A Love That Will Not Let Go

I love the Lord, because He has heard my voice and my supplications. Because He has inclined His ear to me, therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live.” Psalm 116:1-2

It was in the midst of a severe personal crisis in 1882, that George Matheson, then just forty years of age, penned the familiar words of this time-proven hymn: O Love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe, That in thine ocean depths its flow May richer, fuller be.

It was an acknowledgement of the Lord’s deep love for him as well as his own searching, self-confession that verbalized his commitment to give back to the Lord so that his life might “richer, fuller be”. The fact that he composed the hymn in less than five minutes by his own testimony is the irrefutable evidence of the fruit that remains when it comes down the path of suffering and through the valley of the Shadow.

The Love of Christ

In writing to the Ephesians, Paul prayed that they might be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the “breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ…”, Eph. 3:18-19. As we examine the manifold grace of God in salvation, we only begin to see the magnitude and scintillation of God’s deep love for us in Christ, a love that indeed is “vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!”. At best, we only see the edges of His glory. Nevertheless, it fills our hearts with wonder as we consider His amazing grace (and is one of the reasons why we include the “Salvation Stories” column in every issue of this magazine). This love is at work long before our salvation (2 Thess. 2:13) and is evident all the way through our journey with Him, John 13:1.

It is truly a love that will not let us go despite our failures, as Peter and others well knew. It is a love that will keep us from falling (Jude 24), will not allow us to be separated from Him (Rom. 8:39), and is the basis of the certainty and security of our salvation. (For more on this topic, see George Ferrier’s article: “Double-Knotted Security” in the March issue). To realize that I am my Beloved and His desire is toward me, and that His banner over me is love should make us exult in the Lord and join with the psalmist in saying, “…I will call upon Him as long as I live!”. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised!

Drawing Near

With such a love like this, the only reasonable response from us is to give Him our all. How so? The answer is by drawing near and abiding in Him. The Shulamite stated of the bridegroom, “I sat down under his shade with great delight”, Song 2:3. That should be our response as well for the One who loves us to the end. Martha was a server and busy for the Lord but Mary was a learner who sat at His feet to take in the teaching from the Master. It demonstrated her deep desire to spend time in His presence, an enjoyment that would not be taken away from her, Luke 10:42. Are we doing the same? Love for the Lord comes not so much from the messages we “hear” as it does from the messages we apply – musing upon His mercy and grace, drawing near to Him and staying close by His side. There are many disciples that sit around the table, but only one that leaned upon His bosom. When David’s mighty men were acknowledged for their achievements and feats of bravery on the battlefield, it was a special group of three men that attained the highest honors among their peers. They were the cream of the cream of the crop, 2 Sam. 23:14-17. What was their achievement? It was to penetrate behind enemy lines at risk of their lives to get a drink of water for their king. David had a longing for the water from the well of Bethlehem, his own town that at the time was under the control of the Philistines. The ambition of these three men were to meet the desire of their king. Many of David’s men performed outstanding feats of heroism – some defeated the enemy single-handedly, one slew a lion in a pit on a snowy day, but none attained to the achievement of these three men that issued out of love for their leader. Service for the Lord is important, as are many other things in the Christian life, but the highest occupation and the greatest activity is love for the Savior and worship of Him this truly is the highest occupation and should be the spiritual impetus behind everything we do for our King. The evangelist D. L. Moody said, “Before I was saved, I worked toward the Cross, but after the Cross I worked from it”. He came to learn that salvation was by grace alone, but service proceeded out of love for “that Man of Calvary.” Deepening our love for Christ should be like Ezekiel stepping into river of God (Ezek. 47), progressing until fully immersed. The Love that does not let us go should respond with a love that does not let Him go.

In this issue, Randy Amos instructs us on the spiritual lessons from the various brides of Scripture, while Willie Burnett shares with us gleanings from John 21 and the lessons from the Lord’s recommissioning of Peter – searching words to the apostle and us. We have another interesting account of the Lord’s work of salvation in the life of Gerrit Schakelaar during the days of World War II and Wade Le Blanc gives us a powerful report on the mighty hand of God working among the prison population in Kenya, Africa. Be sure also to catch the poem, “The Man in the Glory” on the back page. It is a thoughtful look of the One who is working all the time on our behalf – the One whom we do not see now, but one day will and when we do, we will rejoice even more with a joy unspeakable and full of glory.

More love to Thee, O Christ, more love to Thee!
Hear Thou the prayer I make on bended knee.
This is my earnest plea: More love, O Christ, to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Shields & Shishaks

I press for the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14

Coming through another winter Olympic season, we have all undoubtedly heard the oft-repeated phrase in commercials and elsewhere to “Go for the Gold!”. It is a verbal and vivid reminder to anyone engaged in competitive sport (or any other arena for that matter) – to excel and be the best in their particular discipline. To this day, I have never heard anyone say to a fellow colleague: “Go for the silver” or “Go for the bronze!”. The fact that there are runners up that finish in second and third place is fundamental, but the ambition of all the participants from the outset is to do well and to win.

When applying this principle to our spiritual life in Christ, we should have the same standard of excellence for the best of Masters. In writing to the Philippian believers, Paul exhorted the saints there to “approve the things that are excellent” (Phil. 1:10). He did not encourage them to lower the bar or change the standard from the previous generation with the claim that “times have changed”. Not at all. Paul would later challenge the saints at Philippi by example when he stated in clarion tones, “I press for the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). It is that indeed – a high and holy calling, issued from the One who said “Be ye holy, for I am holy…” (1 Pet. 1:15). It was his standard of excellence and one that he desired for them also, requiring dedication, diligence, and a steadfast pressing on with a high standard to attain to and hold.

When Shishak, King of Egypt invaded Jerusalem during Rehoboam’s reign, (1 Ki. 14:25-28), he took away the gold shields in the temple that Solomon had built. Over five hundred shields of hammered gold occupied that temple (1 Ki. 10:16-17), a plethora of precious items that characterized the glorious kingdom of Solomon and the house of the Lord. But because of rank failure among the Lord’s people (1 Ki. 14:23-24), these shields were taken away by the Egyptians and God’s protection of the nation was removed as well. These Egyptian intruders entered the land and took away the heritage of God’s people and the things that were counted dear to the nation. But rather than repenting, Rehoboam replaced the gold shields with bronze ones, shields which looked the same but were in actuality, a cheap substitute. They were still handled with pomp and ceremony and also treated with care (v. 28), but certainly did not possess the value of the shields that were taken away.

