The Church at Prayer (Part Two)

Acts 4:29-31

And now, Lord, consider their threats, and grant that your servants may speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand for healing, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God boldly (CSB).

Our subject is the church at prayer, specifically during a time of crisis. The church is in a crisis time now across the world. Western churches are just beginning to wake up to the attacks from the spiritual forces of evil and evil people. The Lord Jesus taught his followers to be ready for such times. In the report of Peter and John to their church about the threats made against them, we see the first response that Christ’s church ought to give.

After humbling themselves before God and praising him for his sovereignty, they made specific requests (4:29-30). They prayed for the spiritual strengthening of the church. Notice that they did not ask for God to act against their enemies. Vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:17-21), and we ought to leave God’s acts to his sovereign will. In a time of crisis, we need to make sure that our hearts are in tune with God’s interests and ready to serve him and others.

Their primary concern, as expressed in this prayer, was the kingdom of God. We need to focus on the cause of God rather than our own ease. This is difficult for a people who live in a culture that constantly lusts for personal pleasure. They knew that their mission was to spread the good news of Jesus the Messiah. So, they asked accordingly. We do well when we stop to consider what God wants us to do in situations, before we get revved up in our own desires. To put it this way, they kept focused on the vision for a great witness. Prayer for God’s help is an essential part of effective witness. We cannot be bold apart from his almighty power.

They prayed for a continued work of God’s power. What? One miracle provoked such antagonism (Acts 3:6-11; 4:7) and they ask for another? But they were interested first of all in God’s honor. The contemporary church wants to make it easier for people to believe, and in its wimpy ways it has abandoned the honor of God as God. Not so the early church. We should seek more of what the Lord is able to do. Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know (Jeremiah 33:3 NIV; cf. Ephesians 3:20).

What was the result of their prayer (4:31)? God manifested his power by a physical phenomenon. He shook the room in which they met. This cannot be explained psychologically. This was a miracle, a direct act of Almighty God to assure the early church of his power. Those who want to rid the Bible of the supernatural often misread the text or deliberately change it. The God who made the world and who controls history can easily shake a building. “It is nothing else than a token of the presence of God” (Calvin).

God gave spiritual benefits. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Let’s think through what is meant by the filling of the Spirit?

  • What is the primary new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit? The exaltation of Jesus Christ (John 16:14).
  • What is a Christian? He or she is a person who has experienced the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Peter 1:8).
  • So then, what is it to be filled with the Holy Spirit? It is to have the glory of God in Christ as the greatest reality in the world! Acts 7:55-56.

The filling of the Spirit produced boldness in witness. This is one of the great needs of the church in our time. As the world presses against us with mockery, threats, and persecution, we need to press back with bold witness. Let’s focus on the glory of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit boldly tell all people of salvation and acceptance with God in him.

Grace and peace, David

The Church at Prayer (Part One)

Acts 4:23-31

The setting of our text is the arrest of Peter and John. The religious leadership of Jerusalem made threats against them. The apostles reported this to the church. Notice that they shared their problems with other believers. “This is essential for the children of God—to encourage one another, and to join in godly fellowship so that under the banner of Christ they may vanquish the common enemy” (Calvin).

But experience tells us to add a caution. Some personal problems are not for public knowledge. The Bible does not encourage busybodies. Do not polarize between an excess zeal for sharing in your local church or small group and the violation of an individual’s right to privacy.

The church responded to the problem with corporate prayer. Individual prayer is surely important, and so is family prayer. But corporate prayer is an indispensable part of a gospel church. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer (Acts 2:42 CSB).

What did the church do when they met to pray? They responded with meaningful worship (4:24-28). Again, we must be careful at this point. Their example is not a formula for how to pray. We pray in the Spirit as our hearts respond to his wonderfulness. Having said that, we ought to learn from their example, though we must not turn examples into forms or steps.  They were thinking of how the character of God related to their problem. Knowing the greatness of the Father in heaven, as little children they cried out in their distress.

