Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

WOODSTOCK: THE DEATH OF A CIVILIZATION

woodstock_redmond_cocker

Joe Cocker at Woodstock

This weekend marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Woodstock rock festival, a significant turning point in American culture.  In many ways it represented the collapse of what was left of Western Civilization in America.

The festival took place on a farm near the little town of Bethel, NY in the Catskill Mountain region.  The organizers of the event aimed simply at putting on a rock concert highlighting some of the biggest names of the day – Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, The Grateful Dead, and Creedance Clearwater Revival, among others.  They expected maybe 50,000 people or so would show up.  Instead, nearly 400,000 arrived.  Facilities were overwhelmed and it was a logistical nightmare.

The local police were unprepared, and so a spontaneous community was created.  It was a Hippie love-in, a Counter-Culture “happening” on an unprecedented scale, and traditional norms were thrown to the wind.  It was a celebration of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.

What caused such an extraordinary event?  There were several factors that led up to it.  The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and early ‘60’s demonstrated the presence of racial injustice in America.  And then came the Viet Nam War, an ill-conceived foreign adventure that sparked massive protest demonstrations back home.  All of this gave “the Movement,” the New Left, with a program of radical social reform.

Political tensions reached a boiling point during the summer of 1968.  That August the Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago.  The incumbent President, Lyndon B. Johnson, had decided not to run for reelection, and his heir-apparent was Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey.  He, in turn, was challenged by Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy, but Kennedy was assassinated in June of that year.  The anti-war movement rallied behind McCarthy.  Nevertheless Humphrey won the nomination and was then defeated in the general election by Richard M. Nixon.

A profound sense of disillusionment set in.  Many young people became convinced that the “Establishment” and the “System” were hopelessly corrupt and beyond reform.  The only alternative, as far as they could see, was to “drop out” and pursue a vision of one’s own personal freedom and happiness.  It all came to a head the following summer at Woodstock.

There were undoubtedly serious problems in American society that needed to be addressed.  America was not a perfect nation, and never was – the Civil War was a lasting monument to that fact.  But by the 1960’s America had become much more secular in its outlook.  Earlier protests movements – the Abolitionist Movement of the mid-Nineteenth Century, the Progressive Movement of the early Twentieth – saw themselves as operating within a more-or-less Christian framework, and often used religious rhetoric to promote their causes.  (“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord . . .”

But America in the 1960’s was different.  Prayer and Bible reading had been removed from the public schools, unprecedented numbers of college-age people were attending thoroughly secularized state universities, and even the mainline Protestant denominations had ceased to accept the authority of Scripture unconditionally.  And the New Left had been at least partially influenced by Marxism.

But this meant that there was no clearly defined moral framework in which to discuss the issues.  On the one hand the “Establishment” had difficulty producing a rational defense of traditional norms and values; and, on the other hand, the “Movement” had no clear sense of moral direction either. Young people simply rebelled against the standards and norms of their elders, but without having a clearly defined alternative.  It became a matter of experimentation – if it feels good, do it.  It was long hair, free love, acid trips and communal living.

In the end the “Movement” led to tragedy.  There were drug overdoses and violence.  Women felt that they had been sexually abused, and dangerous cult leaders emerged.  As the Viet Nam War wound down and college graduates were faced with the challenge of earning a living, the Hippie movement largely faded away.  Many Hippies became Yuppies – Young Upwardly Mobile Professionals.

But the legacy of the Counter-Culture did not entirely disappear.  The Sexual Revolution permanent changed the way many Americans think about sex.  Radical Feminism has made a major impact on American society.  Public discourse had degenerated into identity politics, and in intellectual circles there is widespread skepticism then universal truths and moral absolutes even exist.

The underlying cause of all of this is secularism, the refusal to acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being whose moral law is normative.  In the end it became impossible to establish firm, binding moral norms, and social chaos was the result.  Life became a matter of power politics – might makes right, and to the victor go the spoils.

What has disappeared is Western Civilization, an advanced human society founded on certain core principles – the belief that we live in a rationally ordered universe created by an intelligent Supreme Being, and that there are certain universal standards of justice, compassion and humanity that are binding on all.

The Counter Culture of the late ‘60’s threw all of this overboard and essentially had nothing coherent to replace it.

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THE PEACE OF CHRIST

 

We often face trials and difficulties in life, and they are often painful to go through.  But nothing can even begin to compare with what Christ Himself was about to endure.  Jesus was conscious of the fact that within a matter of hours He would be arrested, tried and executed.  What is especially remarkable about this is that He made no effort to escape it.   He consciously walked into the trap set for Him, because He knew that it served a higher purpose.  Nevertheless it was a trauma for both Him and His disciples.  Herein lies a lesson or us all.

