Monday, February 26, 2018
Jude 1:20-21 "But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life."
As a child, our family had a water-well located on our property. Most of the time, the pump that brought-up the water from the well and into our house worked quite well. However, there were those occasions where my father would need to go out to the well-pump and pour a gallon of water down the shaft where the pump was located. Why? To "prime the pump". When the hot summer days would come, very little water was feeding into the well. These episodes of "priming the pump" kept the water-supply flowing into our family's home.
When the Christian experiences "dryness" in their prayer-life
Anyone who has been a Christian for a while experiences those seasons where the well of prayer seems to grow dry. Whenever things get dry - panic sets into the heart. Oftentimes, Christians will try various sorts of activities to "prime the pump". It was the devotional author Oswald Chambers that once remarked that spiritual activity is the number-one competitor of spiritual vitality. I have too often made the mistake of "getting busier" rather than stopping long enough to get alone with God in prayer.
The method for priming the prayer-well of the Christian-life is found in Jude 1:20-21. In the opening verses above, we find a three-corded strand that is not so easily broken. If the reader may note, I have underlined three commands that Jude issues in getting our prayer life back on track.
Priming the pump of the Christian's prayer-life
First, he commands us to "build ourselves up in the most-holy faith". This first command has to do with doctrine. Doctrine is the pearl necklace of the Christian life. Pearls of truth, stranded together, make for a well-adorned mind and heart. Today, many Christians believe they can get along fine without doctrine. Unfortunately, experience divorced from doctrine leads to fanaticism. Doctrine cleanses the mind. Doctrine gives meat to the bones of the Christian faith.
So focusing upon sound doctrine - particularly the doctrine of God - is needed to prime the pump of the prayer-life. Why else did the Lord Jesus begin His famous prayer with "Our Father, Who Art In Heaven"? He taught His disciples the need to focus on God.
I have found that when I begin my prayer-time, it is helpful to focus upon God's attributes, names or actions. Equipping oneself with such doctrinal truth requires exercising oneself in scripture. We only get out of our prayer-life what we put into our time in the scripture.
Jude then issues forth a second command in Jude 1:20, namely - "praying in the Spirit". This second command occupies the main point of today's post. We want to know how to prime the pump of the prayer-life. There is a big difference between "praying" and "praying in the Spirit". Once I heard Charles Stanley preaching on the subject of "how to hear God". Praying in the Spirit involves making God's leading, will and voice priority. Thus, as Dr. Stanley preached on how to hear God, he noted four requirements which he laid out in short order: prioritize, pursue, persist and pray. Once I have adorned my mind with the doctrine of God, I am positioned to pray in the Spirit. Will I prioritize God? Will I pursue Him? Will I persist and stay in the saddle? Only when these steps are carried out is one then ready to pray and hear God.
We then see Jude deliver a third command in Jude 1:21, namely "keep yourselves in the love of God". I recall when I fell in love with the woman that would become my wife. Life transformed. I could not get her off my mind. Her qualities, her voice and her words stirred my heart to want to know her more. I knew that she was the one with which I wanted to spend the rest of my life. For almost 25 years we have been married. To this day I can say that I love my wife more than I did in those early days. You see, I have kept myself "in the love of my wife".
Now when it comes to God, we realize that He is the Maximally Great Being. Jude emphasizes this final command. As a matter of fact, the first two commands are impossible without this last one. Keeping oneself in the love of God requires His indwelling Spirit in the Christian and a mind devoted to thinking about Him. Meditating upon God's qualities, His words and being insures that God does not quickly become an abstract idea.
God saves the Christian to have an experiential relationship with Him, grounded in truth and empowered by the Spirit. The Christian is urged to die daily by taking up the cross (see Luke 9:23-24). There must needs be a cross to issue forth the spiritual life.
A simple exercise that can take what we learn from Jude and "prime the pump" of the prayer-life
I have found it helpful over the years to refocus my attention upon the A,B,C's of God. Beginning with God will ensure I end with God in prayer. Psalm 121:1-2 reminds us:
"I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth."
So, whenever my prayer-life runs dry, I first consider God's Attributes (such as omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, mercy, love, justice, holiness, etc). I may take a sheet of paper and write "Attributes" at the top left and then begin to list underneath that heading as many attributes as I possibly can. Next, I think of God's "Blessed Names". One may write this heading at the top center of the sheet of paper, and then begin to list as many names of God as one can think. Names of God such as Jesus, Lord, King, Jehovah-Jireh (God my provider). One writer has estimated there to be over 1,000 names of God found in the Bible. Thirdly, I then write on the same sheet of paper to the upper-most right this phrase: "Consistent acts". This final designation deals with what God has done, is doing or will do. God is my Creator, Savior, Lover of my soul, Protector, Friend, Deliverer, Soon coming king, etc.
By the time one goes though the above little exercise, the tone is set for prayer. If one's prayer-life is extremely dry or non-existent, having the Book of Psalms open before you, or Isaiah 6 or Revelation 4-5 is a must. Such chapters in the Bible are exclusively God- centered. Psalms such as Psalm 2; 90; 102; 110 and 150 are God-centered Psalms. The Book of Psalms was designed and inspired as the hymnbook of Israel. Whenever one alloys a Psalm to their sagging prayer-life, the beams of prayer are strengthened. Reading a Psalm like Psalm 73 reminds the reader of how certain saints got "out-of-the-rut".
