Friday, February 27, 2009

We Will Rebuild

"We Will Rebuild"

I normally do not presume to comment upon political pronouncements. But the recent promise by our confident President concerning our crumbled economy echoed strangely in my ears. His optimistic announcement that “We will rebuild” carries, it seems, something of the confidence of fallen man throughout the ages. He meant, for sure, nothing more than the correction of our monetary crisis…but the words remind me of man’s endless effort to remedy his moral collapse.

We will rebuild” is more than a mantra. It seems to illustrate man’s imprudent idealism about his fallen nature. Man’s Depravity is the Truly Greatest Depression. It is a recession from which there is, humanly speaking, no hope of recovery. At the Fall man’s twin towers of ‘happiness’ and ‘holiness’ both came crashing down together. The walls of his righteousness, like the walls of Jericho, fell flat the moment he tasted the forbidden fruit, and there they lie beyond hope of recovery or repair. Whatever he now touches bears the tinge of his transgression. “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righeousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Yet such is the insanity of sin, mankind just makes believe the mess is only minor as he mumbles out this message “We will rebuild!” Total depravity has taken away man’s tools for moral reconstruction. Man thinks the breach is not that bad, that his sin is but a stumble, but Scripture has a different story:

“…every intent of the thought of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5)
There is none that doeth good, no not one” (Psalm 14:3)
For there is not a just man on the earth who does good and does not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)

Yet man still thinks that somehow he will muster through as he makes his proud pronouncement “We will rebuild.” When we think our works will procure our passage into Paradise, we are saying, as it were, “…we will rebuild.” When we rely upon our religion to restore our rectitude, we recite again “we will rebuild!” When we create for ourselves a ‘god’ in our own image that has no laws to limit us, no commandments to cross us, no precepts to prevent us, and no Hell in which to punish us…we say again “we will rebuild!”

Mankind today is no less hopeful and no less haughty than in Isaiah’s days (Isaiah 9:9-10):

Who say in pride and arrogance of heart:
“The bricks have fallen down,
But we will rebuild with hewn stones;
The sycamores are cut down,
But we will replace them with cedars.”

Oh my soul, and oh dear reader, why not avail yourself of the only remedy suitable to restore the ruin of mankind. For “unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1). Only He who made you can rebuild you. You need repair beyond your reach. But listen to His promises:

The Lord shall build up Zion” (Psalm 102:16)
I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18)
you also, as living stones, are being built…” (1 Peter 2:5)

Why settle for the fragile and futile rebuilding which man's empty efforts afford? Embrace the Lord Jesus Christ by faith and stop building upon the shallow and sifting sand of self-righteousness. He is the Chief Cornerstone, the Rock of Ages, the Foundation which cannot be shaken and one which will never fall. Let not our motto be “we will rebuild” but rather “He must rebuild”. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, and He will lift you up. “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified (Acts 20:32).”

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Samuel's Secrets to Success

“So Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. He went from year to year on a circuit to Bethel, to Gilgal, and Mizpah, and judged Israel in all those places. But he always returned to Ramah, for his home was there…”
1 Samuel 7:15-17

Oh my soul! The life of God’s servant Samuel is in many ways a monument to and manual upon the subject of successfully serving the Lord. Even from his youngest years he was actively engaged in his prophetic profession. “But Samuel ministered before the Lord, even as a child…” (1 Samuel 2:18) His whole life could in some ways be summarized by his obedient answer to the outcry of the Almighty “speak Lord, for your servant hears” (3:9). Our text today also provides something of a summary of his service, and maybe something of the secret of his success. May my heart have this habit of Samuel’s humble hearing also!

Perseverance: “So Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.” Not just some days, convenient days, delightful days, or particular days….ALL days. Samuel was a persevering prophet. There must have been many a day when all his efforts seemed empty and without effect. Would he not have awoken many mornings without the wish or will for this work? Perseverance is the grace of God to go on in obedience in spite of every obstacle and against all odds. Samuel persevered when it was unpopular. The book of Samuel follows, historically, the period of the Judges, when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25).” But not so God’s servant Samuel. He persevered. He went against the tide of his time. And what about you, oh my soul, and you dear reader? Are you an “all the days” disciple of Christ? What about this day? Will you persevere through the pressure, remain diligent in disappointment, carry on in spite of criticism, keep going though the trials keep coming, tarry though tempted and tested, and bear up under every bane and burden? Remember the words of our Savior who said “he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13). God has given you, in Christ, all the years of eternity, and should you not give unto Him “all the days” of this life?