Jesus begins by reassuring His disciples.  “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27; NKJV).  What is this peace?  Jesus was no doubt speaking in Aramaic, a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew and the common language of Palestine in that day.  Very likely the word for “peace” that Jesus used was a variation of the Hebrew word shalom which means a little more than our common English word “peace.”  The noun shalom is derived from the verb shalem, which means to “be complete or sound.”  Thus the noun shalom means completeness or soundness, and by extension, peace, quiet, tranquility, or contentment.  It is that sense of peace and contentment that comes from being at rest with yourself and others around you.  It is a peace of mind that comes from a sense of wholeness.

But what Jesus is referring to in this passage is a “peace” that He would “leave” with them, a peace that He would give to them.  The apostle Paul describes this peace in Phil. 4:7: “. . .and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  It is an inward peace, the opposite of being “anxious” (v. 6), and it comes in response to prayer.  It is a calm assurance that we have been reconciled to God (Rom. 5:1), that God is in control (Eph. 1:11), and that all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28).

Paul says that this peace “surpasses all understanding.”  In a sense it defies comprehension.  Outwardly, all is turmoil and chaos; and yet inwardly we are calm and at rest.  Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said “You cannot understand this peace, you cannot imagine it, you cannot even believe it is a sense, and yet it is happening and you are experiencing it and enjoying it” (Spiritual Depression, p. 270).

Furthermore Paul says that this peace “will guard your hearts and minds.”  It stands like a sentry at the door of your heart and keeps out all the stress and turmoil.  But the condition of all this, as we said above, is prayer: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God . . .” (v. 6).

Jesus says, regarding this peace, “not as the world gives do I give to you.”  The world claims to give peace – the whole purpose of government is to make us secure in our persons and property. There is a wealth of advice on how to achieve economic security.  And yet outward prosperity is no guarantee of inward peace, and the wealthy are oftentimes just as unhappy as the poor.  And so the world offers something to soothe the pain – food, alcohol, drugs – and, if we are sophisticated enough, the psychiatrist who will prescribe the drugs for us.  But what all of these amount to is a chemical solution to a deeper, underlying problem.  They make us feel better but leave the underlying cause of our anxiety unresolved.  As soon as the medication wears off we are faced with the same circumstances that caused the problem in the first place.

The peace which Christ gives stands in sharp contrast with this.  It looks to God and strives to bring everything into harmony with His created order.  It assures that even in the trials and difficulties of this life God has a larger purpose, and in the end the believer will be richly rewarded for the sacrifices he was called upon to make in this life.  “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18; cf. vv. 19-25; II Cor. 4:16-5:8; I Pet. 1:3-9).  And so Jesus tells His disciples, even in spite of what was about to happen to Him and to them, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

God never promises to keep us form trials and difficulties in life – far from it.  As we shall see later, Jesus forewarned us that the world would hate us (cf. 15:18-21).  But what He has promised us is His peace, an inward peace that will enable us to face the trials that come our way with calm assurance.  It is ours to have if we will only cling to Him.

“You will keep him in perfect peace,

Whose mind is stayed on You,

Because he trusts in You.

Trust in the Lord forever,

For in Yah, the Lord, is everlasting strength.”

Isa. 26:3,4

THE TEACHING MINISTRY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

 

Jesus had just promised us that if we love Him and keep His commandments, “My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23; NKJV); and, as we have seen, this refers primarily to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus now goes on to elaborate on what the Holy Spirit will do for us: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to you remembrance all things that I said to you” (v. 26).

The primary reference here, undoubtedly, is to the apostles.  They would be witnesses to His resurrection, and would be appointed to be His personal representatives to the world.  As they would elaborate on the meaning and significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit would give them direct revelation.  The apostle Paul, for instance, could describe the process this way: “. . .we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained . . . But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.  For the Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God . . .” (I Cor.2:7-10)  “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.  These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, combining spiritual things with spiritual” (vv. 12,13). The “words” which the Holy Spirit teaches are logois – concepts, ideas which come from the mind of God Himself.

Jesus also said that the Holy Spirit will “bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”  This points to the preaching of the apostles, and especially to the writing of the four gospels contained in the New Testament.  Matthew and John were both written by apostles; Mark was written by a close associate of Peter and Luke by a close associate of Paul.  The implication is that the four gospels give us an accurate representation of what the historical Jesus actually said and did.

But the Holy Spirit’s work of “teaching you all things” should not be confined to just the apostles.  There is also work which the Holy Spirit performs in the lives of believers throughout the church as well.  Here again, when the apostle Paul prays for the Ephesians, he asks that God “may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, they eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe . . .” (Eph. 1:17-19).

The Bible is written in human language; it has a vocabulary and a grammatical structure.  Almost any educated person can read it and gain at least a general idea of what it says.  But little of it will be real and meaningful to him if the Holy Spirit has not renewed his heart and enlightened his eyes; so that he can genuinely understand the things that the Bible is describing.  These things are spiritual realities, and to gain a proper appreciation of them we must first gain an understanding of them and how they affect us personally.  Significantly Paul asks that the Ephesians would know the “hope” of Christ’s calling, “the riches of the glory” of His inheritance, and “the exceeding greatness” of His power – in other words, the subjective qualities of these things.  And this is something that the Holy Spirit must give us, the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.”  It is the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination.

