‘Jesus’ Prayer: (1) Glorify’

‘Jesus’ Prayer: (1) Glorify’

Our prayers say a great deal about us. Are your prayers like that of AA Milne’s, Christopher Robin who, in the midst of his child-like bedtime prayers, prayed that God would bless his parents as well as himself? Or do your prayers reflect the shape of the honest and humble yet bold petitionary prayers of people such as Moses, David and Daniel or the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples?

In John chapter 17 we read Jesus’ prayer on the eve of his arrest. It’s a prayer that tells us a great deal about him and his relationship with God the Father, his concern for his disciples, as well his concern for all his people throughout time. Over three Wednesdays I’ll be touching on these three themes.

Today let me focus on verses 1 and 5. In verse 1 we read: After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, … “

Jesus knew that within hours he would be arrested, convicted by human authorities, and put to death. Given the confessional prayers of Moses, David and Daniel, as well as the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, it is significant that he makes no confession of sin. Of all humanity, he alone is without sin.

His prayer is sometimes called ‘the great high priestly prayer’, but strictly speaking it isn’t. The central task of a high priest’s work was to offer sacrifices and to pray for God to forgive his own sin as well as the sins of God’s people. But the focus of Jesus’ prayer is that God will glorify him: “Glorify your Son, so that the Son may glorify you…” (17:1).

The verb to glorify typically means ‘to honor’ – as we find in John chapter 5, verse 23. There Jesus speaks of God’s plan that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.

But in the opening line of his prayer in John chapter 17, Jesus reveals the depths of God’s previously hidden pre-cosmic plan.

The opening lines of John’s Gospel read: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And in verse 14 we learn that the Word took on human form and came amongst us as one of us. John testifies: We beheld his glory, the glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (1:14).

Now, in chapter 17, Jesus prays that God will glorify him, so that he will remain faithful to the bitter end in the implementation of his Father’s long hidden plan, so that he in turn may glorify the Father (17:1). God’s plan is extraordinary, in contrast to that of any human wisdom. God’s glory would be revealed through the events of Jesus’ death, resurrection and exaltation.

And some sixteen centuries later Archbishop Thomas Cranmer came to understand – as Dr. Ashley Null has observed – that ‘the glory of God is his love of the unworthy’.

On the night of his arrest, Jesus prayed that God the Father would honor him, so that he would honor the Father through his sacrificial death for the sins of the world.

We feel the impact of what Jesus is saying and what was about to happen. Judas had gone into the night to do his dark work of betrayal. Jesus was certain of his pending arrest, trial and death. “Glorify the Son,” he prays, “so that the Son may glorify you”.

In verse 5, Jesus continues: “So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed”. Jesus is self-consciously divine, but he is also human and therefore vulnerable. He was praying that God would restore the glory he, Jesus, had set aside when he took on human form.

One great work remained – his work of bearing the sin of the whole world, when he would be lifted up on the cross as he had predicted earlier in his ministry (John 3:14-15). Furthermore, his final words, “It is finished”, recorded in John chapter 19, verses 28 and 30, express his sense that his work on earth was complete.

As he began his prayer, Jesus knew that with his arrest, trial and crucifixion, he would have to endure an injustice such as the world had never seen, and that the physical torture he would have to bear would be horrific. Significantly, the Gospel record is silent on the physical pain. Rather the focus is on the spiritual pain he would endure in taking on himself our sin and guilt before the holy God. In that hour he would feel totally alone. His eternal, perfect and loving relationship with God the Father would be at breaking point.

Jesus knew that the only way he could remain faithful, passing through the deepest shadows of the valley of death and so glorifying God, would be in God’s strength. He would be treading the path of suffering in the midst of the extremes of human hostility and supernatural opposition.

Yet throughout this first part of his prayer he reveals that his central concern is the glory of God.

This surely gives us pause. As beneficiaries of the events that reveal the true glory of God, surely we too will want to thank the Lord from the bottom of our heart and, in turn, want to glorify God in our every thought, word and act.