  • The worshiped God as Creator (4:24) Consideration of God’s creative work involves meditation on his power (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:20). The One who can create is able to meet our most crucial needs.
  • The worshiped God as Revealer (4:25) The Old Testament speaks about Christ (Psalm 2:1-12). They listened to the word as God spoke regarding their problem. Since they were followers of Christ, opposition to them was opposition to Christ as well. (cf. 4:7, 17-18). The Scriptures are applicable to our needs. As we grow to understand our union with Christ, we come to realize what it means to approach God in Christ’s name.
  • The worshiped God as Controller (4:26-28). They recognized that a spiritual battle was being fought; that is, the then present situation of threats against the apostles was really opposition to Christ. We must not live as though there was no supernatural dimension to life. If we do so, we are living as natural men, rather than spiritual men. The disciples needed to learn in this area’ as in the feeding of the 5,000 (cf. John 6:5-6).

The church’s confidence is in God’s sovereignty. The Lord of all nations has set limits to what sinful people are allowed to do. We have recently experienced several tragic events in the mass murders of many people. It has looked like prayer is useless and that his people are left helpless. But God’s plan for his glory in Jesus Christ will be successfully accomplished. Atheists may mock on their Twitter accounts. Their callous lack of compassion is another matter, and their heartlessness toward grieving and suffering people has been exposed and will be dreadfully judged on the last day. But God’s will is the determinate factor, and his power always achieves what his will designs. Like the suffering early church, we also may confidently pray. Grieve over the fallen. Weep with those who weep. But it is time for the church to pray!

Grace and peace, David

Holy Desires (Part Seven)

2 Timothy 2:22

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart (NIV).

The Lord directs us to grow up our desires among the fellowship of his followers. Notice the words along with those. We must eliminate the “lone ranger” approach to growth in grace. When Christ saved us, the Spirit put us into the Father’s family and Christ’s spiritual body. God wants us to walk the walk of faith with other followers of Jesus. Consider the many “one another” commands and exhortations in the New Testament Scriptures. (See a previous post on that subject.) Certainly, we need to walk with God personally, but that walk must include our spiritual partnership with other believers. Fellowship with other believers will helps us mature, because of what believers are by God’s powerful grace.

Observe how believers are described here. We are focused on the Lord; we are those who call upon the Lord. We are people known for prayer. A Christian prays. Two aspects of prayer to consider:

  • We worship God; we recognize his worthiness. God uses our words of praise and of confession of the benefits of walking in his ways and teaching about God’s significance to stir each other to live in conformity with his reality. There is something encouraging and convicting about hearing another Christian say in a small group, “The other day I experienced this in my walk with God.” We spur each other on when we share how the living God is presently at work among us.
  • We seek help from God; we make bold requests to our Father in heaven (cf. Luke 18:7). God uses the heart cries of others to draw our hearts together to him. In this day when local church prayer meetings have disappeared, we ought to join together in prayer in every small group meeting.

Believers are a pure people; we call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Our hearts were purified by faith in Christ and his saving work. See how the following verses make that plain.

  • He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith (Acts 15:9 NIV)
  • 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 2:14 NIV)
  • How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:14 NIV)

We strive to maintain purity, because moral filthiness is disgusting to us, who form the pure bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:27). This begins with a continuing reliance on Christ and his finished work. If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7-9 CSB). The reality of Christ and his work in the gospel provide practical motivation to keep a pure heart. Consider Paul’s example: I have the same hope in God that these men have, that he will raise both the righteous and the unrighteous. Because of this, I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people (Acts 24:16 NLT). Are we maintaining pure hearts together?

Grace and peace, David

Intended for Good (Part One)

Genesis 50:15-21

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Genesis 50:20 NIV).

We come to the climax of our study about God’s providence in the life of Joseph son of Jacob. Through many twists and turns, God planned the events of Joseph’s life for the Lord’s goals in the great story of his glory in Jesus Christ. It is this section that provides God’s viewpoint on all that has happened.