This, then, is the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Without it the preaching ministry of the church cannot be successful.  Only the Holy Spirit can enlighten minds and give us spiritual understanding.  And so we must be earnest in prayer that God would pour out His Spirit upon us, and that our hearts would be quickened and we can adore and praise the Savior accordingly.

THE PROMISE OF THE PRESENCE

 

Jesus has already given His disciples the promise of the Holy Spirit (I John 14:16,17).  He has       also told them that “If you love Me, keep My commandments”  (v. 15: NKJV).   He now proceeds to link the two statements together.  “He who had My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.   And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and manifest Myself to him” (v. 21).  Here the promise that we will be “loved by My Father” is made conditional on our loving Christ and keeping His commandments.  We cannot experience the blessing unless we fulfill the condition.

There is a sense in which “God so loved the world,” but that is a kind of love that is not based on any good which God sees in us.  Rather it is the pity and compassion that a merciful God shows towards His wretched, rebellious creatures.  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).  Theologians sometimes call this God’s “love of benevolence,” from the Latin word “benevolentia” – “good will” or “kindness.”

But that is not what Jesus is describing here.  This is a love which God has especially for those who love Christ and keep His commandments.  He loves them because they love Him.  He is genuinely pleased with their love.  Theologians sometimes refer to this as God’s “love of complacence,” from a Latin word which means “to be pleased with” something.  And that is the kind of love which God has for those who consciously try to please Him.

God originally created us human beings to have fellowship with Him.  He created us in His image, and endowed us with intellect, emotion and will, so that we could have a personal relationship with Him.  But what ruined that was our sin and rebellion.  The relationship was severed and we were alienated from God – we had become His enemies and were therefore under His wrath and condemnation.

But that changes when we become Christians.  Christ died for our sins.  We repent and ask for forgiveness and put our trust in Him.  We are reconciled to God and can now have the relationship with Him that we were originally meant to have.  We are brought into a position in which we can appreciate Christ for all that He is and has done for us – we love Him, and want to please Him, and as a result “. . . he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”

But how does Jesus “manifest” Himself to us?  Certainly not in any physical way.  None of us has ever seen Jesus physically = the pictures that we see of Him were all created in the artists’ imaginations.  But there is a sense in which we can know Jesus personally – to have real communion with Him, to sense His presence with us, and to know and understand Him better.  This happens when we spend time alone with Him in prayer and in meditation upon His Word, and the Holy Spirit opens our hearts to receive the truth.  We then come to understand and appreciate Jesus in a way that we never did before.  He as manifested Himself to us.

The disciples were still somewhat puzzled by this, and Judas (not Iscariot) asked Jesus, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?” (v. 22); to which Jesus replied, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the world you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me” (vv. 23,24).

Here again He emphasizes that if we genuinely love Him we will keep His word.  But He elaborates a little further on the promise: “and we will come to him and make Our home [NASV: “abode”] with Him.”  Again, Jesus is not speaking of physically dwelling with us; He is in heaven and we are here on earth.  Rather He is speaking of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts and making His presence felt.  It is a spiritual abiding.

But Jesus makes this blessing contingent on our loving Him and keeping His word?  Does not every Christian believer have the Holy Spirit dwelling in his heart?  Yes, but not to the same degree.  While it is true that every truly born-again Christian has the Holy Spirit dwelling inside his heart, the New Testament makes it clear that the blessings of the Holy Spirit are variable, depending on a believer’s love and devotion to Christ.  We can be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) or we can “quench the Spirit” (I Thess. 5:19).  The apostle Paul could pray for the Ephesians that they would be “strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to . . .know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:16-19; cf. 1:15-19; Col. 1:9-11).  To be filled with the Spirit is to have “the love of God” which “has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5); it is to have “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7); it is to have “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (I Peter. 1:8).  To be filled with the Spirit is to have the fruit of the Spirit in abundance.  But Jesus emphasizes that all of this is contingent on our loving Him and keeping His word.

The modern church is not experiencing the blessing largely because our love for Christ has grown cold.  We are too preoccupied with the things of this world and have largely forgotten Christ.  Too often our Sunday morning worship is mere entertainment and the Wednesday night prayer meeting has largely been abandoned.  We have “a form of godliness” but deny “its power” (II Tim. 3:5).  We have an intellectual knowledge of the truth, but perform the outward duties of religion in a mechanical way.  Our devotion is lukewarm, and the sad result is that there is little evidence of the Holy Spirit working among. Us.

Much of the blame lies squarely at the feet of pastors.  In most churches the congregation looks to the pastor for direction and guidance in spiritual matters.  The congregations will rarely advance spiritually beyond the pastor.  And if the pastor is spiritually immature, if his own prayer life is wanting and he is not consciously seeking guidance from the Lord, it will be reflected in empty worship and dull, lifeless sermons.  The spiritual life of the congregation languishes while the surrounding world perishes.

