Thoughts of a Living Christian

Musings of an amateur theologian and hopeful writer

Archive for the category “Sermons”

Be the Pulse of God!


Last week my car broke down. I went to pick Amy up from her house to come to church on Easter Sunday, we get in the car and it would not start. How very frustrating. All the more frustrating for someone as mechanically illiterate as myself. We took Amy’s car instead and on Monday a mechanic from the RAC had a look at it and made it work again. What the problem was was faulty wiring – the battery was fine, but the electricity was simply not getting to the starter motor.

I asked the mechanic to do something and he did. Imagine if I asked him to fix my car and ten minutes later he came back to me saying, “I didn’t fix the car, but guess what – I memorized what you told me!” That doesn’t help my car work, I’m still stuck. I ask him again to fix my car, but 10 minutes later he comes back saying, “I got together with some other mechanics from the RAC and we’ve made a song.” My car is still not working! I asked him to do something and I wanted him to do it! Fortunately in reality, he actually did fix my car.

But what if God asks us to do something. Are we going to do it? What has he asked us to do? He has asked us to love him, to be united to fellow Christians, and to go to the ends of the Earth proclaiming his Gospel. Are we going to do that? If not, are we any more useful than a mechanic that won’t fix a car?

Passage – John 17

So this is a prayer prayed by Jesus and is his last extended dialogue before going to the cross. And it is virtually John’s version of the Lord’s prayer.[1] This passage tells us that the Church should be characterized by love, unity and mission. I’ll add some thoughts on how the Church can practically live out these three elements near the end of the message.

Firstly, it talks about love.


This theme comes up in verses 1-5; 9-11; 26.

We read of a great deal of love from the Son toward two people, or two groups of people.

1. We first get a sense of Jesus’ love toward God the Father.

In v.1, when he begins praying, he says “Father.” For a Jewish context, this is a big deal. No one had that sense of familiarity with Yaweh. Underlying that word patēr which means father (which is where we get the word paternal), is the Aramaic word “Abba” which was a very intimate word, something a child would say toward a father, meaning “Daddy” or “my dear father.”[2] Elsewhere Jesus uses this word “Abba” directly. Jesus is expressing the intimate relationship between him and his Father, God.

But also Jesus says “glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” What I find fascinating here is that again in the Jewish context, to ask for God’s glory is blasphemous, Yahweh alone is glorious. Again he is showing that close relationship with God. They honour one another by sharing glory, by giving one another glory.

2. Secondly, we get a sense of Jesus’ love toward us.

He says “you have given [the Son] authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal live, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” There are three things in this which I think are important for us to understand if we are to understand this concept of love.

a.  First is this idea of “Eternal Life.” What does this mean? Is that referring to simply living for a long long time? Have we been given some sort of longevity that will be given to us in the future? What this refers to is not about quantity, but about quality. And eternal life means to know God. To know God is not just a mental activity, rather the idea of “knowing” someone expresses deep intimacy. In Genesis we read that Adam knew Eve and she became pregnant. That’s pretty intimate.

Hence, eternal life is not about going somewhere or achieving something, but is about experiencing deep intimate relationship with our Creator. Furthermore, it’s not about something in the future that we could experience after we die or once the Church gets bigger or when Jesus returns, but is something to be experienced right here, right now.[3]

b. Jesus then prays that God would protect us. Jesus cares about us and cares about what will happen to us. So he asks that God protect us. And notice that he says, “Protect them in your name.” You see in Hebrew tradition, someone’s name has great significance and reveals something of their character. God’s name in this instance means love and power. Protect them because you love them; in your name, because your name means power, you are able to protect.[4] This word tērō means to guard, watch over, preserve. God’s protection means he is constantly watching over us.[5] No one can offer better protection than God himself!

c. Jesus is thinking about us today. In v.20 he says “I ask…on behalf of those who will believe.” He’s not just thinking of the immediate 12 disciples, but is looking beyond the cross, beyond the years, to Christians today. How amazing is it to think that our Lord prays for us, and he is still praying! Hebrews 7:25 says he is always praying to the Father on our behalf.

To summarize:

Jesus loves the Father. They have an incredibly close relationship. And this love is the same love that we are loved with. God pursues relationship with us. He gives us eternal life which means intimate relationship with God, love which can be experienced right here and now. Because of this love we are protected and watched over and prayed for.

Paul says in Romans 8:37-39: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Chris Jesus our Lord.”


Where a mechanic is characterized by his ability to fix a car, the Church is characterized firstly by love, and secondly by unity. This refers to both unity with God, and unity to one another. As we are loved by Christ, we are united to Christ; as we are united to Christ, we are united to fellow Christians.

This theme comes up through most of this passage, but prominently in verses 11; 20-24. Verse 21 says, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” Jesus says elsewhere, “if you have seen me you have seen the Father,” so all along there has been a very close connection between the Father and Son, and in fact they are united as one. John says, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God and then became flesh and made his dwelling amongst us.” In Philippians 2 Paul says that Jesus was in the form of God and didn’t regard equality with God something, as my NRSV translates it, to be exploited. So the unity between the Father and the Son is literally as absolutely one being. Two persons, but one being. The Father and the Son, both the one God and yet individuals.

And this is the unity we are taken up into. Just think about that for a second.