We should approach this with more than a casual interest. It is one thing to say that God intended good in the events of Joseph’s life. It is quite another to make that same affirmation about our own lives. The way to begin is not to hope for or to wait for some crisis in our lives, and then to hope that we will see that God is working for our good. Instead, we must see God involved in our lives today, and every day and night. Wise military commanders prepare their troops for battle before they ever enter into harm’s way. God’s instruction about his story prepares us to serve him in all circumstances of life.

The account begins with the brothers’ misinformed plan (50:15-18). People, especially men, have the tendency to approach problems as “the fixer”. We listen to someone’s difficult situation for a couple minutes, and then spout out solutions to fix the other person or their circumstances. We try this with ourselves constantly by seeking advice from supposed experts or reading self-help books or surfing the internet. This approach is a recipe for disaster, and it could have made things much worse between Joseph and his brothers. Let’s think through their proposed solution.

  • It arose from uncertainty in their hearts: “what if.” They were trapped in guilt producing fear sequence. Guilt so awakens fear that a person will not feel secure. Cain became ruled by guilt and fear after he murdered his brother (Genesis 4:13-14). Joseph’s brothers lacked insight about Joseph’s character. Godly people are often misunderstood. The Lord Jesus was misunderstood by his family, Paul by the Corinthians, and David by his wife Michal.
  • It showed a mixture of worldly-wisdom and spiritual wisdom. They hid behind their father’s coat tails. They told a doubtful scenario from our perspective, but it might have happened. Did Jacob know about the sin of the ten against Joseph? Did they mislead Joseph that Jacob did? Would Jacob doubt Joseph’s intentions? The brothers took advantage of the grieving process, when a tender heart would be even more sensitive to an appeal like this. They did ask for forgiveness. Perhaps they should have used a better approach, but they did attempt to correct their problem.
  • It was presented in an inexact way. We have the advantage of possessing the Scriptures, and so we should do better. They spoke through a messenger instead of personally. Fear, rather than love was controlling their hearts. The brothers appealed to Joseph with a legal attitude: “we are your slaves.” Compare the lost son in the parable (Luke 15). They wouldn’t claim the relationship that was theirs. How do you approach God after you have sinned? Do you attempt to pay your way back into his favor, or do you ask for cleansing because of Christ’s atonement? Christians don’t make light of their sin, but they exalt the preciousness of the blood of Christ. The brothers’ plan to fix their relationship caused Joseph more hurt. While he could be glad about their repentance, their distrust of him after years of kindness would hurt (50:17).

Are you in need of restoring a relationship with someone? Are you tempted to follow worldly wisdom to find a fix to the situation? Make a fresh start by seeking the Lord in prayer. Call upon him in your trouble. He can act in the hearts of all involved (you and the other person or people). Humble yourself in prayer, asking him to act by his powerful grace and love.

Grace and peace, David

Twice Spared

When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple. You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength… (Psalm 65:3-6 NIV)

Today I am sixty-five. Now I’m halfway through the new middle age of fifty to eighty. It just seems like I turned fifty in a way, but so much has happened since then. I definitely would not want to walk through many days of that part of my journey. However, I praise God for his overflowing grace that he has shown me constantly. Truly, his mercies are new every morning and his faithfulness is great. He has been with me through the dark days, refreshing me with the light of his joy. Now, I want to remember two of those times.

A couple weeks after I turned sixty, my wife Sharon and one of our friends went away to make cards with another friend. The next day, a Saturday morning, I woke up feeling a strange pressure in my back. I had read years before that if you have pain or pressure around your heart or stomach and if it doesn’t go away when you change positions to call for help immediately. Since Sharon wasn’t there, I did, or I wouldn’t be writing this. I called around six and the ambulance arrived at six ten. By seven ten, I was on a table in the hospital having a heart catherization. As I was lying there, I remember praying, “Lord, I know you could end my life now, but I trust you for your grace.” God was merciful, and a cardiologist put three stents an artery, nicknamed “the widow maker”. Yes, it had been a close call. Later, when I told my pre-heart attack symptoms to an ICU, nurse, he said, “It’s a wonder you’re here. Men never come in with mild pressure.” I thanked the Lord repeatedly for sparing my life.