What is at stake can hardly be overestimated.  There are human beings who are trapped in sin and are on their way to an eternity in hell.  And much of it is due to the lack of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church.

Oh, that we would heed the words of Christ!  Oh that we would claim the promise!  Oh that the power of the Holy Spirit was a living reality in our churches today!  But it will only happen when we devote ourselves completely to Christ and heed His word.

BELIEVERS NOT LEFT ORPHANS

 

As Jesus continued to reassure His disciples He tells them, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.  A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me.  Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:18,19).  He will not leave them “orphans.”  Up until now they were almost little children to Him.  They enjoyed a warm, affectionate relationship with Him; not as equals, but rather like children might have with their fathers.  And now He was about to depart.  Where would that leave them?  He reassures them that even though He was about to be physically removed from them, He would not leave them orphaned.

How this will come about takes several forms.  First He tells them that “I will come to you.”  This almost certainly refers to His post-resurrection appearances to them.  They would see Him, but the world would not.  Luke tells us that “He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).  John will go on to relate three of these appearances (cf. John 21:14).

But to return to the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus mentions the significance of His resurrection: “Because I live, you will live also” (v. 19).  The disciples at this point probably did not understand that what Jesus was saying was that He was about to be put to death, but would then rise from the dead.  And what they certainly did not understand was what this would mean for them personally.  What Jesus was about to accomplish, in effect, was the victory over death.  We are fallen sinners.  We live in a sin-cursed world.  Eventually we must all die.  But is there any hope for life after death?  Or is death the end of it?

The Bible makes it clear that death is a result of sin.  When our first parents sinned they alienated themselves from God, and death was the curse that God pronounced on them as a result.  But what the death of Christ did was to make a sacrificial atonement for our sin, and the resurrection of Christ was the proof that God the Father had accepted the sacrifice.  The curse was then removed and now He could live.  And because of that we can live too, if we confess our sins, put our personal trust in Christ as our Savior, and receive the forgiveness of our sins.  “Because I live, you will live also.”

Jesus then went on to draw out a further implication of His resurrection: “And in that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (v. 20).  Here He uses the proposition “in” to describe three relationships: “in My Father,” “you in Me,” and “I in you”; and yet the relationships are not the same.  But what the preposition “in” represents in all three cases is an intimate relationship of some sort.

First He says that “I am in My Father.”  This, of course, takes us into the doctrine of the Trinity, a concept that boggles the human imagination.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three different persons, but share one substance (John 10:30).  Jesus was God incarnate (John 1:1-14; I John 1:1,2); and Jesus possessed the Holy Spirit beyond all measure (John 3:34,35).  Thus Jesus could say that He was “in My Father.”

But He also told His disciples that “you [are] in Me.”  This points to a different kind of close relationship, a legal or judicial one.  When we are baptized “into Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27) we are then “in Christ.”  As a result God the Father views us as a part of Christ and counts us as righteous as Christ Himself.  “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption –“ (I Cor. 1:30).  “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to His grace” (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14).  Moreover, since we share this privilege with all other believers, collectively we form one body – the body of Christ, of which He is the Head and we are the individual members (I Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 2:13-21; 4:11-16).

And then Jesus says that “I [am] in you.”  Here He is pointing to our mystical union with Himself, which is realized through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within in our hearts.  “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who love me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).  What an awesome thought this is!  That we would have the Spirit of Christ – God eternal, omnipotent and absolutely holy – dwelling within our hearts!   What an awesome privilege, and yet at the same time a responsibility!  And yet that is the blessed experience of every person who has been truly born of God!

Jesus says that “At that day you will know” all of this.  The Greek used here for “know” is gnosesthe, which means to know by observation and experience as opposed to a mental process based on an intuition or information (Abbott-Smith).  The disciples had heard Jesus teach; had a mental grasp of what He was saying.  But after His resurrection and ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they would know by actual experience.  The abstract truth would become a living reality.

The question is, is it a living reality for us?  Have we experienced the blessing and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives?  For too long the modern church has neglected prayer and tried to “go on its own,” with disastrous results.  Churches are dying and the surrounding culture is sinking deeper into a cesspool of sin.  What is desperately needed is a revival – a genuine revival – a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church.  But that will only come when we get down on our knees, go humbly to God in prayer, acknowledging our sins and our shortcomings, and ask Him to return and to bless.  It is only then that we can expect to see real spiritual life and vitality in the church – to see the word being preached with real unction and convicting power, to see believers being lifted from their spiritual slumber and apathy, and see sinners coming to genuine repentance and faith in Christ.  Even so come, Lord Jesus!

“All our knowledge, sense and sight

Lie in deepest darkness shrouded

Till thy Spirit breaks our night

With the beams of truth unclouded.

Thou alone to God canst win us;

Thou must work all good within us.”

Tobias Clausnitzer

(tr. by Catherine Winkworth)

THE PROMISE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

 

 

Jesus has been seeking to comfort His disciples and to show them that it really was to their advantage that He leave them to go to be with the Father.  And an important part of that was the promise to send the Holy Spirit.

