out of the crisis that arose out of the healing of the crippled man.  How often do our open doors for the proclamation of the Gospel come out of a crisis? 

                There is an opportunity here for the Gospel.  There is also great danger for believers.  They are threatened with harm if they persist in preaching and teaching in the Name of the LORD Jesus Christ.  What are they to do?  What would you or I do in their shoes?  It is here that Luke gives us some wonderful insight into the prayer life of the New Testament Church.  This insight helps us to discern our way forward as we seek to proclaim the Gospel to our generation.

  1. They prayed together in response to the crisis they were facing.  Luke tells us that they “lifted their voices together in prayer to God.”   They did not each come to this prayer meeting to present to God the differing insights that each of them had.  They came to god in agreement in prayer.  It seems as if they began their time together with meditation upon the teaching of Scripture.  They meditated upon God’s Word and obediently allowed it to direct their way forward.
  2. The Scripture that the LORD brought them to was Psalm two which had been understood as Messianic for at least the century before the coming of Jesus Christ.  The New Testament writers in fact go out of their way to apply this particular Psalm to the LORD Jesus Christ.  This Psalm describes clearly the situation in which the Church found itself in and also pointed the way forward for them. 
  3. To arrive at unity in our praying together it is vital that we begin with a meditation together upon the Word of God.  Our goal is not to convince others of our particular interpretation of Scripture, but to let God mould us into a fellowship that obediently follows the leading of the Spirit of God.  We are to be reformed by the Word of God.  This is what we see the New Testament Church doing here in Acts 4. 
  4. They then prayed asking God to enable them to boldly obey His calling upon them.  Recently I have been reading about the powerful way in which the LORD has been revealing Himself to people in various parts of our world.  Those who have been writing about these powerful movements of God’s Spirit consistently are asking one key question.  What is the Churches responsibility in response to what God is doing?  The answer that they have been coming up with is exactly what we see happening here in Acts 4:23-31.  We are to be a fellowship which is praying in unity for the boldness to testify to the grace that God is pouring out upon this world.  This is always the consequence of meditation together upon what the Spirit of God is revealing to us through God’s Word. 

Genuine Repentance

                “But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.  Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has rejected you as King.””

                                                                                                                                                                1 Samuel 15:22-23

                The fifteenth chapter of 1 Samuel is one of the most instructive chapters in the whole book regarding the LORD’s ways with His people.  It is concerned with the trying of King Saul, his failure to obey the LORD’s command, his justification of his actions, and finally the LORD’s judgement upon him.  Earlier, in chapter thirteen, Samuel had pronounced God’s judgement upon Saul and his future dynasty on account of his failure to obey the Prophet’s command to wait.  Now we see that judgment begin to unfold as Saul’s true nature as a rebellious man is revealed.  It some ways this is a depressing portion of God’s Word.  The Bible is a very honest book, describing in great detail our depravity and the consequences that come from it.  The point of this chapter is that just as Saul was tried, so too will we and our generation be tried.  The sinfulness of our hearts will be exposed in the trials we face in life.  There is a purpose to these trials which is to cause us to see the reality of our rebellion and to come to the LORD in genuine repentance.  That is our only hope. 

                In 2 Peter 3:9 we read, “The LORD is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  This is what we see here in 1 Samuel 15.  Outwardly it seems as if Saul has repented, but his heart has remained rebellious towards the LORD. When another test is given he once again failed spectacularly, and when confronted by Samuel he justified his actions rather than confessing his sin.  Finally he brought to acknowledge his sin but he does so in a way that continues his self willed rebelliousness.  The LORD requires genuine repentance which results in a person turning to the LORD in whole hearted obedience.  This is what the LORD requires, that we become people who seek His Glory first.  When we are tested by God in the circumstances of our lives it is as if God is asking us one key question.  This is, “Who are you worshipping?”

                How do we as twenty first century Christians answer God’s question?  In every generation, including this one, there are challenges and trials which serve to test the reality of our faith in the LORD Jesus Christ.  Surely this is one of the key themes of the Book of Revelation.  In that prophetic book we see the LORD confronting and testing the world.  Who are you committed to?  Who do you worship?  These are the questions God is asking us.  The answer we give determines our eternal future. 

