Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Daily Devotional Readings: Year One - January

1st January: Psalm 119:105-112
We begin the year with the words of verse 105: 'Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path'. This a great text with which to begin the year. It is a great starting-point for these studies in God's Word. As we journey through life with God and His Word, we discover that there is a Word from the Lord for every part of life's journey. There is never a time when God has nothing to say to His people. Sometimes, He speaks to us from places which seem rather unlikely. As we explore His Word, we learn that He is the true and living God, ever ready to bring to us something new, something fresh, something that will send us on our way rejoicing, something that will strengthen our faith, something to deepen our commitment to Christ, something to increase our love for the Saviour. As we receive God's Word - 'a lamp to our feet and a light to our path' - we are to pray, 'renew my life, O Lord, according to Your Word' (107).
2nd January: Psalm 23:1-6
Turning to 'the Shepherd Psalm', we focus our attention on verse 5: 'You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows'. We are to feast on God's Word. We are to be filled with God's Spirit. The 'table' is the place of feasting. 'Oil' is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. As we feast on God's Word, we will have good cause to say, again and again, 'God is good': His 'goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life' (6). The Lord never fails us. He always comes with His life-giving Word, the Word of life, through which our life on earth becomes the beginning of life eternal, the pathway to a life in which the fullness of God's love will be revealed in a way that we can hardly begin to imagine: 'I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever' (6). This is what Christ is preparing for us (John 14:2)!
3rd January: Psalm 42:1-11
As we read God's Word day-by-day, we are to pray for an increase of our desire for God: 'My soul thirsts for God, for the living God' (2). This is the spiritual experience, referred to in verse 7: 'Deep calls to deep'. This is what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 2:10 - Through His Spirit, God is at work in us, revealing to us 'the deep things of God. God has given us His Spirit for this reason - 'that we may understand what God has freely given us' (1 Cor.2:12). God wants us to explore, with Him, the meaning of the great salvation which He has so graciously provided for us in Jesus Christ. Learning of God's salvation, we will say with the Psalmist, 'I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God' (11). This song of praise will grow strong in both our personal devotions - 'a prayer to the God of my life' (8) - and our public worship - going 'to the house of God' (4).
4th January: Genesis 1:1-3
'Genesis' means 'beginning'. These opening verses challenge us to get our priorities right - (a) The priority of God (1). God comes first. Before anyone else is mentioned, He is there. (b) The priority of God's Word (3). God is the first to speak. Before any human word is spoken, there is the Word of the Lord. (c) The priority of God's Spirit (2). All was 'empty', all was 'darkness', yet the 'Spirit of God' was at work, and transformation was set in motion. Here, we have God's priorities, set out in the Bible's first three verses - Putting God first and listening to His Word, we are to pray for the moving of God's Spirit, 'hovering over' our lives to transform them. For those who make God's priorities their own, there is a promise of great blessing (Psalm 1:1-2). It is the great blessing of knowing Jesus Christ, our Saviour, as 'God with us' (Matthew 1.23).
5th January: Genesis 1:4-13
God speaks, and it is done (3,6-7,11). God is pleased with what He has done (4,10, 12). This is the pattern of God's original creation. It is to be the pattern of our life as a 'new creation' (2 Corintinians 5:17). God speaks to us and we say, 'Your will be done' (Matthew 6:10). We say, 'let it be to me according to Your Word' (Luke 1:38). God looks on such obedience, this 'walking in the Spirit' (Galatians 5:16, 22-23), and He sees that it is 'good' (Micah 6:8). In these verses we read of the separation of the light and the darkness, the separation of the waters and the dry land, and the fruitfulness of God's creation. There are lessons for us here. We are to 'walk in the light' (1 John 1:7). We are to to the Spirit's 'living water' flow in us (John 7:39-39). Walking in the light, letting the living water flow - this is the way of fruitfulness.
6th January: Genesis 1:14-25
The Bible's opening chapter is a great hymn of praise, emphasizing that all things have been created for the glory of God (Revelation 4:11). Nothing can be permitted to distract our attention from the Lord. He alone is worthy of worship. The creation of the 'lights' makes no reference to the sun and the moon. These were worshipped by neighbouring peoples. They are not gods. They are simply 'lights'. Our worship is to be given to God alone. The waters teemed with living creatures. The land produced living creatures. Here, we have a picture of life. There is life where the living water of the Spirit is flowing freely among God's people (Ezekiel 47:5-9). This water brings life to the land (Ezekiel 47:12). Moving with the flow of God's Spirit, we are to pray that 'the water of life' will flow freely 'for the healing of the nations' (Revelation 22:2).
7th January: Genesis 1:26-2:3
We now come to the creation of humanity, male and female. Our creation is described in a distinctive way - created in the image of God (26-27). We are different from the rest of creation. We have been given dominion over 'all the earth' and 'every living creature' (26,28). We are different from God. He is the Creator. We are His creation. Created in God's image, we have been created by Him and for Him. Though we have sinned (see Genesis 3, Romans 3:23), now - in Jesus Christ - we have begun to live as a new creation (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10). The Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ is God (John 1:1) and that 'all things were created by Him and for Him' (Colossians 1:16). This is the Saviour who is at work in us, enabling us to live as a new creation! Creation has been 'completed' (2:1). Salvation will be completed (Philippians 1:6)!
8th January: Genesis 2:4-14
We read of 'the breath of life', producing 'a living being' (7). Separated from God through our sin, we have become spiritually dead (Ephesians 4:18; 2:1), we have been 'born again', 'born of the Spirit'. This new birth is brought about by the breath of life, the wind of the Spirit (John 3:5-8). As the river watered the garden (2:10), so our lives are to be watered by 'the river' which flows 'from the throne of God and of the Lamb' (Revelation 22:1). As we read of the 'tree' which features in our fall into sin (2:9; 3:2-6), our thoughts turn also to the 'tree' which forms the foundation of our salvation - Christ 'Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness' (1 Peter 2:24). In our hearts, we say, 'God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ' (Galatians 6:14).
9th January: Genesis 2:15-17
We noted, in 1:1-3, the importance of getting our priorities right - God, God's Word, God's Spirit. Here, we emphasize the importance of these priorities. We are under God. We must remember that He is God (15). We are to obey God's Word (16). Here we learn that the act of obedience is an act of freedom. In Christ, we are set free to obey God. God says, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden'. He does not then say, 'You are free to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil'. He says, 'You must not'. The act of disobedience is not an act of freedom. By choosing the way of sin, we show that we are in bondage. We are not free. We are the captives of sin, and we need to be set free - by Christ (John 8:32,36). We come to know God, choosing good rather than evil, as we follow the way of God's Spirit (Galatians 5:16; Hebrews 5:14).
10th January: Genesis 2:18-25
We come here to the creation of woman. Her creation is bound up with the creation of man. She is created from man's 'rib' (21-22). The 'rib' is taken from his side, emphasizing that man and woman are to be together, side-by-side, not one in front of the other. The 'rib', rather than the head or the feet, emphasizes this togetherness rather than any superiority-inferiority relationship. The 'rib' is close to the heart. Woman is close to the heart of man. Both are close to the heart of God. The contrast between humanity and the animals is again clear. Among the animals, there was 'no suitable helper' for the man (20). The animals had been 'formed out of the ground' (19). Humanity has come from 'the breath of life' (7). Like the animals, we come from 'the dust of the ground', but there is more: the Breath of God, created in His image to glorify Him!
11th January: Genesis 3:1-5