My cardiologist ordered me to start walking in a couple weeks. I figured that if God had used the man to rescue me from death that I ought to listen to him. One bright October day, I crossed the street to walk in the Ellis Preserve. It is relatively flat (everything in Pennsylvania is on a hill!) and a good place to build up my strength. I had not walked far, when I remembered an article that I had read many years previously in the Sword & Trowel magazine, edited at that time by a friend of mine. It was about a pastor with inoperable heart problems. The pastors in his area had gathered around him and prayed that the Lord would grow a new artery for his heart. And the Lord did.

I stopped and prayed, “Lord, if I need new arteries, please grow some for me.” I resumed my walk, and perhaps I prayed that prayer the next day also. I did not make it a regular prayer request. About a year later, my cardiologist had me take a stress test, “just to be sure everything is all right.” I did, and a couple days later, while I was out on a file-mile walk with Sharon, he called. The news wasn’t good. He said that I should have another heart catherization. “Maybe you need another stent or roto-rooter,” he joked.

A heart catherization takes about two and a half hours: one hour to take pictures and the remainder of the time to do the work. He was done after one hour. “Why so fast?” I asked. He replied, “Do you want the good news first or the bad news?” I answered, “You know I’m a pastor. I always give people the bad news first, so that I can finish with the good news (the gospel).” He said very professionally, “The bad news is that you need a triple bypass.” I agreed that was bad news and questioned, “Then what’s the good news?”

He said, “The good news is that hasn’t been any damage to your heart, and that your heart grew three new arteries from the right side to the left. That’s the only reason you’re talking with me right now.” God had answered my prayer. My life had been spared twice!

God does answer prayer. While we ought to ask others to pray for us and we can pray in faith repeatedly (Matthew 7:7-8), God doesn’t require that. The prayer of one person declared right with God is sufficient to present a request to Almighty God. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16 NIV). God is holy, wise, sovereign, all-powerful, and good. Be encouraged to present your requests to him. The Lord answers prayer! You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior. Amen.

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-five)

Acts 10:37-38

You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (NIV).

This was Peter’s first sermon to a Gentile audience. Though he knew the Lord had sent him to Cornelius and his household, you can sense the emotions Peter felt by crossing this cultural boundary. He had left “the settlement and had become a pioneer.” He tentatively explored how to address people outside the people of Israel. We have to be ready to do this in our time, as people from many nations now live among us. Sharon and I see this every time we walk at Valley Forge Park. A number of times we feel like the ethnic minority! Peter started from what they knew. They knew that God had given his word to Israel. They knew John’s ministry of baptism. They knew the big events of Jesus’ life. So then, Peter explained God’s purpose of salvation from that starting point. What is written in this section is probably a synopsis of Peter’s remarks. He would have needed to explain anointing and the Holy Spirit. But Peter used those words to tell them the truth about Jesus. We also need to explain words and ideas as we speak for God.

The Lord God anointed Jesus with Holy Spirit for his ministry. Jesus is the “Anointed One”, usually translated as Messiah or Christ (cf. Ac 4:26-27). This anointing occurred at his baptism. The anointing so defined who he is that the term or title “the Christ” functions as his name to most people.

The anointing by the Holy Spirit was part of the preparation for his ministry (Luke 3:21-23). Jesus received this anointing with the Spirit as he was praying. Dr. Luke is making a theological point early in his writing, which he later develops (Luke 11:13; Acts 1:4; 2:1-4; 4:23-31). The Spirit came “in response to prayer and in connection with the advance of the kingdom” (Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p. 45). How can your church, or any church, advance and make progress for God’s glory? We can only go forward with the help of the Holy Spirit! So then, we encourage you to gather for prayer with other believers to seek the Lord Jesus for the filling of the Spirit.

Jesus preached with the assistance of the Spirit (Matthew 12:18). Every preacher and teacher must teach and preach in demonstration of the Spirit and of power that your faith might rest in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). Jesus did his mighty works by the power of the Spirit (Acts 10:38; Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20).