May this post and these suggestions serve you and me today. God is calling every believer to prayer. Might we take the instructions we learnt from God's Word and "prime the pump" to activate once more His ever-fresh supply to our faith in God.
Saturday, February 24, 2018
John 18:1-4 "When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which He entered with His disciples. 2 Now Judas also, who was betraying Him, knew the place, for Jesus had often met there with His disciples. 3 Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, “Whom do you seek?”
Jesus’ entry into His road of suffering to the cross began with His arrest. The sequence of events following from His arrest, through His six trials, to Golgotha (i.e. the cross) comprise what is commonly called "The Passion". We refer to these events (found in all four Gospels, with John's Gospel recording them in John 18:1-19:30) with the word "passion" (deriving from the Latin "passio", meaning "to suffer") to summarize what Christ willingly undertook to provide salvation. No clear understanding of the Person and work of Jesus is achievable apart from the aforementioned events.
In today's post we consider the question raised by Jesus in John 18:4,7 to those seeking his arrest: "whom do you seek?" The episode of Jesus’ arrest delivers three details of Jesus that demonstrates why He alone is worth seeking.
1. Jesus is God in the flesh. John 18:1-7
The 19th century theologian Charles Hodge writes beautifully on how the New Testament presents the Lord Jesus Christ. Hodge starts by first noting the true humanity of Jesus:
“The facts which the Bible teaches concerning the Person of Christ are, first, that He was truly man, i.e., He had a perfect or complete human nature. Hence, everything that can be predicated of man (that is, of man as man, and not of man as fallen) can be predicated of Christ)”.
Whenever we journey into John 18, we undoubtedly see a very human Jesus. Christ walked with His disciples (18:1) and was arrested & bound (18:12). Only as a man could Jesus fulfill the conditions spoken of by one of his opponents, Caiaphas the High Priest, in John 18:14 -
"Now Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people."
Hodge then continues to his second point about the New Testament's portrayal of the Lord Jesus:
“Secondly, He was truly God, or had a perfect Divine nature, Hence everything that can be predicated of God can be predicated of Christ”.
John's Gospel affords glimpses of the true deity of the Son of God. For example, in John 18:4 we find reference to the Son's omniscience: “knowing all the things that were coming upon Him”. Further statements recorded by John as coming from Jesus' lips include His self-reference of having the Divine name “I am” (three times, 18:5,6,7). This same name "I am" was first spoken back in Exodus 3 to Moses at the burning bush. So we see then Jesus Christ as truly God and truly man (vere deus et vere homo).
Hodge then reminds us of the third important truth about Christ that we see in the New Testament, namely that He is a Person (no less than a Divine person):
“Thirdly, He was one person. The same person that said: “I thirst” said “Before Abraham was, I am”.
As one see Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, walking into the Garden of Gethsemane, one cannot help but see a parallel of God walking in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day in Genesis 3:8. The Divine Person of the Father, identified often in scripture by His voice speaking to men (see Genesis 1; Exodus 19:1-6; Matthew 17:1ff; Mark 9:1ff; Luke 9:28ff; 2 Peter 1:16-18).
God moved in the midst of that Garden, seeking the fallen man and his wife. In John 18, we see the Divine Person of the Son, physically walking in the midst of those Olive trees of Gethsemane. He did this in preparation to go to the cross for the sake of fallen humanity. So which Jesus ought we seek? God in human flesh. But notice a second truth in answer to this question....
2. Jesus is the Great Shepherd. John 18:8-10
Jesus Christ is not only God in human flesh, but also the Great Shepherd. We know that His identification as the Great Shepherd is attached to His arrest by how the other Gospel writers portrayed this pending event. In Matthew 26:31 and Mark 14:27 we find reference to this event fulfilling a prophecy uttered by the prophet Zechariah in Zechariah 13:7 -
“Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, And against the man, My Associate,” Declares the Lord of hosts.
“Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered; And I will turn My hand against the little ones."
So whenever we seek after Jesus as the Great Shepherd, we are pursuing Him that is the prophetic Shepherd. As the prophetic shepherd, Christ is also our protective shepherd. As Jesus confronts those coming to arrest Him in John 18, we read these words uttered by the Lord in John 18:9 -
"to fulfill the word which He spoke, 'Of those whom You have given me I have not lost a one".
As you read on into John 18, all the disciples flee from the Lord Jesus. Amazingly, the Romans do not pursue them, hedged and hemmed by the hand of Providence as urged by the restraining power of the Son of God. So we seek after Jesus who is God in human flesh and the great shepherd. Now notice the third identification of the Christ whom we ought to seek...
3. Jesus is the Grand Savior. John 18:11-14
The timing of Christ's arrest, trial and crucifixion occurred during the Jewish Passover (see Mark 14:1ff). The details of Christ's arrest are meaningful when taken into consideration with the Passover in the background. The timing of these events underscore the mission for which Christ came: to be the Grand Savior. As the Grand Savior, three brief observations are noted.
First, He came as the satisfaction for wrath, or what scripture terms "propitiation" (see 1 John 2:1-2). Quite literally, He came to drink the cup of wrath, all of it, for our benefit. Christ's death as the satisfaction of wrath meant that as God, His work was sufficient for all and, as man, blood could be shed and applied to all who believe. Hence, we can say His atoning work was sufficient for all and effective for believers, as our satisfaction for wrath.
Second, He went bound as a sacrifice for sin. John 18:12 specifically tells us that they arrested and "bound him". This echoes back to a statement we read in Psalm 118:27 -
"The Lord is God, and He has given us light; Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar."