We have read about the beginning of creation (1:1). Now we come to the beginning of sin. In these verses, we have temptation. Note that temptation is not sin. It only becomes sin when we do what the tempter suggests (6). Temptation comes from 'that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan' (Revelation 12:9). Satan reverses the priorities of God, God's Word and God's Spirit. God is 'our Father' (Matthew 6:9). Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). Satan quotes and questions God's Word (1). He not only questions God's Word . He contradicts it (4). Satan is spiritual, an evil spirit. We must be aware of his schemes, and , in Christ, we must take our stand against his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:11). When Satan says, 'Did God really say?' (1), we must wage war for God, filled with His Word and Spirit (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
12th January: Genesis 3:6-9
Once we were innocent. Now we are guilty. The story of Adam and Eve is repeated over and over again. This is our story as well as Adam and Eve's story. Even in the face of sin, we see something else. We see the God of love, seeking to restore the fallen to Himself. In His words, 'Where are you?', we catch an early glimpse of the Gospel of salvation: 'the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost' (Luke 19:10). Adam and Eve had lost their way. Now, God was looking for them to bring them back to Himself. In the question, 'Where are you?', there is the searching question, 'What have you done?', but there is also the passionate appeal, 'Will you not return to me?'. This is the call of mercy: 'Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling, "O sinner, come home"' (Sacred Songs & Solos, 414). Our loving Father is waiting patiently to welcome the returning prodigal (Luke 15:20).
13th January: Genesis 3:10-15
Having chosen the way of sin, we are 'naked' and ashamed (10). The Gospel teaches us that 'there's a way back to God from the dark paths of sin'. We can be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. We can bring the 'filthy rags' of 'our righteous acts' (Isaiah 64:6) to God, and we can exchange them for the perfect righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Putting our trust in Christ, we need not be ashamed in God's presence (Romans 10:11). There must be no 'passing the buck' - the man blaming the woman, the woman blaming the serpent (12-13). We are to confess our sins and receive God's forgiveness (1 John 1:9). This forgiveness comes to us through the Cross where the suffering Saviour becomes the victorious Victor and the subtle serpent became the defeated devil. This is the message of verse 15: through the Cross, God has provided for us a full salvation!
Tues. 14th January: Genesis 3:16-24
Sin has consequences. Human life could never be the same once sin had entered it. The effects of sin can be seen in the whole of life. The most profound effect of sin is summed up in verse 22. We cannot reach out our hands and take hold of eternal life. There is no way to heaven which begins with the word 'I'. We must begin with God - 'God so loved the world...' (John 3:16). No sinner can open the door of heaven: 'Christ only could unlock the gate of heaven, and let us in'. Sin leads not to heaven but to 'death'. If we insist on trying to get to heaven by our own good works, we will earn our 'wages' - 'the wages of sin is death'. Come as a sinner to Jesus. Come to Him, saying, 'Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy Cross I cling' ( Church Hymnary, 83). Look to Him alone for salvation, and know the truth of God's Word: 'the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 6:23).
15th January: Matthew 1:1-17
From the beginning of the Old Testament, we move to the beginning of the New Testament. This may be the beginning of the New Testament, but it is not the beginning of God's revelation. It is not the beginning of His redemption. The birth of Christ is the continuation of the history of salvation, recorded in the Old Testament. Matthew takes us back to Abraham (1-2; Genesis 12:1-3). Recalling the great events of the Old Testament, he takes us through forty-two generations. This history is the story of God's grace. We may illustrate this with two striking examples. Rahab (5) was a 'prostitute', yet, by the grace of God, through faith, she also takes her place with the people of God (Hebrews 11:31; Ephesians 2:8). The story of David and Uriah's wife (6) is a story of deceit (2 Samuel 11) - 'where sin increased, grace increased all the more' (Romans 5:20)!
16th January: Matthew 1:18-25
The birth of Christ is a fulfilment of prophecy: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Immanuel' (23; Isaiah 7:14). Christ is 'God with us'. He was born through the power of the Holy Spirit (18,20). He is still 'God with us', when we are 'born of the Spirit' (John 3:5). Some people do not believe what the Bible says here. They do not like the idea of a 'virgin birth'. The Bible gives no encouragement to such unbelief. Matthew simply says, 'This is the way it happened' (18). In view of the amazing thing God was doing - sending His Son to be the Saviour of the World - why should we doubt that God took things out of man's hands and worked in His own miraculous way? We rejoice not only in the miracle but also in its saving purpose: 'He will save His people from their sins' (21).
17th January: Matthew 2:1-6
We think of this chapter as 'the story of the wise men'. It is not so much about the wise men. It is about Jesus. He is the central character. We are not told how many wise men there were. The word, 'three' does not appear (1). We are not told their names. We are not told exactly where they came from - just, they came 'from the East' (1). The important thing is that they made their journey. They came, seeking Jesus: 'Where is he...?'. They came 'to worship Him' (2). The wise men were led to Jesus not only by 'His star' (2) but also by the Scriptures. When asked where the child was to be born, they answered by quoting from the Scriptures (5-6; Micah 5:2). Wise men are still led to Christ through the Scriptures. Reading the Scriptures, we become wise for salvation as we find Christ who is our Wisdom (2 Timothy 3:15; 1 Corinthians 1:30).
18th January: Matthew 2:7-12
Bethlehem was a 'little town'. Humanly speaking, it did not have any great importance. Its importance is derived from the fact that it was the birth place of our Saviour. When we think of Bethlehem, we do not think so much of the place as the Saviour who was born there. Herod says that he wants to go to Bethlehem to worship Jesus (8). Satan was speaking through Herod. Satan has no intention of worshipping God, and neither had Herod. Satan 'comes only to steal and kill and destroy'. Christ comes to give 'life...to the full' (John 10:10). As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Herod was not a worshipper of Christ but a servant of Satan. The wise men worship Jesus, then they return to their own country. We know nothing about their return journey, their destination or their life in their own country. Their whole purpose was to point away from themselves to Jesus.
19th January: Matthew 2:13-23
The story unfolds according to God's saving purpose and not Herod's Satanic schemes. Herod dies. Jesus lives. The purpose of man is defeated. The purpose of God prevails. Jesus' time in Egypt is full of prophetic significance (15; Hosea 11:1). Egypt was the place of bondage. God turns everything around, making it the place of protection (Exodus 1:11; 13-15). The emphasis is not on the place. It is on what God is doing, as He fulfils His purpose. From Bethlehem to Egypt and then to Nazareth - the young Jesus is being taken from place to place - all in the perfect plan of God. Again, the emphasis is not on the place but on God's purpose. Nazareth was a humble place, dignified by the fact that God chose it to be the home of His Son. Our concern is not with wise men or famous places. 'Turn your eyes upon Jesus'. 'Stand amazed in the presence of Jesus'.
20th January: Psalm 1:1-6
As well as journeying through the Old and New Testaments, we will read a Psalm at fairly regular intervals. The first Psalm contrasts two ways - the way of the Word and the way of the world, the way of blessing and the way of judgment. Encouraging us to build upon the solid foundation of God's Word, the opening Psalm sets the tone for what is to follow. To whet your appetite for the Psalms, here are some early lessons: stability in the Lord (1:1-2); service for the Lord (2:11); salvation of the Lord (3:8); sanctification from the Lord (4:4-5); singing to the Lord (8:4); strength in the Lord (9:9). These are some of the blessings promised to those who 'delight in the law of the Lord' (1-2). With a God like this - full of so much blessing for us - what else can we do but rejoice in Him?
21st January: Genesis 4:1-5
The name of Abel appears among 'the heroes of the faith' (Hebrews 11:14). The story of Abel is a story of grace, faith and obedience. Abel's sacrifice was a blood sacrifice while Cain's was a fruit sacrifice (3-4). The blood sacrifice points forward - via the Old Testament sacrificial system - to the greatest sacrifice of all - 'the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin' (1 John 1:7; Hebrews 9:12). The blood sacrifice points to salvation by grace - 'without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness' (Hebrews 9:22). Abel's sacrifice was an act of faith: 'By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain did' (Hebrews 11:4). The blood reminds us that true faith is always faith in Christ and never 'faith' in anything we can ever offer to God. Abel was obedient, bringing 'the firstborn' to God. 'In the course of time Cain brought some...'.