Jesus did not just pray for himself and the dark hours he faced. He prayed that God would be glorified through his death, resurrection and exaltation. He further prayed that God would restore him to the glory he had put aside when he came amongst us in person.

Prayer. Lord God, the unfailing helper and guide of those whom you bring up in your steadfast fear and love, keep us, we pray, under the protection of your good providence, and give us a continual reverence and love for your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.

You may want to listen to In Christ Alone from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

‘Jesus’ Prayer: (1) Glorify’

‘Daniel’s Prayer: Heart-Felt Petition’

I have a question: how often are your prayers prompted by your meditation on God’s Word?

In Daniel chapter 9 we read: In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by birth a Mede, who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans – in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to the prophet Jeremiah, must be fulfilled for the devastation of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication …

Around 539BC, Daniel was amongst the elite of Jewish society who had been in exile in Babylon for over 50 years. During that time his abilities and his faith had shone when, at significant moments, his advice had been sought by Kings Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Darius.

Now in his 80s Daniel had lost neither his intellectual sharpness nor his faith. And because he was a man who consistently read and meditated on God’s Word, he was very aware of God’s promise that Jerusalem and its people would be restored.

He knew of Jeremiah’s prophesy: Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words … this whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years (Jeremiah 25:8,11).

And he also knew that Jeremiah had spoken of the restoration of God’s people: ‘Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity’ Jeremiah (29:12).

Daniel was certain God would not forget his promise. But he didn’t just sit around, enjoying life, waiting for God to step in. With the Scriptures open before him, he turned his face to the Lord and prayed. God’s sovereignty is not fatalistic determinism. Rather, he invites us to partner with him in the implementation of his plans. The 17th century French mathematician, physicist and philosopher, Blaise Pascal observed, ‘God instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality’.

Daniel knew the Lord and understood that the secret to addressing concerns and fears in life is found in heart-felt confession and petition.

Confession. Consider key elements of Daniel’s prayer. ‘O God, we have turned away from your commands and your laws’ (9:5); ‘we have not listened to your servants the prophets; we have not obeyed the laws you gave’ (9:10); ‘we have broken your law’ (9:11); ‘we have not looked for your mercy by turning away from our sins and paying attention to your truth’ (9:13). Significantly, Daniel reflects on God’s law, given to Moses, and identifies himself with the sin of God’s people. All Israel had sinned, including Daniel.

Throughout his prayer Daniel acknowledges the personal relationship that exists between God and his people. A covenant exists between them – a covenant with commands and laws which God himself has revealed.

It’s easy to think of God’s judgement simply falling on the godless and the perpetrators of evil. But Daniel’s prayer identifies sin as breaking God’s commands. How often we forget this today – in part because when we gather as God’s people we are not specifically reminded of God’s commands. Our understanding of sin in God’s sight becomes vague and subjective.

How important it is that we consistently open up and meditate on God’s Word. God delights in us growing in our relationship with him as the almighty Lord whose glory transcends the universe and speaks of his awesome power and purity. God wants us to understand his plan and purpose for us whom he has created in his image. Yet too often we succumb to the attractions of the world and our lives are compromised by the spirit of the age. And so we daily need to confess our own sin before the Lord, and when we gather as a church.

To follow Daniel’s example, it’s essential that we confess our broken relationship with the Lord before we petition him with our requests. Indeed, it is a pattern that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer put into the liturgies he developed in the Book of Common Prayer.

Petition. Daniel’s confession turns to petition with: Lord, in view of all your righteous acts, let your anger and wrath, we pray, turn away

Daniel didn’t ask God to set aside his righteousness and overlook the sins of his people. Instead, he asked God to act because of his righteousness. Paradoxically this was Israel’s only hope.

Like Moses, Daniel appealed to God on the basis of God’s character: Now therefore,… Incline your ear, O my God, and hear… We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies.

At the heart of Daniel’s petition is the glory of God’s name. He did not hesitate to remind God of what he’d already revealed in his Word and urged him to roll up his sleeves and act.

Daniel was not presumptuous. Rather, he was humble, honest and contrite about his own sin and the sin of God’s people. But this didn’t prevent him praying on the basis of God’s character and God’s promises.