We’re not absorbed into God that we become literally God ourselves, but we are welcomed into that same unity between the Father and the Son. Jesus prays, “Holy Father, may they be one, as we are one.”

Jesus also prayed that believers would united to one another. Verses 22-24 say, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I them and you in me, that they become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

We are united to God as the Father is united to the Son. This same unity overflows into our relationships with other Christ-followers. We become united to one another, we become one, as we become one with Jesus, as Jesus becomes one with the Father. Paul says that the Church is the Body of Christ – one body.

This unity is not caused, nor can it be created, by any human effort. It is entirely God’s work. As the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are united as one, one God and one Lord, yet three distinct persons, so we are taken up into that unity together. We can add nothing to this perfect unity, nor can we do anything to achieve it. It is only God who can unite us to himself; only God who can unite us to one another.

Looking at the Church today, I’m not sure if we can be seen as one body. There are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations in the world, from Roman Catholic, to Orthodox, to Baptist, to Seventh Day Adventist and so on. I personally don’t think different traditions means disunity, just because people have some varying beliefs, does not necessarily mean we are divided. But when these different traditions bicker and argue and even go to war with each other – which has happened – I think that is when we have a problem.

When the world sees the Church they must see a Church unified in love, and when they see that unity they will see Christ.


So the Church is characterized by love, unity and we’ll now look at the third aspect: mission. What I mean by mission is basically being proactive. Scriptural clearly teaches that God is proactive and  missional by nature. The sending of his Son, the election of Israel, the promise of redeeming the world at the end of the age. God didn’t just wait for us to get to him, he proactively came to us. He proactively seeks social justice, promising redemption to a broken word. God clearly at his core is concerned about mission.

This passage talks about us going out into the world. V. 18 says “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Hence, the Church needs to reflect God’s missional heart by being missional in this world. We cannot wait for non-Christians to come to us, we have to go to them. We have to go out into this world to reveal the Good News of Jesus Christ. The word Gospel literally means Good News. Christians in this regard are meant to be like journalists. Journalists with news will not be quiet – they will tell the news! So Christians who have this news – the best news – must tell others!

John uses the word, kosmos, which means world more than any other New Testament book, and mostly in this very chapter, so it’s a big theme for him.[6] However, he was it was never meant to be easy for a Christian in this world.

Jesus said, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” (vv. 14-16)

We are not of this world. Because of our unity with Christ we have swept up into something far more significant than anything in this world. So the world reacts against Christians. In this passage Jesus is saying that we have inherited his mission, it is not our mission. We are merely continuing his mission.[7] But we know how Jesus’ mission ended. It ended on the cross.

Matthew 16 tells us that we must take up our cross and follow Jesus. Is this a simple action? No! It takes all of who we are. We have just finished a sermon series where Ian taught us about the cries Jesus made upon the cross, which ended with Easter last week. The cross was as far opposite to fun as I can possibly imagine. Nothing could be further away from a pleasant situation than being on a cross. There is nothing worse. But that is the sort of faith that is required of Christians, of each one of us.

We hang a cross around our necks, but do we carry it on our backs?

If it were meant to be easy, why would Jesus pray for protection over us?

He also prays that we be sanctified, he says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (Vv. 17-19)

That word, hagiazō, meaning “to consecrate,” “cleanse, purify, sanctify,” essentially means to be set apart for a particular use.[8] To be sanctified means to be set apart. But this does not mean to be removed entirely. We are to be salt and light in this world, positively influencing the world from the inside. The Church has been set apart from this world to go into the world, taking up the cross, facing hatred and persecution to preach the Gospel.

But I want to make something clear: We cannot do mission without unity, and we cannot have unity without love. See how they all fit together?

We are loved by God, united to God, and so we love each other and are united to one other. But we must also love the world and go into the world to bring more into this unity we have with God. Jesus says in verse 21-23, “so that they may be one…that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

The third characteristic of the Church is radical unity. The world will see the Church and see unity, and because of this unity will see Christ’s love.

So what I’m trying to emphasize is this: there needs to be something different about the Church. When people see the Church, what will they see? Will they see another group of people, or will they see a people marked by love, unity and mission?

Back to the story of the RAC mechanic. There were certain things that characterized him as an RAC mechanic. Firstly, he turned up in an RAC car, he was wearing RAC clothes, he knew what he was doing with cars, he knew how to fix my car, and then he fixed it! I asked him to do something, and he did it.

There are also meant to be certain things that make the Church recognizable as the Church. These things reflect the very heartbeat of God. The Church must be characterized by love, unity, mission.

How do we do that though?

How can the Church be recognizable?

1. We must first love God. There is no point in doing anything unless we respond to God in love. This is not just a happy feeling sort of love. As I said before, it’s not meant to be easy as a Christian. To respond with love to God means willing to die for God, giving your life over to God.

But I can tell you that it is the single greatest thing you can do. When you give your life entirely over to God, you experience such joy and peace, such relationship with God. It’s incredible.

We do this by praying to God, “God take it all, help me to dedicate all I am and have to you.” This means repenting. Repenting simply means turning. We turn away from our earthly, human, sinful ways, and we turn towards God and God’s ways.