I have often pondered this incident from the Scriptures and have wondered if it does not have a parallel for us today. Are there precious truths once held dear to a previous generation that somehow have been taken away from us? Have we lost our grip on them and have allowed the world to snatch them away because of the intrusion of modern-day Shishaks? I have sensed it in my own life and ask if it is true of others also? What has happened to those gold shields – the discipline of personal prayer and devotional time, the regular reading of the Scriptures, the faithful attendance to the meetings of the church, and the extended fellowship with the Lord’s people? All precious protective shields, for sure in our walk with Christ. It does not stop there – perhaps it has an application to the local church as well. What characterizes the church? Is there a lack of fellowship, an abbreviated schedule of meetings, an overemphasis of music over sound biblical teaching and worship? Maybe not, but maybe so. It is easy for us to ignore the biblical injunction to take heed to the things that we have heard lest at any time we should let them slip from our grasp (Heb. 2:1). Worse is the temptation to replace them with those things, which have a resemblance but are cheap look-alikes – casual attendance, token prayer time, cursory devotions and the like. We can all fill in the blank as to what those substitutes are in our experience.

Paul told Timothy to “lay hold of eternal life” (1 Tim. 6:12). Solomon urged, “Buy the truth and sell it not” (Prov. 23:23) and to “remove not the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set” (Prov. 22:28). Whatever the cost, we are not to allow Shishak to take away the gold that is the standard of the house of the Lord. Whether it is Shishak or Amalek who stole David’s possessions (1 Sam. 30:2), or the Philistines who choked up Abraham’s wells with dirt (Gen. 26:18), every generation needs to discover, uncover, or recover the words of truth and like Israel, possess their possessions (Obad. 17).

In this issue, Jim Comte forcibly reminds us of that need – keeping in the forefront of our minds the certainty of the Lord’s return. Nate Bramsen challenges us to make sure that our focus is always on the Cross. Ning Tan walks us through her personal journey of faith, reminding us that the fruit that remains often comes about as we go through the land of our affliction (Gen. 41:52). George Ferrier reassures us that our security in Christ is doubly sure in Christ and our thanks to Ted Gliske who provided the poem by James Deck, which helps to keep our destination of Heaven in view. Precious truths indeed and the heritage of the house of the Lord!

Challenges to the Church

For when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears.” – 2 Corinthians 7:5

There is no question that the Church in North America is facing severe challenges. The decline in church attendance which has been steadily going on for years has now reached epidemic proportions in some circles. Why is this? To put it simply, there are more going out (and up!) than there are coming in. I remember well the healthy attendance that marked our fellowship in years past – the overflow VBS and Sunday school programs, the well-attended annual picnic, the regular stream of neighborhood visitors on Sunday mornings and all without any advertising! That is certainly not the case these days, especially for many traditional meetings like ours. Instead, there are huge gaps in the pews that in the past were simply not there – and the statistics bear it out. According to a 2013 poll from Pew Research Center, 37% of all Americans attended church on a weekly basis. Gallup estimated that once-a-week church attendance for Americans was at 39%. That fact is bad enough but the Hartford Institute of Religion Research has an even more revealing statistic. According to their findings, 40 percent of Americans say they go to church weekly when in fact less than 20 percent are actually in a weekly church meeting. In the Institutes’ words, “more than 80 percent of Americans are finding more fulfilling things to do on weekends”. There you have it… “more fulfilling things to do on weekends”. It proves just how powerful the sway of the great god “Entertainment” is over the masses. The majority of the population is occupied with worldly pursuits while a number of those who profess to know the Lord are halting between two opinions, having erected competing altars to the Lord and to other gods (1 Kings 18:21). We wonder why the Church does not have more influence in the world!

In writing to the Corinthians, Paul indicated that he was simultaneously waging a war on two fronts. He elaborated on this in 2 Cor. 11 – shipwrecks, stonings, stripes and imprisonments – just a few of the “fightings” without, all in his quest to share the life-liberating message of the Cross. After listing these adversities (vv. 23-28), he concludes his list with a terse but telling comment – “the care of all the churches” (v. 28). These were the “fears within”, the ongoing conflicts that he experienced from the false teachers who had infiltrated many of the churches he established but whose simplicity in Christ was being threatened (2 Cor. 11:3).

These same pressures are with us today and likewise affect the life of the Church. Externally, there is the threat of government intrusion and interference. Ironically, after decades of decrying separation of church and state, government now demands that we bow to legislative decrees that are objectionable to Bible-believing Christians just as it was in the days of Daniel (Dan. 3). The intimidation that it evokes has been quite effective in muzzling the message decreed from a Higher Authority. Along with the influence of the entertainment world, the challenge to penetrate society with the Gospel message is even more difficult as it keeps the population pitched toward Vanity Fair, all the while portraying Christians as narrow, old-fashioned and behind the times. Adding to the dilemma is the preponderance of false prophets, whose main target is “the people” (2 Peter 2:1). They are tireless emissaries of the devil who appear as ministers of righteousness whose conflicting half-truths steer souls away from finding and following the One whom they so desperately need.

What are the fears within? It is that same line of false teachers who ignorantly are “brought in” (Gal. 2:4) or who have deceptively crept in the assemblies of God’s people (Jude 4). Together, these influences upset the rank and file, make merchandize of the Gospel, pressure leadership to adopt unscriptural practices (Ex. 32:4-5) and foster criticism of the leadership for unscriptural reasons (Num. 12; 16; Jude 11). What challenges we face!

So, what then is the Church to do amid such formidable opposition? It is to do precisely what Paul and others did in his day. Equipped with the Scriptures and empowered by the Spirit, believers should fearlessly take the whole Gospel to the whole world. It is not for the world to come and hear but for us to “go and tell”. It is the responsibility of each one to do the work of an evangelist, 2 Tim. 4:5. “Each one, reach one” should be the cry. Buoyed by the promise that “the gates of Hell shall not prevail” (Matt. 16:18) and “the foundation of God standeth sure” (2 Tim. 2:19), we are to steadfastly hold forth the message of Life. We are to regard the words of Paul to the Philippians: “in nothing terrified by your adversaries” (Phil. 1:28) and to the Corinthians “a great effectual door is open to us and there are many adversaries” (1 Cor. 16:9). At the same time, we are to take heed to ourselves and to the doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16) and to be on guard against the devastating effects of false teaching and the subtle influences of the world.

Yes, there are far more fulfilling things to do on a weekend (and the rest of the week) but it is not in the passing pleasures of this world, but in Christ and in His Word! Our duty is to know Him and make Him known and as we do in the power and strength of the Spirit, perhaps we will see this trend turn around, with less gaps in the pews.

He Is Able

Don’t Forget, when things are looking tough… “He is Able!”