In Jewish practice, Psalm 118 became associated with the Passover celebration. The meaning of the imagery of the Passover sacrifice offered up on the altar to represent the people is more clearly understood in light of Christ's actions (see John 1:19; 18:12-14).
Thirdly then, we see Christ, as the Grand Savior, not only the satisfaction for wrath and the sacrifice for sin but also the substitute for sinners. We have already noted how Caiaphas prophetically (unwittingly so, mind you) predicted how expedient it was for one man to die for the people. This idea of substitution is central to God's overall redemptive plan in the Old Testament and is fulfilled perfectly by Christ as the sinner's substitute in the New Testament.
In this post we looked at answer the question raised by Jesus in John 18:4 - "whom do you seek". We discovered that when it comes to seeking Christ, we seek after Him that possess the three following identifying traits:
1. God in human flesh
2. Great Shepherd
3. Grand Savior
As we follow this same Jesus in the narratives of John 18 and 19, we will find again and again how as God He is more than enough, how as man He supplies what is needed for my humanity and as the Person of the Son, He is ever personally precious to those who place their trust in Him.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Luke 11:4 "And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us."
Once a person remarked about forgiveness:
"forgiveness is a great act for everyone to practice until I personally have to do it."
The most familiar prayer in the Bible is the Lord's prayer. Each line is packed full of truth taught by Jesus about prayer. In this post we consider that part of the Lord’s prayer that deals with the matter of forgiveness. Forgiveness, at its core, means: “to let go”. Confession of sins in forgiveness is crucial to maintaining fellowship with God, with others and ourselves. Let’s explore three angles when asking for forgiveness
Ask God for forgiveness.
This first angle at looking at forgiveness deals with our fellowship with God. Jesus never divorces our confession of sins to God from how we treat others. Luke 11:4 records Jesus' words: "And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us." Who of us has ever experienced that sense of "indebtedness" to someone? Forgiveness addresses the weight of our guilt, shame and "indebtedness" we incurred as a result of our actions against another. Whenever forgiveness is sought with God, the desire is for a "clearing away" of whatever is preventing closeness with God.
As already noted, Jesus never separates the "vertical" element of one's fellowship and relationship with God from the "horizontal" level of our relationship to others. Matthew's version of this prayer records these words in Matthew 6:14-15
"For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions."
More will be said in a moment on this score. Seeking forgiveness in prayer clears away obstacles. Restores clarity and closeness with God. 1 John 1:5-9 describes this point:
"This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
So as we ask God for forgiveness in prayer, we need to have the readiness to forgive others. Forgiving others is so closely associated with God's forgiveness that they are scarcely mentioned apart from one another in the Bible.
Jesus tells an illuminating parable of a servant seeking forgiveness of a debt from his master. The indebtedness was quite substantial for the servant. After much pleading with his master, the master grants the servant a reprieve. However, no sooner is he absolved of his insurmountable debt than to go out demanding repayment of a much smaller sum owed to him by a fellow-servant. The other servants are so offended by this turn of events that they report it to the master, who in turn reverses his original decision. The point Jesus is making is that in experiencing God's forgiveness, the number one fruit ought to involve the willingness to forgive others that wrong us (see Mt 18:21-35).
Too often in our church-life do we find Christians operating in resentment. Such a terrible spiritual condition is what the Bible calls "taking up offense". If not remedied, the offended Christian can practically begin to think-like, act -like and relate-like an unbeliever. Forgiveness is not only for the sake of the other person, but also for the healing of our own hearts. Jesus urges his disciples to forgive as often as they can (Luke 17:3-4).
To knowingly withhold forgiveness from someone fails to give evidence of one's conversion. The Apostle John warns us in 1 John 4:19-21
"We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also."
Forgive yourself? Instead, accept God’s forgiveness.
In today's post we have considered the importance of forgiveness in one's prayer-life. We've looked at asking for God's forgiveness and making sure we exercise forgiveness to others. One last area is important before closing out this post: the subject of forgiving ourselves. This oft-cited sentiment is found throughout our culture. People coming to terms with what they did in the past involves the so-called act of "forgiving oneself".
The question is: is forgiving oneself Biblical? If not, what appropriate alternative might there be? The simple answer is to receive the forgiveness already won for you by Jesus Christ. John MacArthur notes that self-forgiveness won't do any good, since we have no ability to do away with the guilt and shame we carry around apart from Christ's work applied by faith. We read in Colossians 3:13
"bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you."
Peace in the soul is not found in a bottle, a pill or in escape through social media. The cross confronts me with what I've done and bids me to acknowledge what Jesus has done for me through letting go of any effort to "self-atone" for past indiscretions. This is why I love 1 John 1:9, wherein we read that not only is Jesus "just and faithful to forgive me", but also "to cleanse me" of the effects brought about by my sin. So whenever Jesus urges us to pray for forgiveness, we do so with the idea to restore fellowship or closeness with God, with others and to receive all Jesus did to attain peace in our hearts.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Romans 14:7-9 "For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living."
When raising children, parents aim to train them to make not only good decisions - but also Godly choices. Whenever the children are younger, we tell them to do certain things because "mom or dad said so". Issuing forth basic instructions or "precepts" is fine for younger children. However, we hope to see the child take-on life through weighing what they "ought-to-do" by way of "principles" taught to them by us. A principle is a universal standard that is applicable to specific situations.