At the center of Daniel’s prayer is confidence that God is a God of mercy. The glorious and gracious thing about God is that he is always willing to receive people back when they repent and are committed to start afresh with him.

The New Testament knows of this type of faith and prayer. We see it in the faith of four men that brought forgiveness of sin and healing when they lowered their paralyzed friend through a roof.

With the coming of Jesus Christ and his commitment to build his church, how much more should we speak frankly and humbly to God, asking him to honor and glorify his name by acting with mercy towards our sinful world?

Do you regularly ask for God’s forgiveness, not just for your own sin, but the sin of others? Do you pray that for the sake of God’s name and reputation, he will act with mercy, softening hard hearts and awakening many to the truth of his good news? God has promised!

Prayer. Almighty God, creator of all things and giver of every good and perfect gift, hear with favor the prayers of your people, so that we who are justly punished for our offences may mercifully be delivered by your goodness, for the glory of your name; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Lord Christ, eternal Word and Light of the Father’s glory, have mercy on our broken and divided world; send your light and your truth so that as we proclaim your word of life many will turn to you; for you now live and reign, God for all eternity. Amen.

You might like to listen to The Perfect Wisdom of Our God from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

‘Jesus’ Prayer: (1) Glorify’

‘David’s Prayer: Confession’

Let me ask, do you have any regrets? You may regret words you let rip and can’t take back, or a relationship you should never have started.

Second Samuel, chapter 11 tells us of the occasion when King David was relaxing on the roof of the palace when he saw a woman bathing. Attracted by her beauty he invited her over. But she was the wife of one of his officers. He’s away, he may have thought. And after all, I am the king.

But Bathsheba became pregnant, and David’s attempts to arrange for her husband, Uriah to return home and sleep with her, failed. So he developed a more devious plan. Uriah was sent back to the battlefield and positioned so that he would die. Like the ophthalmologist who had an affair and then arranged a murder in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, King David seemed to have committed the perfect crime. But David had forgotten God.

In Second Samuel, chapter 12 we learn that Nathan the prophet arranged to meet the King.

Knowing the power of kings, Nathan told a story of a wealthy man who had many sheep and a poor man who had just one little lamb. When the rich man needed a sheep for a meal to entertain a guest, instead of taking a sheep from his own flock, he took the poor man’s lamb. David, a former shepherd, was furious: ‘The man should be brought to justice,’ he said. Nathan’s response? ‘You are the man!’

The heading of Psalm 51 reveals that David wrote it following his affair. It is a complex, very personal psalm, but it is timeless in its application as it also speaks to us about ourselves and about God.

Have mercy on me, O God, David begins. His cry for mercy reveals that he understood he had no right to expect God’s favor. But because God had sent the prophet Nathan to speak to him, David knew God had not forgotten his promise. So, he not only cries for mercy but also appeals to God’s covenant love and compassion: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love. Have me mercy on me, O God, according to your abundant mercy (51:3).

Confession. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me, David continues (51:3). Fully aware of his guilt before God, he didn’t just regret what he had done. He truly repented of his actions.

It’s important to think about this. David had tried to cover up and even excuse what he had done. It’s something we’re all tempted to do at times. Over the last 100 years or so academia has provided us with more and more excuses for what we do. Freud taught us to blame our parents. Marx taught us to blame the capitalist system. And 21st century medicine tells us to blame our DNA. But our guilt can fester and re-appear in ways that are usually not obviously related to the original failure. It’s sometimes why we can’t sleep.

We need to do as David did: speak to the Lord. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, he said. But what about Bathsheba and Uriah? With his words David is voicing something we all have to reckon with: our sin is first and foremost against God. Adultery and murder are second commandment issues. But when we break the second commandment – love your neighbor as yourself – we are in fact breaking the first, for the second is consequent upon the first. Sin against our neighbour is primarily sin against God.

Contrary to what psychology and psychiatry might tell us guilt is not just a psychological hang-up. It is something objective, something real, that stands between us and our Maker. The God who rules the universe is not just some impersonal force. He is a moral being, a holy judge. When we do wrong things, we offend him. As David recognizes, God’s anger towards him – as it is towards us – is justified.