22nd January: Genesis 4:6-16.
In the story of Cain, we see the development of sin. Jealousy leads to anger, and anger leads to murder. In this story, we see ourselves in the 'mirror' of God's Word. Here, God emphasizes our exceeding sinfulness - 'The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt' (Jeremiah 17:9). Our sinfulness leads us away from 'the presence of the Lord' to 'the land of wandering (Nod)' (16). This is the work of Satan in our lives - Genesis 4 is an extension of Genesis 3. Even in the land of wandering, the hand of God is upon us. This is the meaning of 'the mark of Cain' - 'so that no one who found him would kill him' (15). Even in our wanderings, God is waiting in mercy for us to make our way back to Him by coming in faith to Jesus Christ our Saviour. Even when 'sin' is a good bit more than 'crouching at the door', it can be 'mastered' through Christ (6; Hebrews 7:25).
23rd January: Genesis 4:17-26
The story of Cain and Abel is a continuing story. Abel died, yet 'by faith still speaks, even though he is dead' (Hebrews 11:4). Cain 'went out from the presence of the Lord'. He became 'a restless wanderer' (14,16). What a contrast there is between these two brothers! For Abel, there was glory in the presence of the Lord - 'By faith he was commended as a righteous man' (Hebrews 11:4), he was 'justified by faith' (Romans 5:1). Cain was quite different. Far from God, he had no peace. He was haunted by his sins. What does God's Word say to us about Cain? - 'Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother...because his own actions were evil and his brothers were righteous' (1 John 3:12). Cain's sinful influence continues. We must be on our guard. The chapter ends with hope: 'At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord' ( 26).
24th January: Genesis 5:1-17
From the story of Cain - taking God for granted (the opposite of grace), approaching God proudly (the opposite of faith), rebelling against God (the opposite of obedience) - , we come to a list of names and numbers. In this first part of the chapter, there is nothing of any note. Perhaps, this is the significant feature of this long list of names. There is nothing considered to be worthy of special note, except the length of their lives. What a sad reflection on the value of a life when all that can be said is this: He lived, and he died! What we must remember is this: the quantity of our years is less important than the quality of our living. How long we live is less important than how well we live. We have been 'created...in the likeness of God' (1), yet so often we miss out on this spiritual dimension. We have been 'blessed' by God (2) - 'Count your blessings'.
25th January: Genesis 5:18-32
In this second part of the list, two names get a special mention - Enoch and Noah (22,24,29). The reference to Enoch is the more memorable of the two. Enoch's life was characterized by grace, faith and obedience. The life-story of so many others could be told without reference to God. Enoch's story was the story of God at work in his life. So many life-stories end with the words, 'he died'. Enoch's life on earth points beyond itself (24). Enoch had 'walked with God' (22, 24 ). Building his life upon the God of grace, Enoch had, by faith, stepped out of this present world and into 'what we hope for', 'what we do not see' (Hebrews 11:5,1). What a testimony Enoch left behind him! Not much is said about him, but what power of the Spirit of God there is in these few words! The reference to 'the Lord' in Noah's life (29) prepares us for what is to come (chs. 6-9).
26th January: Matthew 3:1-12
This chapter begins with 'John the Baptist' (1). It ends with our Lord Jesus Christ concerning whom the Voice from heaven says, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased' (17). Once John had served his purpose, once he has pointed away from himself to the Lord Jesus Christ, he retreats into the background. This is how it must always be. We point to One who is 'more powerful' than ourselves (11; Romans 1:16). With John, we must learn to say, 'Christ must increase, I must decrease' (John 3:30). The contrast between John and Jesus is highlighted in verse 11 - ' I baptize with water... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire'. This is still the contrast between the preacher and the Saviour - We preach the Word. He sends the power. Still He says, 'You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses' (Acts 1:8).
27th January: Matthew 3:13-17
Considering the contrast between Jesus and John - John is not fit to carry Christ's sandals (11) - , it is quite remarkable that Jesus submits Himself to baptism by John. Why does He do this? Jesus gives us the reason in verse 15: 'it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness'. When Jesus uses the word 'proper' (or fitting), does He use it to mean 'according to convention'? No - He means that 'it is fitting' into God's perfect plan of salvation. It is part of His perfect obedience to the Father. It is part of what is involved in His giving Himself for us as 'the Righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God' (1 Peter 3:18). As well as directing us to the Cross, Jesus' baptism directs to Pentecost - the descent of the Spirit (16; Acts 2:1-4). Christ died for us. The Spirit lives in us. Jesus 'fits' our need perfectly!
28th January: Matthew 4:1-11
God the Father has declared Jesus to be His Son (3:17). Now, the devil challenges God's Word: 'If you are the Son of God...' (3). The Spirit has descended upon Jesus (3:16). Now, the devil uses his power in an attempt to defeat Jesus. The devil sows seeds of doubt; the 'if you are...' approach is just the same as his 'Did God really say?' method used in Genesis 3:1. The devil is 'crafty' (Genesis 3:1). He comes to Jesus, quoting from the Bible (6; Psalm 91:11-12). His real goal becomes clear in verse 9 - he wants Jesus to 'bow down and worship' him. In Jesus' victory over the devil, we see the importance of Scripture - 'It is written' (4, 7, 10). We learn that true life comes from God (4), true safety is found in God (7); and true worship is given to God (10). When the tempter comes, we must stand on God's Word: 'every Word that comes from...God' ( 4).
29th January: Matthew 4:12-17
Having overcome His enemy, Jesus begins His ministry. Satan will be back - Luke ends his account of Jesus' temptations with these ominous words, 'When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left until an opportune time' (4:12). Satan will try again, but - for now - he has failed to stop Jesus setting out on His ministry, a ministry which brings light into the darkness. The light is shining brightly - 'the Kingdom of heaven is near' (17). Jesus' ministry is viewed as a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy (15-16; Isaiah 9:1-2). The prophecy had been given: Death will be overcome, men and women will be delivered from 'the shadow of death'. Now, in Christ, the prophecy has been fulfilled: by His death, Christ has destroyed 'him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil' and He has set 'free' those who live in 'fear of death' (Hebrews 2:14-15).
30th January: Matthew 4:18-25
Christ's victory over the world was won for us (1 John 3:8: 5:4-5). Jesus was not a loner. He was a team leader: 'From victory to victory His army He will lead' (Church Hymnary, 481). At the very outset of His ministry, He set about putting together His ministry team. Peter, Andrew, James and John were the first four disciples. He called them to follow Him. His call was both gracious and demanding. It is gracious because it is the Saviour who calls us: 'Follow Me'. It is demanding because He calls us to follow, to submit to His Lordship: 'Follow Me'. These men were called to a new kind of 'fishing' (19). Jesus' ministry reached 'great crowds' through His 'teaching ...preaching ...and healing' (23-25). This chapter sets the scene for Jesus' ministry. We see the Word of the Lord triumphant over Satan, fulfilled in Christ, and effective in the lives of the disciples and the crowds.
31st January: Proverbs 1:1-7
Scripture speaks of different kinds of 'wisdom'. In Proverbs, wisdom is closely associated with godliness. In Ecclesiastes, wisdom - viewed as mere human intelligence - is described as 'meaningless, a chasing after the wind' (1:12-18). This contrast is continued in the New Testament, where Paul describes Christ as our 'Wisdom', contrasting this Wisdom with 'the wisdom of the world' (1 Corinthians 1:18-25,30). The purpose of Proverbs is set out in its opening verses. Notice the vital connection between 'understanding' and 'doing' (2-3). We are to be 'doers' as well as 'hearers' of God's Word (James 1:22). We are to 'keep what is written' in God's Word (Revelation 1:3). The great theme of Proverbs is stated in verse 7: 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge'. Christ is our Wisdom. We will never be wise unless we build our lives on Him (Matthew 7: 24-27).