Planning: His ministry was not mindless. There was nothing slipshod in Samuel’s superintendence. “He went from year to year on a circuit (1 Samuel 7:16).” He had a plan and program for the progress of his people. There was orderliness to his oversight. Do I have a purposeful plan for the progress of my soul? What about the reading of Holy writ? Will you only be found frequenting the most prominent provinces of this blessed Book? Or will you make a point to also become familiar with the Bethel’s of the Bible, the Gilgal’s of God’s Word, the Mizpah’s of this magnificent manuscript? What about your plan for prayer and for fellowship and for worship and for charity? How many soul-nourishing books will be left unnoticed and untouched for the lack of a proper plan? Your God makes plans, so shouldn’t you? “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations” (Psalm 33:11). Samuel went on “from year to year.” What do you hope to accomplish this year, oh my soul? God’s providence may overrule your plans (Proverbs 16:9), but that is no excuse for not making them.

Prayer: And here I think is the greatest of all the secrets of Samuel’s success: he went home. “But he always returned to Ramah, for his home was there.” God's house was to be a house of prayer (Matthew 21:13), and Samuel's home was a place of prayer as well, for "there he built an altar to the Lord" (7:17). Ramah was the place of Samuel’s birth, and heaven is the place of every believer’s birth, for we are “born of God” (1 John 4:7). And we go there, to this heavenly home, in prayer. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” The name “Ramah” literally means “height” and likewise our prayers ascend to a high and holy God who inhabits eternity. The Christian’s heart is in heaven, and he visits there now upon his knees. Samuel, according to our text, “always returned” to his home. Oh my soul…are you likewise “always returning” to the Lord in prayer? This blessed banquet we call prayer was characterized by one Christian as “God’s breath in man returning to his birth.” Samuel would return to the place he was born, and every believer returns to his birthplace in prayer. Would you see you labors rewarded, your heart refreshed, your soul renewed, and your life revived? Then be no stranger to thy Savior, but rather be in His frequent fellowship by journeying home to His heavenly palace in prayer.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Spiritual Shrewdness

Spiritual Shrewdness and the Parable of the Unjust Steward
Luke 16:1-14
1. He also said to His disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 2 So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’3 “Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’ 5 “So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 And he said, ‘A hundred measures[a] of oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measures[b] of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. 9 “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail,[c] they may receive you into an everlasting home. 10 He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. 11 Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own? 13 “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. 14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him.
The point of this parable has always been a bit of a puzzle. The characters are a rich master, a lazy -- albeit shrewd -- servant, and some delinquent debtors. None are really noteworthy for virtue, and all come out winners in their own way. The hero seems to be the biggest chiseller of them all. This parable has no prodigal transformed by the power of grace as in the previous passage. Nor does it hail the happy hereafter of the humble contrasted with ageless agonies of avarice, as in the subsequent story. Was this little sermon secretly slipped in by some unscrupulous scribe?

Many mightier minds than mine have made a go at this message. John Calvin calls it “hard”…need I say more? So I would not presume to stand where others have stumbled. Nevertheless, I’m compelled to contribute just a couple coins of thought to the collection of comments upon this text, and let the reader decide for himself to either deposit or discard them.

I think a significant clue is contained in the conclusion: “Now, the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard these things, and they derided Him (Luke 16:14).” The religious hypocrites didn’t miss the point…even though we might have. Jesus was jabbing. For all their pretended piety…they were mere money hungry misers at heart. All 3 of the main figures would have been envied and admired by these covetous clerics.

They would have marveled at the master in their hearts. He was rich and important. He had power to hire and fire at will. He had servants to command and debtors to control.

They would have sympathized with the servant. He pretended to be one thing, though he was not, and escaped being caught a good while. And when finally confronted he skillfully and shrewdly delivered himself from doom. His daily bread he gained by deceitful deeds.

They would even have admired those behind in account. They were opportunists who saw the chance to diminish their debt and cashed in their chips at a much reduced rate.

And what label does our Lord apply to this entire greedy group? To the colossal consternation of the ecclesiastical elite he calls them all “sons of this world (vs. 8).” Jesus is saying, as it were, that those who think and act like this have no part in the kingdom of heaven. “You cannot serve God and mammon (vs. 13).”

