A Christmas Greeting

                “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born the King of the Jews?  We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

                                                                                                                                                                Matthew 2:1-2

                Matthew with his characteristic simplicity describes an event which reveals in turns the graciousness of our great God and the necessary response which we must make to such great love.  In the account of the Magi we see first of all the graciousness of God.  Centuries before God had brought judgement upon His people by sending them off into exile.  Some of them, like Daniel had been brought to Babylon where they had been chosen to be among the Magi teaching them about the greatness of the God of Israel and I am sure speaking about the beliefs, customs and practices of the Hebrew people.  Centuries later some of that teaching still had a hold on these Magi.  There was an expectation of the coming of a Hebrew Messiah.  Then God began to speak to these specific Magi showing them through a star that the one that they had been expecting had finally come.  God, in His grace, spoke to them in a way that they could understand.  So often the beginnings of a work of grace in our lives is bound up in those things which are commonplace in our lives, but through which God begins to reveal His Gospel truth to us. 

                Now I think that it is important that we note what happens next.  They followed the revelation they had been given.  I am sure that the truth that God was revealing here was revealed to many others.  Matthew tells us that these Magi followed the revelation they were given.  Others ignored the revelation they were given.  Many today hear the Gospel.  Through the circumstances of their lives they are brought to the point where they recognise their need of the grace of God.  One day as they are struggling with their need they hear or see something that points them to the truth of the Gospel.  It may be that they hear someone preaching, someone gives them a Gospel tract, or a friend tells them about Jesus.  They may hear one of the hymns of our faith being sung.  However it happens it seems as if God is speaking to them directly.  “Today is the day of salvation.”  Matthew tells us that the Magi saw the star and they followed it.  In obeying the revelation they received they were eventually given more truth.  They were told about the word given to Micah regarding the Messiah coming from Bethlehem.  They then headed for that town and as they went the star went before them until it led them to the house where Jesus was.  They obeyed the revelation and were guided by God’s grace until they arrived at the place where the Messiah was to be found.  Matthew tells us that their whole purpose was to go and worship Him.  This is the response of faith to God’s gracious revelation.  To come to Him in submitting, committed faith, that is what God is calling us to. 

                Matthew includes this account here in order to bring us to the true response of a disciple of Christ.  Those who belong to Christ hear the word of revelation which God gives to them calling them to faith and they respond with committed worship.  They come to Jesus in faith, believing that He is in fact the Incarnate Son of God who has come to bear their sin on the cross.  They come and submit to Him in reverent worship laying their lives down at the foot of the cross and being committed to following Him wherever He leads them.  I would urge each one today to come and adore the Living Christ today.  This is the only way in which this will truly be a Merry Christmas for Christmas is all about Christ.

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.

When The Son Of Man Comes In His Glory

                “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory.  All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”

                                                                                                                                                                Matthew 25:31-32

                It is a humbling experience to engage in a prolonged study of the Word of God.  When examining a Gospel like Matthew’s for instance we often find ourselves amazed to see how the whole book fits together, along with the rest of the Scriptures to bring us to a real and Biblical faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Immanuel, God among us.  In Matthew 25:31-46 we are brought to consider the final judgment of God upon the nations.  It is presented within the framework of the work of the Gospel in calling us to real faith in Christ.  When the Son of Man comes in His glory He will gather everyone to Himself for judgment.  Matthew quotes the Lord Jesus Christ as saying here that this coming, what we call the Second Advent, is first of all a certainty.  He does not say “if He comes” He says “When He comes.”  There is no doubt about it.  There will come a day when He will come.  We are never told when it will be.  We are however told that it will be.  Therefore we are called by the Gospel to prepare ourselves for this reality.  We will stand before the judgment seat of Christ.  Our only hope on that day will not lie in our works or goodness, it will be found in one fact only.  This is that our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. 