In the time of Trial, he is able to deliver us

If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.” (Daniel 3:17, NKJV)

There is no trial that He cannot bring us through (Isa. 43:1-2). Trials are the way that He can purge sin from our lives, but when they seem too big to handle, He can make a way of escape. (1 Cor 10:12). He says, Is there anything too hard for the Lord? (Gen. 18:14) and no trial is too big, if we call out to Him for help (2 Chron. 20:12). He is able to save to the uttermost (from the worst of situations, Heb. 7:25)

In the time of Temptation, He is able to Help us

Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Heb. 2:17–18, NKJV)

His ministry as our Great High Priest, is to help us in our time of need, (Psalm 46:1). Even when we believe not, yet He remains faithful. (2 Tim. 2:13)

In a time of uncertainty in our hearts, He is able to Keep us from falling.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,” (Jude 24, NKJV)

When we need the assurance in our hearts that we will keep true to Him or that our faith will fail, He reminds us through His Spirit that we belong to Him. “I am my Beloved’s and His desire is toward me” (Song of Solomon 7:10). We are preserved in Jesus Christ (Jude 1) and “nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ”, Romans 8:37. He is able to keep us (2 Tim. 1:12) and will not leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5)

In the time of Financial strain, He can provide the means so that we can still give to meet the needs of others

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NKJV)

God can provide for us when we are willing to be channels of blessing. He will provide for our needs so that we can take care of the needs of others. The widow of Zarephath was a prime example, (1 Kings 17:13-14; Matt. 6:33)

In the time of skepticism, when we think that someone will never bow the knee to the Lord is God is Able to Humble

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.” (Dan 4:37, NKJV)

King Nebuchadnezzar was a tough person to humble, but God did; Manasseh was a tough king, causing Judah to err and quite possibly the one responsible for Isaiah’s death, but God humbled him (2 Chron. 33). Those who walk in pride, God can bring to their knees, if He chooses to do so.

There are so many things that He is able to do – able to subdue all things to Himself, (Phil. 3:21) able to raise children unto Abraham from stones (Luke 3:8) and to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, (Eph. 3:20). When things get tough, don’t forget…GOD IS ABLE!

Tried and True

“… that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” – James 1:3

 

It could hardly be said that any Christian enjoys going through a trial. It is one of those aspects of our faith that we would rather avoid. Depending upon its depth and length, it could shake us to the core, far more than we ever anticipated when we first began traveling down its winding (and perhaps harrowing) path. Yet after coming through it in dependence upon the Lord, we will undoubtedly admit that it had a significant part it had in deepening our faith, sharpening our once nebulous convictions, and conforming us more closely to character of Christ, Romans 8.28-29.

The Scriptures refer often to the purifying and beneficial effect that trials can have in our lives. When Job was going through his great trial of affliction, he could hardly be thankful for the series of calamities that befell him. But through the eye of faith he uttered his deep confession of faith with unshakeable conviction: But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold”, Job 23:10.  Job understood well the benefit of the God’s refining process, a process he would have rather sidestepped if he had the option, but nevertheless proved invaluable in deepening his faith. It is not that Job was a blatant sinner—he was anything but that—yet, it could never be said of him that “he feared God for nothing” – that is, for personal benefit thus dismissing the arrogant charge of the devil, Job 1.9. There are a lot of trials that we also would prefer to sidestep, but if we do would likewise forfeit its beneficial effect in our lives. It was a tough road for Job and it may be a tough road for us, but it can and often does turn out to the glory of God and a shining example of how the Lord does indeed bring many sons to glory, Hebrews 2.9.

Sometimes however there are gaps in our lives as Christians that necessitate the disciplining hand of God through trial. Peter stated, if need be ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations (trials)”. There is for many a “need be” from the Lord because of certain sins that have found an open door in our lives and have been permitted to go unjudged. Like Israel who failed to cast out all of the Canaanites in the land, we too can tolerate and fail to cast out the residue of sins of our past life (James 1:21), only to impede our progress in the life of faith. Strangely, we allow some things that are objectionable to God to comfortably coexist with us without realizing the slow erosion that can occur in our walk with the Lord. Trials serve to jar us out of that complacency and to realign our spiritual priorities. Just as Samuel had to hack Agag to pieces, so too we are exhorted to take decisive action and mortify the deeds of our flesh in obedience to the Lord, Colossians 3.5. In short, it helps us to stay on track spiritually. David confessed, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now have I kept thy word, Psalm 119.67. He knew too well the sting of the disciplining hand of God upon his life on more than a few occasions, only to express later the surpassing value of it. Eventually, God would call him “a man after mine own heart”, Acts 13.22. regarding this, Charles Spurgeon the great 19th century preacher once related the account of a rope bridge in his day that collapsed unexpectedly, plunging many to their deaths in a ravine below. Upon investigation, it was determined why the catastrophe occurred: a little seedling had been ignored and taken root between the strands of rope and the wooden planks, thus weakening the bridge. Trials from the Lord help us to do surveillance on our lives in order to motivate us to pull the weeds of sin that could eventually weaken and mar our testimony.      

God wants all believers to reflect the character of Christ in their lives. To accomplish this, God may bring certain trials to soften the hearts, making the believer more compassionate and sensitive to the needs of others.  In so doing, they are able to comfort others with the same comfort that they are comforted of God, 2 Corinthians 1:4.  They become more like Christ. Colossians 1:27 states this principle succinctly: “Christ in you the hope of glory”. Additionally, like Daniel’s friends, the believer going through a trial will sense the Lord’s nearness perhaps more than at any other time in our life as they go through the furnace of affliction. There will be a reality to the words Isaiah 43:2: “when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee”.  Further, in a mysterious way,  the Christian going through a trial will ultimately sense that that they actually are the object of His attention and affection just as Zechariah prophesied to Israel about the Man among the myrtle trees, the Lord Jesus, who reassured them of a future glory when at the time they were at the “bottom”, Zechariah 1.  

This principle is depicted for us in Malachi as God explains what will yet occur with the nation of Israel during the future Tribulation. As the result of His refining work during that time, He will bring about a great spiritual purging within the nation. He is described as sitting like “a refiner and purifier of silver” in order to “purify the sons of Levi and to purge them as silver and gold that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness”, Malachi 3.1-3. The work of any refiner and purifier of silver was to subject precious metal to intense heat in order to remove the impurities from it. The dross which rises to the top is then scooped away. As the refiner sits over the purified metal and looks down upon an even more valuable product, he is able to see an image of himself. And so it is with us: our Father in heaven, subjecting His own special people to the purifying process of trial and affliction, makes us an even more valuable and precious commodity to Him, being conformed to the image of His Son, Romans. 8:28-29.                                 