We tell our children how the day will come when mom or dad won't be there looking over their shoulder. Eventually, the child's relationship to the parent should be that of seeking counsel, rather than simply getting a string of commands. As is often the case in the natural-life, the road of maturity in the spiritual-life is anything but a straight-line. Things can get wobbly. Still, the development of such persons is just as important as attainment of spiritual goals.
We find in scripture that God develops the moral and spiritual lives of His people by two main routes: precepts and principles. The former of these deals with commands. The latter is concerned about developing that person to exercise - by the Spirit's internal leading - their will and moral intuitions to correspond to the known will of God in the Bible. God is far more interested in a relationship with His people than they are in having one with Him. Choices are used by God to intersect the will of the Christian with His own. Romans 14 touches upon the subject of decision-making as seen in the various terms sprinkled throughout the text that are often associated with making choices:
Romans 14:1, "judgment on his opinions"; 14:4 "judge"; 14:5 "one person regards"; 14:10, "judge". Then later on: 14:22, "your own conviction before God"; 14:23 "faith".
Life is filled with choices. How can you and I be ready for what comes next? Furthermore, what assurance do we have for making not just the right choice, but a Godly one? Knowing the right principles. What is a principle? As already mentioned, principles are those universal standards that can be readily applied to specific situations.
Today’s post explores five principles for making Godly choices in those areas we might refer to as the so-called "grey areas". The below principles and their associated diagnostic questions will find their greatest benefit through prayer in the decisions we make. At the end of this post we will offer final applications for using each principle in concert with the others.
1. Lordship Principle. Romans 14:8-9
Christ's Lordship is the leading principle of Christian discipleship. In the realm of human decisions, we ought to first ask: "will this choice lead to greater obedience to Jesus Christ?" Romans 14:8-9 states:
"for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living."
Paul is dealing with the issue of how those Christians that are stronger in their faith ought to treat those who are not as far along in the things of God. Have both yielded to the authority of Christ in their lives? Decision-making is that one area that provides a quick test for determining how much one has set apart Christ in their hearts (see 1 Peter 3:15).
2. Conscience Principle. Romans 14:10-12
The principle of the conscience is found throughout God's Word. Whenever exercising oneself in making choices, a second question to ask could be: "will this choice result in violation of my or another’s conscience?" Romans 14:10-12 warns us not to violate another's conscience in the realm of Christian freedom. Whether or not we carry-out a certain action ought to factor in the well-being of either another's conscience or our own.
3. Spirit-led Principle. Romans 14:16-17
The leading or filling of the Holy Spirit is urged upon the Christian throughout the New Testament (see Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 5:18; 2 Peter 1:3-4). We find ample warning of what occurs when one gives into the flesh (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-4). A good diagnostic question to ask in light of this principle would be: "will this choice result in following my flesh or the Holy Spirit?"
1 Corinthians 6:12 speaks similarly like we see Paul writing here in Romans 14. In the 1 Corinthians 6:12 passage we read: "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything".
One of the ways we determine the leadership of the flesh or the Spirit in a given area is by what occupies our thoughts, actions and speech. If a particular subject dominates these areas to the detriment of the things of God, it could indicate mastery by the flesh in that area. However, if one finds themselves subjecting their hobbies, thoughts or speech to God for the sake of drawing closer to God, then pursuit of the Spirit's leading is usually the concern.
Romans 14:16-17 emphasizes how the Kingdom of God is all about righteousness (status of one's actions); peace (state of one's soul) and joy (status of one's fellowship with God) in the Holy Spirit. Whether we are talking about matters of what-to-eat, what-to- drink or some other debatable issue - there needs be the priority of the Spirit's leading over that of our self-interest (i.e. the flesh).
4. Building-up Principle. Romans 14:19-20
So when making Godly choices, we need to consider how well the decision will encourage me to follow Christ's Lordship, whether or not a conscience is violated and how well one can follow the Holy Spirit's leading. This fourth principle has to do with building up vs. tearing down others. Such a principle is concerned with what the scripture calls "edification". 1 Corinthians 10:23 states: "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify."
An important question to ask in light of this principle would be: "will this choice build-up or tear-down others?" Romans 14:19-20 cautions the believer to pursue those courses of action that "make for peace and the building-up" of one another."
5. Faithful Principle. Romans 14:22-23
Faith is a gift given by God (Ephesians 2:8-9). What one does with their faith subsequent to conversion spells out how faithful they are. If whatever decision one makes either hurts personal Christian faith, the faith of others or brings reproach on the cause of Christianity in general, great caution is needed. Such a decision ought to either compel people to "wait" or make the decision that best favors the cause of faith. Decisions made in haste are often done in presumption, rather than faith seeking the will of God. A good diagnostic question to ask in this regard would be: "will this choice hurt or advance Christian faith?" Romans 14:22-23 closes out with this reminder: "and whatever is not from faith is sin".
Applying these principles for Godly decision making involves asking the right questions
Today we have considered five principles for Godly decision-making from Romans 14. Like a prospector panning for gold, we can use the above principles and their associated diagnostic questions to sift-through choices that may not seem so "cut-and-dry". Each principle functions like a "sieve", shuffling our decision-making through finer and finer screens until whatever comes out at the bottom tells us what we need to do or not to do. Thus, in using social-media for example, we could apply the above principles accordingly:
1. Will this site or social media help or hurt my obedience to Christ's Lordship?
2. Will this site or social media violate the conscience of others or myself?
3. Will this site or social media result in my gratifying the desires of my flesh or lend to a greater desire to follow the Holy Spirit's leading?
