Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Dear Pilgrim, when He comes, will He find faith on the earth?

Mount Carmel ("the vineyard of God")

Dear Pilgrim, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth (Luke 18:8)?

O Pilgrim, it is a challenging word that He has brought to us. He told us that many will turn away from the faith in times of trouble. For it is true that not everyone has faith.

Yet Pilgrim, we know that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). And Pilgrim, your ears have been opened by the One who looked up to heaven with a deep sigh and said, “Ephphatha!”(Mark 7:34).  You have heard His voice, you have heard the Word of God!

Pilgrim, come with me, come up Mount Carmel, come and see a man of faith. Elijah has heard and received the word of God, that rain is coming, and in faith he announces to Ahab that there is the sound of an abundance of rain (1 Kings 18:41). Three years of drought, three years where neither dew nor rain had fallen in the land, and now an abundance of rain is proclaimed because of the word of the Lord! For this was a man who lived by faith, and not by sight.

Look, Pilgrim! Here, on the top of the mountain, the place where God reveals Himself, the man of God has bowed down on the ground, with his face between his knees. He is praying to his God, Pilgrim. What does a man of God pray in such a situation? These words come to mind: “Remember Your word to Your servant, for You have given me hope” (Psalm 119:49). He asks his servant to go and look towards the sea, that their eyes might see the word of the Lord come to pass. His servant looks, comes back, and says, “There is nothing”. There is no sign.

Elijah continues to pray. He continues to trust in the word of the Lord. He continues to trust in the faithfulness of his God. For no word from God will ever fail (Luke 1:37). Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens (Psalm 119:89). A second time he asks his servant to report what he sees – nothing.

Undaunted, the man of faith in such a situation reminds himself that “the word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all He does” (Psalm 33:4). “And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times” (Psalm 12:6). A third time he asks his servant what he sees – nothing.

Faithfully, the man of God, who perseveres in prayer at His throne, cries out, “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope” (Psalm 130:5). He calls to mind familiar words of Scripture and brings them before the Lord in humble submission: “My word that goes out from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). A fourth time there is no response to his prayers.

Still he does not waver in unbelief regarding the promise of God, but he is strengthened in his faith and gives glory to God, for he is fully persuaded that God has the power to do what He has promised (Romans 4:20-21). He knows that even though heaven and earth may pass away, His words will never pass away (Mark 13:31). A fifth time he is told there is still no sign.

He holds unswervingly to his hope, for he knows that He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23), and he prays aloud for all to hear, “As for God, His way is perfect: the Lord’s word is flawless; He shields all who take refuge in Him” (2 Samuel 22:31). As he prays, he takes up his shield of faith to extinguish the flaming arrows from the evil one, who is whispering, “Did God really say He would send rain?” A sixth time the servant goes to look towards the sea. Nothing.

The man of faith continues knocking, continues seeking, continues asking that the Lord bring to pass the word He has spoken.  He knows that God will bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night. He knows that the Lord will not keep putting them off, that His God will see that they get justice, and quickly (Luke 18:7-8). A seventh time the servant goes to look towards the sea.

The servant comes running back to the man of God, breathless with excitement! He has seen something! Oh! An abundance of rain is the promise. What is it that can be seen? The skies filled with ominous dark clouds? No – a single cloud! A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea! Do not despise the day of small things, dear Pilgrim! For from this cloud as small as a man’s hand, an abundance of rain will fall over the land! Rejoice that the Lord has heard your cry!

Dear Pilgrim, here, atop Mount Carmel, the mountain of faith, the mountain of belief, He has tested your faith and has produced perseverance as a result! What a thing of beauty your faith in Him is! Is it any wonder that Mount Carmel is known as a mountain of splendour (Isaiah 35:2)? And now, dear Pilgrim, you can join the Psalmist in this victorious cry: “I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Dear Pilgrim, have you beheld the Lamb of God?