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:147,18; NKJV).  The Greek word translated here as “Helper” is Parakletos, or “Paraclete,” as it is sometimes transliterated into English; and the commentators have long debated exactly what the word means.  The old King James Version translated it here as “Comforter,” but in I John 2:1 rendered the same word as “Advocate.”  In our present text in John 14, the NASV, ESV and TEV, besides the NKJV, all render it “Helper.”  The NIV, NRSV, NEB and JB all have “Advocate.”  In the New Testament the word only occurs in the writings of John, and in the present passage it translates something that Jesus had probably said in Aramaic.  In the immediate context Jesus obviously wanted to comfort His disciples, but, as the use of the word in John 14:26; 15:26 and 16:7 indicates, there is more to the work of the Holy Spirit than being just a Comforter of legal Advocate.  The Holy Spirit was sent to help us in a variety of ways, and thus the translation “Helper” is probably best.

When Jesus said that the Father would give them “another Helper,” the implication is that the Holy Spirit would be a Helper in the same manner as Jesus Himself.  Jesus will go on to elaborate on that further later on in the Upper Room Discourse, and the rest of the New Testament will describe it even further.  It suffice to say here that just as Jesus taught, directed and comforted His disciples here on earth, the Holy Spirit would continue to do so after Jesus’ departure.  And this is important.  The church is not left to its own resources, and it was never meant to.  We are dependent on the divine power that is communicated to us through the Holy Spirit.

Significantly Jesus makes a special point of calling the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth.”  He is the Spirit who is truth (I John 5:6), and Who guides us into all truth (John 16:13).  The truth is ultimately God Himself, and His purpose and design in creating the world.  But He is infinite, and we are not; and, to make matters worse, we are fallen sinners, our eyes darkened by sin.  A key role of the Holy Spirit, then, is to reveal the truth to a lost and dying world, and this He does through the preaching of the Gospel; He empowers the preacher and opens the hearts and minds of the listeners to receive the truth.

But his, then, creates a sharp contrast between the church and the world.  Jesus said that the world “cannot receive” the Spirit, “because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” (v. 17).  Jesus here, of course, is referring to the situation that will exist after He has ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit is poured out at Pentecost.  But He uses verbs in the present tense in anticipation of the event (grammarians call this “prolepsis”).  Here the conditions of believers and of the world are contrasted.  The world “cannot receive” the Spirit, and the reason given is that “it neither sees Him nor knows Him.”  This, of course, is referring to man in his natural condition, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.  He is spiritually blind.  He does not want to know the truth because he wants to live his life apart from God.  And because the Holy Spirit is invisible, and works inside the heart, the unregenerate sinner knows nothing of His presence and operation.

But how vastly different it is with the person who has been born of God!  “ . . .but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”  He comes into the heart and creates spiritual life.  He fills the believer’s heart with a real desire to know God, to love Him, and to serve Him.  And thus ter3e is a real sense in which the believer lives in a different world from that of the non-believer.  The Christian is attuned to a spiritual reality of which the unbeliever is completely unaware.

This, in turn, points to the fact that the church needs to be a spiritual brotherhood of genuine believers who are set apart from the world.  It is supposed to be a believers’ church with a regenerate church membership.  And in its public gatherings, its worship and its life together as believers it needs to make manifest the life of Christ – a genuine reverence for God, a love for the brethren, the fruit of the Spirit.

“There is a scene where spirits blend,

Where friend holds fellowship with friend,

Tho’ sundered far, by faith they meet

Around one common mercy seat.”

Hugh Stowell

Significantly Jesus says that all of this will come about through His intercession.  Having just told them that He is about to depart from them and return to the Father in heaven, he says, “And I will pray [or “ask” – NASV, ESV] the Father, and He will give you another Helper” (v. 16).  And, as it happened, that is exactly what occurred.  After His resurrection Jesus instructed His disciples to wait at Jerusalem “until you are endued with power from on high” (Lu. 24:49).  As Paul would later put it, paraphrasing Psalm 68:18, “When He ascended on high, / He led captivity captive, / And gave gifts to men” (Eph. 4:8).  The presence of spiritual gifts within the church is proof that Jesus ascended into heaven, and is alive and making intercession there for us.  It is a testimony to the fact that Jesus loves us, He deeply cares for us, and is actively interceding there on our behalf.

And Jesus reassures them that He will ask that this Helper “may abide with you forever” (v. 10).  Jesus was about to depart.  His disciples were filled with dismay.  But Jesus’ departure was both necessary and beneficial to them, as He pointed out to them.  But with the Holy Spirit it would be different.  He would be with us until the very end.

Unfortunately it is too easy for the American church to underestimate the work of the Holy Spirit.  We are proud and self-sufficient – well=known for our “can-do” attitude.  But in the long run we accomplish little apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.  He must bless; He must provide.  America is sinking into a cesspool of sin.  We keep hoping that the next politician will help us out of it.  But ultimately it comes down to the Holy Spirit working in the hearts and lives of individuals, transforming them from within, and giving them spiritual life.