4. Will this site or social media build-up or tear-down others or myself?
5. Will this site or social media help or harm my Christian faith, others' faith or the cause of Christ in general?
Whenever we sift our choices through the above "grids", whatever makes it through such questions spells out the course of action to take in our daily choices. May this aid readers in making it their goal to make wiser and more godlier choices in the day to come.
Thursday, February 15, 2018
John 18:1-6 "When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which He entered with His disciples. 2 Now Judas also, who was betraying Him, knew the place, for Jesus had often met there with His disciples. 3 Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He *said to them, “I am He.” And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. 6 So when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground."
Roughly 1/3 of John's Gospel is dedicated to the final week of Jesus' life. Why? The final week's events were the reason He came. Meditating upon those closing moments leading up to the cross and what follows thereafter yield life-changing benefits. Hebrews 12:3 for example states: "For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." The 1707 hymn of Isaac Watts - "When I survey the wondrous cross" - conveys the rich fruits of meditation upon Jesus' life, death and resurrection by the following lyrics:
- "When I survey the wondrous crossOn which the Prince of glory died,My richest gain I count but loss,And pour contempt on all my pride.
- Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,Save in the death of Christ my God!All the vain things that charm me most,I sacrifice them to His blood.
- See from His head, His hands, His feet,Sorrow and love flow mingled down!Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
- Were the whole realm of nature mine,That were a present far too small;Love so amazing, so divine,Demands my soul, my life, my all."
John's Gospel is like a set of mighty mountains with the valley of the cross in between the peaks. Jesus is introduced to the reader on the mountain of eternity and time. Christ's incarnation leads directly to what would be his life and public ministry. These mighty mountains of John's Gospel are snow-capped with seven "signs" - resulting in the first twelve chapters deemed appropriately: "the book of signs".
It is at chapter 13 of John's Gospel that the pace of the book dramatically changes gears. New Testament scholars have deemed John chapters 13-21 as "The Book of Glory", due to the "glories" of Christ's cross, resurrection and post-mortem appearances. Glory is ever accompanied by the shadow of the cross. Lest the cross occupy our standing definition of God's glory, we have not yet grasped the point of His glory: the revelation of True deity in the true humanity of Jesus.
The descent from the the slopes of chapters 1-12 begins with Jesus' announcement of His betrayal. Certainly, Jesus' promise of the Holy Spirit provides much needed light as the valley of the cross comes into view.
Growth occurs not on the mountain, but in the valley. The Great Shepherd's ultimate mission was not to meet sinners on the peaks of reason or the slopes of the miraculous (as wonderful as those things are), but instead to be met in the valley of the cross. The reader is reminded of Jesus' identity as the Mediator by the high priestly prayer of John 17.
It is at John 18 that one finds Jesus crossing a thresh-hold of sorts - both literally and spiritually. Crossing the brook Kidron meant crossing a body of water that was mingled with the blood of the sacrifices draining from the back of the Temple complex. The Thursday night into Friday time-frame was set aside for the final preparations of the Passover sacrifices.
Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian of the first century, records how thousands lambs were sacrificed at the height of Passover. In upwards of 250-thousand pilgrims would crowd their way into and through the Temple. The blood of all those lambs would run into the Brook Kidron (this area is in the lower right-hand corner of the map below).
As Jesus crossed over the brook Kidron, He was entering across the thresh-hold of His "passion" or "suffering". Jesus came as "the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world" (see John 1:29).
What follows is a simple outline of Jesus' arrest, crucifixion, burial and resurrection as recorded in John's Gospel.
An outline of Jesus' arrest, death, burial and resurrection in John 18-20
The aim of today's post is to direct the reader's attention to meditate on what Jesus did in going forth to provide eternal life to all that would respond to the Gospel call in saving faith.
1. He went forth to condemnation. John 18:1-19:15
2. He went forth to the cross. John 19:16-37
3. He was carried forth to the tomb. John 19:38-42
4. He went forth, having conquered death. John 20:1-31
I find the key phrase "went forth" driving forward the actions of Jesus. In John 18:1 we find Jesus being described as: "He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron". Or again, John 18:4, "knowing all the things that were upon Him, went forth...". The same Greek verb behind this phrase "went forth" (exerchomai) is found in John 19:5, "Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns...".
Explanation and applications of the events we find in John 18-20
Why did Jesus keep pressing forth to the cross? The key verses to John's Gospel give the answer in John 20:30-31,
"Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."
John ever reminds us that the events of Jesus' cross and resurrection required both exposition and application. The meaning of what Jesus did is found in the preaching of the Book of Acts and the first portions of all the New Testament letters. The applications that follow in the wake of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection are gleaned from the actions of the church in Acts and the latter portions of the New Testament letters.
To prove the above paragraph and to lend further aid in our meditation upon Jesus' accomplishments, consider that first point on Jesus' arrest. Jesus underwent arrest, trial and sentencing. Why? Peter's second sermon in the Book of Acts, Acts 3:13-15, describes the point of Jesus' arrest and sentencing:
"The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14 But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses."