2. We also love God by loving others. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbour as you love yourself. This means placing others before ourselves. Paul says that we should be like Christ, who though being in the very nature God became human and became servant to humanity, even dying for humanity. Jesus tells us to love one another as he has loved us. He has loved us by dying for us. Hence, the world will see love when we love one another by being willing to serve and even die for one another.

The Church must be characterized by love and unity. Jesus says in John 13 that our love for one another will prove to the world that we are Christ’s disciples. So the Church must be recognizable by our love for one another. This must be a radical love for one another, this is willing to die for one another.

3. Another way of being unified is removing discrimination. Paul says in Galatians that there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female. Rather, there is Christ. When we see one another, we see Christ. That means we must treat one another with absolute respect, complete forgiveness, total acceptance. This is not always easy. But the Church is recognizable by welcoming and accepting each and every single person for who they are.

Philip Yancey once told a story of a prostitute who had just hit rock bottom. When asked if she had considered going to church, she responded by laughing and saying, “They’ll just judge me more.” I think that’s a very sad story. The love and unity given to the Church by Jesus Christ means loving everyone no matter what.

4. The Church must be characterized by being proactive and missional. It is by loving the world, not by fearing the world, or separating one’s self from the world, that we can witness to the world.[9]

If we are too much a part of the world, the world does not see Christ; if we are too distant from the world, the world does not see love. It is in loving the world while not becoming too much a part of the world that the world can be emancipated.

This means seeking the prosperity of the nation we’re in, it means seeking social justice – there are more slaves today then they’re ever has been in history – and chasing the end of poverty, it means helping your neighbours when they need it, working your hardest at work despite a grumpy and unpleasant boss, it means living the Gospel, proclaiming through your actions and through your words. It means having integrity to stand up for what you believe.

To be the Church is radical.


The Church can be no less, nor any more, than the pulse of God, reflecting his very heartbeat: love, unity, mission….love, unity, mission….love, unity, mission.

Being loved by God, we must love God and others. Through doing so, we will be united with God and with fellow Christians. We then go out seeking to fulfil Christ’s commission on this Earth, praying that the Church may grow and permeate society, and through our love and unity, the world will see eternal life and that many will seek that life and devote their lives to Christ as we devote our lives to Christ.

God has asked us to do something – are we going to do it?

[1] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007). 322.

[2] Bruce Milne, The Message of John (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993). 239.

[3] Andreas J. Kostenberger, John (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004). 487 – 88.

[4] Kostenberger, John. 490 – 491.

[5] William D. Mounce, The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1993). 450.

[6] Minear, “John 17:1-11.” 178.

[7] Milne, The Message of John. 245.

[8] MacArthur. 323.

[9] Minear, “Evangelism, Ecumenism, and John Seventeen.” 12.


Hear, O Claremont.

A devotion I gave at CBC last week for a prayer night:


Have you ever forgotten anything? Maybe you forgot a TV show or where you put your keys? Maybe you’ve forgotten to put the bins out, to realize you actually had already put the bins out or you’ve forgotten where you put your glasses to find them on your head? Have you ever forgotten someone’s birthday? Have you ever forgotten your own birthday?

If you have, don’t panic, even Einstein forgot things. One time, so the story goes, half way through shaving, he had a brilliant idea which he just had to write down. Hours later when getting ready to go out that night, he realized there was still shaving cream on half of his face – he forgot to finish shaving! Another time he was in a taxi and forgot his own address. Fortunately, the taxi driver knew where he lived. Again another time, he was on a train and panicked when the conductor was checking tickets. Knowing who he Einstein, the conductor let him off this one time. But Einstein responded by saying, “That’s nice, but I’ve forgotten my destination!”

Or have you ever had amnesia? One of my lecturers had amnesia once when he fell off a bike in another country and woke up in a hospital, not knowing where he was, who he was, or what he was doing there surrounded by people speaking a language he couldn’t understand. Fortunately, when he saw his friends an hour later his memory came completely back.

There’s one thing we cannot forget. We cannot forget the Lord our God.

When Moses lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he commanded them to never forget God and what He had done for them. Entering into this new stage of their existence, Moses knew that if they forgot what God had done for them, their relationship with God would diminish. So we read in Deu 6:4-12:

“Hear, O Israel, The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorsteps of your house and on your gates. When the Lord your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you – a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant – and when you have eaten your fill, take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” (Deu 6:4-12)

This is a cry of allegiance. It’s Israel’s way of saying, “YHWH is our God and no other.”

Why? Because they remembered what he had done for us! They remembered the incredible salvation that he gave them when he took them out of Egypt toward this new land.

And the message is the same for today, for the Church, internationally, in Australia, in Perth, in Claremont Baptist Church. As we move into a new stage of this congregation’s existence, as we think about what this Sunday night will look like in the future, we must not forget what the Lord has done for us. We must not forget the salvation that Christ has achieved for us.

Because if we forget, it’s like having amnesia: we forget the past, so we forget who we are, which would mean we don’t know where we’re going.

Albert Einstein forgot the past, he forgot that was shaving; he forgot the present, he forgot his address; he didn’t know the future, he forgot his destination.

Like the Israelites, we must not forget the Lord. We must not forget God’s salvation offered us in Christ Jesus.

As we look toward the future of Claremont Baptist Church, we must not forget what Christ did for us.