                The second point that Jesus makes here is that this coming will be in His glory.  When He comes we will see Him as He is.  His full character, His holiness, purity, power, sacrificial love, and infinite wisdom will be perfectly revealed on that day.  What we will be confronted with on that day will be such and encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ that all of our pretension and rationalizing of our sin will be done away with. 

                What seems apparent here is that there will be a clear connection between His first and second advent when He comes.  In His first advent the Lord Jesus Christ came in humiliation.  He set aside all of His glory as God in order to become human flesh.  He humbled Himself in His death on the cross for us.  The Bible makes it clear that the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ was most fully revealed in the cross.  As the Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2:6-11, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  The backdrop to the judgment throne of Christ is the cross.  Our judge is also our sacrifice.  He gave His precious life in order to redeem us from our sin.  That is the glory which will be revealed when He comes again.  Nowhere is this pictured more clearly for us than in Revelation 5:5-6 where the Apostle John writes, “Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep!  See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.  Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne.”  What unfolds in the rest of the book of Revelation are warnings and judgments all carried out from the throne of God and right at the centre of that throne is a little slain and resurrected lamb.  Here is the glory of the Son of Man as He comes to gather us together for judgment.

                The price for your redemption has been paid by the Lamb.  When you stand before Him on the Day of Judgment know this the judge is also the sacrifice.  Today He is calling you to faith in Him.  Will you come to Him and receive life?

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

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!

An Advent Meditation

                “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the LORD appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what it conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the LORD had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel” – which means “God with us”.    

                                                                                                                                                                Matthew 1:19-23

                As Matthew relates the account of the birth of the LORD Jesus Christ to us at the beginning of his gospel he also speaks to us about the proper way to prepare ourselves for the celebration of the Christmas miracle.  In fact Matthew shows us how to go about seeking to know the LORD as our redeemer.  He does this as he relates to us the manner in which Joseph deals with the news of Mary’s pregnancy.  Most of us would have responded to such news by dismissing Mary’s tale of the Angel Gabriel’s announcement and its consequences.  Whether through hurt pride, anger, fear, or simply through unbelief we would have broken off the marriage and gone our own way.  Word of the virgin birth would not have seemed true to us.  That is not how Joseph responded.  His actions lead us to examine our own responses to the difficult things that God calls us to experience in our lives.  Matthew tells us that Joseph was a righteous man.  His righteousness seems to be something much more than the self righteousness which we often encounter.  He genuinely sought to obey God’s leading in this situation.  This crisis in his relationship with Mary would be another opportunity for Joseph to live out the obedience of faith.  Therefore Joseph pondered it.  The words means to think deeply, perhaps even to meditate upon a subject.  It seems apparent that part of this meditation involved reflecting upon the message of the scriptures.  He wanted to understand God’s purpose for all of this so that he could be believingly obedient even in this hard time. 

                Joseph’s meditation bore fruit in two ways.  It led him into the book of the Prophet Isaiah where he would have read in chapter seven about the necessity of standing firm in faith.  God had promised that a day was coming when Emmanuel would come.  This coming would in fact be God with us.  Could it be that the tale that Mary had told was true?  The second was that an angel came to Joseph in a dream giving him specific promises and instructions that must be received and obeyed in faith.  Now Joseph had a decision to make which would test him to the very core of his being.  He was to take Mary as his wife and raise Jesus as his own child.  All of this was to be done in obedience to God who was now among us. 

                Phillips Brooks in his delightful Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” writes these words which not only describe the reality of that first Christmas day, but which continue to describe our own situation today.  “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”  Life is filled with hopes.  We constantly look forward to something better which is just around the corner.  Life is also filled with fears.  We have learned through bitter experience that life is hard and that things constantly go wrong.  How are we to respond?  Joseph meditates upon his situation responding with the Word of God which he then obeys in faith.  His response can be described with this classic quotation of Martyn Lloyd-Jones from his book on the Puritans.  I found the quotation on the internet this morning.  “There are many scriptures which demonstrate that repentance always comes first.  You find this in the gospels.  John the Baptist precedes our LORD and he preached a baptism of repentance.”  Joseph faced his hopes and fears with a desire to cast himself upon the purposes of God.  In faith he repented, seeking to yield his circumstances to the LORD.  He then obeyed God.

                Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of the Incarnation of the Christ.  Preparation for the believer always involves real repentance which brings us to submit all of our hopes and fears to the LORD’s plan and purpose for us.  Such repentance leads us to obey the calling of God upon our lives.  In recent days we have all been asked on numerous occasions, “Are you ready for Christmas?”  Following Joseph’s example that question takes on a much deeper significance.  “Are you ready for Christmas?”

Dealing With Error

                “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?”

                                                                                                                                                                                Mark 12:24

                Every day we are bombarded by thoughts which are in error.  We have to deal with the thoughts of others, whether through the news media, or on television or radio, or even those things which we hear in casual conversation which are in error.  I will never forget the person who at a time of significant grief in my family told one of my children that the person who had been lost had gone to live on the moon, never to return.  The consequence of that comment, given with the best of intentions to be kind to a small child was difficult to overcome.  We constantly have to deal with teaching, and advice which is in error.  Some of it is not so easy to detect. 

                In addition to the errors of others we also have to deal with the erroneous thoughts that we find arising in our own hearts and minds.  These can be devastating, leading us into all manner of destructive patterns of living.  To this the Lord Jesus Christ asks us a simple question which is designed to redirect us into Godly living.  The question is found in Mark 12:24 “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?”  This question was asked of the Sadducees, who came to ridicule Jesus by asking Him a ridiculous question which arose out of their belief that there was no such thing as the resurrection of the dead.  They believed that this question would expose Jesus as a spiritual bumbler out of His depth in dealing with those who had received a real education in the Scriptures.  I once sat at a Ministerial meeting at which a senior pastor in a large church spoke at length about the fact that many uneducated Pastors believed evangelical doctrine, which anyone with half a brain would immediately dismiss.  Those precious doctrines of the Evangelical faith are the foundation of all that I believe.  The more I search them out the more precious they become to me.

                Jesus tells us that we fall into error, in doctrine and in life, because we do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.  For those Sadducees the error was that they believed that this life was all that there was.  There was therefore no accountability before God for how we live our lives.  They then found themselves living as those who had no hope.  Perhaps the error that these Sadducees believed can be described by the words of the Apocryphal book called “The Wisdom of Solomon” which predates the time of Christ. 

                                “For we were born by mere chance, and hereafter we shall be as though we have never been, for the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts; when it is extinguished, the body will return to ashes, and the spirit will dissolve like empty air.  Our name will be forgotten in time, and no one will remember our works, our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud, and be scattered like mist that is chased by the rays of the sun and overcome by its heat.  For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow, and there is no return from our death, because it is sealed up and no one turns back.” (Wisdom of Solomon 2:2-5)

                What a hopeless philosophy to live by.  There is no comfort here.  It is this type of thing that Jesus was confronting with the question of the Sadducees.  In all kinds of practical ways we find ourselves drawn into a lifestyle of hopelessness, because we do not know the teaching of Scripture or the power of God.  If however we give ourselves over to a Spirit led study of the Word of God we will come to live with a deep awareness of the power of God at work in us.  The fruit of this will be a real and living hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Nothing will ever be the same again.

A Gospel Psalm

“Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led captivity captive: Thou hast received gifts for men; yea for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 68:18

                There is a gospel sense to this verse within the context of Psalm 68.  It is quoted powerfully in the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  The context there is the Holy Spirit’s work in advancing the proclamation of the Gospel through the witness of the Church.  This work of proclamation is that of the Risen and Ascended Christ who has entered into His heavenly sanctuary to bring redemption to His people.

                In looking carefully at Psalm 68 we are confronted with a Psalm written for the occasion of David’s bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the city of Jerusalem.  Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit David makes a connection with the events of the Exodus as Israel is led out of Egypt to Mount Sinai and then onward through forty years of wandering in the wilderness until they were brought into the Promised Land.  In all of this they were led by the Angel of the LORD in the form of the fiery pillar.