Jesus was disowned, rejected. The rejection of Jesus meant He was freed to go forth as the sin-bearer. Galatians 3:10-13 describes how Jesus' actions resulted in His bearing the curse for sin. Just as sin and curse came into our world by the actions of the first Adam, the second Adam, Christ, would take upon Himself the curse to pay the cost of salvation (see Isaiah 53:1-10; Galatians 3:10-13; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:21; Hebrews 13:12-13).
Final thoughts for today:
Incredible spiritual benefits would result from the six-hour ordeal of the cross and the moments entailed in the resurrection. Is it no wonder that the New Testament urges constant meditation upon Jesus' cross and resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 15).
Friday, February 9, 2018
Genesis 13:14-18 "The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; 15 for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. 16 I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. 17 Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.” 18 Then Abram moved his tent and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord."
Time and space are understood today as two aspects of physical reality. Whenever we open up the first chapter of God's Word in Genesis, we find Almighty God creating time and space. God created this dependent reality we call "the universe" to make Himself known to creatures such as ourselves. Time and space are God's canvases upon which He impresses upon us time and space-bound creatures the desire to have a relationship.
When it comes to understanding how this mighty, invisible God looked to use time and space for His purposes, the Old Testament reveals plenty of examples. God called Abraham to a plot of land some 300,000 square miles in size, stretching from just outside of Egypt up through the Eastern coastline of the Mediterranean to as a far East as the mighty Euphrates. The "promised-land" of Canaan would become the theater of God's redemptive saga involving the formation of His people - the Jews. It would also be upon this same soil that the Eternal Son would come "in the fullness of time, born of a woman, under the law" (Galatians 4:4).
Time and space were used by God as most clearly seen in how He as the Son wrapped Himself in true humanity. Whenever Jesus came upon the scene, He as God in human flesh walked up and down the roadways of Galilee, Samaria and Judea. The Christian is urged to walk with God in their daily aim to focus their eyes upon this same Jesus who came in the fullness of time. The New Testament calls Christians to live their lives in keeping with the "steps of Jesus" (see 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6)
Summary of today's post
In thinking upon how God desires His people to participate with what He is doing in this world - composed of time and space - we want to explore the spiritual practice of "prayer-walking". In this short study, we will consider the idea, Biblical rationale, principles and practice of prayer-walking.
The idea of prayer-walking
Prayer-walking is a physical expression of putting feet to one’s prayers and prayers to one’s feet. A prayer-walk could be defined as follows:
To take one’s physical environment and overlay a God-centered, spiritual view of it by means of walking while praying.
The Biblical rationale for prayer-walking
Is it possible to construct a Biblical rationale for prayer-walking? Most certainly. Certain biblical themes, when woven together per their context, a biblical theology of prayer-walking emerges. The best place to begin is with God’s instruction to Abraham to walk out the land of promise in Genesis 13:14-18. Other concepts lend greatly in approaching this expression of prayer. For instance, in roughly fifty places we find reference to “walking with God” as characteristic of one’s experiential life with God. People such as Enoch (Genesis 5:22); Noah (Genesis 6:9) and Abraham (17:1) were described as “walking with God”. The Christian is informed to walk or live out his or her life in step with the Lord Jesus Christ (1 John 2:6; 1 Peter 2:21).
Prayer is a second important theme that comprises "prayer-walking". We are urged to exercise devotion to God in prayer (Colossians 4:2); pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17) and put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20). Combining God’s working with walking is patterned in the Old Testament (Genesis 13:14-18; Numbers 13:17-20). God’s people combined prayer and praise when encircling the walls of Jericho in Joshua 6. As one studies the design of the Old Testament Tabernacle (Exodus 25-40) and Temple (1 Kings 6-8), the priests movements back and forth between their place of service (the holy place) and altar of sacrifice incorporates walking and prayer.
In the New Testament we find the Christian told to walk in a manner worthy of their calling (Ephesians 4:1). The walk of the child of God is viewed as disseminating the fragrant aroma of Christ to all who are watching (2 Corinthians 2 2:14-17; Ephesians 5:1-2) Such walking refers to one’s conduct of life.
Whenever this idea is physically applied in the manner of prayer-walking or something similar, we find some New Testament examples. One such reference is seen in Acts 17:22-23 in Paul’s encounter with the pagan philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens in Acts 17:22-23. He saw all the various pagan temples in Athens. His walking through that city piqued his spiritual discernment, leading him to Mars Hill to deliver one of the finest defenses of the Christian faith found anywhere in sacred scripture.
We do see then a Biblical rationale for prayer-walking. The beauty of this form of prayer is that it combines the spiritual exercise of prayer with that of walking. God is ever at work in our world. To look at the world around us with physical eyes is one thing. To see the world around us through prayer means we now begin to understand, in part, what it is that God is wanting to do in us and through us to reach others for His sake.
Thursday, February 8, 2018
John 1:14 "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."
17th century pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards expresses his thoughts on God's glory from his sermon: "That God Is The Father Of Lights" -
"God is arrayed with an infinite brightness, a brightness that doesn't create pain as the light of the sun pains the eyes to behold it, but rather fills with excess joy of delight. Indeed, no man can see God and live, because the sight of such glory would overpower nature, but 'tis because the joy and pleasure in beholding would be too strong for a frail nature. God has this glory essentially and of himself. He is independently and necessarily glorious. The sun is glorious, but it derives that glory from another. But God is glorious in and of himself, so He is the Father of glory."