The great patriarch Joseph also offers us some additional lessons about the trial of our faith. After going through many years of severe personal trial, he also acknowledged the beneficial effect that it produced. Rising to the rank of Prime Minister of Egypt, he was able to look back and acknowledge the hand of God at work in his life. His two sons named Manasseh and Ephraim, outlined his response to trials. The first he named Manasseh saying, “God hath made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house”, Gen. 41.51. The second he named Ephraim, stating ‘…God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of mine affliction”, verse 52. Despite the rejection and hurt caused by his brothers, the slander of Potipher’s wife and being forgotten in prison by the chief butler, he was able to avoid the snare of bitterness and resentment, deliberately “forgetting” the plethora of personal slights against him. By so doing, he was able to attest to the fruitful result from such a course of action—and a great pattern for us to follow; first “forgetting”, then fruitbearing, the inevitable consequence of committing our way to the Lord. In due time, God will honor us as we honor Him.                    

How much more could be said about the positive effect of trials in the life of the believer, if we yield to Him! There is Paul’s request to have his thorn in the flesh removed, only to be denied by the Lord to keep him humbly dependent upon Him and cognizant of His all-sufficient grace, 2 Corinthians 12: 9. There is Jacob’s all-night wrestling episode at Peniel with the Angel of the Lord, ending in a limp but also a changed life and a changed name and a changed purpose and a changed direction, as he crossed back over the river Jabbok to reconcile with his brother Esua, the sun rising upon him, Genesis 32. What a picture! And then there is James’ direct exhortation to adjust our attitude as we enter a trial to see the rounding-out of character that it produces: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing”, James 1:2-4.

The apostle Paul reminds us “for our light affliction which is for a moment “worketh for us a far more and exceeding and eternal weight of glory”, 2 Cor. 4:17.  Only as we look into the mirror of God’s Word, will we begin to understand more clearly the bigger picture and the wisdom of God in passing us through various trials and tribulations that we go through. As we do, we will be able to sing more convincingly the words of the hymn writer: “every joy or trial falleth from above, traced upon our dial by the Son of love. We may trust Him fully all for us to do, they who trust Him wholly, find Him wholly true”.  

And is it so? I shall be like Thy Son, Is this the grace which He, for me, has won?
Father of Glory (thought beyond all thought), In glory to His own blest likeness brought.     

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.

Jacob at Peniel

“And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved.”  Gen. 32:30

Jacob – a more colorful character in all of Scripture there could not be! Contending with his brother before he was born, clutching his brother’s heel as he was born; conniving, cheating, and running most of his life. What a history and what a life! And yet, when we come to Hebrews 11:21, we read that Jacob as an old man, “worshipped, leaning upon his staff”.  Like many believers, God had faithfully seen this patriarch through many snares and pitfalls of personal experience. But how did He do it? How does the Lord do it with any of us? The account of Jacob’s experience at Peniel in Genesis 32 provides the clue and the paints the backdrop to answer this all-important question.

A Rough Start

As a twin, Jacob seemed destined for conflict from the start. His rambunctious personality was evident even before he was born. Rebekah his mother sensed the struggle between the two brothers while yet in her womb. Mothers seem to know the tendencies of their children from their earliest days and Rebekah was no exception. Jacob was rightly called a supplanter and it does not take long in the biblical account that this part of his character was clearly manifested as he bargained for the birthright and stole his brother’s blessing, Gen. 25, 27. Advised by his mother to make a run for it to avoid his brother’s wrath (Gen. 27:43-44), Jacob intended to stay with his uncle Laban for only a “few days”, a plan that turned into years. It was while en route that he had a dramatic encounter with God, Gen. 28:10-22. His elementary understanding of the principles of faith was expanded when he had a vivid dream of angels ascending and descending upon a ladder which had been set up on earth and reached to heaven. It would turn out to be the start of a spiritual journey for this man whose hard ways were symbolized by the rock that he put at his head as he lay down to sleep. It is a wonderful picture of the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ who meets people at their point of need and is Himself the “ladder” set up on earth that reaches to heaven. He is the means of divine communication and is the only avenue for sinful man to connect with God, John 1:51. The promises given to Jacob (v. 15) have their spiritual parallel for the NT believer. It highlights the faithfulness of God and the assurance that He will patiently and faithfully keep everyone who belongs to the “house of God”, (Phil. 1:6; 2 Tim. 1:10; Heb. 10:21). What God promised to do He did throughout Jacob’s sojourn even during the low points (Gen. 31:5; 7) right up to the end of his life, (Heb. 21) as He will do with all who know and love Him.

The Plot Thickens

Despite these assurances however, the attitude of Jacob was far from perfect. Looking out for His own interests, he makes a self-motivated vow to “seal the deal” at Bethel. To his credit, he establishes and anoints a pillar, an indication that he apprehended the importance of the spiritual life, though his understanding of its privileges and priorities were incomplete and carnal at best. But God is gracious and had great things in store for this man, as He does for us! Jacob promises to give the Lord a tenth of his money, provided that God would take care of him and bring him back, as if the Almighty needed his money!  How much like us, who so often are looking more to get than to give. It is the slanted perspective of someone young in the faith who has a long way to go in the school of God. That school with all its difficulties and disciplines was something that Jacob had not yet experienced, but would in time. Despite Jacob’s growing family and his success in business (Gen. 29-31), the life of Jacob for the most part was devoid of any vital testimony for the Lord. Like many Christians, he was knowledgeable of only the basics of the faith and had not progressed beyond a certain level spiritually. God had called him back to Bethel, the place of his spiritual beginnings, (Gen. 31:13) but that return (both practically and spiritually) had not yet occurred. Peniel would become the place in which Jacob would “turn around” would become the defining event in spiritual life.

Jacob’s Defining Moment

Nearly twenty years later, Jacob was still the object of his brother’s scorn. The events of previous years undoubtedly festered and garnered resentment in the mind of Esau. When Jacob came near Edom, it was no surprise that Jacob’s mind was already at work to effect a strategy of self-preservation.  God was still present in his life (Gen. 32:1-2), nevertheless Jacob put together a plan followed by a prayer—vintage Jacob running ahead of the Lord and asking Him to bless his self-driven efforts. How hard it is to die to self and to cast ourselves fully upon the Lord! Yet anyone who has been in similar circumstances understands how pride and self are often the last pillars to fall. His own “me first” attitude was further evidenced when he sent his family over the brook Jabbok, where he remained by  himself (vv. 21-24). It was at this juncture that the Lord began to work in a special way in Jacob’s life. God had already been at work in his life for a long time, first at Bethel and in the years that followed. But God had called him back to Bethel where he had first acknowledged the Lord and priorities of the life of faith. But Jacob, whose strength was more in his legs than his faith always ran from one problem to the next—to every place but Bethel.   