                Today our trials confront the things which we are worshipping.  We are led into living lives which are judged successful based upon the standards of this world in which we live.  In the first five verses of the Book of Galatians the Apostle Paul describes this world as evil, using a word which defines evil as an active, aggressive force in this world which seeks to corrupt others.  It is not a passive evil, but and active one seeking to conform others in rebellion.  We are led down a road in which we seek wealth, popularity, security, fame, health, and peace based upon the teaching of worldly philosophy rather than upon the Word of God.  In Church circles so often we define success based upon these same standards.  Are we attracting a crowd to our Church or Ministry?  Do we have a growing internet presence?  Are we selling more books, or CDs?  Are we more in demand today than we were yesterday?  How often do we ask ourselves whether we are “Keeping in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-26)? In answering this question we find ourselves having to deal with just what it means for us to live in a way which is truly obedient to the LORD.  His ways are revealed to us in His Word.  His call is for us to turn from our sin and cast ourselves upon His grace revealed in the LORD Jesus Christ who went to the cross bearing all our sin, so that we might be reconciled to God.  What is needed is genuine repentance, seeking Christ first and humbly walking with God in Christ.

                How will you respond to the trials of your life?

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.

Exalting In The Gospel

                “That is why I am suffering as I am.  Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.”

                                                                                                                                                                                2 Timothy 1:12

                In From Embers To A Flame – “How God Can Revitalize Your Church” Harry L. Reeder III focuses upon the need for us to develop a Gospel centred approach to the work of evangelism as well as to living the Christian life.  It is this gospel centredness which unleashes the power of God’s grace into our real life circumstances in order to redeem us.  On page 66 of his book Reeder makes a comment about preaching, which he follows up with a quotation from Bryan Chappell (in Christ Centered Preaching page 12).

                “What we must avoid at all costs is the kind of preaching and teaching that is mere moralism.  Bryan Chappell explains this well:  “However well-intended and biblically rooted may be a sermon’s instruction, if the message does not incorporate the motivation and enablement inherent in a proper apprehension of the work of Christ, the preacher proclaims mere Pharisaism.  Preaching that is faithful to the whole of Scripture not only establishes God’s requirements, but also highlights the redemptive truths that make holiness possible.””

                Chappell and Reeder agree with the Apostle Paul as he writes his second letter to Timothy.  Paul calls Timothy, and incidentally we as well, to a Gospel centred ministry.  This is in fact the only hope for the Church that Timothy is responsible for.  This Gospel has led Paul into suffering, but he is not ashamed.  What Paul is saying here is that despite the great suffering he is facing he is rejoicing in the Gospel.  Paul says the same thing in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans.  “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)  What Paul writes here is that he is far from being ashamed of the Gospel.  He exalts in it.  He rejoices in it.  It is at the heart of all his motivation for Godly living.  Nothing is a greater importance for Paul than this gospel message that the Lord Jesus Christ gave His life on the cross in order to reconcile us to God.  In Him we receive grace to cover over all of our sin. 

                There is more here however, Paul tells Timothy that the Gospel is much more than just a message, or a plan of salvation, it is in reality Christ Himself.  “I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.”  He knows Christ.  Christianity is Christ.  We have come into a personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We know His character because by the Holy Spirit He is indwelling us.  We know His power, because all that we have entrusted to Him, our lives, our hope of eternity, and our holiness is secure in His all powerful, eternal hands. 

                When Paul writes to the Church at Corinth reflecting on the wisdom of God which is active in our world in Christ he makes this telling point.  “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”  (1 Corinthians 3:11) This is the object of all that we hope for and rely upon, the Lord Jesus Christ our redeemer and King.  Everything else fails us but Christ never will, because He alone is able.

Praise The Lord

                “Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His Holy Name.  Praise the LORD, o my soul, and forget not all His benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagles.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 103:1-5

                D. M. Lloyd-Jones, at the beginning of a sermon entitled “Four Pictures of Life” in his Old Testament Evangelistic Sermons, writes the following helpful comment.