The pricks of conscience we feel, reflect our awareness of an objective moral order and the existence of God. It’s not enough for the psychotherapist to help us come to terms with our guilt. It’s not even enough for the human beings we have hurt to tell us they forgive us. We are all accountable to God.

See how David puts it: You are justified, God, in your judgment, for against you alone, have I sinned… And, he adds, Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me (51:5).

David knows that his sins are the outcome of a self-centered nature. He’s not speaking against his mother nor the nature of his conception; nor is he blaming her for his actions. Rather he makes a chilling statement about human nature: no one of us is intrinsically good. As Paul the Apostle writes in Romans, chapter 3: We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (3:23).

Yet human wisdom today fails to recognize this reality. It is something that impacts every arena of life – politics and the courts, economics and education, family, local community and international relations. Malcolm Muggeridge, one-time editor of the English Punch magazine wrote: The depravity of humanity is at once the most unpopular of all dogmas, but the most empirically verifiable.

Cleansing: You desire truth in the inward being, David continues; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart (51:6). If we are going to find peace of mind and heart, it’s in our minds and hearts that the process of acquiring God’s wisdom must begin. What’s buried in our thoughts needs to be exposed before God.

Consider David’s further words:  Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities (51:7-10).

We need more than the band-aid of education or more laws. It’s not just isolated acts of sin we need to be cleansed from, but the powerful grip of our self-centredness.

It is not until we come to the New Testament that we learn the true cost for God to cleanse us. In Colossians 2:13 we read: And you who were dead in your trespasses … God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

Heart-Change. Create in me a pure heart, O God, David continues (51:10). Too often our problem is that we don’t want to pray this prayer. Indeed, unless God’s mercy and grace are at work within us, we won’t want to change. But he also knows that he can’t presume on God’s mercy. That is why he also says, take not your Holy Spirit from me (51:11).

How we need to pray with David: Restore to me the joy of your salvation (51:12) Restore reminds us that God was no stranger to David. He could recall times when things were different, when he had enjoyed an intimate close communion with God. Now, more than anything else he wanted to experience again the joy of that relationship.

‘All I can bring, Lord,’ David continues, is a broken and contrite heart (51:17). He knew that as well as being pure and just, God is also willing to forgive us and set us on a new course of life that is good for us and honors him. How often do we need to meditate on this.

There it is. A very personal, complex psalm with many layers. King David’s cry for God’s mercy is not so much a psalm for a General Confession in the gathering of God’s people, but a psalm for our own personal reflection and prayer in the privacy of our own relationship with the Lord.

Before you go to sleep tonight, let me encourage you to reflect on your own relationship with the Lord with this psalm open before you. Be honest with him, asking him to forgive you for failing to honor him at all times in your life. Pray that his Word and his Spirit will bring about the changes that God in his perfect wisdom knows are for your best, so you may know the joy of his love. Pray further that the Lord will give you the opportunities and the courage to share the joy you have found in him with family and friends.

Where is our hope in life? It is in Christ alone because of God’s amazing grace.

A prayer. Lord God, without you we are not able to please you; mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You may like to listen to the Keith and Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa song, What is Our Hope in Life and Death.

© John G. Mason

‘Jesus’ Prayer: (1) Glorify’

‘Moses’ Prayer: The Honor of God’s Name’

Many of us are concerned with the issues of justice and peace, divisions and conflict. Is there anything we can do that might make a difference in our world where daily the news seems to get worse?

Come with me to a prayer of Moses that we find in Numbers, chapter 14.

A little over three millennia ago, God’s people were on the southern border of ancient Canaan – a land peopled from different regions. Moses had sent twelve spies to bring a report on the land. And, in their report they were all were agreed on the prosperity of the land: they had grapes to prove it! (Numbers 13:25ff)

However, the report was divided: ten said the cities were well defended and that the legendary sons of Anak – the giant Nephilim – were in the Canaanite armies. But two of the group, Caleb and Joshua, provided a minority report: ‘Let’s act now,’ they said, ‘we can overcome it’ (13:30).