The Holy Spirit in the Life of Faith

The Holy Spirit is the Breath of God. All Scripture is God-breathed. We experience the Breath of God upon our life when we listen attentively to the God-breathed Scriptures. Paul speaks, in 2 Timothy 3:15-17, of the  relationship between the Breath of God (the Holy Spirit) and the God-breathed Word (the Holy Scriptures) - 'the Holy Scriptures ... are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work'.

1) The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to make us wise.

    The wisdom which comes from the Spirit and the Word is a special kind of wisdom. It is not the wisdom of this world. It is the wisdom which is bound up with Christ, salvation and faith. Worldly wisdom places great value on intellectual attainment. It emphasizes the importance of getting on in the world. True spiritual wisdom has quite different priorities. As we feed upon God's Word, the Spirit imparts wisdom to us, a wisdom which the world can neither understand nor receive. This is the wisdom of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 2. He describes this wisdom as 'a secret and hidden wisdom' (v.7). This wisdom is no longer hidden from us - 'God has revealed it to us by His Spirit' (v.10). It is hidden only from those who refuse to read and hear with faith the 'words ... taught by the Spirit' (v.13).

2) The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to lead us to Christ.

    Jesus has given us His promise concerning the Holy Spirit: 'He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you' (John 16:14). If we are to honour the Holy Spirit in our preaching, we must focus on the cross of Christ' - 'we preach Christ crucified', 'I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified' (1 Corinthians 1:17,23; 2:2). We must pray for 'the Spirit's power' (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). How are we to preach Christ crucified? Will it mean preaching only from a select group of 'gospel texts' which refer explicitly to the death of Christ? Preaching Christ and Him crucified does not mean that we must narrow down the focus of our preaching. What, then, does it mean? It means that we must learn to see Christ in 'all the Scriptures' (Luke 24:27). At the very centre of all of our preaching from God's Word, there must stand Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We do not read Christ into places where He is not to be found. Rather, we emphasize that Christ - 'the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world' (John 1:29) - is the central Theme of the Scriptures. The Spirit of God points us to Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We are to 'keep our eyes on Jesus' (Hebrews 12:2). As we keep our eyes on Him, we will find that the Spirit directs our attention to the cross, graciously reminding us that we have been 'redeemed ... with the precious blood of Christ' (1 Peter 1:18-19).

3) The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to bring us to salvation.

    Jesus Christ is 'our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification and redemption' (1 Corinthians 1:30). He is our full salvation. From beginning to end, our salvation is in Him. There is no room for boasting on our part: 'Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord' (1 Corinthians 1:31). Our salvation is an 'out of this world' salvation. It is 'out of this world' in its origin. It is a salvation which has its origin in the 'before the ages' love of God, the eternal love of God. It is a salvation which has, as its destiny, 'our glorification' (1 Corinthians 2:7). When Paul speaks of this eternal salvation, this glorious salvation, he emphasizes its 'out of this world' character. He writes, 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived ... God has prepared for those who love Him' (1 Corinthians 2:9). This salvation is not only 'out of this world'. It has entered into our experience: 'God has revealed (His salvation) to us through the Spirit' (1 Corinthians 2:10). Salvation has been revealed. It has come 'from above'. Here below, we experience salvation. Here below, we confess, with gladness of heart, that salvation has come to us. Tempted to doubt God's salvation, we must allow the Spirit to bring to our remembrance this salvation which comes 'from above'. Tempted to think that we 'know it all', we must remember that we are still here below. When we speak of God's salvation, we  must speak with deep gratitude to God 'for His inexpressible gift' (2 Corinthians 9:15). Our words can never give adequate expression to God's great salvation. Nevertheless, we must not be hesitant in preaching Christ and His salvation. As we preach the gospel of salvation, we must never lose sight of the way in which the Spirit has revealed God's salvation to us. Salvation has not come to us from the depths of our own heart. It has not come to us from some 'great beyond' which makes the whole matter so private that we dare not speak of it. Salvation has come to us through 'words ... taught by the Spirit', the words of Holy Scripture. To those who live below, salvation has come 'from above'. When we think of God's salvation, we will come to appreciate its greatness, as we learn to see the greatness of our sin, the greatness of our need.

    God's salvation corresponds to our need. We have a need for forgiveness. The Gospel speaks to us of 'peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ' (Romans 5:1). We doubt our ability to keep going in the life of faith. God's Word says to us, 'Do you not know ... that God's Spirit dwells in you?' (1 Corinthians 3:16). We wonder if there is hope. God assures us that there is hope. He does this by pouring His love 'into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us' (Romans 5:5). Peace with God provides us with the God-given foundation for living the life in the Spirit. Before we are called to the life of discipleship, God says to us, 'There is ... now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus' (Romans 8:1). To the believer, God says, 'You have been set free' - set free 'from the law of sin and death', set free 'for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus' (Romans 8:2). This freedom is in Christ. The Lord Jesus says to us, 'if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed' (John 8:36). His way of setting us free is emphasized in John 8:32 - 'you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free'. Our experience of freedom, given to us by Christ through His Word of truth, is to be an ongoing experience. This experience of freedom is described by Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:16-18. It begins 'when a man turns to the Lord' (v.16). Freedom is the gift of God. It is the gift of the Spirit: 'where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom' (v.17). Our ongoing experience of freedom - freedom from sinfulness, freedom for Christlikeness - grows 'from one degree of glory to another as we 'behold the glory of the Lord' (v.18).

4) The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to bring us to faith.

    God's salvation is a gracious salvation. When, however, we join in Paul's affirmation of Ephesians 2:5 - 'by grace you have been saved' - , we must take care to look down to verse 8 where we find the additional words, 'through faith': 'By grace you have been saved through faith'. There must be no hint of a grace which works apart from faith, a grace which makes faith redundant. That would be 'saved by grace without faith' which is very different from 'saved by grace through faith'. In our preaching, we must emphasize both the absolute necessity of grace and the absolute necessity of faith. It is important for us to ask some key questions about faith.

    Our first question is this: 'Where does faith come from?' Is there a basic inclination in man towards believing? The parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9-14) gives us, in the proud Pharisee, a striking picture of man apart from the grace of God. We may not believe that we are absolutely perfect but we will, nonetheless, look around ourselves until we see someone to whom we can point and say, 'Lord, I'm not as bad as him. I'm better than him'. The Holy Spirit has a very definite answer to such sinful pride - 'you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things' (Romans 2:1). How do we move from being the proud Pharisee, boasting of our own self-righteousness to becoming the humble publican, crying to God for His mercy? There is only one way, the way of the Gospel. It is when the 'Gospel' comes to us 'not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction' that we are brought to faith (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2:13). Let us not imagine that we can bring others to faith without the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us.

    When we move on to our second question, 'What is faith?', we find that the parable of the Pharisee and the publican provides us, in the publican, with a simple picture of faith. The contrast between the faith of the publican and the works of the Pharisee is total. The faith of the publican was not a 'work' by which he earned salvation. He received salvation as a gift of God's grace. The faith of the publican points in one direction only: the mercy of God. His prayer, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner' (v.13), points away from the sinner to the Saviour. When we observe Jesus' use of the word, 'justified', in verse 14, our thoughts tend to move towards Paul and the doctrine of justification by faith. The doctrine of justification by faith was Jesus' doctrine before it was Paul's. What does say Paul say about justification by faith that is not already said - in essence - by Jesus in this parable? Paul contrasts grace and works in Romans 11:6 - 'if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works'. He contrasts faith and works in Romans 9:32 where he states that Israel did not fulfil the law because 'they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works'. While Paul contrasts both grace and faith with works, he never contrasts grace and faith. They belong together. In our preaching, we must emphasize both the offer of grace and the call to faith.