So what does Jesus mean when he remarks that “the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light”? Simply this I suspect: Unbelievers are often far more effective at getting what matters most to them than believers are at getting what matter most of all.

Oh my soul…where is your shrewdness in spiritual pursuits? Do you know how to plan for spiritual progress? Have you tactics to avoid temptation? Have you a smart strategy for sanctification?

In verses 9-13 of the parable Jesus gives, I believe, at least 3 spiritual strategies for believers so that we may be more effective in obtaining what matters most. They are, what we might call, strategies for spiritual shrewdness.

1) Give it away.Make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.” Oh my soul, is there not someone nearby who could use something I have? Jesus means more than mere money by “unrighteous mammon.” Do I have some unscheduled time that someone else could use, a moment to spend upon some other soul, a good word to give away, a talent that could touch a heart. Give it away. What are you hoarding it for? A gift bestowed blesses both the giver and getter so that none can be a loser in this game. And ah the joy to be received by those thus blessed when your brief pilgrimage upon this planet has passed.

2) Give it your all. Use all the means that you have, and make every effort to improve the Lord’s investment of resources in you. “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful in much (vs. 10).” So the strategy here for spiritual shrewdness is to be fully faithful in managing the measure allotted to you. Do nothing by halves. Show your heavenly Master that no gift from Him has been taken for granted, but that every effort has been expended to develop His deposit for the greatest good. Oh my soul…do I give it my all? Do I pour out my heart in prayer over every potential opportunity to be a blessing to my brethren? The question is not how much money I have…but how well I have used it. Look at your opportunities…and ask if I am giving to each one 100%. Promotions in God’s kingdom are based not upon successfulness but upon faithfulness.

3) Give glory to God alone. Serve God exclusively with all that you are. “No one can serve two masters.” Consider carefully, o my soul, what master’s are competing for Christ’s place on your calendar. Make sure to measure every moment by this “master” rule. Who are you serving right now? What Master shall have your mind in the morning, and all my moments on the morrow? If I am serving my lust…I cannot be serving my Lord. Oh for a singular heart in the service of my Savior!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Only A Pauper?

"Rattle his bones over the stones;
he's only a pauper, whom nobody owns!"

This quote comes from a poem by Thomas Noel (1799 - 1861) entitled The Pauper's Drive. It was referenced in the opening chapter of the recently published book by Neil Gaiman: The Graveyard Book. This rapid little reference kindled my curiosity to read the rest of the rhyme. So I looked it up. By the way, I was first intrigued about both the rhyme and the book by reading this post by Dr. Hodges.

The poem is a short 6 stanza story describing the doleful delivery of this penniless pauper recently deceased to his grim and gloomy grave. No mass of mourners line the roads to rue his resignation from our realm. No elegant eulogies are offered to accompany his entrance into eternity. Only the dreadful dirge of the driver as he regularly repeats "rattle his bones over the stones; he's only a pauper, whom nobody owns!"

To quote directly from this sad sonnet of sorts:

"Oh, where are the mourners? alas! there are none; -
He has left not a gap in this world now he's gone;
Not a tear in the eye of child, woman or man;
To the grave with his carcase as fast as you can"

But in the closing verse of this melancholy measure the author offers an alternative appraisal of this pauper's prognosis

"Bear softly his bones over the stones; Though a pauper, he's one whom his Maker yet owns!"

And it was in this final statement that my mind began to think of the great and glorious advantage obtained by this poor pauper at his passing. Whatever his aridity on earth, it cannot compare to his abundance in glory. If he was, in fact, "owned" by his Maker, then methinks he cares not that he was "disowned" by men. His rags he replaced for riches, his want for wealth, his begging for bounty.

Only a Pauper? Only Paupers go to Paradise. "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of Heaven" (Luke 6:20). Now the poverty of which our Savior speaks is of a spiritual sort. He calls it "poor in spirit" in Matthew's gospel. It is, what one Puritan author describes thus "It is to look with a holy contempt upon ourselves, to value others and undervalue ourselves in comparison of them." (Matthew Henry).

O my soul...have you this pauper's posture, have you his humble heart? Would you willingly be that limited Lazarus of whom Jesus spoke in Luke 16: "But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores (vs. 20-21)." Would you gladly have his portion in life in exchange for his portion in death? "So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom (vs. 22)." What matters more to me? The things of this world...or the things of the world to come? Do I live for treasure on earth...or do I long for treasure in heaven (Mark 10:21)?