“Showers of blessing,

Showers of blessing we need:

Mercy drops round us are falling,

But for the showers we plead.”

Daniel W. Whittle

PRAYER MEETING

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Review:

A Praying Church: The Neglected Blessing of Corporate Prayer

Dennis Gundersen

Grace & Truth Books

170 pp., pb

 

It is a sad fact of modern church life that prayer meetings are poorly attended, if they still exist at all.  Many churches no longer have them, and the ones that do typically see only a handful of people show up on a Wednesday evening.  It was to address this sad state of affairs that Dennis Gundersen wrote his book, A Praying Church: The Neglected Blessing of Corporate Prayer.

Dennis and I are past acquaintances (and subsequent Facebook friends), having both attended Trinity Baptist Church of Montville, NJ in the 1970’s, where we had the privilege of sitting under the ministry of Pastor Albert N. Martin.  Dennis has since gone on to serve as pastor of several churches in the Tulsa, OK area, and his is currently President and owner of Grace and Truth Books, which published the current volume.

Dennis, of course, is very much concerned about the demise of the midweek prayer meeting; but his take on the problem is a little unusual.  He lays most of the blame at the feet of the people leading the prayer meetings, if we can even call it “leading” at all.  Dennis notes that one of the pervasive problems with the meetings is the utter lack of direction.  The person nominally in charge simply asks if there are any prayer requests, and most of the requests forthcoming deal with personal issues, especially health needs.  It is no wonder then that many church members wonder what the point of it all is, and choose to stay home on prayer meeting night.

Much of Dennis’ book, then, is basically an instruction manual on how properly to lead a prayer meeting.  In Chapter Four he specifically goes into what to prayer for; and points out that the spread of the kingdom should have priority – we should be praying for our missionaries, the persecuted church, our lost neighbors, and other churches in the vicinity.  We should also make it a priority to pray for each other’s spiritual needs.  This then could be followed by the various personal needs of the members.  There is also a chapter by a fellow pastor, Larry Dean, on the qualifications for a prayer meeting leader.

The second half of the book consists of thirty devotionals which are ones that Dennis actually gave at the prayer meetings at his church.  They cover a variety of topics related to prayer.  One particularly interesting one is entitled “Devoting an Evening of Serious Prayer for Genuine Revival,” which apparently was intended for a special prayer meeting that lasted (apparently by design) longer than usual.  In it he gives us a good definition of “revival.”  He points out that the word “revival” literally means to “’bring back to life,’ to rekindle what was nearly extinguished; to fan the flames which have died out or become low, so that the fire rages hot again” (p. 144).  In a word, it is the revival of spiritual life within the church, along with the accompanying power of the Holy Spirit in evangelism, that constitute a revival.  We should all desire it, but are we praying for it?

On the whole the book is very helpful and worthwhile.  We would want to make a couple of observations, however.  At points Dennis seems to be reading modern church life back into the New Testament when he argues the case for the traditional mid-week prayer meeting.  The prayers mentioned in I Tim. 2:1-8, however, most likely were a part of the regular weekly gatherings of the assemblies, apparently held on Sunday evenings in private homes (cf. Acts 2:46; see Acts 20:6-12 for a brief description of such a meeting).  In many of the better modern churches something similar occurs in small group meetings.  But what the Bible does make clear, however, is the importance of corporate in some shape or form, and Dennis cites several passages from the Book of Acts to underscore the point.  We would simply add to that the promise that Jesus gave us in Matt. 18:19,20: “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (NKJV).

We also cannot help but wonder if the modern church’s spiritual problems do go beyond simple ineptitude in the way prayer meetings are led.  Too often on Sunday mornings we have seen dull, formal “worship” followed by a sermon marked by poor exegesis, a flat delivery, and little or no practical application.  Many of the men, including sometimes even the pastor, will stand with one of their hands in their pocket – can anyone even imagine Moses at the burning bush with one of his hands in his pocket?  Where is the sense of the presence of God in all of this?  Might not the underlying problem be with the spiritual life of the pastor?  Too often the pastor has received a formal, academic education at a seminary or Bible college, who then treated the ministry as a job description he was being paid to fill.  Where there is no spiritual life in the pulpit there is not likely to be found more life in the pew.  Is it possible that the reason so few people attend prayer meeting is because they do not see the need for prayer?  We leave it to each pastor to search his own heart and decide for himself.

On the whole, however, A Praying Church is a good book deserving of serious consideration.  It can be ordered online directly from the publisher at www.graceandtruthbooks.com

 

 

THE PROMISE TO ANSWER PRAYER

 

Jesus had been seeking to reassure His disciples, deeply troubled as they were by His announcement of His immanent departure.  And to do that He encourages them to look beyond their immediate circumstances and to see the bigger picture.  He points out to them what He will accomplish for them by His departure.