It was while Jacob was all alone at Peniel that the Angel of the Lord, an OT appearance of Christ wrestled with him all night. Often the greatest work that the Lord does in a believer’s life when they are all alone under dire circumstances. The condition was bleak: it was night and Jacob was by himself with nowhere to turn. It was a perfect situation for the Lord to work and demonstrate the truth of His promises. It is also intriguing to note that the Angel of the Lord initiated the wrestling match with Jacob. God had desired change in Jacob’s life all along, but to this point it was minimal on Jacob’s part. Now the Lord was taking further action to effect a deeper change in his life. It occurred after a long struggle that lasted all night. It was not until the Angel of the Lord was successful in getting Jacob to cling to Him and begging to be blessed that this transformation took place. What God had wanted in Jacob (and desires for us as well) was now happening. He had gotten him to the point where he was “close” to the Lord and not relying in his own strength. This same Angel of the Lord that slew 185,000 Assyrians in a single night (2 Kings 19:35) was patiently working to gain another type of victory in the heart of this heir of faith. Touching the hollow of his thigh, He aimed at his strength, making him weak but in the process helping him to prevail. And all it took was a “touch”!  It is a key principle in the school of God as 2 Corinthians 12:9 reminds us of the words of the Lord – “My strength is made perfect in weakness”.  How can we not refrain from declaring: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”, Rom. 11:33?

The Ways of God                 

The scene afterwards of Jacob limping as he headed over the brook Jabbok to face up to his brother Esau is a poignant one indeed. Here was a man who had gloried in his ability to keep one step ahead of his problems, but who had been subdued by the hand of the Lord and made to sense his own frailty before God. What a sight it was – a new walk, limping instead of running; a new direction, heading toward his problems and not away from them; a new name, Israel – “prince with God”; and a new purpose, reconciliation with his brother. What a change had taken place in this man’s life! It was all part of the process of Jacob becoming the person that God wanted him to be and one step closer to getting back to Bethel, Gen. 35.

In many ways, the life of Jacob is a composite picture of God’s work in the life of the Christian. It is certainly a portrait in miniature of God’s faithful and patient dealing with the nation of Israel as He will eventually bring them around to the point of submission, Zech. 12:10. Perhaps the biggest lesson however, is that God’s words and promises are true and He works in our lives, especially in our desperation to bring about significant change in our lives. May that be true for us as well.

The Requests and Bequests of Our Great High Priest

“And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith”  – Heb. 10:21-22

John 13-17 is arguably one of the most sublime passages in the entire NT.  It is that portion of Scripture that contains the Upper Room discourse of the Lord Jesus—a discourse found in no other Gospel account. It is the tender farewell of a loving Savior as He prepares to return to His Father in Heaven. Directed toward His eleven disciples, it reveals a growing intimacy to those He now calls “friends” (15:15) as He unfolds many of the great truths of the Christian faith later developed in the NT epistles. The scene marks the conclusion of His earthly ministry that would eventually culminate the following day when He would lay down His life as a sacrifice for sin, validated by His resurrection three days later. Truly, having loved His own that were in the world He would love them to the fullest extent–unto the end. (13:1)

The Upper Room Discourse

The farewell ministry of the Savior commences in John 13. There He exemplifies the pattern that should characterize all believers when He humbly kneels and washes His disciple’s feet. It is the display before the discourse. Through this symbolic action, our Lord emphasizes not only to His disciples but to us the need for daily cleansing from sin and the self-abasing attitude that should characterize our service to others. What gracious teaching and what a great example! Then in chapter 14, He highlights what He would also do for us—prepare a place (v. 3), answer prayer (v. 14), and send a Paraclete—the Holy Spirit (v. 16) to comfort and guide us during His absence. All these things emphasize what He would do for us.  But in Chapter 15, He underscores what we should do for Him, namely to be a witness in the world and to bear fruit—much fruit—so that the Father is glorified (15:8).  The discourse crescendos in Chapter 16 as the Lord enlarges upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit, in particular His work toward the world (16:7-11) and toward His own (16:12-15). His teaching has become a deepening and widening channel of truth.  But nowhere are the depths of these truths more keenly sensed than with the words contained in chapter 17, commonly known as our Lord’s High Priestly prayer.

The Intercession of Our Great High Priest

Undoubtedly, John 17 is the apogee of the Lord’s personal ministry to His own occurring on the night before His crucifixion. On this unique occasion, they would have the inestimable privilege of hearing Him passionately pray to the Father on their behalf.  Embodied in that prayer are some of the richest themes in the NT; themes such as election, sanctification, and glorification.  Typically, this chapter depicts the final step in the order of approach to God as portrayed in the service of the OT Tabernacle. Having had His death pictured through His anointing in John 12, and having washed His disciple’s feet in John 13, the Lord then instructs them on a number of profound truths in John 14-16. Respectively, these actions represent the altar, the laver, and the Holy Place in the order of their placement in the Tabernacle.  Now in John 17, He takes them figuratively into the Holiest of All, the very presence of God where as our Great High Priest He intercedes exclusively for the heirs of salvation. It is yet another example of the many offices of our wonderful Savior and accentuates the focus and faithful execution of that office in intercessory ministry.

The Requests of Our Great High Priest

As our Intercessor, the Lord presents seven petitions to the Father: two for Himself (vv. 1-5); two for the disciples (vv. 6-19); and three are for those who would afterwards believe on His Name (vv. 20-26).  His initial request is for the Father to glorify Him so that He would consequently glorify the Father (v. 1).  Indeed that is what transpired at Calvary when He went submissively with the Father to the place of sacrifice just as Isaac did with his father in Gen. 22.  To cry out “Forgive them, they know not what they do…” undoubtedly brought glory to the Father and an immediate answer to His first request. The second one, that the Father would restore Him to His pre-incarnate glory (v. 5) was also be answered soon, just over forty days later when He ascended from Mount Olivet. (Acts 1). These two requests–for His glorification at the Cross and for His restoration to His pre-existent glory–were both answered in short order.