    There is a third question we must ask - 'Why is faith so important?' Again, the parable of the Pharisee and the publican answers this question for us: 'this man went down to his house justified rather than the other' (v.14). It is faith which marks the difference between the man whom God has declared righteous and the man who is robed in the 'filthy rags' of his own religion and morality (Isaiah 64:6). The contrast between Pharisaism and saving faith is brought out well in Luke 7:36-50 where a sinful woman is forgiven as the Pharisees 'say among themselves', "Who is this, who even forgives sins?"'(v.49). Jesus' words to the woman, in verses 48 and 50, consist of three very short sentences which are packed with Gospel truth. 'Your sins are forgiven' - these words were spoken to the woman, but not to the Pharisees. Why? The answer is found in the next sentence - 'Your faith has saved you'. The reason that the woman, and not the Pharisees, heard the words, 'Your sins are forgiven', is clear. She believed. They did not believe. The Lord Jesus then said to the woman, 'Go in peace'.

    From these words of peace, we may find our thoughts turning to the Dove of Peace, the Holy Spirit. In giving to the believer the forgiveness of sins, the Lord Jesus also gives the Holy Spirit. In grace and mercy, God gives the Holy Spirit to us: 'regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit', given to us by 'the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour ... poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour' (Titus 3:4-7). The direct connection between Christ and the Holy Spirit is emphasized in John the Baptist's prophecy: 'He (Jesus Christ) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit' (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). In Galatians 3:14, Paul stresses that it is 'in Christ Jesus that we receive the promise of the Spirit through faith'. He goes on to emphasize that 'faith works by love ' and speaks also of 'love' as 'the fruit of the Spirit' (5:6,22-23).  Love - this is so important. Love - this is the practical context for all of our theological reflection concerning the Holy Spirit in the life of faith.

5) The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God for our profit.

    At our local primary school, I began a lesson on the Old Testament prophets by asking the question, 'What is a prophet?' One boy gave the answer, 'It's when you sell something for more than you bought it for'. We profit from the Scriptures because Scripture is a word of prophecy: 'men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God' (2 Peter 1:21). How do we profit from the prophets? How do we profit from the Scriptures? The answer is given in 2 Timothy 3:16 - 'All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable'. Scripture is profitable because Scripture is God-breathed. The Bible is the Word of God. That's why it profits us. If the Bible is not the Word of God, no amount of our saying, 'I derive profit from reading the Bible' will make it the Word of God. It is not our faith or lack of faith which decides whether or not the Bible is God's Word. Our faith or lack of faith can neither add to nor take away from Paul's great declaration, 'All Scripture is God-breathed'. Our faith rests on a sure foundation: 'How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!' Despite our unbelief, 'the Word of God is not bound' (2 Timothy 2:9). Through His Word, God is able to lift us out of our unbelief and bring us into the assurance of faith. We profit from God's Word when we allow the Breath of God, the Holy Spirit, to breathe His God-breathed words into our hearts and lives.

6) The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to teach us.

    Jesus tells us, in John 7:17, that if we want to understand His teaching, we must commit ourselves to doing the will of God. True understanding of Christ and His Gospel goes hand in hand with a practical commitment to living as His disciple. If we are not to be 'blown here and there by every wind of teaching', we need to commit ourselves to being 'doers' of God's Word (Ephesians 4:14; James 1:22). There are 'some things', in God's Word, which are 'hard to understand' (2 Peter 3:16). Many demands will be placed on those who take seriously the task of 'correctly handling the Word of truth' (2 Timothy 2:15). As we wrestle with the many-sided complexities of gaining an accurate understanding of God's Word, we must never lose sight of 'the simplicity which is in Christ'. We must take great care to maintain our 'sincere and pure devotion to Christ' (2 Corinthians 11:3).
In our learning from God's Word and in our teaching God's Word to others, we are to honour the Holy Spirit. He is our Teacher. This is what Jesus says concerning Him - 'the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you' (John 14:26). As we walk with the Lord, 'letting the Word of Christ dwell in us richly' the Holy Spirit will not fail us. He will not leave us without a word to speak for Him (Colossians 3:16; Luke 12:12). In the ministry of God's Word, we are to say only what the Holy Spirit gives to us for the spiritual feeding of the people.

    When I was a student, this lesson was impressed upon me by my Minister, George Philip. He pointed out to me that there may be many things which will interest me in the study, but they may not be what God is wanting me to share with the people when I go to the pulpit. I have never forgotten his words. They have provided an important framework for my ministry. Our goal is not to impress people with our great learning. Rather, it is to give them a glimpse of the greatness of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jack Rogers gives us a thought-provoking account of a sermon preached by G.C. Berkouwer while he was in the U.S.A. - 'The worshippers were disappointed by his sermon. They could understand it! They expected the great professor to be profound (i.e. abstract, dull). Instead, he preached a simple gospel sermon of pastoral comfort and affirmation' (Confessions of a Conservative Evangelical, p.141). If our preaching is a disappointment to those who bring with them the wrong expectations, let us not be perturbed. If our preaching is a help to those who are eagerly seeking to be instructed in the Word of God, let us rejoice. We are to help our hearers to 'grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ' (2 Peter 3:18). This is 'the work' for which we have been 'set apart' by 'the Holy Spirit'. This is 'the work' to which we have been 'called' by 'the Holy Spirit' (Acts 13:2).

7) The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to reprove us.

    This ministry of the Spirit - His reproving ministry - is vitally related to His correcting ministry. These ministries belong together. In His reproving ministry, the Spirit is concerned with showing us where we have gone wrong. In His correcting ministry, He is concerned with bringing us back to the right way. There will be those who are reproved by the Spirit of God yet they refuse His correcting ministry. The Word of God speaks very directly of this in Proverbs 29:1 - 'He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing'. This, however, is not the intention of the Spirit's reproving ministry. The Holy Spirit reproves us so that He might bring us back into the way of holiness. In Hebrews 3:7, we read words which 'the Holy Spirit' speaks to us, 'Today, when you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts'.

    In Paul's letters, we have two different yet related instructions concerning obediennce to the Spirit of God - 'Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God' (Ephesians 4:30). and 'Do not quench the Spirit' (1 Thessalonians 5:19). While these two instructions may be similar, there is a difference of emphasis. The warning against grieving the Spirit is more related to the Spirit's reproving ministry while the warning against quenching the Spirit is more related to His correcting ministry. When the Spirit is reproving us for our wrong living, we must not grieve Him by continuing in the wrong way. When the Spirit is seeking to bring us back into the pathway of holiness, we must not quench Him by resisting His holy promptings within us.

    In connection with the Spirit's reproving ministry, we must consider Christ's warning against committing the unpardonable sin, 'the blasphemy against the Spirit' (Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-30; Luke 12:10). What is Jesus saying to us here? He is urging us to be responsive to the Spirit in His ministries of reproof and correction. We must not isolate this sin against the Spirit from all other sins of resisting the Spirit. Jesus is pressing home the urgent importance of not grieving the Spirit and not quenching the Spirit. In His ministries of reproof and correction, the Spirit speaks to us as the Spirit of Christ. He speaks as the One concerning whom Jesus says, 'He will bring glory to Me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you' (John 16:14). The Spirit convicts us of our sin with a view to bringing us to the Saviour who graciously forgives our sin.

8) The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to correct us.