This insightful excerpt describes the effects of God's glory. However, in this post we want to probe into what is meant in scripture by this idea of "God's glory". I'll admit, a tiny finite mind and pen like my own cannot ever hope to comprehend this truth. However, we were created by God with the capacity to behold and reflect on His glory revealed in the heavens and to apprehend and savor it in that moment He calls us to saving faith in Christ. We can know God's glory - even if we don't ever hope to comprehend all that it is. This is why we have the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
Below we will trace out three main thoughts that give us handles with which to grasp as we aim to describe what we mean by "God's glory". The scriptures below will be offered without commentary, so as to provide the reader a handful of texts to ponder on this wondrous truth about God. So, what is God’s glory?
Reality of God’s Goodness.
Exodus 33:19-20 And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” 20 But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”
Radiance of God’s Presence
Ezekiel 1:28 “As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking.”
Revelation by the Person of the Son
John 1:14 "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."
As we close out this short post, I leave the reader with Hebrews 1:1-4, which seems to tie together the three main scriptures and headings offered above with regards to God's glory. Hebrews 1:1-4
"God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they."
Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Romans 11:36-12:2 36 "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. 12:1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."
Introduction: Thinking upon God's infinite presence
As I write this post today, I'm sitting beside my goldfish. The fish swims in its tank, unaware of the water that is upholding it and sustaining it. The fish gets fed by me, it's owner. If there were no aquarium (which I bought), the fish would have no home. Ultimately of course, nothing would endure were it not for the almighty presence of God. Like that fish, many Christians carry on their day with hardly a second thought about the reality and personality of the omnipresent God that has direct influence on every point in space.
Whether by directly moving on any of those points, or moving on such points by secondary and tertiary means (His Providence at work through natural laws, history, governments, men's wills) - there is not one square inch of space that, in the words of the great Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper, Christ cannot say "mine!"
I don't want to retain ignorance of God's presence like my goldfish. Rather, I find it needful to cultivate a heightened awareness of His all pervading reality. The late author A.W. Tozer remarks:
"The world of sense intrudes upon our attention day and night for the whole of our lifetime. It is clamorous, insistent and self-demonstrating. It does not appeal to our faith, it is here, assaulting our five senses, demanding to be accepted as real and final. But sin has clouded the lenses of our hearts that we cannot see that reality, the City of God, shining around us. The world of senses triumphs. The visible becomes the enemy of the invisible, the temporal of the eternal."
Tozer then concludes:
"At the root of the Christian life lies belief in the invisible. The object of the Christian's faith is unseen reality."
God's omnipresence is His infinite presence
Reflection upon Romans 11:36-12:21 gives us a way to understand how the Christian is to live in the presence of God in heightened awareness of God's activity within them and through them.
God's omnipresence, we could say, is His "infinite presence" that can influence all points in the universe and including the universe itself. All things are equidistant to God. To illustrate, picture a man at the supper table. He has before him his plate and all the utensils. He can reach out and affect anyone of those objects, since they're all in front of him.
All of creation is before the living God. Not only do all things lay before Him, God also is present at every place and moment in history and space. Medieval theologians referred to this aspect of God's omnipresence as His immensity. God's presence suffuses the fabric of time and space whilst keeping Himself distinct and separate from it (i.e. another aspect, God's transcendence).
This expression of God's presence we could tag His "infinite presence". True, ultimate reality is not inanimate, material and non-personal (such as our universe); instead, the true, Sole, Ultimate reality is Living, immaterial and personal - i.e God. He is dynamic ever-moving. He is identified as three persons: Father, Son And Spirit. All three Persons are this very movement and identity of Almighty God.
Romans 11:36 leaps off the page. This one verse of Romans 11:36 is an Bible in microscopic form. Note the words: "from Him" - that is, God the creator; "through Him", that is, Christ the redeemer"; "to Him", that is, Christ our soon coming King; "to Him be glory for ever, amen", that is, the Spirit's work of bring history to its culmination when Christ returns and then hands all things over to the Father. The entire canon of scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is expressed by Romans 11:36. I find in this verse a perfect expression of God's omnipresence.
When we transition in Romans 12:1-3, we find the command to present our bodies as living sacrifices. Paul is beginning to discuss what we could call God's "indwelling presence" in the Christian. Here we see the Christian presented as a living sacrifice, much like those sacrifices brought into the temple at Jerusalem in Paul's day. They were brought for presentation to God, for offering and for expression of worship. Those sacrificial animals were set apart. Death would result. The sacrifice left the world of the living to give its life to point the way to the Author of life. The sweet aroma that wafted its way throughout the temple precincts would remind worshipers of their purpose for living - to know God.
The Christian is a living sacrifice. He or she is to come of their own volition. The remainder of Romans 12:1-2 instructs not only action, but surrender. Just as Jesus went willingly to the cross to give His life on our behalf, we too are to follow in His steps (Hebrews 12:1-3; 1 Peter 2:21).
We find a command in the passive voice: "be transformed by the renewing of our minds". Too often we find the temptation to "be conformed to this world". Passivity in the things of the flesh leads to swift spiritual decline. We find too often the tendency to put things in cruise control and let the world dictate our agenda. However, such passivity must be opposed and then exchanged with a passivity to God's presence in the believer.
So, what is meant by Paul when he writes: "be transformed by the renewing of your mind"? Two New Testament passages, speaking in almost identical terms, shed much light on this statement made by the Apostle. The first is found in another of Paul's letters, namely Ephesians 4:20-24 -
"if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth."