The anointing proclaimed him as the Son of God (Luke 3:22). Later, the resurrection would proclaim him as the Son of God with power (Romans 1:4). God declared that Jesus received his love (John 17:24; Matthew 12:18; cf. Isaiah 42:1). What must it be like for One with infinitely great capacity to receive love to be loved by One with infinitely great capacity to give love? And this goes on and on eternally! That is except for one space of time as the Beloved cried out to the Lover, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If you would know the depth of Calvary love, think on that!

God declared that Jesus received his approval (Matthew 17:5). Listen to John Piper’s concise summary of Jonathan Edwards. “In Jesus Christ, he says, meet infinite highness and infinite condescension; infinite justice and infinite grace; infinite glory and lowest humility; infinite majesty and transcendent meekness; deepest reverence toward God and equality with God; worthiness of good and the greatest patience under the suffering of evil; a great spirit of obedience and supreme dominion over heaven and earth; absolute sovereignty and perfect resignation; self-sufficiency and an entire trust and reliance on God” (Piper, The Pleasures of God, p.27). As we see Christ is such glory, we can grasp the reason that God was well pleased with him!

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Twelve)

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain (Psalm 139:1-6 NIV).

Each of the “omni” attributes can be very unsettling to humans, and it is good to be disturbed, if this disruption leads us to draw near to God and to worship and trust him. God’s omniscience means that the Lord knows everything. He knows all that has happened, is happening, and will ever happen (Genesis 15:13-16; Isaiah 42:9; Daniel 2:22; Matthew 6:8) in the whole universe. God knows what could happen, though it does not (Genesis 20:6). God does not acquire knowledge; he does not need to be taught; in fact, he cannot learn because he already knows. Such knowledge is far beyond human experience, since we know so little and are always learning new information.

The classic passage setting forth God’s omniscience is Psalm 139:1-6, but God tells us that he is all knowing in many ways (1 Samuel 2:3). God has perfect knowledge (Job 37:16; Romans 11:33; Hebrews 4:13), and it is beyond our feeble understanding (Isaiah 40:28). God knows the hearts (inner personal beings) of all people (1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; 2 Chronicles 16:9; Psalm 7:9; 94:11; Proverbs 15:11; Jeremiah 17:10; Ezekiel 11:5; Acts 1:24; 1 John 3:19-20; Revelation 2:23). He knows where we are (2 Kings 19:27; Job 23:10), what we do (Psalm 33:13-15; Proverbs 5:21; 15:3; Hosea 7:2), how we suffer (Exodus 3:7), and what we desire (Psalm 38:9). He fully understands what we do in secret (Psalm 90:8; Matthew 6:4, 18). He knows all about his creation (Matthew 6:8, 32; 10:29-30), including all that is beyond our discovery (Psalm 147:4-5). God’s has perfect knowledge of future events and so he can perfectly predict what will happen (Isaiah 44:7-8, 24-28). This all-knowledge is clearly related to God’s sovereign purpose (Isaiah 46:9-11)

“Neither the darkness of night, the closest curtains, nor the deepest dungeon can hide any sinner from the eyes of Omniscience. The trees of the garden were not able to conceal our first parents. No human eye beheld Cain murder his brother, but His Maker witnessed his crime. Sarah might laugh derisively in the seclusion of her tent, yet it was heard by Jehovah. Achan stole a wedge of gold and carefully hid it in the earth, but God brought it to light. David was at much pains to cover up his wickedness, but ere long the all-seeing God sent one of His servants to say to him, ‘Thou are the man!’ And to writer and reader is also said, ‘Be sure your sin will find you out’ (Numbers 32:23)” (Pink, Attributes of God, p. 14]

What about prayer? Should we pray if God knows everything? What reason do we have for prayer, if we are not informing God of our needs? To ask such questions is to misunderstand the nature of prayer. True prayer is a believer’s communication with God (Psalm 54:2; etc.). In prayer, we do not inform God, but we do express our needs and desires to him. Prayer is not an attempt to change the mind of the Omniscient One, but it is a true means through which God works his purposes.  In fact, “here is an encouragement to prayer. There is no cause for fearing that the petitions of the righteous will not be heard, or that their sighs and tears shall escape the notice of God since He knows the thoughts and intents of the heart. There is no danger of the individual saint being overlooked amidst the multitude of supplicants who daily and hourly present their various petitions, for an infinite Mind is as capable of paying the same attention to millions as if only one individual were seeking its attention” (Pink, p. 15).