But no one listened. Rather, they raised a hue and cry about Moses and Aaron, saying that they would have preferred to have died in Egypt or in the wilderness (14:2). “Why is the Lord bringing us into this land only to die by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey… Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (14:3f).

In Numbers 14:11f we read God’s chilling words: “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them…”

God went on to make an offer to Moses: “I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”

This must have seemed extraordinarily attractive to Moses. He would be rid of this fickle crowd. However, his response was to pray to the Lord: “Then the Egyptians will hear of it! (Numbers 14:13).

Moses didn’t make excuses for Israel, pleading mitigating circumstances. Rather, he appealed to the character of God: “In your might or power you brought these people from Egypt…” he said. Aren’t you a God of your word?’

‘What will the nations think?’ he continued. “If you kill this people all at one time, then the nations who have heard about you will say, ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land he swore to give them that he has slaughtered them in the wilderness.’”

Most of all, Moses appealed to God’s unchangeable love: “And now, therefore, let the power of the Lord be great in the way that you promised when you spoke, saying, ‘The Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but by no means clearing the guilty…”

What a moving prayer this is. Here is a single individual praying, and the fate of God’s people hinges on it. How can the prayer of any man or woman possibly have such significance?

Moses’ prayer shows us that it is because of God’s character we can be very confident when we pray. Moses knew that God is a God of his word. Furthermore, he knew that God is a God of mercy.

And the outcome of Moses’ prayer? God tempered his judgment with mercy. The people were forgiven. But they were destined to die without seeing the promise themselves.

So what can we learn from this today? With the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ we live under another, very different covenant. God’s promise now is not just to a specific race of people but to all people. Nor is it about a promised land, or material wealth.

In Matthew chapter 16, verse 18 we read Jesus’ words: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. Furthermore, Mark records Jesus’ words, “For the Son of Man has not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45). When he was dying on the cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And following his resurrection from the dead he commissioned his disciples with, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20).

It’s easy to forget in the busy-ness of life that God is committed to drawing men and women from all peoples and nations to himself through the Lord Jesus Christ.

And indeed, with influential voices opposing Christianity we can lose confidence in the power of prayer. Not that prayer of itself is powerful. Rather, the One to whom we pray is all-powerful.

In the light of Moses’ prayer, let’s ask God to have mercy on family and friends, colleagues and people in the wider community and world, for the honor of his Name and the honor of the Lord Jesus Christ! After all, Jesus himself taught us to pray, ‘Father, hallowed (or honored) be your name,… (Luke 11:2).

Let me ask: what if everyone who reads this Word on Wednesday were to commit to pray for three people? You may want to invite others to join you. Will our prayers make a difference? Moses knew that his prayer would, because of who God is and the honor of his Name.

Do you have this confidence? Do you pray earnestly and consistently that God will act with mercy today – opening blind eyes and softening hard hearts so that people will respond to and grow under the gospel – for the honor of his name?

Prayer. Preserve your people, Lord God, with your continual mercy, for without you we will fall because of our frailty; keep us always under your protection and lead us to everything that makes for our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lord God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: mercifully accept our prayers, and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do nothing good without you, grant us the help of your grace, so that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in word and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You may also want to listen to the song from Keith and Kristyn Getty, By Faith.

© John G. Mason

‘Jesus’ Prayer: (1) Glorify’

‘Never Alone!’

One of the ironies of today’s highly connected world is the personal isolation that many feel. Indeed, an extreme sense of personal isolation can lead to despair and even suicide.

And there are times when a sense of isolation can overwhelm God’s people: prayer is difficult, and any talk of joy and peace seems empty. God feels more like a distant relative than a heavenly Father.

Psalm 42 begins: As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?

My tears have been my food day and night, he continues, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?” (42:3).

The writer of Psalms 42 and 43, removed from his home city of Jerusalem and the temple, asks three times, Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you so disquieted within me? (42:5,11; 43:5).

Alone. The psalmist felt he had no-one to confide in. Indeed, those around him taunted: ‘where is your God?’ It’s easy to trust God in the security of a good home and church. But now the song writer who seems to have led the Temple worship was alone, without personal encouragement and emotional support. Loneliness can make us feel distressed. We are social creatures made for personal relationships, and when we lose our support networks it can really impact us.