                “I always point out whenever I happen to preach from the book of Psalms that a Psalm is a song and should always be taken in its entirety.  Certainly there are individual verses in the Psalms which merit prolonged and separate attention but a Psalm is generally composed so as to give expression to some one big prevailing thought or mood.” (Lloyd-Jones, p. 181)

                Our task is to ask just what the big prevailing thought or mood of Psalm 103 is.  This calls for a careful examination of the Psalm, in its context.  It seems that Psalm 103 and 102 are to be taken together.  In Psalm 102 we find ourselves identifying with one who is afflicted and as a consequence is crying out to the LORD for deliverance.  In fact the Psalms superscription states that it is “A prayer of an afflicted man.  When he is faint and pours out his lament to the LORD.” (Psalm 102 – superscription)  At the very least this Psalm describes the characteristic response of the Godly person to affliction.  They cry out to God for deliverance, praying and meditating upon the reality of the LORD as the one who delivers us.  Some take this a little further suggesting that it is “A prayer of the Afflicted One” and that it should be interpreted in a Christ Centred way.  The message here is that we pray as an afflicted person who is bringing their need before God in tandem with the Lord Jesus Christ is our great High Priest.  In Hebrews 2:17-18 we read, “For this reason He had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people.  Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.”  If we are identified with Him in His suffering we will also be identified with Him in His resurrection. 

                Psalm 103 continues the theme, leading us on, once we have cried out to God for deliverance, we also praise the Lord for all that He has done for us.  The one thing that this Psalm focuses upon is our reverent praise of the LORD who has delivered us in His grace.  The praise offered here is focused upon the message of the Word of God.  At the heart of Psalm 103 is a biblical statement about the character of God which seems as if it has been lifted right out of Exodus 34:6ff. 

                “He made known His ways to Moses, His deeds to the people of Israel: the LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will He harbour His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:7-10)

                What Psalm 103 calls us to do is to praise the LORD making sure we continually remember His benefits.  What this means is that we must be careful to remember the His works of grace.  We must not leave it up to chance that we might remember them.  We must take steps to make sure that we remember.  This applies not only to us as an individual.  It applies to our society and children.  Listen to the Word of God in Deuteronomy 4:9-10.

                “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.  Teach them to your children and their children after them.  Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when He said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear My words so that they may learn to revere Me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.”

                We live in a day when the great acts of God’s grace are being forgotten by many.  It is our responsibility to teach these things once again as we praise the LORD for His grace, and as we cry out to Him for deliverance, and as we recommit ourselves to remembering His Word and to teaching it to the generations yet to come.  This is God’s plan for deliverance.  Will we follow it?

Paying Attention

                “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears.  They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty has sent by His Spirit through the earlier prophets.  So the Lord Almighty was very angry.  “When I called they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,” says the Lord Almighty.  “I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers.  The land was left so desolate behind them that no one could come or go.  This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 7:11-14

                The Scriptures are full of statements like the one found here in Zechariah seven regarding the inspiration of the Word of God.  Here, as Zechariah is bringing to the people of Israel an answer to the question of the delegation from Bethel regarding whether it was necessary to continue the fasts and the mourning which have characterized their walk with God for the past seventy odd years now that conditions are starting to get better for God’s people, God cuts to the heart of the question.  Have they ever really paid attention to God’s Word?  Here we are given a functional definition of the doctrine of the Word of God.  It was given in the law and the prophets as the Word of the Lord Almighty by His Spirit.  Surely this doctrine is behind the teaching of the Apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:19-21.

                “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.  Above all, you must understand that no prophesy of Scripture came about by the Prophets own interpretation.  For prophesy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

                These texts anchor our view that the Scriptures indeed are the inspired, inerrant Word of the Living God.  He has spoken them into being by communicating through Prophets and Apostles so that what is recorded for us in the Bible is indeed God’s Word.  Zechariah and Peter both agree that the Scriptures are the work of the Holy Spirit.