    The Spirit's ministries of reproof and correction belong together. In Ephesians 4:30, we see both reproof and correction. We are warned - 'Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God'. We must take care that we do not follow a pathway that will lead us further away from the Lord. We are encouraged - 'in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption'. We must not lose sight of the glorious destiny towards which the Lord is leading us. In His ministries of reproof and correction, the Lord does not treat us as strangers. He treats us as children. 'Sent into our hearts' by 'God' the Father, 'the Spirit' enables us to call God our 'Father' (Galatians 4:6). In love, we are reproved - ' the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives' (Hebrews 12:6). His goal is our correction. He wants to transform our life, to bring us out of a life dominated by sin and into a life filled with His blessing.

    Calling us back from a life that dishonours God - Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery', He invites us to live a life that brings glory to God - 'be filled with the Spirit' (Ephesians 5:18). The Spirit corrects us as we respond, with the obedience of faith, to the Lord's command - 'be filled with the Spirit'. Paul does not say, 'Fill yourselves with the Spirit'. He says, 'let the Holy Spirit fill you' (N.E.B.). God is calling us to 'the life-long walk in the Spirit' (A.W. Tozer, The Divne Conquest, p.110). He is calling us to 'keep on being filled with the Spirit'.The Spirit-filled life is a  gift of God, a gift of grace. There can be no room for boasting of our own moral superiority. All the glory belongs to the Lord. We can only look away from ourselves to Him and say, 'the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes' (Psalm 118:23). Our testimony must always be this, 'Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your Name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness' (Psalm 115:1).

9) The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to train us in righteousness.

    Whenever a preacher speaks about being baptized with the Spirit or filled with the Spirit, different hearers hear the words in different ways. An important biblical way of thinking about the baptism with the Spirit is indicated in Matthew 3:11-12 and Luke 3:16-17. The baptism with the Spirit is a baptism with 'fire' - 'His winnowing fork is in His hand and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the granary, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire'. The Spirit led Jesus, after His baptism, into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-2). The Spirit leads us into the refining fire where we are trained in righteousness. Training in righteousness is not fun. Compare training in righteousness with the training of a sportsman. It is hard work. There are times when it is difficult to see the goal. When we are going through hard times, we must remember the goal - 'praise and glory and honour at the revelation (or appearing) of Jesus Christ' (1 Peter 1:6-7).

    When we are being trained in righteousness, there will be difficulties arising from the fact that loyalty to Christ is not welcome in an unbelieving world. God's Word tells us that 'all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted' (2 Timothy 3:12). When we are being trained in righteousness, we must recognize that God's way for us may not be the way that we would have planned for ourselves. When Paul prayed about his 'thorn in the flesh', his prayer was answered - but not in the way he had hoped. The weakness remained, but in it Paul experienced something greater - the grace of God. God can turn even the most unlikely circumstances into ideal situations for training in righteousness. We can be assured that God knows what He is doing. Over the whole process of training in righteousness, He writes these great words - 'My grace is sufficient for you' (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

10) The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to make the man of God, complete for every good work.

    'Man of God' - isn't that a wonderful expression? That's what God calls us! We don't deserve to be called this, but this is what God has made us in Christ. God is determined to make us worthy of this marvellous title which He has so graciously bestowed upon us! We are called to maturity. We are called to mature holiness. We are to mature in our response to God's call to holiness, that call which is at one and the same time both a command and a promise - 'be holy, for I am holy', 'You shall be holy, for I am holy' (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16). God's call to holiness is clear - ''God has not called us to uncleanness, but to holiness'. This call is followed by these solemn words of warning - 'whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you' (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8). Maturity is bound up with holiness. The nearest we have, in Scripture, to a definition of maturity is found in Hebrews 5:14 - 'solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil'. 'Trained by practice to distinguish good from evil' - what a practical definition of maturity! May God grant a revival of such maturity in our day. We are being 'equipped for every good work' These good works are the works of faith - 'By grace you have been saved through faith ... to do good works' (Ephesians 2:8-10). These good works are produced in us through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. As we 'let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly', the Spirit works in us to make us more like our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ - 'the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control' (Colossians 3:16; Galatians 5:22-23).