Jesus makes an extraordinary promise to His disciples: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father” (John 14:12; NKJV).  The commentators have struggled to understand what exactly that means.  To whom was the promise given?  And how will they perform works that are greater than what Jesus Himself had done?  Some have thought that the promise is given to all believers, and that we could perform miracles if we simply had enough faith to do so.  Others have argued that all believers are included in the promise, but that it simply refers to the ordinary blessings of salvation and the Christian life.  Others, (including Dr. John Brown of Edinburgh) say that it refers only to the apostles themselves, although the work of converting sinners through the preaching of the gospel constitutes “greater works than these.”

What Jesus evidently had in mind was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the ministry of the apostles in its aftermath.  This would be the direct result of His ascension into heaven. Just prior to His ascension He would tell them that “you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” and “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:5,8).

But was this true of just the apostles, or does it apply to the entire church in every age?  The apostle Paul did speak of miracles as one of the charismatic gifts given to the church as a whole (I Cor. 12:8-11, 28-30; cf. Gal. 3:5), and there is no clear indication anywhere in the New Testament that any of the gifts were temporary and meant to cease.  On the other hand Paul makes it clear that not everyone would have the gift of miracles.  “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit . . . one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (I Cor. 12:4-6, 11).  It is also true that the apostles were especially endowed with the ability to perform “signs” as a testimony to the gospel they proclaimed: “Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds” (II Cor. 12:12).

Did miracles cease with the apostles?  The evidence suggests that the gifts of prophecy and exorcism continued into the Second Century, and that the prophecies and healings appeared sporadically thereafter.  But we do not see the more spectacular miracles that Christ and the apostles performed.  One possible explanation is that those kinds of miracles were specifically suited to a Jewish audience.  When the last of the apostles died, the more spectacular miracles ceased.

But another possible explanation is that the church went into a state of spiritual decline.  The church became more institutionalized.  The bishops assumed a more autocratic role.  Infant baptism began to be practiced and the Lord’s Table became more dramatized.  And by the end of the Second Century we begin to see bitter rivalries and divisions, which would have grieved the Holy Spirit.  The result would have been a lack of the Spirit’s presence in the church.

Jesus went on to say “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:13,14).  Here we see the key to success or failure in the church’s mission – it is prayer.  “If you ask.”  Our problem is that we do not ask.  We Americans in particular are very independent minded and like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient.  We plan and we organize, prayer is an afterthought, if it happens at all.  But Jesus makes everything depend on prayer.  Why?  First of all, we are not self-sufficient.  Only the Holy Spirit can convict a sinner of his guilt, open his eyes so that he can behold the glory of Christ in the gospel, and renew the heart so that he responds in faith.

But why is prayer the means of accomplishing this?  “That the Father may be glorified in the Son.”  When something happens in response to prayer, it is evident that it was God who did it.  And by asking the Father in the name of Christ, it is evident that prayer is efficacious because of the atoning and intercessory work of Christ.  Why should God the Father answer our prayers?  Because Christ died for our sins and pleads on our behalf.  In this way the Father and the Son are glorified when we pray in the name of Christ.

The way Jesus stated all of this sounds like an unconditional promise.  But as is evident from other passages of Scripture there are limitations.  God is a wise and loving Father, and He will not give us something that is bad for us or for others.  Miracles should not be used to glorify the preacher, but Christ.  How God answers a prayer will depend on the circumstances.

But we do not want to limit God either by assuming that He cannot perform miracles today.  He is sovereign and He is omnipotent.  He can do whatever He pleases.  The great weakness of the modern church is it’s prayerlessness.  We have not because we ask not (Jas. 4:2).  True revival begins on our knees, when we come face to face with the reality of God, humble ourselves before Him, and acknowledge our dependence upon Him.  Only then can we expect to receive blessings from Him.  How much more could God accomplish through us if we prayed more!

JESUS AND THE FATHER ARE ONE

 

Thomas had asked Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” (John 14:5; NKJV), and Jesus responded by saying “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me” (v. 6).  But then Jesus goes on to elaborate.  Just exactly who is Jesus?  And what exactly is His relationship with the Father?  He tells Thomas, and the disciples as a group, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him” (v. 7).

Philip, however, still does not grasp what Jesus is saying, and he says, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us” (v. 8).  The disciples’ bewilderment at this point is understandable.  The relationship of Jesus to the Father is difficult to grasp.  The question takes us right into the mystery of the Trinity.

Jesus responded by mildly rebuking Philip: “Have I been with you so long, an yet you have not known Me, Philip?  He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (v. 9).  As the 19th Century Scottish preacher Charles Ross pointed out, “The expression can only be understood on the supposition that he is a partaker of the same nature and essence with the Father” (The Inner Sanctuary, p. 81).  Jesus, the Son, is a different Person from the Father; He prays to the Father as a Person different from Himself.  But as Jesus goes on to explain to Philip, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?” (v. 10a).  As the Nicene Creed puts it, Jesus Christ is “the Son of God, begotten of the Father as only begotten, that is, from the essence of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not created, of the same essence as he Father . . .”  The Father and the Son are two different Persons, an yet He could say that “I am in the Father, and the Father in Me.”