We can be comforted however, by the fact that God is gracious. Einstein forgot stuff occasionally, but he was still a brilliant man. The Israelites forgot. They forgot God and went astray. Even when they were so bad that they went into exile, God still brought them back.

So as we plan for the future, we will strive to be the church that God wants us to be and we will take the effort to do the things God wants us to do. But when we stuff up, we know that our gracious God holds us firmly. As Paul says,

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39)

And this should give us peace and hope. It should comfort us.

So, Claremont, let us remember the love of Christ, because if we forget that, we forget who we are as the Church, and we don’t know where to go. But if we occasionally slip up, we know that Christ will catch us and put us back on course.

So what I’m wanting us to pray for tonight, as we think about the future of this evening service and the future of Claremont as a whole, are based around these 3 prayer points which will be on the screen:

  1. To have a renewed sense of God’s love and grace.
  2. To have a renewed sense of Christ’s presence.
  3. To have a renewed sense of the Spirit’s guidance and direction.

Ephesians 5:15-20: Wisdom That Comes From Being Filled With the Spirit, the Source of Life

Napoleon, commenting on the first steamship said, “You would make a ship sail against the winds and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck…I have no time for such nonsense.” Lighting a fire under a deck to make ship sail surely sounded strange at first; I can understand Napoleon’s hesitance. It’s like igniting gasoline within your car to make it move. That confused me when I heard that the first time. You want to blow something up to make something move??? Sure…

But I want to convince you this morning that that is what the Spirit does within our lives. The Holy Spirit is likened to fire often in the Bible, John says that after him one will come who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, at Pentecost the Spirit came as tongues of fire and 1 Thes. 5.19 says do not put out the Spirit’s fire. You see, the Spirit works by lighting a fire. So before we move to our passage this morning, let’s have a quick look at Paul’s argument so far up to 5:15.

From chapter three in Ephesians Paul has been telling us how and why we should live a good life. He starts off by saying Christ dwells in us, and so we are unified in Christ. When we are in Christ, the source of light and truth, we can see light and truth, we are no longer in darkness. And so if we know the truth and live in the light that is Christ, then we must live the truth. We imitate Christ by living a life of love, removing immorality, greed and idolatry. We must learn what pleases God and live as children of God.

Ephesians 5: 15-20: 15Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul is here teaching to seek wisdom that comes from being filled with the Spirit, who is the source of life, and live as wise people. And the way he says it is a beautiful arrangement. Did you notice that Paul mentions each person in the Godhead? What I mean is that he is speaking about this God who is a Trinity, a Triune God. He says know the will of the Lord so that you can know wisdom; be filled with the Spirit so that he you can avoid the things of darkness; give thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything.

Know the will of the Lord

Knowing the will of Christ, who dwells in us is so vital. How can we live a life that pleases the Lord if we do not know how he wants us to live? So he is saying be wise and avoid foolishness.

MacArthur states: “To live morally is to live wisely. Biblically, a “fool” is not so named because of intellectual limits, but because of unbelief and the consequent abominable deeds. He lives apart from God and against God’s law, and can’t comprehend the truth or his true condition.”

I think this quote sums of the essence of v. 15 well: to live wisely is to know and live God’s will.

Part of this, Paul says, is to not waste time. The image of a candle is a good illustration; we have the light of Christ, we are children of the light, as he says in earlier chapters, and so we are to show that light as a candle shows its light. But a candle cannot burn forever. It will eventually run out of wax. So our lives will eventually run out. We will eventually die and the light will cease to shine. So we must make the most of our time right now.

He then says “do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” That is so important. How do we know what the Lord’s will is? He’s already told us! Right here in the Bible! The Bible is made up of books and letters written by lots of different people recording the inspiration God has given them, and the Gospels record Jesus’ words themselves. So how do you know his will? Read the Bible! Spend time reading the Bible, praying and meditating on what you learn regularly and you will learn God’s will.

I know a guy who can recite nearly every word from nearly every Muse song. I also know some people who know more about One Direction than they do about Jesus! Some people know more movie quotes than Bible verses.

Proverbs 2 says of wisdom, “The Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.” Knowing that wisdom and living that wisdom will result in victory.

Paul in Ephesians outlines what it means to live a wise life: live a life of love, and remove immorality, greed and idolatry. We are to speak truthfully, we must not steal, we must work, we must only speak what is useful for building others up, we must be kind, compassionate and forgiving. Jesus tells us to love as he loved. That is wisdom.

Be filled with the Spirit

V. 18 then tells us the source of wisdom. The Spirit is the source of wisdom. We are instructed to be filled with the Spirit to live as wise people.

The Greek asōtia is often translated ‘debauchery,’ as in ‘do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery,’ or as many translations say ‘for that leads to debauchery.’ Now, asōtia also means reckless living. In Titus 1.6 it is translated as ‘wild.’ It can mean debauchery, but Paul’s emphasis is not on a specific act, but on a lifestyle. He says be careful how you live, not as unwise but as wise. Also, The Greek estin is used which means ‘is.’ So the sense of the Greek is actually ‘do not get drunk for this is reckless, it is wild.’

