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.

Testifying To What You Have Seen And Heard

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

                “Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.”

                “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

                                                                                                                                                                John 1:14, 19, 34

                Several years ago I read a comment from a Pastor nearing retirement who was reflecting in an annual report on the fact that there always seemed to be too much to accomplish in the one service that he was able lead each week.  There was the need for worship and instruction as well as pulpit evangelism that needed to be part of each weekly service.  This pastor regretted the fact that the church seemed to be moving away from the Sunday Evening Worship Service.  Lloyd-Jones commented frequently that he focused his preaching in the Sunday Evenings upon the evangelistic appeal, while on Sunday Mornings he tended to focus more upon edification.  The reality was that there was a tremendous overlap between these two approaches.  Recognising that this overlap between the two approaches to preaching is a fact of life, and in fact is a reality, I have attempted to follow the pattern that Lloyd-Jones outlined, but within the mixture of gifts which the LORD has given to me.

 When we look into the discipleship focus of the Gospel of John as part of a larger series on the New Testament writings of the Apostle John we see the pattern that John followed.  One of the keys to this Gospel is that it calls us to “see” the vision of the Lamb of God and then to testify about it to others that they might come to faith as well.

                It is amazing what a correspondence there is between all of John’s New Testament writings.  In what is often called the centre of the book of Revelation we read these words.

                “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ.  For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night has been hurled down.  They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.  Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them!  But woe to the earth and to the sea, because the devil has gone down to you!  He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”

                                                                                                                                                Revelation 12:10-12

                Compare that quotation with the three verses referenced at the head of this page.  Each one points to what is seen and testified to by a widening body of believers.  John is calling us to see the vision of the Lamb who was slain for us.  We have beheld His glory.  Pre-eminently we have seen this glory in His cross; John will go on to tell us.  Here John simply points us to what we have seen.  The vision is of One who through a sacrificial death will take away the sin of the whole world.  The One that we see is the fulfillment of the Promise of the Scriptures.  In the book of Revelation John tells us that we overcome through the blood of the Lamb. 

                Secondly, John tells us that true believing discipleship leads us to not only catch sight of the vision but to testify to it.  John points out an ever widening circle of believers who bear witness to the reality that they have seen.  John the Baptist testifies to the religious leaders, and then to two of his disciples.  Those disciples go and find others.  The circle of the Church grows larger each time we bear witness.  This is the New Testament Discipleship principle.  Are you following it, testifying to what you have seen and heard?

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.”

For The Glory Of Christ

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

                                                                                                                                                                Romans 8:26-27

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

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

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

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

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

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

His Great Plan

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

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 6:1-2

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

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

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

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

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

Compelled By The Love Of Christ

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

                                                                                                                                                                2 Corinthians 5:14-15

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

                                                                                                                                                                2 Corinthians 5:21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pointing The Way Forward

                “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.”

                                                                                                                                                                Acts 4:33

                As Luke describes the New Testament Church for us he presents us with a series of significant events which move it forward in witness to the world interspersed with summary statement which describe the general life of the community of believers.  Both perspectives are of vital importance.  We need to meditate upon the specific events.  We need as well to hear about the routine life of the Church.  In the description Luke gives us here in Acts 4:32-37 we read about the creation of a Christ Centred Fellowship that has at its heart a dynamic relation with the Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is something which God has created in Christ.  Luke reflects here on how the Lord answered the Biblical Prayers of the Church which were offered in response to the crisis of chapters three and four.  It is of tremendous significance that as the church gathered to reflect upon the threats that the leaders in Jerusalem had given that they looked to the second Psalm and its message, which they then took as direction regarding the will of God for His Church and they then prayed for boldness to carry out the will of God by boldly preaching the Gospel of the Resurrected Christ as the only hope for this world. 

                The summary statement in verses 32-37 reveals how God answered their prayer.  They were emboldened to preach powerfully the message of the Resurrection of Christ with great power.  The Spirit was in their preaching because they were proclaiming God’s message in obedience to His leading. The type of proclamation required that they die to themselves and their own desires and ambitions.  The Apostles needed to be Christ Centred leaders.  What Luke describes here is what results when a congregation of Christians becomes fully devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ.  We know that this is the case because Luke tells us that the Apostles witnessed to the resurrection with great power.  To witness was to testify with ones whole life to a truth.  They were martyrs to Him.  It is not their power which is at work here.  It is the power of God’s Holy Spirit which is powerfully at work in their testimony. 