He also experienced physical isolation: These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival (42:4). We sense his grief for the time he was part of a joyful throng. Now he was alone.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how separation might lead to loneliness. Even in the large cities of the world people can experience personal isolation.

Disturbed and downcast the psalm-writer lacked energy; he felt anxious and overwhelmed: Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your waterfalls; all your waves and your billows have gone over me, he writes (42:7).

He felt alone from God: I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?” (42:9). Torn with a sense of loss, he was like a jilted lover or a widow grieving for her husband.

‘I believe’ he is saying, ‘What’s happened to me?’ As we dig into this psalm we realize that here is a man of spiritual integrity who is willing to ask questions.

Which leads to his significant question: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? (42:5,11 and 43:5).

Many who feel lonely, sad and depressed try to find escape by turning to alcohol or drugs, online gambling or pornography. It’s important to notice what this psalmist does: he admits his feelings. We need to do the same. And we need to encourage others to do so as well.

It takes courage. If we’re feeling lonely or depressed we need to acknowledge it. If we feel guilty about something, we need to own up to it before God. If we’ve lost someone we loved, we also need to articulate our loss. There’s nothing to be gained by running away.

Look at the way the psalm writer responds in v.9:  I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?” ‘God, where are you? God, you have let me down. Why?’

It’s an important question to ask. Not because there’s always an answer, but because we need to express our frustration. We need to tell God what we feel.

There’s a very moving incident in Pieter de Vries’ novel, The Blood of the Lamb. The main character has a daughter who dies of leukaemia on her 12th birthday. Her father is devastated. Holding a birthday cake he was taking to her in the hospital he looked up at a crucifix on a church wall. Suddenly he exploded and hurled the cake at the face of Christ.

In one sense it was a blasphemous act. Yet in another sense it expressed the very reason why Christ was once on that cross. For there Christ is the representation of God’s just anger against all the injustices, sin and evil in the world. In one supreme act, Christ on the cross perfectly satisfied God’s just anger and, once and for all time, making it possible for him to be reconciled with a sinful world.

When we feel angry with God we need to remember this. God is no stranger to pain. He knows what it is like to feel alone in an unjust world. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” the dying Jesus had said (Matthew 27:46).

With the psalm writer we need to question ourselves when we feel alone: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? (43:5) The greatest danger when we are feeling alone and ‘down’ is self-pity and to become self-preoccupied. ‘Speak to your soul, your inner self’ the psalm advises, ‘and ask questions’.

And there is something else: prayer. Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people… (43:1); and Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me… (43:3). The psalm writer is confident in God’s love and light. He is assured of the day when, again filled with joy, he will sing songs of praise to God.

Indeed, through the lens of the New Testament we can see this more fully. God, who exists in three persons, has been and is fully involved in serving us through his work of restoring men and women everywhere into relationship with him. “For the Son of Man came,” Jesus said, “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Furthermore, God is not only building us back into relationship with him, but also with one another as his offspring. Church is a special gift from God. When we are part of a community of God’s people we can find support and encouragement. God’s delight is that we find and enjoy relationship with him and with one another.

Whoever we are, whatever our situation in life, when we belong to Christ, we are never alone.

Prayer. Almighty God, who taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending them the light of your Holy Spirit: so enable us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things and always to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given us your servants grace by the confession of a true faith to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and by your divine power to worship you as One: we pray that you would keep us steadfast in this faith and evermore defend us from all adversities; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

‘Jesus’ Prayer: (1) Glorify’

‘An Intrepid People…?’

Is there anything that can shake us out of our apathy and fear and make us an intrepid people? That can inject enthusiasm and joy, confidence, and courage into our lives as God’s people?

Come with me to the events of Pentecost that we read about in Acts chapter 2. It was six-weeks after Jesus’ resurrection. Let me identify three questions that emerge.

What happened?  When the day of Pentecost came, the disciples were together in an upper room in Jerusalem. ‘Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came…  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them… All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.’