At this point, we should say something about God’s foreknowledge. This word occurs only five times in reference to God (Acts 2:23; Romans 8:29; 11:2; 1 Peter 1:2, 20). In each case, it does not mean simple foresight, but it expresses the love or purpose of God in choosing his people or planning the work of salvation in Christ.

The doctrine of God’s knowledge should produce reasons for joy in God’s people (Boice, The Sovereign God, pp. 178-182, his emphasis).

  • “First, because God knows all things, he knows the worst about us and yet he has loved and saved us…”
  • “Second… he also knows the best about us, even though that best may be unknown to any other person.”
  • “Third, God knows what he is going to make of us…”
  • “Finally, we can be encouraged in difficulties… All that is needed is that we take these truths down off the high shelf of theology and put them to work as we live our daily lives.”

Grace and peace, David

Providence Explained (Part Two)

Genesis 45:4-15

Yesterday, we viewed God’s good purpose (45:4-7). Next, we see God’s great action (45:8-11). So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute’” (NIV).

The Lord exalted Joseph as the governor of Egypt (45:8). Observe his repeated insistence that God had sent him to Egypt. Sometimes it takes a while for the message to get through to people.

We must reassert the truth of God’s sovereignty to a human-centered, naturalistic generation. God had the ability to place Joseph in a position of high authority (cf. Daniel 4:17), and he did.

“Are our leaders appointed by God?” Most surely. “But they’re so corrupt!” Then we ought to call on God to change their hearts or give us new leaders. There used to be a day when Christians would pray for those in authority over them. Listen to the apostle’s words. I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Timothy 2:1-2 NIV).

Joseph intended to use what God had given to him (45:9-11). He gave reassurance that he would care for them. Often the forgiver must reinforce that he or she loves those who are forgiven. This is what the Father has done through the new covenant ministry of the Spirit of adoption. Joseph knew this was necessary. God’s plan was to save their lives, and it included their relocation to Egypt. Observe how generous the Lord is. He paid for their moving expenses! God’s end includes God’s means to his end.

Lastly, Joseph conformed to God’s plan (45:12-15). He insisted that they bring his father down to Egypt. This also revealed his concern for his father’s well-being. And he wanted to be with his father again.

Joseph gave physical expression of his love for them. The repentant need to know that they are accepted again. If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 NIV). Sometimes a hug or even a handshake can go a long way. Joseph was a good picture of Christ. He is never weary of speaking peace to his brothers. “How He is ever striving, by His word and Spirit, to reveal Himself to you, and to get you to see Him! How does He raise you from the dust and set you on a rock that you may sound His praise!” (Candlish, Commentary on Genesis) “These kisses were seals of love, comparable to the witness of the Spirit in believing men” (Spurgeon).

Grace and peace, David

Jacob’s Trial of Faith (Part Two)

Genesis 43:1-14

Nobody likes to admit their mistakes, especially if it is a major issue and if we have been stubborn in holding to a position. Jacob had resisted his sons’ arguments about taking Benjamin to Egypt that they might be able to buy food. Some older men will never admit their wrongs, even if plainly shown to be in error. They’re like the captain wanting to go down with the ship. But Jacob made a wise turnabout (43:11-14). Two qualities stand out in his change.

Jacob exercised prudence (43:11-13). He thought through the possible consequences to the best of his ability.

  • He recognized that his sons were telling the truth, and so he changed his mind and acted decisively. He listened to reason, even from his own children. A wise man will alter his opinions when confronted with the truth. Previous statements he may have made do not matter. It is better to be correct than consistent. Learn to agree with the Scriptures instead of your own old opinions.
  • He did what he could to appease the governor and earn his favor. After all, his sons’ lives were at stake! A gift given in secret soothes anger (Prov 21:14a NIV). Here was a strange providence. The family had plenty of honey and spices, but they had no grain. American churches have fancy buildings and plenty of money, but what of the preaching of the word of God and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit?
  • He acted to make known their honesty. He sent the money back! Jacob had done this before with his brother Esau. Sometimes we must buy peace with others, and the cost may be very high. Faith in God also uses means.
  • He sent them at once. Having seen his error, immediately he set out on the proper course. Further delay was pointless.