The next two requests dealt with the disciple’s preservation (v. 11) and sanctification (v. 17).  Repeatedly, the Lord referred all believers as having being given to Him (vv. 6, 9, 11, 12, 24). Each believer is in fact, a gift from the Father to the Son.  In v. 11, He entreats: “Keep through Thine own Name those whom Thou hast given Me”.  What greater assurance could any of us have in knowing that the security of our salvation does not depend upon our own abilities to “keep the faith”, but rather in being kept as both the object of the Lord’s prayer and the Father’s power (1 Peter 1:5)?  Further, knowing the deceptive and destructive wiles of the devil, the Lord adds to our assurance by including a plea for our spiritual protection from the evil one (v. 15).  In the same way as He prayed for Peter, He prays for us that our faith fail not (Luke 22:32).  Likewise, He also prays for our sanctification. His petition is: “Sanctify them through Thy truth, Thy word is Truth (v. 17).  It is both the substance and source of our walk with Him—separation from the world and direction from the Word. It comes about as we diligently study the Scriptures and apply them practically in our daily lives. Positionally, these two requests will always be answered since every believer is sanctified by God and preserved in Jesus Christ (Jude 1).  Practically, we will sense the reality of these truths as we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word.      

The final set of petitions is recorded in vv. 20-26. Their focus is upon our unification (v. 21), evangelization (v. 22), and consummation (v. 24).  His prayer is that we would be one, just as the Father and the Son are One. Congregations by the scores and individual Christians everywhere need to be reminded of this significant request of our Savior!  Doctrinal integrity is a must, but so is the putting away of petty disagreements and personality differences if unity is to occur. The apostolic Church was known both for their steadfastness in the truth and their love for each other. There was a cohesion then that desperately needs to be exhibited today. When that occurs, we can be sure the difficult task of world evangelization will be helped in some measure. Never mind the assessment of the church growth “gurus”, the Savior’s assessment is that unification among believers has to happen if ever the world is going to respond positively to the truth of the Gospel (vv. 21, 23). The Lord beautifully concludes this masterpiece of prayer by stating His ultimate desire that they would be with Him where He is, so that they would behold His glory—a prayer that is answered every time a believer in Christ leaves this world and called Home to heaven.    

The Bequests of Our Great High Priest

Not only does this chapter contain the requests of our Great High Priest, but it also cites a number of His bequests—those things that He has left us as part of our spiritual inheritance. Eternal life based on the proper understanding of the true God and His Son is the first item identified as the gift of the Savior to us (v. 3). Another is the manifestation of the Father’s name (v. 6, 26).  This is the clear conception of the true God that He transmitted to us through His ministry on earth (2 Cor. 4:6). Just before this He stated to Philip, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).  Further, He has given us the words of the Father (v. 8, 14), conveying eternal truths from the throne room of heaven which contradicted the doctrines of men. And lastly from this passage, He has bequeathed to us His joy (v. 13) and His glory (v. 22); the joy of fellowship with the Father and His glory that radiates through us when we are abiding in Him.         

The High Priestly prayer of our Lord Jesus is a spiritual treasure trove of incalculable worth. To mediate upon these glorious requests of our loving Savior and what He has provided for us through His intercessory work will not only lift our hearts in grateful adoration, but strengthen our resolve to live whole-heartedly for the One who loved us and gave Himself for us.     

The Simplicity That is in Christ

‘But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 11. 3

Simplicity in the gospel

One of the outstanding aspects of the gospel is its simplicity. To understand that salvation is simply a matter of acknowledging our need of Christ and looking to Him through faith alone to remove the penalty of sin and to make us citizens of Heaven is nothing short of amazing. Well can we sing the words of that enduring hymn, ‘Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!’ Indeed it is amazing grace and the heart that is fully occupied with the Lord Jesus and His gracious work toward us will never tire of singing those glorious strains. It truly is ‘love divine, all loves excelling’.  How grateful we are for our salvation and what a debt we owe!  His love has been shed abroad in our hearts so that it can be shed abroad from our hearts. It fills us with praise and adoration making us instant in season to proclaim the gospel to all around so that they too can enter into the same love and appreciation for the Saviour.

We do not rely on our own wisdom or elaborate explanation to win people to Christ, but strive to be like Paul who confessed to the Corinthians. ‘And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God, 1 Cor. 2. 1. False teachers had attempted to corrupt their thinking using strategies of philosophy and dialectics and so we should be on guard lest our thinking and preaching is also corrupted through reliance upon our own wisdom and strength. The gospel does not need to be propped up, nor does it need to rely upon our powers of persuasion or cleverly-packaged programming, but rather on the plain, unadulterated Word of God. We should preach with this in mind and leave the results with God.

Apostolic example

The apostles and other servants of the Lord did so; we should do the same. When the Apostle Paul travelled to Athens and stood on Mars Hill before an antagonistic crowd, Acts 17, he unabashedly presented the Person of the Christ and the exclusivity of the gospel as the only means of salvation. In the midst of rampant idolatry, he boldly proclaimed, ‘Him declare I unto you’, v. 23. It was a simple message that stood in contrast to the various religious and philosophical sophistries that resided atop the Areopagus and nearby vicinity. He did not map out a ‘seeker-sensitive’ strategy before he preached but instead, swung the gospel hammer and broke through stony hearts to the glory of God, Jer. 23. 29. We would do well to do the same.

Simplicity in worship

Not only is it important to emphasize the simplicity of the gospel in our preaching, but we should stress it in our worship as well. We should be like that leper in Luke chapter 17 who being healed of his dread disease, rushed back to thank the Lord for the miraculous work that God had done in his life. We too have been healed of the dreadful disease of sin and should return to give Him thanks regularly. The early disciples worshiped together on a weekly basis according to Acts 20 verse 7 and were occupied with but one Person-the Lord Jesus. Boldness was also a recognized result of being with Jesus and people will recognize that we too have been with Jesus as we witness for Him, Acts 4. 13. Moses face was radiant after being in the presence of the Lord (Ex. 34. 29) and we will be radiant as we spend time in the Lord’s presence.

Worship is not about performing, but rather about prostrating ourselves in the sacrifice of praise. When the Old Testament priests entered the Tabernacle to worship the Lord they saw themselves in the mirrors that made up the base of the brazen altar Exod. 38. 8. When we come to worship we cannot help but ‘see’ ourselves in the light of gospel truth-what we were and what we are now in Christ. Amazingly, we are what we are now despite of what we were then. Without reservation we can say, ‘We love Him, because He first loved us’.

Worship is always Christ centered

Not only do we love Him, but we look to Him because He is our Shepherd and we daily need His help and guidance. We also live for Him because we know that there are others who are watching our lives closely and could ask us at any time about the hope that lies within us, 1 Peter 3. 15. We love Him and look to Him and live for Him and therefore it makes perfect sense that our gatherings should emphasize Him and not allow anything to dilute or distract from that emphasis. There is nothing that thrills our souls more than when we set our affections and focus our attention on the Lord. We are not to be those that are taken up with religious trappings–ceremonies and rituals and traditions of man, but rather we are taken up with Christ. Like Simeon of old who upon entering the temple where the Lord Jesus was being presented as a little child, embraced Him and blessed Him proclaiming, ‘Mine eyes have seen thy salvation’ Luke 2. 25-35. Simeon’s actions underscore the truth that salvation and heart-felt worship is not centered in a place or in performance, but in a Person.