                In Ephesians 1:18-23 the Apostle Paul describes this power when he writes, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.” 

                Such is the power which is at work in the Church of Christ.  It transforms us as it conforms us to the image of the Son of God.  Luke describes the impact of that power in the fruitful witness of the Church to the resurrection of Christ.  He also shows us how it comes about.  Luke gives us at least three points to help us along the way.

  1. The Believers are committed to the Lordship of Christ.  In their prayer the recognise God as the Sovereign Lord.
  2. They are committed to Christ Centred reflection on the Scriptures.  Their use of Psalm 2 demonstrates this.  The will of God for His church will be found in prayerful meditation upon the Word of God.
  3. They are also committed to heartfelt, earnest, Biblical praying.  Nothing happens without God’s power working in them. 

All of these points show us the way forward as we seek to bring the Gospel to a world that is every bit as hostile to it as was the one that the apostles were trying to reach.  We are called to seek the presence and power of the Resurrected Christ in His Church so that we can share in the great grace of the Lord Jesus as we boldly proclaim His truth.

Praying For True Revival

                “He sends His command to the earth; His word runs swiftly.  He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes.  He hurls down His hail like pebbles.  Who can withstand H icy blast?  He sends His word and melts them; He stirs up His breezes, and the waters flow.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 147:15-18

                “I looked again – and there before me was a flying scroll!  He asked me, “What do you see?”  I answered, “I see a flying scroll, thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide.”  And He said to me, “This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished.  The Lord Almighty declares, “I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of him who swears falsely by My Name.  It will remain in his house and destroy it, both its timbers and its stones.””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 5:1-4

                David Pao in his Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Michigan,2000, page 176) writes,  “In this chapter, I have shown that the word of God in the narrative of Acts is an active agent that travels to the end of the earth.  The goal of this journey is to conquer the world and to create a community as the true people of God.  Even when the suffering of the ministers of the word is mentioned throughout the narrative, the word itself is portrayed as undefeated.”  Earlier Pao had identified the Word of God as the Lord Jesus Christ actively at work in the world, creating a people for Himself.  “The relationship between the identity of the word and that of Jesus can be seen in Acts 6:5 where it is said that the apostles will be devoted “to the service of the word.”  The Lord whom they serve is of course the risen Jesus who called His followers to be His servants (cf. Acts 26:160.” (Pao, p. 161)

                What David Pao is describing is the focus of the prophetic words of God in both the book of Psalms and Zechariah.  God’s Word is sent out as a living agent confronting the world not only with the holiness of God, but also with the depth of our sinfulness.  This is the foundation of any discussion of revival, or of evangelistic fruitfulness.  To pray for revival is to be praying for the conquering ministry of God’s Word of truth to be going out into our world.  Where God’s Word goes forward sin is always exposed.  The Apostle Paul tells us that, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”” (Romans 1:16-17)  So often we pray for evangelistic fruitfulness, or revival, as if it is something which will touch the life of others, bringing them painlessly into God’s Kingdom, and never coming near us.  Historical revival is another matter however.  When Jonathan Edwards described the revival that he lived through he showed us that this was a sovereign work of God’s Spirit that began with a deep encounter with God’s truth.  People hear the Word of God with deep conviction.  They saw clearly their sin, becoming aware of their desperate need for Christ.  So thorough was the conversion of these people that it began to impact the way they lived.  Others saw in them something real.  The gospel went out and conquered, creating a people who would forever belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

                I believe that this spread of God’s Word is what is at the heart of Zechariah’s prophesy of the scroll, containing God’s Word, which God caused to fly throughout the whole land entering into every house, bringing a curse, conviction of sin, so that each one would be brought to embrace God’s Word and by that great encounter being saved.

                What about you?  Have you met the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ?  Have you encountered His holiness?  Have you been brought to see clearly your sin?  Have you discovered that He did not come just to expose your sin so that you would be convicted?  He came that you might be saved in Him. 

                To pray for revival is to pray that this reality would once again spill over our whole land and that, to paraphrase St. Francis of Assisi, “It would begin with me!”

For He Himself Is Our Peace

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

                                                                                                                                                                Ephesians 2:14-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exalting Christ

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

                                                                                                                                                John 12:30-33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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