But this rhyme does also remind me of the One Great Pauper to whom we owe the salvation of our souls. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). It is hard to be born poor...but harder yet to become poor. And will you, dear reader, give thy heart to this praise-worthy Pauper? Will you own Him now so that He will own you later? Be assured, my friend, this Pauper is poor no more! "Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name..." (Philippians 2:9)

Only a Pauper? Dear reader, shall you have your riches now? Then you shall have thy poverty later. But should you choose to be poor with Christ shall be rich with Him tomorrow.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Testing by Blessing

"Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not.  And it shall be on the sixth day that they shall prepare what they bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily"

We naturally assume that all unexpected blessings are heavenly rewards. They are alms from Above, an acknowledgement of God's approval, a kind of inaudible heavenly applause in response to our amiable actions. The nod of God upon the works of man.

But we many times miscalculate God's economy of mercies. What we often perceive as trophies, God sometimes presents as tests. So it was in our text. "I will rain bread from heaven for you...that I may test them." They thought this paradisiacal pastry was to satisfy their stomachs...God planned it as a pop-quiz for their souls. This manna was far more than a meal. This was testing by blessing.

Here was a daily test: "...the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day." They should not gather too little, which would be an affront to the abundant supply from the Almighty! Nor should they gather too much, a display of disbelief in the powerful promise of the Omnipotent to give them each day their due. Neither shortage nor surplus should be sought. And what about you, O my soul? Hath not thy heavenly Father bestowed some unexpected blessing upon you every day? Do I not have food enough, health enough, life enough, family enough, friends enough, and all manner of innumerable mercies falling like manna every morning all around me? And what have I done with them? Have I glorified the God of goodness who gave them? "Or do [I] despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" (Romans 2:4)

Here was a weekly test: " shall be on the sixth day that they shall prepare what they bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily." Here was Heaven's SAT: Sabbath Abundance Test. God granted six days of sufficient supply, would they trust Him for one day of worship? They were to study for the Sabbath by drawing double on the day before. There was to be preparation for God's day of consecration. The day of rest was also a test. What about you dear reader? Have you ordered and managed the Lord's merciful manna's so as to obediently make ready for weekly worship? Have you prepared your soul for Sunday? Or are you ignoring His ordering of our days with respect to His risen Son? What excuses are we offering in order escape this exam? This weekly day of rest was constructed at Creation (Genesis 2:2), laid out again in the Law (Exodus 20:8), preached by the Prophets (Isaiah 58:13), certified by our Savior (Mark 16:9), and accepted by the Apostles (Acts 20:7). Shall it therefore be nullified by you? He gives you eternity...will you not give Him a day?

But most important, here was the ultimate test. This manna which God sent was but a dim mirror through which they might make out the Son He would send. As Jesus said "My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world" (John 6:32-33). And Oh my many have failed this final exam from God! "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him" (John 1:11). My friend, your life is an essay answer being written within the blue book of eternity respecting to your response to this question: Who is Jesus Christ? What are you writing? What sort of grade will God return upon the living grammar of your goals, the punctuation of your purposes, the sentence structure of your soul? Every day another entry is written that cannot be erased. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son..." Have you responded with repentance to this ultimate testing by blessing? Believe now, while blank pages yet to be written remain in the balance of your book! You do not know when your final bell will ring, and your test must be turned in, and what you have penned upon this most eternal exam will forever settle your fate and future. Raise the hand of your soul for help to God in prayer and He will heal you! "In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (2 Corinthians 6:2) Jesus Christ is God's greatest gift...and so here is testing by blessing indeed.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Capernaum, Calvinism & Christ

Capernaum, Calvinism, and Christ

"Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:20-24, NKJV)

I recently encountered an interesting argument in favor of man’s free will based upon Matthew 11:20-24. Both he who raised the point, and those who have already responded, are my betters by both grace and degree. Nevertheless, the honest inquiry seemed to me an admirable adventure for even one of such lesser attainments as I. If I could only manage to understand the problem proposed I should not think my efforts entirely unrewarded.