                The book of Exodus ends with this reality stated clearly.

                “In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out – until the day it lifted.  So the cloud of the LORD was over the Tabernacle by day and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all of their travels” (Exodus 40:36-38).

                What a powerful conclusion to the book of Exodus.  They followed the cloud.  The LORD was in the cloud.  Twice in Psalm 68 we are confronted by “Him who rides in the clouds.”

                In verse 4 we read “Sing to God, sing in praise of His Name, extol Him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before Him – His Name is the LORD.”  Then in verse thirty two and thirty three we again confront the One who rides in the clouds when we read, “Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth, Sing praise to the LORD, to Him who rides across the highest heavens, who thunders with mighty voice.”

                In the Gospels we read that the disciples followed Jesus as He made His way to Jerusalem, the cross, the resurrection, and His ascension to His Father’s right hand in order to redeem us.   Luke even calls this journey His Exodus.  It is part of His advent, His manifestation of Himself, and of His Father, to this world.

                In Ephesians 4:7ff the Apostle Paul quotes from Psalm 68:18 in the following context.  “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  This is why it says; ‘When He ascended on high, He took many captives and gave gifts to His people.’  (What does ‘He ascended’ mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions?  He who descended is the very One who ascended higher than the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)”

                The point is that the very One who came among us also went to be with His Father so that the Holy Spirit might be poured out upon us, gifting us as the church so that we might proclaim this Gospel of Salvation, purchased upon the cross, to this dark sin filled world.  We are called to the reality of being the community of light because we have met the One who demonstrated such great love for us.  This is the advent message!  This is the only word of hope for this sin weary world!  We must hear it and follow Jesus to His Cross so that we can share with Him in His resurrection.

Hearing And Believing The Gospel

“When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”  Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.  Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.””

                                                                                                                                                                Matthew 11:2-6

                A few years ago I engaged in a study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.   To do an exposition of one of Paul’s Gospel letters was both a challenge and a joy for me as it caused me to explore once again the subject of regeneration, the new birth, from the point of view of the Congregation’s need as well as from the point of view of my own personal need.  I can remember reading years ago about the Victorian Baptist preacher C. H. Spurgeon that after a number of years spent in the preaching of the Gospel to others that he began to wonder whether it still had the same joyful hold that it once did upon his own life.  Had he become too familiar with it?  His response was to go and to hear a humble Gospel preacher expound on the subject of God’s redeeming love for us.  With tears streaming down his face Spurgeon was able to say that the Gospel still had the same precious hold on him that it had had when he first believed it.  To carefully study and expound the book of Galatians has renewed my feeling of wonder that I first had when I came to believe this precious truth.  For that I am deeply grateful.

                Today I want to focus attention for a few minutes upon an extended quotation from Iain Murray’s biography of Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, 1899-1939.  It concerns the nature of the new birth.  I hope over the next few weeks to explore this theme more fully.  I share this quotation as a brief exposition of the text from Matthew 11:2-6 which was shared above. 

                “Perhaps Dr. Lloyd-Jones did not altogether appreciate at this point the struggle which E. T. Rees was having in his own mind.  Certainly the Church Secretary believed in a type of Evangelical religion, but he was later to feel that he had been as ignorant of the doctrine of regeneration as Nicodemus and he long studies in Socialism had led him to suppose that the coming of the Kingdom of God could scarcely succeed simply by the rebirth of individuals.  But under the new preaching he was hearing, there came increasing doubts about the rightness of his position.