Dear Pilgrim, have you beheld the Lamb of God? The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world? Have you looked upon the Lamb who was slain?

Come, Pilgrim. Let us ascend, let us climb up to Golgotha, the place of the skull. Oh, Pilgrim, let us take off our sandals as we climb, for this is holy ground.

Pilgrim, well might you be trembling beside me. I am trembling too. For here He has taken up our pain, and bears our suffering. He has been pierced for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities. The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Oh, Pilgrim, He is bearing our sins in His body on the cross. He is bearing my sin. He is bearing your sin.

When Abraham declared to Isaac “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Gen 22:8), could he have known how these words would be fulfilled? On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided, and here, on the mountain of the Lord, the Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, was provided.

Just as the Passover Lamb was a lamb without defect, so Jesus Christ was a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Pe 1:19). Pilate declared after examining the Lamb, “I find no basis for a charge against Him” (John 19:6). Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Jesus Christ, our Passover Lamb, was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth (Isa 53:7). For Jesus made no reply, not to a single charge that was brought against Him (Mt 27:14). Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

He was like one from whom people hid their faces, for He was despised and held in low esteem. Oh, Pilgrim, let us not hide our faces from Him! Let us kneel here, at the foot of the cross, let us gaze up at our Saviour, our precious Redeemer, who is spilling His blood for you and for me, who is pouring out His blood for many for the forgiveness of sins. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

See Him on the cross, the Bread of Affliction (Dt 16:3). The bread of affliction, bread made without yeast, was eaten along with the Passover Lamb by the Israelites in remembrance of the night they fled Egypt. The Bread of Life, the living bread that came down from heaven, became the Bread of Affliction that we might eat of His flesh which He gave for the life of the world.

Hear the Bread of Affliction crying out “I am thirsty”, in order to fulfil the Scriptures. A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. As they did so, they lay before us the meal that Ruth’s Kinsman-Redeemer offered to her, when he gave her a meal of bread dipped in wine vinegar (Ruth 2:14).

Pilgrim, as we kneel at the foot of the cross, gazing at our Saviour, in repentance feeding on Him as He gives His life for us, listen to the words Boaz speaks to Ruth as she shares this meal: “I’ve been told…how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:11-12). Oh Pilgrim, how can it be that He would speak in this manner to us? How can we have found such favour in His eyes? How can it be that He would give such comfort to us, and speak so kindly to us, when it is our sin which has caused His suffering, when it is because of our own sin that He hangs on this cross? Yet He does indeed speak these words to us, who have left everything to come and kneel here, at the foot of His cross, we who have fled the city where we dwelt to find refuge in the mountains. We will be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings we have come to take refuge. For it is in His cross that we have come to take refuge, it is in His cross where we shelter in the shadow of His wings, it is in His cross that we are covered by His blood – His blood in which a rich reward is to be found.

For His blood of the covenant was poured out for many, for the forgiveness of sins. We, who were in slavery to sin, have been redeemed through His blood! We, who were far away, have been brought near by His blood! He has cleansed our consciences from acts that lead to death through His blood! We have been reconciled with our Father in heaven through His blood! We have peace with God through His blood! He makes us holy through His blood! We have been purified from sin through His blood! He has freed us from our sins through His blood! We will overcome by the blood of the Lamb!

Oh, Pilgrim, what precious blood this is! What riches there are in His blood! Oh, Pilgrim, at one and the same time are our hearts not filled with grief that He had to pour out His blood, yet filled with rejoicing at what has been accomplished? What can we do but bow down and worship? Let us fall down before Him and worship! Oh, sing with me, Pilgrim, sing, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!”

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Dear Pilgrim, have you called on the Lord in your distress?

Dear Pilgrim, have you called on the Lord in your distress? When trouble has come your way, have you cried to your God for help? Have you cried to Him for mercy as you lift up your hands to His Most Holy Place? Have you cried out to Him that He might not be deaf to your weeping? If this is so, dear Pilgrim, then you have the faith to believe that God has ears to hear.