Jacob acted in faith (43:14). He prayed. Having done what he could, he sought God’s blessing on the outcome. Perhaps the Lord will be merciful and all eleven sons will return.

Prayer is important. Recently he had complained, “Everything is against me” (42:36). Now he more wisely sought God’s blessing. He resigned the situation to God’s providence. The former schemer and wrestler bowed himself to wait for God’s will. Faced with a dangerous situation, godly people trust God. Remember what Esther said in a crisis moment. “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16 NIV). Do not be mistaken. This was a costly moment for Jacob. His enduring love for departed Rachel, which was expressed in his attachment to Benjamin, was finally sacrificed.

Having made his decision, Jacob had to wait for the outcome. That wait would last at least several weeks, perhaps a couple months. A believer must live by faith to the end of his days. Let us learn the patience of faith instead of striving with God.

Grace and peace, David

Fill Them, Lord (Part Two)

Romans 15:13

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (NIV).

In our previous article on this text, we saw that the apostle Paul concluded the teaching part of the letter to the Romans with a prayer. He began the prayer with worship and then stated his request for his brothers and sisters in Christ in Rome. In this request, we discover what the Christian life should be like. Joy and peace are two substantial parts of God’s righteous kingdom. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval (Romans 14:17-18 NIV). Paul prayed that his readers would have a large amount of joy and peace. It would be a strange cake that lacked flour and sugar. It is even stranger to live as a follower of Christ and show only little peace and little joy.

Both joy in God and peace of conscience arise from a practical awareness of justification. (cf. Romans 5:1-2). Peace with God is the foundation for the peace of God in one’s life. There is still spiritual progress to be made from the time of justification, what Peter calls growth in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18). We cannot become more right with God, but we can have a richer experience of his great joy and peace.

Paul did not neglect the importance of faith in the Christian life. It is good to pray, but there must be more than prayer. We must pray in faith. Prayer without faith is a dead, meaningless ritual. Prayer with faith is living and dynamic. Consider prayer for the sick. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven (James 5:15 NIV). Faith must have the correct object: as you trust in him. We live as Christians when we take our eyes off ourselves and look on Christ (Ephesian 3:12). We need to live according to what someone called “Pioneer theology”. For example, do you view Christ as the sheriff who is out to get the settlers in town if they break the rules, or as the scout whom you gladly want to follow on the journey to heaven?

In the third part of the prayer, Paul declared his purpose. He wanted them to reflect the character of God. This is the goal of the new creation. Cf. Ephesians 4:24: and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (NIV). Let’s rid ourselves of small outlooks. Paul requested overflowing hope! Who would use an old, battered, sputtering push lawn mower if he had a new lawn tractor in the garage? Can you imagine the sweating fellow saying, “I console myself during my frustrations with the thoughts of the better one in the garage.” Silly guy! Use the new one!

The means is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. All progress in likeness to God is the result of the Spirit’s work within us. As we by his grace become confident of treasures in heaven, we will become better witnesses of Christ. His divine power is required in our growth in grace. He makes the new self that we are in Christ advance against the remnants of sin and conquer them. Some view the work of the Holy Spirit in the wrong way. They think his job is to make them feel comfortable with the status quo. But his goal is to stir us up so that we overcome the world by grace that is found in Jesus Christ.

Why do we need this hope? It will serve as an anchor to the soul, to keep it safe and steady, during life’s storms and tempests. To the degree that this prayer is answered in reference to any individual Christian, to that degree he or she will be holy, happy, useful, and full of love and good works. The same is true for a local church. As it is made up of people who are overflowing with hope, so it will grow and multiply. It will then be pure, peaceful and energetic “for promoting the glory of God and the happiness of mankind” (Brown).

Grace and peace, David