First experiences of Christian simplicity

When I first entered through the doors years ago where a company of Christians were meeting solely in the Lord’s Name and gathered to worship Him, one of the first things that stood out to me was the simplicity of the meeting. There were no stained glass windows, no relics, no icons, no special titles recognized, no priestly vestments worn by those who addressed the audience, no candles, and no religious or cryptic-looking symbols on the wall. In many respects it was a regular looking room. There was a verse on the wall however which read. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His begotten only Son…’ Coming from an unsaved background and not yet a believer, these words were easy to understand and together with the simplicity of the meeting became far less intimidating than I had supposed it would be when I first walked through the doors.

What was also unusual to me was that there were no offerings taken. I kept looking around to try to figure out who was in charge but no one appeared to be dressed differently or the leader above the rest. When the speaker got up to address the audience, he spoke in such a clear and simple way that I understood completely what he was saying, even though I knew nothing about the Bible. It was as though he was talking directly to me. As he spoke of Christ, tears trickled down his cheeks, though he remained calm and dignified. His voice did not quiver nor was there any histrionics in his manner. I had never heard nor seen such a thing in my religious life before and so it made quite an impression on me. No one cornered me as I left; but on the other hand, they did not have to since I was planning to return anyway. Like John Wesley, my heart was also ‘strangely warmed’. One thing was sure; more was ‘said’ by what I saw than by what I heard. That was my first experience of this kind of meeting and its simplicity truly made a difference to me.

As our world becomes more technologically advanced and we are ‘wowed’ at every turn by new and eye-popping innovations, there will always be subtle pressure upon the churches to borrow from worldly sources to make the gospel message more impressive and less offensive. The same pressure will demand to make the Christian life more palatable to them to the unbeliever in order to attract them to it. But what will speak more powerfully to the all around us will be ‘a changed life’ as the result of the simplicity that is in the gospel of Christ. This is what will always need to be protected. It will be demonstrated by a genuine relationship with the Lord Jesus, adorned not by ecclesiastical traditions, but by a transparent life declared in the simplicity of worship and the plain declaration of God’s Word and His great love for the entire world.

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9

It is in this verse that the apostle Paul summarizes the salvation work of our Lord Jesus. The One who is pictured elsewhere in Scripture as the nobleman in Luke 19, the great man of wealth in Ruth 2, and referred to as the Heir of all things in Heb 1, is also the One who willingly gave up the blessings of heaven so that we might be “rich” from a spiritual standpoint. As such, He did not count the glories of His position a thing to be clutched to but instead gave them up so that we through His poverty might be “rich”. And rich we are! Because of this wonderful grace which was shed on us abundantly in Jesus Christ (Titus 3:6), we are like Rebekah, who came into a vast wealth by nature of her relationship with Isaac, Gen. 24. In the same way, we too have become rich as heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, Rom. 8:17. We have obtained an inheritance (Eph. 1:10) and likewise are being led across the vast wilderness of this world by the Unnamed Servant who takes no glory for Himself, but glorifies the Master. Eventually, we too will come face to face with the One we love, though we have not seen Him and will at that time enter more fully into our inheritance, 1 Peter 1:4. No wonder it is called “amazing grace”!

Because of this selfless example, Paul goes on to encourage the Corinthians to exhibit the same attitude in their lives in the grace of giving. He calls it a grace because it is bestowed by the Spirit of God who causes this activity to occur for benefit of others. Just as the Macedonian believers demonstrated this grace to the saints in Jerusalem (vv. 1-2), he exhorts the Corinthians to follow the example of the Lord Jesus, the epitome of grace and glory. He urges them to adopt the same attitude and put aside their own comforts and interests to help meet the practical needs of fellow believers. By doing so, they are exhibiting the same type grace that the Lord Jesus demonstrated in His salvation work.

The grace of our Lord Jesus is evident not only in His salvation work but in other ways as well. It characterized His earthly then and is comprises His intercessory ministry from heaven now. In His earthly ministry, it was expressed this grace through words. There must have been something in the tone of His voice that communicated kindness and compassion as well as authority. Certainly, that grace must have been present when He said to the woman taken in adultery, “Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more”, John 8:11. It was there when He read a portion of Isaiah 6 in the synagogue when He dramatically paused mid-sentence, causing the people wonder at the graciousness of the words that proceeded from His lips, Luke 4:22. On another occasion, the officers of the people openly declared “never a man spake like this man”, John 7:46. They had to admit even though they did not believe in Him, His words had weight and an air of authority to them. In this way, Psalm 45:2 was prophetically fulfilled when David declared centuries before: “Grace is poured into thy lips”. It also answers to the voice of the bride to her Bridegroom in Song 5:15-16 when she says that his lips drop sweet-smelling myrrh, whose mouth…(or words) [are]most sweet. It should be a challenge to us to follow the example of our Savior in learning to be gracious in our response to others.

The grace of our Lord Jesus was also evident in His walk and work. Luke 2:40 states: “the Child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon Him”. The grace or favor of God was always upon the Lord Jesus. Just how that was manifested is not described, but it must have included the manner in which He walked among men. When John, saw Him, he declared, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world”. Acts 10:38 states that He “went about doing good and healing all those who oppressed of the devil”. Not only did that kindness show itself in His attitude but in His actions. He healed the sick, raised the dead and did many other good works to many different people. He even demonstrated this grace toward those who rejected or ignored His message. To the rich young ruler who turned away from His offer to follow Him was this grace shown. Instead of chiding him as we might do when someone spurned our overtures, the Word of God says that “beholding him, He loved him”, Mark 10:21. Now that’s grace! When Malchus, the high priest’s servant came with the entourage to arrest Him in the Garden, the Lord healed Malchus’ ear which had been sliced off by Peter. That’s grace! And to Judas, who came to betray Him, He met with the words, “Friend, why art thou come?” Friend? Now that is grace beyond belief! All this pales in comparison however to the grace that was manifested at Calvary. To the crowd at the Cross that mocked, jeered, ridiculed, plucked, spit upon, scorned and did all manner of evil to Him, He did not revile, nor threaten, or open His mouth in retaliation, but graciously replied: “Father, forgive them they know not what they do”. By doing so, He opened the Life gates of seventh and final City of refuge, that all may go in –to them and to all of humanity whom they represented. It is this grace which brings salvation (Titus 2:11) which the Law of Moses could never do. “The law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17). This grace is the grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!