Living As The Prophetic People Of God

'Living as the prophetic people of God': How should we approach this subject? We could embark on a lengthy discussion, centred on the question, "What is prophecy?" Here, I will suggest a general definition of prophecy, and then proceed to consider the principal connections between prophecy and the Christian life.
We may begin with two sentences from the 'Editorial Policy Statement' of the magazine, "Prophecy Today": "We define prophecy as the forthtelling of the Word of God ... Through the Holy Spirit the written Word of God of yesterday becomes the living Word of today."
When a fellow-member was leaving the Presbytery of Dunfermline, I was invited to speak on his behalf. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Dunfermline Athletic ('The Pars'). I used the letters P-A-R-S to characterize his ministry as Preaching Anointed by the Renewing Spirit.
What do we mean when we speak of this 'anointing'? Leonard Ravenhill, in the opening chapter of his book, "Why Revival Tarries" says two things - first, it is impossible to give a precise definition of this 'anointing'; second, make sure that you have this 'anointing'. 
We cannot take this 'anointing' for granted. It comes from above, from the renewing Spirit. It comes from the Lord, whose "mercies ... are new every morning" (Lamentations 3:22-23). We trust in His "great faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:23), but we dare not presume upon this 'anointing'.
What are the principal connections between prophecy and the Christian life? What features can we expect to find in "preaching anointed by the renewing Spirit"? Basing our thoughts on 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 and 1 Corinthians 14:3, let me suggest five significant features: (1) Conviction; (2) Conversion; (3) Confirmation; (4) Courage; (5) Comfort.
  (1) Conviction 
Where the Word of God is proclaimed with a prophetic edge, there will be conviction (1 Corinthians 14:24). This is more than the work of the 'preacher'. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, and He works through 'the whole Church', through 'all' (1 Corinthians 14:23-24). The convicting power of the Holy Spirit is most mightily at work where the whole Church is conscious of its corporate calling to be 'the prophet to the world'.
What kind of preaching brings 'conviction'? In John 16:8, Jesus says, "When He (the Holy Spirit) comes, He will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment". Where these realities - sin, righteousness and judgment - are taken seriously by those who preach the Word and those who hear it, there we can look, in humble faith, to the Spirit to exercise His ministry of conviction.
  (2) Conversion
God's purpose is that conviction should lead to conversion. We are to pray that the "unbeliever" will not only be convicted but also converted (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). Where the Biblical teaching concerning conversion is taken seriously by preachers and their hearers, there will be earnest prayer for the working of the Spirit in bringing men and women to faith in Christ. The essence of true conversion is described in 1 Corinthians 14:25 - "He will worship God". Where such worship is truly inspired by the convicting and converting Spirit, it will be offered with confession of our sin and rejoicing in God's salvation. This is where the Christian life begins. The convicting and converting Spirit brings us to an end of ourselves and the beginning of new life in Christ. If preaching is to retain its prophetic edge, the call to conversion must be heard.
  (3) Confirmation
"He who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding" (1 Corinthians 14:3). those who have been converted need to be confirmed in their new-found faith. In Christ, we are called to "safety, certainty and enjoyment". If we are to enjoy Jesus Christ, we need to grow in our assurance of His salvation. Scripture encourages us to "draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith" (Hebrews 10:22). This assurance grows in us as we rest in "the promises of God" (2 Corinthians 1:20). Through the working of "His Holy Spirit in our hearts", we grow strong in the conviction that "God is faithful" (2 Corinthians 1:20). The strengthening of our faith leads to joy - "the joy of the Lord (which) is our strength" (Nehemiah 8:10). Preaching, which is anointed by the renewing Spirit, will not rest content with getting people started in the Christian life. Its aim will be to lead God's people on to "mature manhood" (Ephesians 4:13) by letting "the Spirit of the Lord" do His work of revealing Christ to us, and making us more like Him (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
  (4) Courage
"He who prophesies speaks to men for their ... encouragement" (1 Corinthians 14:3). At the heart of the word 'encouragement' is the word 'courage'. Prophetic ministry requires courage. It calls for courageous speaking and courageous living. The "word of exhortation" must be spoken (Hebrews 13:22). The word of warning must be spoken, together with the word of promise. The ministry of "encouraging one another" is to be exercised by every believer (Hebrews 10:25). We are to speak prophetically to one another, speaking out of a growing awareness that "the day is drawing near" (Hebrews 10:25). This is the ministry of "encouraging one another", confronting one another with the challenge of living with courage, as those who are "not ashamed of the gospel" (Romans 1:16). This ministry consists not only of the 'speaking' we associate with preaching. It consists also - and primarily - of the 'speaking' of the whole life, the life that is committed to being the people of God and doing the will of God.
A prophetic ministry, which brings courage to God's people, will alert its hearers to the fact of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:12). Together with the call to "be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might", the the call to "put on the whole armour of God" (Ephesians 6:10-11), there will be the encouraging declaration that God Himself has "put on righteousness as a breastplate and a helmet of salvation upon His head" (Isaiah 59:17). To know that God Himself fights with them in this spiritual warfare gives the Lord;s people the confidence to take their stand on "the heritage of the servants of the Lord": "No weapon that is fashioned against you shall prosper" (Isaiah 54:17).
  (5) Comfort 
"He who prophesies speaks to men for their ... consolation" (1 Corinthians 14:3). The word 'consolation' carries our minds in the direction of the 'consolation prize'. That's one step removed from the 'booby prize'! Prophetic ministry directs our attention to the greatest prize of all - "the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14). With such a glorious prize in our view, we are given every incentive to "press on toward the goal" (Philippians 3:14). The link between consolation and courage is found in the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter (John 14:16, AV). William Barclay makes some helpful observations regarding this word, 'Comforter': "The word 'Comforter' has in it the Latin adjective 'fortis', which means 'brave' ... A comforter was one who puts courage into a man". Not forgetting how great a function of the Holy Spirit comfort - in the modern sense of the word - is, Barclay insists that "to limit the function of the Holy Spirit to that, takes much of the strength and iron ... out of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit". Barclay advises us to take care with our use of "the word 'Comforter' since it is very apt to make the Holy Spirit the refuge of age rather than the inspiration of youth, the consoler of the sad rather than the spur and stimulus to prophetic living. This is our high calling. We are to live prophetically, as men and women whose lives embody the relevance of God's Word for today's world.  
"Living as the prophetic people of God": We speak here not only of prophetic preaching but also - and more importantly - of prophetic living. The preaching emerges from the living. If it does not, it cannot and will not be prophetic. If the Church is to be the prophet to the world we must live God's way and not the world's way. "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within ... " (Romans 12:2, J B Phillips).
 * The world does not take sin seriously. It may not be popular, but we must persist in asking the question: "Whatever happened to sin?" (John Hesselink). Today's world cannot really be understood without reference to the divine declaration: "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness" (Romans 1:18).
 * The world dismisses the 'born again' as fanatical extremists. When we hear this kind of thing, we must remember that it was our Lord Jesus Christ who said, - "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Whatever the world may think about us and say about us, we must take our stand with Him. We must continue to issue the great challenge that was first given out by Jesus, our Saviour: "You must be born again" (John 3:7).
 * The world challenges us, "How do you know?" We may be dismissed as arrogant authoritarians. However the world may regard us, we must take our stand on God's Word. Standing on His promises doesn't mean that we must speak with arrogance. It does, however, mean that we can speak with assurance. We do not speak on the basis of our own 'authoritarian personality'. We stand upon the divine authority of God's Word, the "more sure word of prophecy" in which "men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:19-21).
 * The world may look upon us as if we are "touched", "beside ourselves" (2 Corinthians 5:13). With boldness, we reply, "Yes, we have been touched - by the Lord": "He touched my mouth and said, 'Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin is forgiven" . Touched by the Lord, we receive courage to accept our prophetic calling - "Here am I, send me!" (Isaiah 6:6-7).
 * The world may write us off as hopelessly out-of-touch. 'Live in the real world', they tell us. We feel the pressure to conform. Alongside this pressure to conform to the world, there is a presence within our lives, a presence which has brought us into contact with another world, a world of grace, a world of glory. This powerful presence - the presence of the Holy Spirit - strengthens us in our experience of being "delivered ... from this present evil world" (Galatians 1:4). and our hope of of being "welcomed into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:11). As a prophetic people  , we are to live as a people of hope, a people who long for a "better country - a heavenly one", living not only for "the secular city" (Harvey Cox) but for "the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:16,10).
   "Where are the prophets now, when we need them so desperately? Who will step out from the crowd and be strong enough to lead?" (Steve Camp).
"Christian Irishman", June 1996

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Amazing Love! What Will Our Response Be?

John 12:1-11
Mary was the sister of "Lazarus ... whom Jesus raised from the dead" (John 12:1; John 11:2). The anointing of Jesus came after the raising of Lazarus.
The Lord Jesus had raised Mary's brother from the dead. Only Jesus could have done this for her. Only Jesus had done this for her. in view of this remarkable act of divine power and love, Mary now had a sense of inestimable debt.  She felt that she owed her all to Jesus.
 * She had been in the darkness of sorrow, and Jesus brought her the light of life.
 * She had been in the pit of deep despair, and Jesus brought her into new hope.
 * She had been in the depths of grief, and Jesus brought her unspeakable joy.
To the man who does not understand the grace of God (Judas Iscariot), her action seems very strange. To the Man who embodies the grace of God (Jesus), her action is seen as a deeply spiritual response to the grace of God.
If there's one word that describes Mary's act, it is this word - love.
 * The motive of Mary's action was love.
 * The manner of Mary's action was love.
 * The lesson from Mary's action is love.
 (1) The Motive
In this unusual action, Mary gave a gift. Like any other gift, this gift came from someone and was given to someone. Mary's action was done from the heart, and it was done to Christ and for Christ.
This is the two-sided beauty of Mary's action - it was done from the heart, and it was done for Christ.
 (2) The Manner
Here, we notice the costliness of Mary's gift and the un-selfconscious nature of her giving. Mary's gift was given at great expense to herself. In the giving of this gift, Mary pointed away from herself to Christ. Mary's action didn't say, "Look at Mary. Look at how spiritual I am." Her action said, "Look at Christ. He is worthy of all your worship. Let Him be the centre of attention."
 (3) The Lesson
   (a) Giving from the heart and doing from the heart is the kind of giving and doing that the Lord seeks - e.g. visit the sick, visit the poor and needy. Think how much more would be done for the Lord, if we did what He puts into our hearts to do for Him. When you find, in your heart, a desire to do something for Christ, don't let your mind talk you out of it. Don't let a 'Judas Iscariot' dampen your heartfelt zeal (John 12:5).
   (b) Give to Christ, and live for Him. the centrality of Christ in the Christian life - this is something that we can never emphasize too strongly. A great deal of what is done in the name of religion turns out to be useless, because it is not done for Christ. Don't try to do holy work while you're thinking, "What am I going to get out of this?" This is what Judas Iscariot was thinking (John 12:6) - and look at the mess he made of his life! Make this your one aim - to glorify Christ.
   (c) As you give yourself to Christ, give Him your best, give Him yourself, give Him your heart. There is such a difference between our best and our second-best. We give our best to Jesus when we believe that He is the best, that He is worthy of nothing less than our best. We give our second-best to Jesus when we believe that He is the second-best - coming a poor second to our real No. 1 (ourselves). Give your heart to Jesus. If you don't give your heart to Him, what you give to Him will never be anything more than your second-best. We give our best to Jesus when we believe that He is the best - that He is worthy of nothing less than the best. we give our second-best to Jesus when we believe that He is the second-best - a poor second to our real No.1 (ourselves)."To be the best that I can be for truth and righteousness and Thee" - may this be the great goal of our life. Judas Iscariot gave his second-best to Jesus. He associated himself with Jesus and His disciples - but he remained master of his own life. Judas did what Judas wanted - not what Jesus wanted. How true this is of so many today. We are Church people, but are we Christ's people?
 * Let us love like Mary loved 
  - with a love that comes from the heart;
  - with a love that is love for Jesus;
  - with a love that thinks of privilege rather than cost;
  - with a love that finds its pleasure in giving and doing;
  - with a love that points away from ourselves to Christ;
  - with a love that gives our best - not our second-best;
  - with a love that gives ourselves to Christ.
Amazing love! Where do we find such love? - At Calvary. it is the love of Christ. What will our response be? 
"Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small. Love, so amazing, so divine, demands (shall have) my soul, my life, my all" (Charles Wesley).