In the immediate context Jesus is taking several towns to task. Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum are especially the objects of our Savior’s severe censure for their refusal to repent in spite of significant signs. Many miracles had been done in their midst. Demons were discharged of their hominal homes (Luke 4:35), servants saved from sickness (Luke 7:10), and all manner of maladies mended. But the bulk simply would not believe. And yet consider the love of Jesus Christ in this! When they would not be melted by His mercy, He then seeks to rouse their repentance by rebuke!

And what is the nature of this rebuke pronounced by Christ upon them?

First we find it to be a threatening rebuke.Woe to you”. Do we not hear an echo of Old Testament judgments in this rebuke? Remember Amos the prophet when he says to Zion “Woe to you who put far off the day of doom” (Amos 6:3). Is not that the sin of these cities as well? Or what of Isaiah’s threatening warning against Jerusalem? Do they not find some fulfillment here in our text as well? “…they declare their sin as Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to their soul! They have brought evil upon themselves” (Isaiah 3:9). Oh sinner, do you not hear something of Christ’s woe upon your soul if you too, like these towns, refuse to surrender to this Savior?

Second, it appears to be a reasonable rebuke. Jesus reminds them of His might deeds. “…if the mighty works which were done in you…” (Matthew 11:23). He performed not mere works, but MIGHTY works. Oh how unreasonable the refusal to repentant given these miracles among them! It was as if Christ were saying in the voice of the Lord from Isaiah “Come now, let us reason together, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Be reasonable oh Capernaum! And be reasonable dear reader! Why choose death rather than life? Why choose guilt over forgiveness? Why choose eternal misery over eternal joy? In the words of Ezekiel I say to you “Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel” (Ezekiel 33:11)

Third, this is a most devastating rebuke. It is devastating because it declares their real depravity. So sunk down into insensitive sin, so hardened of heart, so seared into insanity that even Sodom, wicked Sodom, would have sought the place of repentance before them…had they seen these sights. What a condemning comparison our Lord conveys! “If the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day” (Matthew 11:23). To whom much is given, much will be required. Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum could never plead that sufficient opportunity had been denied them. They had much more than others, and so shall fare worse than others as well. Oh you who read these words…have you heard that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Have you heard that it is given unto man “once to die, and after that the judgment”? (Hebrews 9:27) Do you know that escape from sin and death and hell are freely offered to you in the gospel? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31). So why, dear soul, do you wait? Today my friend, today, is the day of salvation. Let not this devastating rebuke upon these unrepentant residents be the very words of rebuke you hear pronounced upon your soul some day!

And it is here, in this final phrase “would have repented” (11:21) and “would have remained” (11:23) that we are confronted with our conundrum concerning the freedom of the will. Jesus compares the act of their will (Capernaum’s) with the predictable response of the will of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom under similar circumstances. It appears to the earnest and honest inquirer, to whom I am indebted and whose point I am seeking to see, that only under circumstances of a free will could our Lord justly make such sobering statements. If the will is not free, then no mountain of miracles in their midst, not a hundred hospitals of healings, could ever produce a response of repentance. But our holy Savior, God in the flesh, has solemnly stated they would have repented under this dispensation of power in their pale. If He is right, and surely He is, then it would appear that the will is in some measure and in some ways free to decide. Calvinism is wrong. Arminius was right.

But I hope my disposition toward the doctrines of grace does not unduly disqualify me from digging a bit deeper into this delicate mystery. I only offer some questions which occur to my mind which lead me to think that another conclusion is more likely.

1) Does not the whole context and focus, as above described, leave room to interpret Christ’s words in a more figurative and human construction than a strictly theological way? And as such, are we not pressing the language too far to insist upon a finely tuned discussion of the freedom of man’s will? He says of Capernaum that they were “exalted to heaven” (vs. 23). Would we, with similar scrutiny, demand that this declaration requires the relocation of this town into the realm of glory? Earlier in the same chapter our Savior said of John that he was “Elijah who is come” (vs. 14), He describes heaven as a “kingdom” (vs. 12), and he compares the present generation to “children sitting in the marketplace” (vs. 16). Are we not guilty of exercising our exegesis a bit beyond exhaustion to insist upon a literal “repentance” amongst the citizens of Sodom? Is not the more natural explanation to say that Christ was adapting His language to human categories so as to provoke a response from this recalcitrant race?