The second passage that expounds upon the meaning of "renewing of the mind" is discovered in the Apostle Peter's second epistle, 2 Peter 1:4-5a -
"For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence....".
Renewal of one's mind entails the combination of spiritual and moral transformation. The Christian is passive, in one sense, yielding to the Spirit's inner working. Yet, at the same time - especially in light of Peter's words - the Christian is actively participating with the Holy Spirit. He or she does so by means of "adding" to his or her faith the needful works and Spirit-wrought virtues (i.e. the fruits of the Spirit, see Galatians 5:22-23).
The indwelling presence of the Spirit of God empowers the Christian to live out the will of God
At salvation the Spirit of God comes to indwell the Christian (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19-20). Christians are described as the temple of the living God, both individually and corporately (Romans 6:4-12; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19-20; Ephesians 3; 1 Peter 2:4-11). God's infinite presence, accessible to anyone, manifests in its more obvious expression by the indwelling of the Person of the Holy Spirit (see John 14:16-18; 15:26-27). Only by the Spirit can one test or prove that good, acceptable and perfect will of God (i.e. the scriptures, see 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; Hebrews 4:12).
Today's post featured Romans 11:36-12:2. We noted how God's presence can be understood by two headings: His infinite presence (i.e. omni-presence) and His indwelling presence (i.e. the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Christian. The presence of God, by the Person of the Spirit in the Christian, enlightens them to their spiritual identity and their need to participate in the life of God within them. The Spirit's enlightening work also empowers such persons to live out the will of God found in the Word of God. Such truths alert us to the pervading reality of God's desire to work in and through every Christian His powerful and mighty presence.
Thursday, February 1, 2018
Exodus 17:8-13 Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim. 9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. 13 So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword."
There are two places we look to in the New Testament when studying the subject of deacons: Acts 6:1-7 and 1 Timothy 3:7-13. A deacon's most fundamental function is to "serve". Deacons serve the spiritual leadership and the people of God. Though the office of Deacon is a New Testament office in the church, the principle of certain persons serving God's people and spiritual leadership are found in the Old Testament. One example of this is found in Exodus 17:8-13.
The battle between Joshua and the Amalekites would be any other battle except for one detail: two men holding up Moses' arms atop the mountain overlooking the scene. Joshua was charged to lead the ancient Israelite army against the Amalekite forces. Military prowess would not win this battle. Prayer would see this victory. The battle on the ground would follow the course of the battle atop the mountain.
Whenever I see Aaron and Hur propping-up Moses' arms, there is a picture of the place of Deacons in conjunction with the pastor. Just as Moses was a servant of God, leading the people of God and preaching His word (see the three main sermons of Deuteronomy 4-27 and Hebrews 3:4), so to is the pastor a servant leader that is called to feed the flock with the Word of God (see 1 Peter 5:1-4). Moses told Joshua in Exodus 17:9 that he would "station himself" atop the mountain whilst the people of God fought their enemy. Pastors stand in the gap to equip God's people, preach His word and pray (see 1 Timothy 4:13-16; Hebrews 13:7,17). In Acts 6:2-4 we find the Apostles describing what they did as that of "giving ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word".
As the church militant fights the fight of faith, needs arise. We find in Exodus 17 the forces of Amalek opposing God's people. Lest there were prayer warriors standing in the gap, the three "d's" (doubt, depression, discouragement) would set-in on the people. Moses was stationed. Moses became spent. Ministry is draining if not accompanied by regular intercession - which was why Aaron and Hur came along side Moses.
In Acts 6 we find great need. Certain widows in the church were neglected. The Apostles knew that pure religion before our God is that widows and orphans are cared for in time of need (see James 1:26-27). Yet they also knew that the Gospel needed to spread throughout the Mediterranean world. The time came to request of the church to select seven men - i.e., the archetypes to New Testament Deacons. We read in Acts 6:3-5a
"Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 The statement found approval with the whole congregation....".
Deacon ministry is not easy, nor is it for everyone - yet it is vitally important. Acts 6:1-7 and 1 Timothy 3:8-13 lay out the following "job-description":
1. Be a servant. Acts 6:2; 1 Timothy 3:13
2. Be Spirit-filled. Acts 6:3
a. Have a testimony “who are known”
b. Filled or controlled by the Holy Spirit
c. Full of or characterized by wisdom
3. Be a committed Christian that desires influence others for Jesus. 1 Timothy 3:8-12
a. Worthy of respect 3:8
b. Sincere (not talking out of both sides of the mouth) 3:8
c. Not given to much wine 3:8
d. Not greed (competing for material wealth) 3:8
e. Holding the deep truths of the faith (committed to biblical truth) 3:9
f. Above reproach (no one has anything bad to say about them) 3:10
g. Be tested (Looking for spiritual and moral integrity) 3:10
h. Faithful and believing wife 3:11
i. Have a well-managed or sound household 3:12
j. Sound marriage 3:12
The result? In Acts 6, needs were met and the Gospel spread. Whenever we see Aaron and Hur upholding Moses' arms in Exodus 17, what is the outcome? Exodus 17:12-13 states:
"But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. 13 So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword."
Good, godly servants of the Lord - Aaron and Hur - were willing, available and ready to serve God's man and God's people. Joshua and the Israelites were all the better for it. The battle on the ground was influenced by what went on above them. These same principles are why we have New Testament Deacon ministry. When good, godly men, willing and ready to serve, step up to aid their pastors and God's people - everyone wins.