Jesus then goes on to cite the evidence for this.  First of all, “The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority (v. 10b – the translation has supplied the word “authority”; NASV has “initiative). The content, the manifest wisdom of Jesus’ spoken words points to a superhuman source.  Likewise Jesus points out that “the Father who dwells in Me does the works . . . believe Me for the sake of the works themselves’ (vv.  10c,11b).  His miracles demonstrated His supernatural powers, and they attested to His essential Deity.

Why is this important?  Because it establishes the basis for Jesus’ role as “the way, the truth, and the life.”  He could not be any of these things if were anything less than God Himself.  Only the divine Christ can atone for our sin; only the divine Christ can reveal truth to us.  Christ can do both of these things because He was not a mere human being, a Buddha or Mohammed; but because He was the very Son of God Himself – fully God and fully man at the same time.

As Dr. John Brown of Edinburgh pointed out, the whole system of Christian truth, and the whole fabric of human hope, rests on the deity of Christ.  And if we had a proper appreciation of it, “How much holier, how much happier, should we be, if we habitually lived under its power!” (Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord, Vol. 3, p. 64).  The gospel would be a delight; the atonement would be a resting place for our conscience; authority would clothe all of Christ’s commands.  But all too often, in actual practice, we are like Philip.  “None of us know him [i.e., Christ] as we ought to do – as we might do . . . Let those who know him follow on to know him – to know him as the expiator of guilt – the great teacher – the efficacious purifier – the supreme governor – their Saviour – their Lord – their God” (Ibid.).

“Jesus, thou Joy of loving hearts,

Thou Fount of life, thou Light of men,

From the best bliss that earth imparts

We turn unfilled to thee again.”

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE

 

When Jesus told His disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them He then added the comment, “And where I go you know, and the way you know” (John 14:4: NKJV).  This is another one of those thought provoking comments by Jesus that mystified His listeners – a comment which has a spiritual import but which His listeners took in a physical sense.  And so it was only natural that, on this occasion, Thomas would ask Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” (v. 5).  And Jesus responded to that question with one of the classic statements in Scripture about salvation: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me” (v. 6).  It is not matter of how one gets physically from point A to point B.  Rather, it is a matter of how one gets reconciled to God.

“I am the way.”  What separates us from God, what prevents us from getting to Him, is not a physical barrier.  It is a moral one – our sin.  And the means by which Christ will open up the way to the Father is through His atoning work on the cross.  Only then can we be reconciled to God and have a relationship with Him.

But then Jesus also says that He is “the truth.”  Post-Modern philosophers have questioned whether truth even exists.  They say that we are faced with the brute facts of human existence.  Beyond that anything that we say is pure fantasy or wishful thinking.  But we did not get here by accident; we were created by an intelligent Supreme Being.  And God’s creative will determines our meaning and purpose in life.  But that truth, that meaning and purpose, can only be know though divine revelation.  God Himself must tell us why He created us and what He intended for us.

The human race, however, is alienated from God.  Through our sin and rebellion we have removed ourselves from God and have rejected revelation.  That means that for fallen man truth is unknowable. Rather than acknowledge God as Creator and Lord we seek some alternative, and inherently false, explanation of reality.  And this leads us into profound intellectual darkness.  Secular philosophers cannot even be sure that external objects even exist.  They are caught in a trap between rationalism (everything conforms to natural law, even human behavior) and irrationalism (there is no natural law: we simply exist).  And what lies beyond the grace is a complete mystery.

Jesus, however, is “the truth” – the truth is embodied in Him.  Because He came directly form the Father He knows perfectly the mind and purpose of the Father, and can reveal that to us.  Furthermore, as John pointed out in the prologue to his Gospel, “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3).  He was, in effect, the Creator, and that means He could state authoritatively the rationale behind creation.  His the One who reveals the truth.  As the One through Whom all things were made He is the truth, the final explanation of reality.

And then He is “the life.”  Because of human sin, the created world is subject to sickness and disease, and we must all face the inevitability of death.  Death was the curse pronounced upon us because of our sin.  But in His capacity as priest Jesus offered up the perfect sacrifice through His own death on the cross, and thereby opened a path of reconciliation with God.  That means that we can experience spiritual life now, and a physical resurrection and eternal life later.  In this way Christ can give life to those who put their trust in Him as Savior.

And so it is that Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  Mankind’s basic problem is its alienation from God.  It was to remedy that situation that God sent His only begotten Son into the world.  His death on the cross was the atonement for our sin.  This is the reason why Jesus is the only way to the Father.  There are not “many paths to heaven,” as some imagine.  What keeps us from God is our sin, and the death of Christ on the cross is the only atonement for that sin.  That is why there is no other way to God but through Christ.

Dr. John Brown of Edinburgh summed it up well when he said, “There is no true happiness but in knowing, and being loved by, and having intercourse and fellowship with, the Father; and the Father cannot be acceptably approached either on earth on in heaven, but through him who is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’” (Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord, Vol. 3, p. 47).