                The crisis came on Sunday October 2, 1927, when the sermon was on the doubt of John the Baptist which led him to send the message to Jesus, ‘Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?’ (Matt. 11:2-5)  Dr. Lloyd-Jones argued that the meaning of Christ’s reply to John’s question – ‘The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them’ – was proof that the Baptist’s problem arose out of his wrong views of what Christ had come to do.  John did not appreciate the true significance of what Christ was actually doing and he supposed that the Messiah would have made political deliverance from Rome one of His priorities.  ‘So great was the tyranny of his pre-conceived ideas,’ said the preacher, ‘that he even began to doubt what he had actually seen with his own eyes and what he had actually heard with his own ears.’  As the sermon proceeded, E. T. Rees’ whole system of thought finally collapsed and even from the pulpit the preacher could see from the look on his face what was happening.  ‘I shall always remember how you rushed to speak to me before I was down from the pulpit,’ Dr. Lloyd-Jones was to comment twenty years later.”  (Murray, Iain, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: the First Forty Years, 1899 – 1939, The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1998, p. 164-165)

                What a wonderful Biblical reality.  When we hear and believe that the LORD Jesus Christ has come to regenerate us everything is changed.  This reality ushers us into the presence of the LORD, walking, and leaping, and praising God.

A Call To Personal Faith

                “Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.  But this is how God fulfilled what He had foretold through all the Prophets, saying that His Christ would suffer.  Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the LORD, and that He might send the Christ, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 3:17-20

                There is nothing more satisfying than a well written story in which the reader is engaged in the mystery that is at its heart.  When the reader gets to the end of the story and all is revealed then all of the little hints along the way suddenly fall into focus.  They make sense now that the purpose of the story has been revealed.  Sometimes the final revelation leaves us wondering why it was that we did not “see” it all along.  The Apostle Paul tells the Colossians that the mystery of the Gospel has finally been revealed and it is “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). 

                It seems that this is what is at the heart of the sermon which the Apostle Peter is preaching in the Temple on the occasion of the healing of the man born crippled.  As Peter begins to explore the message of the cross he does so from the point of view of those who are listening to him.  This is a sermon which has as its purpose the convicting of Peter’s hearers of their personal responsibility for the cross of Christ.  Conversion always begins with conviction.  God must first bring us to a clear understanding of our own personal lostness in sin.  It is this which Peter is aiming at.  True it is that the cross of Christ was God’s plan of redemption.  The LORD Jesus Christ came and freely went to the cross in order to bear our sin.  So why are Peter’s hearers, and we ourselves, responsible for crucifying Him?  Peter will explain that it is owing to our unbelief.  We will look more carefully at this below.  For our purposes here Peter tells us that what we, his readers and hearers, did was done in ignorance.  We did not know who He really was, because we did not understand what the Scriptures said about Him. 

                This is how God fulfilled His plan which was foretold by all the prophets.  The constant teaching of the Old Testament is that when the Christ comes He must suffer for His people.  Isaiah 53 tells us that He will take upon Himself our iniquities.  It is as if Peter is saying here that what Isaiah stated received a hearty amen from all of the other Prophets.  What was done in ignorance resulted in the fulfillment of God’s plan.  We are however responsible for what we have participated in ignorantly. 

                Now in the fullness of time the mystery has been made clear to us.  God has pulled back the veil and allowed us to see exactly what we have done.  Therefore we are now responsible to repent and turn to God so that the cross of Christ might cover over our sins.  God is at work in our world fulfilling the plan that He announced through His Prophets so long ago.  What His purpose in the cross of Christ is has now been made clear to us.  He calls us to believe Him as He speaks His Word of truth to us in Christ.  His call is a call to faith.  We must turn away from our unbelief so that we might embrace His Christ. 

                Peter makes his appeal to his hearers and readers with an abundance of evidence from the Scriptures.  There is Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19, Samuel and the others Prophets appealing to the evidence of David in 1 Samuel 16:13, and 2 Samuel 7:12-16, Abraham in Genesis 22:18, and 26:4, as well as the reference that the Apostle Paul makes to these truths as he writes to the Galatians (Galatians 3:16).  All of this evidence calls us to faith.  We have heard the Gospel call repeatedly and we can no longer claim ignorance. 

                Therefore the question for each of us is this.  Do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s Christ come to deliver you from your personal sin?