I do want to clarify two things though. Firstly, alcohol is not bad. In fact, it’s good, it’s great in moderation. A glass of red wine a day can actually be good for you! I personally really like scotch. But getting drunk is not good. Secondly, parties are not bad either. Parties are fun! Paul is not saying, ‘don’t have parties, don’t drink, don’t have fun.’ But he is saying, ‘don’t be reckless.’

There was a party a week ago, it’s been in the news recently. It got onto Facebook that there was this party and anyone was invited. So about 500 15-22 year olds met at this shed on Warton road and caused a lot of trouble. There were fights, even a couple of people had to be rushed off to hospital. The police got called in, with riot gear, horses, helicopter, took hours for the people to disperse. That’s the sort of reckless living Paul is talking about.  We cannot live like that, because people get hurt, teenagers get fined $15,000 and it is a waste of Police resources.

Instead of recklessness, we must be filled with the Spirit. Because the Spirit brings Christ’s wisdom, brings Christ’s presence and helps and enables us to live according to the wisdom that we now know. When Christ dwells in us, as we continually seek to deepen our relationship with Christ and continually increase our understanding and knowledge of Christ, growing in wisdom, we bear the fruit of the Spirit.

I got us reflecting and praying on the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, which is on your bookmark. The fruit of the Spirit are the things that we exhibit when Christ dwells in us. Living a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, that is the life that God wants us to live.

Give thanks to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus

But it is hard. In fact, it is impossible to live this life of wisdom because we will continually sin. So when I say we must live in step with God’s will, please don’t freak out. Because the truth is that Jesus has already taken the punishment for our foolishness. As Christians, being renewed in the image of Christ, we want to seek wisdom, because we recognize the truth of wisdom having experienced the spiritual blessings of being filled with the Spirit. So we want to live wise lives, but when we fail to live wise lives we shouldn’t beat ourselves up.

Paul says in Ephesians 2:4-5 that “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” So being filled with the Spirit enables us to know and to live wise lives, but our salvation is not dependent on whether or not we live perfect lives. We seek to live as wise people, but when we fail, Jesus picks us up again. God has made us alive with Christ.

So what should our correct response to this grace be?

We should rejoice! Paul says in v. 19 that we should “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.” God has saved us, so what should we do? Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord! I like the phrase, “in your heart” so that for the rest of us who aren’t very good at singing we can still praise God. It’s encouraging!

We should also give thanks! What do we do when we receive a gift? Should we be like my cousin when I gave him a chocolate he simply asked for another, or should we say thankyou? Definitely say thankyou! Paul says in v. 20 that we should always give thanks to God the Father for everything.

At the beginning, I said I wanted to convince you that the Spirit works by igniting a fire in our lives. We must allow ourselves to be filled with this Spirit of fire so that we can move forward in Christ, knowing Christ’s will and living Christ’s will, giving thanks to God the Father for sending Christ and enabling us to be unified in Christ as he dwells in us.

I’m going to finish with 1 Thessalonians 5:8-10: “Since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.”

May we be filled with the Holy Spirit through whom we see the light, the truth of Christ’s wisdom and whose fire enables us to live out this wisdom.

Thoughts on Habakkuk 3

Last year, I had my wisdom teeth taken out. They weren’t hurting or anything, but the dentist told me they had to come out. He also told me I had to have 6 fillings, which wasn’t so comforting, and so that one dentist appointment wasn’t exactly my favourite appointment. But we booked a check up and an x-ray with a dental surgeon and then we booked an actual surgery and had my wisdom teeth come out. The next couple of weeks were extremely uncomfortable and I quickly got sick of mashed potatoes and jelly. It was also very expensive. It cost over a thousand dollars just for the anaesthesiologist.

And so despite the fact that I brush my teeth regularly, I look after them, and despite the dentist telling me I had great teeth, I still needed the expensive and uncomfortable experience of having my wisdom teeth removed.

I’m telling you this story because it is a story similar to something we all go through at some time. Despite us putting effort into doing what we know is right and good, sometimes we still end up in an uncomfortable situation.

Just like the prophets preaching to the Jews about 600 years before Jesus came along. Their situation was far worse than my needing dental surgery, but the idea is similar. Like Habakkuk, who saw where Israel was going, knew it was not good, and knew that if the Jews did not fix up what they were doing, they would end up in an even worse place. Habakkuk and other prophets were doing what they thought was right and good, telling the Israelites to return to Yahweh before judgment came in the form of the Babylonians. And Habakkuk had this long conversation with God, crying out to God, knowing that God could fix the problem of the Babylonians, and wrestling with why God wasn’t immediately removing the impending doom Israel was surely about to experience.

I brushed my teeth, and yet I needed dental surgery; Habakkuk prayed and sought God, and yet Israel still needed serious punishment. The analogy obviously isn’t sufficient, but I hope it expresses some of the confusion I’m sure Habakkuk felt. Like today when we ask God to heal all the sick and to remove all the poverty and to reveal himself to all the atheists, but responds in a way we either weren’t expecting or weren’t wanting.

So as we turn to Habakkuk chapter 3, keep that sense of confusion in the back of your mind; because Habakkuk was wanting God to fix their problems, to remember his merciful and gracious covenant he had made with Israel and defeat the Babylonians. However, God’s response is different to what Habakkuk was expecting, and by the end of the book, we see a drastic shift in Habakkuk’s approach to God, and an attitude to God’s sovereignty that we can learn from.