2) If such an answer does not satisfy, consider another suggestion. Did Jesus say in this text, or it’s parallel in Luke 10:12-15, that Tyre, Sidon and Sodom would have believed unto salvation given the identical opportunities afforded to these other towns? It was said they would “repent”. But surely there is specimen of sorrow for sin that falls short of saving faith in Christ. Not every reformation is true repentance. The word can be used in several ways. Could not Christ have been saying, with equal force and comparable clarity that Tyre, Sidon and Sodom would have responded at least…whereas these Israelites were like statues of ice, frozen solid in the stubbornness of sin. Sackcloth and ashes is better than scornfulness and apathy, though even this falls short of new birth. “Rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2:13) is the real test of true conversion. The Calvinist does not say man cannot try again, but simply that he cannot, of his own will, be born again. The text then proves not a free will, but simply a responding will to the circumstances and evidence around them.

3) But finally, does not the language of this very chapter, and the message which lies upon the surface, indicate rather the utter depravity of man’s fallen heart and inability to respond without the aid of God’s irresistible grace? Fallen man is deaf to God’s cry, hence Jesus said in verse 15He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” But sin, according to the Scriptures, has blinded our eyes and deafened our ears. Just like the days of Nehemiah, so man is today and always has been since the Fall. “They acted proudly, and did not heed your commandments…stiffened their necks and would not hear” (Neh. 9:29). Man is like the idols that he makes, having “eyes but cannot see, and ears but cannot hear” (Jer. 5:21). Tell me, fair reader, from whence come these “ears to hear” if not from heaven? For the “natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Does not our very chapter tell us how these “ears to hear” come about? They are from the “Lord of heaven and earth” who hides these things from “the wise and prudent” and reveals these things “to babes” (11:25). Does this come about by man’s will ultimately or God’s will? Listen to our chapter and see. “Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (11:27). It is the will of Christ, not the will of man that is spoken of here. My dear reader, friend, and possessor of an eternal soul: if those exposed to the immediate presence and miracles of Christ would not believe…what hope do you have if not for the irresistible grace of God? If Bethsaida balked at the Incarnate Son, what hope have you if aided only by your natural will, inclinations, and understanding? If Capernaum’s heart was calloused…how much more is yours and mine? I, your soul’s well-wisher, implore you to cast yourself upon the mercy of God in repentance, sorrow and shame and lay hold upon Christ freely offered to you in the gospel! You will discover, I believe, that the faith exercised unto salvation, is a faith received by pure grace. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Revival Prayer

"Oh Lord, though our iniquities testify against us, do it for Your name's sake, for our backslidings are many, we have sinned against You"

Jeremiah 14:7

We often arrogantly assume that any orison we offer to the Lord is automatically admitted to His office. And yet, had we the eyes to see it, I suppose there is more rejected mail at the gates of glory than there are envelopes here on earth. Millions upon millions of petitions presented in pointless hope of a hearing in heaven fall short...for their proud postage is no currency in His kingdom.

Jeremiah's request offers a refreshing reversal to the pitiful prayers of which, I must confess, I am far to frequently the father. It is a revival prayer proffered on behalf of a rebellious race and would that God would raise up such a potent petitioner in our period.

Remarkable boldness bordering on violence bursts from the importunate prophet in those imperious words "Do it". Here is no half hearted hemming and hawing before heaven's holy heights. When God's glory is the goal, indecisiveness is virtually incredulity. When a spiritually sleeping society is speeding toward the slaughter for her sin it is no time to tinker and trifle in our talk. "Do it" may sound demanding, but it is a delightful entreaty in the ears of the Eternal I AM. Oh for greater courage when transacting such crucial commerce with our Creator!

Ponder upon how he pleads from a position of penitence in this prayer. "Our iniquities testify against us." He offers no excuses or evasions to escape this indictment of iniquity. He arises as his own accuser and pleads no pretended piety before this Powerful Potentate. They that are not broken before God today shall be surely broken by God tomorrow. True confession is the key to any close conference with Christ. A bended knee and broken heart are the spiritual anatomy of acceptable prayers.

Finally, meditate on this mighty motive upon His Maker's mercy. "For Your name's sake" is the only argument accompanying this appeal. "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to your name give glory" (Psalm 115:1). Oh my soul, why not sue Heaven with this powerful plea? Prayers offered upon nothing but empty promises from lying lips are like whispers in the wind. They are meaningless motions which even angels won't acknowledge nor lift a limb to support with a second. But Paradise cannot pass by that prayer that pleads God's name. "Hallowed be Thy name" is language the Lord loves and a bountiful banquet which the Almighty will always attend.