For the idols have ears but cannot hear (Ps 115:6) – yet it is our God Himself who fashioned the ear (Ps 94:9)! Surely His ear is not too dull to hear (Isa 59:1)!

Listen to the thunderous Holy sounds on His Holy Mountain, Pilgrim. From His throne come flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. The seraphim above His throne call praises to one another, and at the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds of the temple shake. The four living creatures around the throne never stop saying day and night “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come”. Whenever they move, the sound of their wings is like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. The twenty-four elders around the throne speak out their praises to Him. And the angels! Oh, Pilgrim, there are thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, singing for joy, shouting for joy!

Pilgrim, can it be true that in such a place of Holy sounds, of Holy thunder, of Holy joy, that from His temple He hears our voices, that our cries come before Him, into His ears? Oh yes, dear Pilgrim, it is true, for our God is the God who hears! The angel of the Lord instructed Hagar to name her son Ishmael as a testament to the God who hears (Gen 16:11)! His ears are attentive to the cry of the righteous!

Cry to Him in the morning, dear Pilgrim, lay your requests before Him and wait expectantly. Evening, morning and noon cry out in your distress, that He might hear your voice. He heard His people crying out in their captivity in Egypt, for He fulfils the desires of those who fear Him, He hears their cry and saves them (Ps 145:19)! He will not hear the prayers of those whose iniquities separate them from their God, whose sin causes Him to hide His face from them (Isa 59:2). Yet when the righteous cry out, those who are walking with the Lord, who are walking before Him in humility, contrite in heart, confessing their sins, these the Lord hears. He hears the cry of His faithful servant who has been set apart for Himself (Ps 4:3).

He heard the cries of Moses, who was faithful as a servant in all God’s house. Most glorious of all, He heard Christ, who is faithful as the Son over God’s house, and Who was able to proclaim “I know that You always hear me” (John 11:42) as He brought glory to His Father during the days of His life on earth. He was heard because of His reverent submission (Heb 5:7). And what He Himself had heard from the One who sent Him, this He proclaimed to the world (John 8:26). He came from Heaven, and He testified of all that He had seen and heard (John 3:31-32). He returned to Heaven and has sent the Spirit to come to us, who now speaks to us only what He hears (John 16:13). And when we do not know how to pray as we should, it is He, the Spirit Himself, who intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8:26) which rise up before Him as fragrant incense and are heard at His throne.

For Pilgrim, it is not the loudness of our prayers that captures His attention. Our God is not one that we need to shout louder to that we might interrupt His thoughts (1 Ki 18:27). Hannah’s voice could not be heard when she prayed in her heart, her lips were soundlessly moving as she poured out her soul to the Lord (1 Sam 1:13-15). Yet the Lord heard her. He hears the needy, the one who has barely any strength to muster up the breath from within to cry out to Him, the one whose heart He has captured. When we can do no more than whisper a prayer to Him out of our distress, be reassured of this truth, dear Pilgrim - He hears, our God hears!

Let us utter these beautiful words of faith with the prophet Micah: “My God will hear me” (Micah 7:7)! Oh, what precious faith is revealed here! Listen to the confidence! Is He your God, Pilgrim? Yes, yes He is, for He has called you, He has chosen you, you heard His voice calling you! Will He hear you, Pilgrim? Yes, yes He will! Oh, may He give us the confidence, the assurance in Him that no matter what situation we face, our God will hear us. May we look back at all He has done for us in the past, and remind ourselves in our present time of need that our God will hear us. May we look to Christ and how He was always heard, and know that as we cry out to our God through Christ, we too will be heard for we come in the precious name of His Son! May we be comforted that we enjoy the favour of our God, that He delights to hear our voice calling to Him, for we come through His precious Son, whose voice He always delighted to hear.

Oh, Pilgrim, may our hearts always be inclined towards Him! May we never cease to cry out to Him! “For He says, ‘In the time of My favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2)!