                There is something more here however.  So often we stop with the conviction that the Bible is God’s Word.  We take the doctrine no further than that.  Both Zechariah and Peter go further.  They look at the issue of our response to God’s inspired Word.  Zechariah writes, “But they refused to pay attention.”  Peter writes, “And you will do well to pay attention to it.”  When you pay attention to something you observe, or listen to it with the intention of responding to it.  In the case of the Word of God you pay attention to it so that you can obey it.  Our doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures must lead to our obedient listening to the instruction they give us.  If we as an employee of a company listen to our boss with the intention of following their instruction we will find ourselves listening carefully, without distractions, perhaps even taking down notes, so that we can make sure that we follow the instructions completely.  We would not be of much good as an employee if we did not. 

                How often do we find ourselves listening to the Word of God in a distracted way?  We are often content to simply get through the reading for the day.  We are not reading with a desire to completely obey our God. 

                What does Zechariah tell us is the consequence of such inattention?  It is that our prayers are not listened to by God.  Because we refused His call to repentance, He will refuse to hear when we call for help.  Could this be the reason why we experience so little of the Glory of God in these days?  We are called to be a people who have a deep love for the God we put our faith in.  This God has redeemed us in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He calls us to an active, vibrant, obedient faith that pays attention to the Word of God.  Nothing is more important than that we pay attention to His call today.

Paul’s Spiritual Secret

                “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

                                                                                                                                                Philippians 4:13

                At the close of his short letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul makes an astounding claim that comes straight out of his experience of the sanctifying work of the Lord in his life.  All through the letter Paul has been rejoicing in the triumphant way the Lord has been leading him, using every circumstance to advance the cause of the Gospel and to reveal the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ in his life.  He has taken us into the reality that he now puts no confidence in his flesh.  Neither should we trust in our flesh because it stands in the way of our receiving and growing into the righteousness of Christ.  Along the way Paul illustrates the way God has solved a huge problem in Paul’s life.  He has brought Paul to the point where he has learned the secret of being content in any and every circumstance.  He has been brought to this point because God has infused into him the strength which comes from the Spirit of God.  “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” 

                As I wrestle with what Paul writes in Philippians 4 I am brought to the point where I must ask how I can experience the growth that Paul describes here.  He is pointing to the wonderful reality of a life that is lived in trust of the Lord’s provision for him.  He is content because he has that one thing that is really needed in life, which is a personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He has come to recognise that the Lord Jesus is completely sufficient for everything.  Therefore he can rest content because he is living in the will of God.

                For most of us, and I am presuming for Paul as well it is not an easy process to come to such faith.  Our flesh rebels against the will of God.  We have our own self-centred, fleshly ambitions and desires which are in conflict with the work of the Holy Spirit within us.  What Paul is describing in Philippians four is the culmination of a long process of crucifying the flesh.  Such a process can be painful.  Our flesh dies hard.  It is absolutely crucial that we do indeed die to ourselves so that we can live to Christ.  How then does this take place in us?

                It is with this question that I found myself wrestling recently as I was reading a little book entitled Rejoice…..Always by John Gwyn-Thomas (Banner of Truth, 1989).  In this short devotional study of the fourth chapter of Philippians Gwyn-Thomas reflects on the means by which we move into the reality of the contented life Paul describes in these verses. 

                “I also believe that we fail so often because we do not wrestle with God over our reactions to His will and purpose for us.  We must realize that in the school of faith God is always calling on us to grow – to apply our faith afresh.  It is not enough to say, ‘I am saved, I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’, and then grumble like the unregenerate.  That is not the Christian life as we see it in the Bible.  We have got to recognize that there are times in our lives when there is a fundamental clash between what I believe God ought to give me and what God actually does give me, and the two things may be very different.  There has to be a reconciliation, a real bending and breaking of my own will to accept the will of God; there has to be a conflict and the first thing we have to do is recognize that there is a conflict between our wills and the will of God.  Then we must go back to God about this conflict and say to Him, as Job said to Him, ‘I do not understand You.’  What is more, we have to deal with God concerning this conflict.  We must seek for a change of heart, we must seek strength from the Word of God and we must pray about it.  Unless we are seriously concerned about the conflict between our will and God’s will for us, I do not believe that we will ever enter into that peace that Paul knew when he said, ‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens [or empowers] me.’” (Pages 111-112)

                All we can say to such wisdom is Amen!

The Lord’s Gift Of Grace

                ““You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”  But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”  Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today – yes, tonight before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”  But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”  And all the others said the same.”