Chapter 3 can be broken into three sections, and we’ll look at each in turn: vv.1-2; vv.3-15; and vv.16-19. Each of these three sections offer 3 different perspectives about what our attitude to God should look like.

1.    We must be willing and open to the new things that God wants to do.

This chapter is a prayer, Habakkuk is having a conversation with God, wrestling with issues, and begins with this grand statement of God. In 1:5, God tells Habakkuk to open his eyes and see the things he is doing, and in this verse Habakkuk finally recognizes God’s work in this world. In this statement he recognizes the way God has worked in the past to help his people and asks that he do it again in his own time, to reveal his glory and to bring salvation to Israel.

One theologian wrote, “The love of God is so strong that, even when he is flagrantly ignored, deserted or rejected, he is drawn, as a husband to his wife or a mother to her child, to love in spite of the actions of the other. The wrongs are real, but so too are the compassion and the desire to forgive.”

Habakkuk knew this of God’s nature. He knew that God was merciful and desired to forgive Israel. He was well aware of how bad Israel had become, that’s why he mentions “wrath,” but he knows that God offers mercy and he appeals to that side of God’s nature. He was saying, “God, you are a loving and merciful God, so please forgive us despite the many wrongs we have committed.”

But as we can see from earlier chapters, God was going to bring that punishment, there was no escaping it. It had to be done. Habakkuk had seen had God had forgiven, rescued and vindicated his people in the past and wanted him to do it again, but God was going to do something different. God was doing something new in allowing the Babylonians to deport the people away from Israel.

And that is something that we have to be open up to, today. We have to allow the possibility of God doing something entirely new and different in our lives. We may be tempted to ask God to repeat what he has done in the past. We can become envious of the people who lived before us. But we must remember that God may want to do something new. We have to open our eyes to God’s activity.

The story of Jesus is a good example. The Israelites had a very particular image of the Messiah and were expecting this Messiah to rid them of their Roman oppressors. Yet, the Messiah they received was not what they were expecting, let alone a Messiah that would die on the cross. God was doing something new in Jesus. We have to be open to God doing something new in our lives today.

2.    We must always remember that nothing is greater than God.

Habakkuk was faced with the question of if Israel – God’s appointed nation, whom he is in a covenantal relationship with – fell to the Babylonians, is God weak? Are the Babylonians stronger than God?

In vv.3-15, he uses many different images to present a God who is incredibly strong. Habakkuk was sure that none was greater than Yahweh.

“His glory covered the heavens”; “The brightness was like the sun; rays came forth from his hand”; “He stopped and shook the earth; he looked and made the nations tremble”; “The mountains saw you, and writhed.” These images present a God who is incredibly mighty. Habakkuk knew that God was sovereign above all.

These images also carry connotations of the exodus out of Egypt, talking of the people’s deliverance from Egypt following the plagues, their wandering in the wilderness and the entry into the promised land. Verse 13 says, “You came forth to save your people, to save your anointed.” Teman and Mount Paran are places often associated with the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. And these images also show a God who is on the move, a God who intervenes for his people, a God who actually does something on this earth.

Habakkuk knew that God was great and knew that God had saved his people in the past. And he knew that God intervened in this world. Habakkuk knew that God could defeat the Babylonians and glorify Israel. But God did not do that. Despite telling Habakkuk in earlier chapters that he would not stop Babylon, Habakkuk still recited these stories in his prayer to God. He desperately wanted God to reveal his glory to all the nations.

In v.7, Cushan and Midian are mentioned, and these were old enemies of Israel who were defeated long ago. So when Habakkuk here mentions them, he is thinking of victory as God shakes the nations. Habakkuk wants God to intervene again and defeat Israel’s enemies.

Habakkuk knew that Israel would be overrun by the Babylonians. He knew that things were not looking good. But he knew that God is great and that no one and nothing is greater than God. The situation didn’t cause Habakkuk to doubt God’s holiness, just like Job’s terrible situation did not cause Job to doubt God’s sovereignty. Only God is great.

The Pharaohs and the Nebuchadnezzars of the world may have political power for some time and may seem huge and mighty. But in the end God will be recognized as the holiest and the greatest. Only God is great. We must remember this, no matter the opposition.

Louise XIV of France, known by some as the Sun King, wanted to be remembered as the greatest French king ever. So, he insisted that at his funeral, in Notre-Dame in Paris, the only candle that would be lit would be the candle on his casket. Jean-Baptiste Massillon got up to give the funeral oration and walked over to the casket. He snuffed out the candle on the casket and began his message by saying, “Only God is great. Only God is great.”

I’m reminded of Psalm 96:4, 6 – “For God is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods…Honour and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.”

And Paul declares that God’s greatness will eventually be acknowledged by all, in Philippians 2:9-11 – “God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

3.    We must remember that God is sovereign judge.

The last 4 verses portray a Habakkuk very different to the Habakkuk at the beginning of the book. He has been taken on this journey in prayer, has been challenged with God and wrestled over difficult issues. He finally comes to a point where he just opens his hands up to God and accepts whatever God has planned.

Habakkuk has recited these stories of God being victorious for his people and defeating Israel’s enemies, and what he realizes is that ultimately God will come through for his people and will punish those who harm them. He is physically overwhelmed with awe, he trembles, he quivers and rottenness enters his bones. God will come through for his people eventually, but seeing God as almighty and as sovereign judge, Habakkuk trembles in fear.