We Preach Christ Crucified (1): Ransom

We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23); “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
“No one can redeem the life of another
    or give to God a ransom for them —
 the ransom for a life is costly,
    no payment is ever enough —
 so that they should live on forever
    and not see decay” (Psalm 49:7-9).
We cannot pay the price of our salvation. We cannot buy for ourselves a place in heaven.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
What we can never do for ourselves, Jesus Christ has done for us. He has given His life as a ransom for many. He has paid the price of our salvation. His death is the costly price. By dying on the Cross, Jesus Christ has paid the ransom price.The price is not money. “Can’t buy me love. Money can’t buy me love” (Lennon and McCartney). Money can’t buy salvation. Christ has died. He has paid the ransom price. we are set free from guilt and judgment.
This is what we remember when we gather together at the Lord’s Table – “He took my place, and died for me.” “It should have been me. It should have been you.” He died in my place. he died instead of me. He died in your place. He died instead of you.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:5-6).
The event we remember – the death of Christ for us – is to be preached. The Lord’s Supper is part of the proclamation of the Gospel. It must, however, be accompanied by the teaching of God’s Word. When we remember the fact of Christ’s death for us, we’re doing more than remembering a fact of ancient history. We’re giving our testimony. We’re declaring that the death of Christ is, for us, a life-changing fact, the fact which brings salvation into our lives. This is the message which is preached. The Christ, who died for us many centuries ago, is the Christ who changes our lives here-and-now. He changes your life and mine, for time and for eternity.
“You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18-19). “Our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:13-14).
Let’s think about the way in which Christ changes our lives here-and-now.
(a) He creates in us an appreciation of what He has done for us – “You were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19); “You were ransomed … not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
(b) Out of this appreciation is to come both salvation and consecration.
(i) We are saved from a life of futility. We are saved from an empty life. We cannot achieve salvation through our own efforts – “I can’t get no satisfaction … And I tried … ” (The Rolling Stones). Into this hopeless situation comes a Word of hope, a Word that comes to us from the God of hope. There is the hope of true satisfaction. This does not come to us from ourselves. It’s not something that we can earn for ourselves. It’s something that must be given to us. It must be received as gift that is given to us by our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
(ii) We are saved for a life of giving glory to God.- “You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
(iii) What is the life that glorifies God? It is the life of holiness – He “gave Himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for Himself a people of His own who are zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14).
“And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased for God people from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10).
This is the song of the redeemed. In the glory of heaven, there will be one event that will be remembered above all others: “Thou wast slain and by Thy blood didst ransom men for God.”

We Preach Christ Crucified (2): Redemption

Ephesians 1:3-10; Colossians 1:9-14
We gather together at the Lord's Table. We celebrate the Lord's Supper. We remember Jesus Christ, "the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us (Galatians 2:20). As we drink the wine , we recall the words of Jesus, our Saviour: "This is My blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28).
The forgiveness of sins - This is described, for us, in Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14.
"In Jesus Christ, God's Beloved Son, we have the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7).
"In Jesus Christ, God's Beloved Son, we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:14).
The forgiveness of sins - The sin is ours. The forgiveness comes from God. When we consider this great blessing, the forgiveness of sins, there are two things, which become very clear to us.
(i) God is so generous towards us.
(ii) We are so undeserving of His generosity.
How are we to respond to His generosity? - In Colossians 1:11, we find a benediction. In Ephesians 1:3, we find a doxology.
Benediction and doxology - These are two rich words. They are rich in meaning. They are rich in spiritual experience. they are words which describe, for us, our rich experience of love, grace and mercy - the love, grace and mercy of God.
Benediction  - Here, we speak of the blessing of God. from Him, we receive blessing upon blessing. In Christ, he has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.
Doxology -  This is giving praise and worship to the Lord. It is offering worship to God, in "wonder, love and praise." It  is exalting Him. It is glorifying Him. It is proclaiming His greatness in "humble adoration."
We have been blessed by the Lord. Now, we worship Him. we consider what the Lord has done for us. We think of all that the Lord has given to us, and we say from our hearts, "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy Name give glory" (Psalm 115:1).
Worship - We have been redeemed by the Lord. We are called to worship Him. We have received the forgiveness of our sins. In worship, we express our appreciation to Him. We offer our thanksgiving to Him.
How are we to worship God?
  1. We worship Him as those who know that we "have been bought with a price."
  2. We  worship Him as those who have received the forgiveness of our sins.
  3. We worship Him as those who are learning to live for Jesus Christ.
(1) We have been bought with a price.
In both Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14, we find the word, "redemption." It is a word which speaks of the death of Jesus Christ for our sins. It speaks of the paying of the price. For our salvation, there was a price that had to be  paid. In Ephesians 1:7, the word, "redemption", is followed by the phrase, "through His blood." Our redemption is based on the death of Jesus Christ. There was a price to pay. Jesus paid the price. Think of the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. Think of the nails through His hands. Think of the nails through His feet. Think of the spear through His side. Think of the crown of thorns on his head. There was great physical suffering. Was that all that there was? No! There was more than that. There was spiritual suffering - "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). Think of Jesus on the Cross. Think of Him, and remember this: "You have been bought with a price."
We worship God as those who know that we have been bought with a price.
(2) We have received the forgiveness of our sins.
Our redemption is like a coin with two sides. On one side of the coin, there is the suffering of Christ, the death of our Saviour. On the other side, there is the forgiveness of our sins, the removal of our guilt. In one sense, our redemption is costly. In another sense, it is free. How costly it was for Jesus! How freely it is given to us!
The forgiveness of our sins - We do not speak of the forgiveness of sins as a general principle, an impersonal principle.We add one short word. This word is highly significant. It's very important. The word is "our" - the forgiveness of our sins, the forgiveness of your sins, the forgiveness of my sins. This is what it means to be a Christian. Your sins have been forgiven.
We worship God as those who have received the forgiveness of our sins.
(3) We are learning to live for Jesus Christ.
Why did Jesus Christ die? - "He Himself bore His sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live for righteousness" (1 Peter 2:24).
The forgiveness of our sins - This is a great blessing, but it is not the end of the end of the Christian life. It's just the beginning. We must go on, from there, to live for Jesus Christ. "You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:20) - How are we to respond to this? Do we just say, "Thank You, Lord", and leave it at that? No! We are to glorify God in the whole of our life. Our worship is to be practical. it is to be life-changing. The words, "you were bought with a price" are repeated in 1 Corinthians 7:23). This time, it is followed by the words, "Do not become slaves of human beings." Forgiveness is just the beginning of a new life, a life in which we are learning to live as servants of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We worship God as those who are learning to live for Jesus Christ.