                                                                                                                                                                Mark 14:27-31

                We must note here the consideration of the Lord to our weakness.  His disciples are facing up to a great testing.  Judas has gone off to betray Jesus and each of the other disciples is facing up to the great pressure which has been brought to bear upon their hearts by the enemy of their souls.  The Lord begins to speak to them about the events that they are facing.  He speaks to them and to us with great honesty.  There is no sense burying the truth about what they are wrestling with.  So He speaks truth to them.  We love the truth when it is spoken to someone else.  It is hard to take when it is spoken to us.  This is the gift that our Lord gives to His disciples.  He quotes an Old Testament prophesy from Zechariah 13:7 to them.  “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”  This word from God was spoken about them He tells them.  It is about to be fulfilled in their experience.  In speaking this way Jesus exposes their great need.  Peter speaking on behalf of all the disciples declares his denial.  He will not fall away, and neither will any of the others.  They are not weaklings like Judas turned out to be. 

                What Peter revealed here however was the weakness of his own nature.  There are all manner of things which we think that we are capable of accomplishing for the Lord.  Self-righteousness raises itself up as we face the threats of this life.  It boasts about the great things it is about to accomplish.  What it has failed to take into account is our real nature.  This was Peter’s struggle.  So the Lord tells him honestly about how he will fail, so that when it happens he will recognise that Jesus knew him in the depth of his weakness.  Think about what mark is saying here.  Make it personal.  He knows you in the great depth of your weakness and failure.  While you are revelling in your sin He is on the way to the cross to bear your sin.   “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While you were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)  While Peter was denying His Lord Jesus was on His way to the cross for him.  While you and I were living weak, rebellious, broken lives with all of the depth of sin that that entails Christ went to the cross for you and me. 

                Jesus honestly exposes the sin of His disciples.  He does not leave them there however. He gently speaks to them about their restoration afterwards.  “When I have risen.”  The shepherd might be struck and killed, but that would not be the end of the story.  There is a resurrection coming for Jesus, and for all who believe in Him.  He tells them where He will meet them.  This will be the place where they will be restored into fellowship with Jesus.  The way to be restored however will take them through the cross.  It is in that horrible place of suffering and death that they will finally see themselves as they really are.  That is the place where they will be finally weak and honest enough to receive the gracious gift that God wants to give to them.  This grace we receive has always been the Lord’s gift to us.  We can never earn it.  It is not by merit.  The strong do not receive it as a reward.  It can only come into our lives as a gift from the Spirit of God.  What great love the Lord Jesus Christ gives to us.

Quotes From John Bunyan

“Our help is in the Name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 124:8

                This past week I have been reading Dane Ortund’s book Gentle and Lowly (Crossway, Marcch 15, 2020).  I came across the following quotes from John Bunyan that I found to be very helpful at this point in the pandemic.  They fit very well with the 124th Psalm which we will be studying tomorrow night in Bible Study.

            “Let’s look more deeply at the difference between Christ’s intercession and his advocacy by noting the difference between Hebrews 7:25 and 1 John 2:1. Hebrews 7:25 says that Christ always lives to make intercession for us, whereas 1 John 2:1 says, “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate.” Do you see the difference? Intercession is something Christ is always doing, while advocacy is something he does as occasion calls for it. Apparently he intercedes for us given our general sinfulness, but he advocates for us in the case of specific sins. Bunyan explains it like this: Christ, as Priest, goes before, and Christ, as an Advocate, comes after. Christ, as Priest, continually intercedes; Christ, as Advocate, in case of great transgressions, pleads. Christ, as Priest, has need to act always, but Christ, as Advocate, sometimes only. Christ, as Priest, acts in time of peace; but Christ, as Advocate, in times of broils, turmoils, and sharp contentions; wherefore, Christ, as Advocate, is, as I may call him, a reserve, and his time is then to arise, to stand up and plead, when his own are clothed with some filthy sin that of late they have fallen into.2 Note the personal nature of Christ’s advocacy. It is not a static part of his work. His advocacy rears up when occasion requires it.”