He is then able to say “I wait quietly for the day of calamity to come upon those who attack us.” He knows that the Babylonians are coming and that the fall of Israel is imminent, but he remembers that God has rescued his people in the past and judges their enemies. And so he waits for the day to come when the Babylonians will be judged by God.

And in the mean time, he is confident in God. In verses 17-19 he recognizes that even in the difficult times God is worthy of being praised. When all seems lost, God is eternally the God of salvation.

Habakkuk knows that God is the sovereign judge of this world. He knows that even in the tough times, he will come through for his people and will strengthen them. At all times, God is worthy of being rejoiced and exulted. In times of distress, the Lord is Habakkuk’s strength.

And the Lord is still sovereign judge and is still our strength, even today. Jesus said in Matthew 16:18  that the powers of death, the gates of Hades cannot ever prevail against the Church. This should give us confidence as it gave Habakkuk confidence to open our arms to God and his ways and to rejoice in him and to exult him. For he will be our strength, as Paul says in Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

I think of the persecution against the Christian Church in today’s context, which is not entirely dissimilar to Habakkuk’s situation. The wave of atheism that attacks the Church, in the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who say that the best thing for the world is for religion to no longer exist. They say we do not need God, and they even say that the concept of the Christian God will be extinct soon enough. They are attacking the Church, trying to get rid of it. Just as Habakkuk cried to God to get him to vanquish God’s people’s enemies, we may today cry out to God to vanquish our enemies today. But yet they are still here and the attacks keep coming.

But we can take comfort!

“Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.”

No matter what comes our way, whatever surprises God has in store for us, we can always remember that alone is great and that he alone will judge the actions of every person. We can take comfort that he will be our strength and will guide us and that the Church can never destroyed by anything this world can throw at it. Our God is great.

And I’ll conclude with a quote from John Calvin: “We are fully persuaded, that our salvation is in God’s hand, and that he is its faithful guardian. We shall, therefore, rest quietly, though heaven and earth were rolled together, and all places were full of confusion…we shall yet be in a tranquil state of mind, looking for his gratuitous salvation.”

Matthew 28:16-20

I’m sure most people have heard of the Titanic. But I don’t think many people have heard of John Harper.

John Harper was a pastor of Moody Church in the early 1900s, a passenger on the Titanic. In 1921, 4 years after the Titanic sunk, at a meeting in Canada, a Scotsman stood up and said this:

“I am a survivor of the Titanic.” When I was drifting alone on a spar that awful night, the tide brought Mr. John Harper, of Glasgow , also on a piece of wreck near me. ‘Man,’ he said, ‘are you saved?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I am not.’ He replied, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved’.

“The waves bore him away; but, strange to say brought him back a little later, and he said, ‘Are you saved now?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I cannot honestly say that I am.’ He said again, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,’ and shortly after he went down; and there, alone in the night, and with two miles of water under me, I believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. I am John Harper’s last convert.”

I love the faith of John Harper. I can just imagine the scene. John’s floating around on his piece of wreck, with hundreds of terrified, freezing people also holding onto other pieces of wreck, wishing for nothing more than to be saved and go home. John’s asking them, “are you saved?” Of course, they say no, and he preaches to them! I love that! I think he took what Jesus said at the end of Matthew quite seriously.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:16-20)

This passage encapsulates the primary thrust of the whole book. This is why Jesus came to Earth – to establish the Kingdom of God.

The language reflects the Messianic language of Daniel 7:13-14 – “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

That is a pretty awesome image!

The fact that this command was issued in Galilee is significant. Galilee is previously associated with Gentiles (Matt. 4:15 and Isaiah 9:1 “Galilee of the Gentiles,”) so it is fitting that it is here where Jesus issues the command to go to all the other nations.

1.     Discipleship is not an option.

Jesus did not say, “if you ever get a spare second, do you reckon, maybe, if you don’t mind, could you tell someone about me? I would really appreciate it if you told someone I died for them.” Nor did he say, “I know you’re really busy, you got promoted, you’ve just bought a house, maybe you’ve just started uni and you’re trying friends, I get that, I understand if you don’t have any spare time, but if there happens to be a pause sometime between lectures, do you reckon you could teach someone about my commandments?”

Jesus is saying DO IT.

Mathēteusate  – Imperative. Jesus is commanding us to make disciples.

Elsewhere he even says, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Jesus is so very serious about our devotion to him. Jesus tells us to love one another and to be willing to die for one another, even our enemies, so in this case he is not literally telling us to forsake our family, but is telling us to always prioritize him, above all else.

Jesus says in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” When we prioritize Jesus, we follow him and become his disciples, and as in this passage, this is not optional. We absolutely must follow him, be his disciples and make disciples.

Think of it this way: when you go to a restaurant and order food, what do you expect the waiter to do? Let’s say you order noodles. The waiter goes off, ten minutes later comes back and says, “check this out I memorized what you said! You said: I want some noodles! Are you happy?”

Obviously not. So you ask again. Another 10 minutes passes and the waiter comes back and tells you they’ve organized a worship band to sing songs about how they promise to always get you noodles. The chef comes out with a guitar and they start singing. Are you happy now?