But the grace of our Lord Jesus does not stop there! It continues on in His heavenly ministry to us. “Of His grace have we all received and grace for grace” (literally grace upon grace), John 1:17. It flows freely. We have been forgiven according to the riches of His grace, Eph. 1:7. It has been shed upon us abundantly in Jesus Christ. By it, we have access into the presence of God (Rom. 5:1) being freely justified by it, Rom. 3:24. Consequently, we should never tire of testifying of the Gospel of the grace of God, Acts 20:24. We should sing about it in our hearts to the Lord (Col. 3:16), to the praise of the glory of His grace, Eph. 1: 6. Through it, we are equipped to serve Him and His people, 1 Cor. 3:10. Because it comes from Him (Eph. 3:7-8) according to the measure of the gift of Christ, (Eph. 4:7), we should never glory in our abilities, but should give Him the honor, Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 4:7. Through it we are built up and given an inheritance, Acts 20:32. At times, this grace is dispensed freely from His throne of grace as a kindness to us. Other times, we must boldly approach the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need, Heb. 4:16. The grace that drives our service and gives us the power and desire to do His will, increases along with peace through the knowledge of Him, 2 Peter 1:3. It is what we are urged to continually grow in as we mature in the faith and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Peter 3:15. We are to be occupied with grace, not externals of the faith which does not profit, Heb. 13:9. It is what should season our words (Col. 4:6) that it may instill a holy desire in others whom we talk with to serve the Lord more fervently, Eph. 4:30. Grace everywhere! “Grace, Tis a charming sound”!

There are many dimensions to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, both in His earthly ministry and in His heavenly ministry toward us. Will we ever be able to fully plumb its depths? No wonder Paul prayed that the Ephesians would understand what is the breadth, and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge…”, Eph. 3:18-19. Regardless of where we are in our walk with the Lord, surely we can testify with confidence and conviction that “It is grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.”!

The Message and the Messenger

When Paul came to Mar’s Hill in Athens during his second missionary journey, he was completely by himself. Timothy and Silas, his associates in ministry had been left in Berea, while he was sent away by the brethren due to the dangerous and escalating conditions there (Acts 17:13). The unbelieving Jews who had stirred up the crowds in Thessalonica were intent on doing the same in Berea and consequently the apostle had to flee the area for his own safety.

Arriving in Athens, the apostle discovered a culture steeped in pagan idolatry. Surrounding him were the abundant evidences of man’s dark and fallen nature. The scene deeply provoked his spirit as he witnessed firsthand the grip that sin has over the hearts and minds of people, whom God had created in His own image. Not one for standing idle, the former Pharisee made a beeline for the local synagogue reasoning with the Jews and devout Gentiles and daily with those in the marketplace who would meet with him. Others, like the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers adversely encountered him, ridiculing and questioning his new and unique message of Jesus and the resurrection (v. 18). Not backing away and always ready to give an answer, Paul certainly relished the opportunity to clarify his message to these religious curiosity seekers (v. 20), who brought him to Mars Hill, the central meeting place in town. What followed was a concise, yet effective presentation of the Gospel in all its simplicity, demonstrating that is the power of God unto salvation—a message for everyone regardless of their cultural background or personal persuasions. It clearly shows that the Gospel can stand on its own and does not require any props or apologies to ramp up to its audience, no matter how diverse that audience may be. It is also a display case of the qualities and attitudes that are behind any successful Gospel ministry. What were some of the qualities and attitudes that Paul exhibited in this proclamation of the truth, qualities that we need to likewise embrace in our diverse, but depraved culture?

First, Paul demonstrated the quality of boldness. Without spiritual back up, Paul might have been tempted to waffle at the opportunity speak to the crowd assembled on Mars Hill. But standing in their midst, surrounded by an adverse and potentially dangerous audience he boldly proclaimed the truth of the Gospel. The scripture reminds us, “the righteous are as bold as a lion” (Prov. 28.1) and certainly Paul was that as he single-handedly preached the Word to them—“a stranger in a stranger land” with a “strange” message to a really strange audience. Paul was bold in the Lord and we need to be bold in the Lord, too.

Paul also exhibited respect. Even though he knew that he had to speak the truth in love, he also knew that he needed to “adorn the doctrine of God” (Titus 2: 10) and emulate the Savior who brought a message that was both “grace and truth” (John 1: 17). He knew that many, if not all of them were lost in the darkness of sin and were fundamentally opposed to the Gospel of Christ, but still there was no attitude of condescension in his opening remarks. Rather, he acknowledged what they were—not superstitious but religious and devoted to their cause. He commended them for their intensity (albeit misdirected intensity) and by so doing gained a listening ear, at least initially. We also need to be respectful in our presentation of the truth.

Paul was also direct in his message. He was frank about the core issue – ignorance of God and His way of salvation. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you” (v. 23). The altar dedicated and inscribed with the words “to the unknown God” only heralded their misconception of the true God. Paul did not “beat around the bush” or sidestep the issue, but was direct in his words, dealing with the real matter at hand. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand” Paul reminded the believers in Rome (Rom. 13:12) and the time is short for us as well. “Let the redeemed of the Lord, say so!” (Ps. 107:2).

Paul was also logical in his presentation. He was orderly in his argument. The major tenets of his message were: 1) they were religious, but ignorant (vv. 22-23); 2) the God Whom they do not know controls them and not the other way around (vv. 24-27); 3) we are the offspring of a personal God, and therefore should not worship Him with fanciful images and carvings (vv. 28-29); 4) their ignorance in the past God overlooked, but now calls people to repent based on Christ’s resurrection from the dead (vv. 29-31). At first, there was resistance to the message, but that resistance was countered by Paul’s powerful refutation, which was clear, orderly and logical in its development. Our messages should be the same. “The Preacher …set [s] in order many proverbs” (Ecc. 12:9).

As is often the case, whenever the Gospel is preached there is a varied response to the message. In this case, here there was ridicule and indifference (v. 32) but also belief unto the truth (v.34). The fact that there were not more “decisions” for the Lord was not because Paul did not effectively present the truth–it was because wherever the Gospel seed is sown there will always be hard ground that prevents it from taking root as well as indecisive hearts that have not yet been willing to release their grip from the pull of the world.

Paul’s message at Mar’s Hill was brief, but it was long enough to show us some of the essential qualities of the simple Gospel message that we also need to exhibit regularly in our preaching of the Word. May we be bold and respectful, direct and logical as we too bring the Gospel message with us, wherever we go.

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