“Bunyan puts it best: Christ gave for us the price of blood; but that is not all; Christ as a Captain has conquered death and the grave for us, but that is not all; Christ as a Priest intercedes for us in heaven; but that is not all. Sin is still in us, and with us, and mixes itself with whatever we do, whether what we do be religious or civil; for not only our prayers and our sermons, our hearings and preaching; but our houses, our shops, our trades, and our beds, are all polluted with sin. Nor does the devil, our night and day adversary, forbear to tell our bad deeds to our Father, urging that we might forever be disinherited for this. But what should we now do, if we had not an Advocate; yes, if we had not one who would plead; yes, if we had not one that could prevail, and that would faithfully execute that office for us? Why, we must die.”

“But since we are rescued by him, let us, as to ourselves, lay our hand upon our mouth, and be silent.4 Do not minimize your sin or excuse it away. Raise no defense. Simply take it to the one who is already at the right hand of the Father, advocating for you on the basis of his own wounds. Let your own unrighteousness, in all your darkness and despair, drive you to Jesus Christ, the righteous, in all his brightness and sufficiency.”

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers” by Dane C. Ortlund

Come And Worship

                “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care.  Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried Me, though they had seen what I did.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 95:6-9

                There is something delightful about walking past a Church and hearing a congregation of the Lord’s people singing the praises of the Lord.  One senses an invitation to come in out of the cold of unbelief and to warm oneself at the fire of God’s grace.  Iain Murray tells about an event that took place around the time that D.M. Lloyd-Jones was converted.  It is contained in the first volume of Murray’s wonderful biography of Lloyd-Jones, and tells about how he was out with some friends attending some sort of social event when a Salvation Army Band passed by them.  As Lloyd-Jones listened to the music being played, and being at that time being drawn by the Holy Spirit to faith, he suddenly had an overwhelming sense that “these were my people.”  There was an unmistakeable invitation to a faith that would alter every part of Lloyd-Jones’ life.

                This compulsive nature of God’s invitation to us to receive His grace is what I believe that the Psalmist is focusing our attention upon in this particular Psalm.  Of all of the suggestions that I have encountered regarding how to analyse the 95th Psalm I find myself agreeing with Spurgeon most.  Spurgeon divides the Psalm into two parts.  In the first five verses Spurgeon sees and invitation followed by convincing reasons why we must believe.  In the second half of the Psalm, verses six through eleven, we have the invitation restated followed by a warning that we not harden our hearts to it.  In presenting the invitation in this way the Psalmist leads us into a real warm hearted faith in the Lord.  He shows us who the God is that we are worshipping.  Then he defines the faith that worships the Lord by showing us examples of what it is not. 

                In leading us into worship in this way the Psalmist answers one of the chief questions that we must wrestle with in our lives.  This is to define just what saving faith really is.  Here we discover that the faith that saves us is first of all a faith in someone.  It is not faith in general.  It is not, if you will, faith in faith, as we find ourselves encouraged to think by so many in our world.  It is not a belief that it will all work out somehow in the end.  It is faith in the real, living God who has created all things, ourselves included, and who sovereignly rules everything for His own glory.  It is faith in one who has entered into our world in order to redeem us.  Like a good Shepherd He has come and cared for us, laying His life down for His sheep. 

                There is more here however.  Saving faith is revealed in the way in which we respond to the trials we face in our lives.  The Psalmist issues an invitation to us to submit to the Lord with warm hearted obedience to His voice.  When He speaks to us, through His Son (Hebrews 1:1ff), or through His written Word, we listen to Him with a heart that is already obedient.  The Psalmist points us to two Old Testament events, found in Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1ff, to show us how not to submit to God.  In Hebrews 3:7-4:13 the New Testament takes these definitions and applies them.  People with saving faith have hearts which are submissive to the calling of the Lord upon our lives.  Our desire is to obey Him even in the deepest, darkest days of our lives.  Steven J. Lawson illustrates this in The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Trust Publishing, Crawfordsville, Indiana, 2008) when he quotes these words from Sarah Edwards to her daughter Esther on the occasion of Jonathan Edwards death.

                My very dear child, What shall I say?  A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud.  O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands upon our mouths!  The Lord has done it.  He has made me adore His goodness, that we had him so long.  But my God lives; and He has my heart.  O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us!  We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be.”