Of course not! You’re still hungry, the waiter has not brought you your noodles.

Now let’s say we are the waiters and Jesus orders noodles. What are you going to do? You’re going to get him noodles! Jesus doesn’t ask, but commands us to make disciples. What are we going to do? 

We’d better go and make disciples! This is not an option. If we are to call ourselves Christians, we cannot just laze around, come to church once a week and think we’ll be right. Maybe we were christened and confirmed and come to church once a year and avoid meat on Good Friday. Is this enough? Absolutely not.

Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21). James says that faith without works is dead.

Does this mean that if we do enough good works, sponsor enough children with World Vision, give enough money to the church that we’ll get into heaven? No. But it means that from true faith comes action. True faith is not true faith unless it has an action. It’s like your rock climbing and you don’t where to put your foot. So the person below you tells you, put your foot here in this hole. And you say, “Cool, thanks! I trust you!” And then you do nothing. Is this really truly faith? I don’t think so.

We must make disciples.

2.     Jesus tells us what this discipleship looks like.

“Go,” “baptizing,” “teaching” – words that give us more information about the main verb which is “make disciples.” 

These are characteristics of discipleship – you have to go to them, you have to baptize them – which implies evangelism and they believing in their heart and confessing with their mouth that Jesus is their Lord – and then you have to teach them. You have to counsel them, you have to get them to learn Jesus’ teachings and his commandments, basically you have to be their mentor.

This shows that there are different areas involved in discipleship. Jesus has appointed apostles, pastors, teachers, evangelists and prophets. Each of us have a role to play, but we must do it!

Jesus isn’t telling us to go and be Christians; he’s telling us to go and make disciples. This shows us that these characteristics of discipleship are inherent of being a Christian. When people see us going to other people, telling them about Jesus, loving them and teaching them, they will see disciples, they will see people who are wanting to be like their master.

It’s like when you see a professional basketball team. There will be certain things that characterize them as a basketball team. They will have good basketball shoes, or if they are really serious they’ll be wearing sandals or thongs to protect their good shoes until they’re on the court. They will probably have bags over their shoulders, water bottle in hand, matching uniforms, a few of them holding basketballs. You will know when you look at them that they are a basketball team.

People should know who Christians are by looking at them and seeing how they live. Jesus said, “your love for one another will prove that you are my disciples.” Loving one another should be a characteristic element of Christians. So should being willing to go and make disciples, to evangelize, to baptize, to teach, to counsel.

One of the things Jesus tells us to do is teach them everything he has commanded of us. In John 15:12, Jesus says, “This is my command: that you love one another as I have loved you.” That word “command” is singular, so Jesus’ commandments collapse into that one commandment. Jesus is the ultimate interpreter and teacher of the Torah, which is the Old Testament Law, particularly the first five books, but his focus was never on following the 613 Pharisaic commandments to the letter, but was more concerned with why, what is the point of the law. For him, it always came down to ethics and the reason for the law, which was love. It might sound clichéd, but everything comes down to love. Paul says, “I may give up my whole life for another, but if I have not love, I gain nothing.”

The behaviour that is the most characteristic element of a Christian is love. Love that is self-sacrificial, as Christ’s love for us is; love that is totally self-less; love that is hard and often painful. Jesus has commanded us to make disciples and has commanded us to love.

3.     Jesus does not leave us to do it alone.

Why has he commanded us to make disciples and to love one another? The passage says all authority has been given to Jesus, THEREFORE, go make disciples. Therefore in the bible is never accidental. It is saying, “Go make disciples BECAUSE Jesus has authority.” How do they connect? Because Jesus is with us. He is with us always. Jesus has authority to save and to forgive, to make disciples and to build his church. It is up to us, his hands and feet on this earth, to spread the Good News.

In John 15, Jesus says that persecution will come, it is inevitable. Tough times are ahead. But he sends another like him to help us. John calls this other person Paracletos. Which means a range of things, such as helper, advocate and comforter. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to be with us, and it is better for us that we have the Spirit than for Jesus to remain on the Earth. Why? Because the Spirit can live in each of us. 

Matt. 10:19-20: “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

The one Jesus sends, the Holy Spirit, is with us, helping us, guiding us. Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is present, helping us to make disciples and to love one another.

The fourth century Archbishop of Constantinople, Chrysostom:

“Observe the excellence of those who were sent out into the whole world. Others who were called found ways of excusing themselves. But these did not beg off…With Jesus’ resurrection his own proper glory is again restored, following his humiliation. Jesus reminded his disciples of the consummation of all things, so that they would not look at the present dangers only but also at the good things to come that last forever. He promised to be not only with these disciples but also with who would subsequently believe after them…So let us not fear and shudder. Let us repent while there is opportunity. Let us arise out of our sins. We can by grace, if we are willing.”

I whole-heartedly believe with Chrysostom that now is the time, if we have not yet, to confess that Christ is Lord, to believe in him as John Harper did and to be willing to sacrifice all to follow Christ, to make disciples of ourselves, to love one another, to go, to spread the Gospel, to make disciples, to baptize and to teach. By the power of the Holy Spirit living in us and by the authority of Jesus Christ who is with us, in the words of Chrysostom, “Let us arise out of our sins. We can by grace, if we are willing.”

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