Pentecost is the Jewish festival celebrating the giving of the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 19:18 we read that violent wind and tongues of fire had enveloped Mt Sinai at the time God gave Moses the law. However, as Israel’s prophets repeatedly observed, the law was not changing people’s lives: it failed as an instrument to change the world.

Now at Pentecost some twelve hundred years later, God was coming again with fire and wind, not to impart more law, but to impart his Spirit. The mighty wind symbolised the power of Jesus; the fire symbolised his purifying and cleansing work; and speech pointed to the good news of Jesus reaching every nation.

Luke, the author of Acts focuses on speech. He tells us: Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. … And everyone was bewildered because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each (2:5).

The crowd came from the Caspian Sea in the east to Rome in the west, from modern Turkey in the north to Africa in the south. ‘How is it?’ they were asking, ‘That we can understand them in our own native language?’

The cynics in the crowd mocked, saying the disciples were drunk. But Peter wasn’t silenced: ‘The bars aren’t open yet,’ he said. ‘It’s only nine o’clock in the morning’. This was the real Author of speech, reversing Babel.

The disciples, previously demoralised and defeated, now had a new enthusiasm, confidence, and joy. Peter, who had denied Jesus, was no longer a coward but a courageous preacher. What had brought about the change? The coming of the Spirit of God, ‘Another Helper’ as Jesus had promised (John 14:16, 26).

For many, Christianity is little more than a moral code they struggle to observe or a creed mindlessly to recite each week. But in John 14 Jesus had spoken of a Companion who would enable his people to experience a life-changing personal relationship with him.

What did it mean? The Holy Spirit was turning cowardly disciples into intrepid apostles. From verse 22 Luke records Peter’s speech: “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.  …And you, …put him to death …but God raised him from the dead, …”

People today mock the idea of Jesus’ miracles. Yet first-century historians such as Josephus, agreed that Jesus was ‘a miracle-worker’. In his speech Peter called the miracles signs. Just as a sign-post points to the road we might follow, so Jesus’ works pointed to the power and authority he wielded. “If I by the finger of God cast out demons,” Jesus had said, “then the kingdom of God is come upon you” (Luke 11:20).

The climax of Peter’s speech is in verse 36: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this, God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Peter had a logically developed progression of ideas – not a frenzied set of phrases. He explained that Jesus’ cross and resurrection reveal God’s extraordinary love. The Son of God had put aside the glory of heaven and come amongst us, giving his life as the one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Human authorities had judged Jesus a threat and did what autocratic leadership so often does – stamped out the opposition by fair means or foul. They nailed Jesus to a cross. But from his position of chief justice in his supreme court, God overturned the judgement of the human court and raised Jesus to life. As we talked about last week, we live in a porous universe.

Does all this matter to us? It happened so long ago. Peter’s hearers that day were cut to the heart…, “Brothers, what should we do?” they asked (Acts 2:37f). When Jesus was dying on the cross, they had mocked him. Now they knew the truth they were utterly ashamed. God’s Spirit was at work.

Peter’s response is one that we all need to hear: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven (Acts 2:38). Peter didn’t tell his hearers they needed to turn over a new leaf and start living moral lives. Rather, he focused on their relationship with Jesus. Repent. ‘Come to your senses about Jesus,’ he says. ‘Reckon on the reality that he is the Lord. Turn to him and ask him for his forgiveness.’

Three thousand responded to Peter’s call that day. God’s Spirit was taking up the work of Jesus the Messiah in the world, opening blind eyes and changing hearts.

Significantly Peter continued: And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him (Acts 2:38f). From now on God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, would come into the lives of all God’s people (see also Romans 8:9). This is what Paul the Apostle means when he says that God’s people are in Christ (for example, Colossians 1:27). Christ, through his Spirit now lives in us.

What God did that day, and what he has been doing ever since, matters. God’s delight is to draw men and women from all over the world, from every race and nation – people like you and me – into a personal, living relationship with himself.

And we have a part to play. Let’s not be fearful. Rather, let’s pray for the Spirit’s strength and wisdom to be an intrepid people – taking up opportunities we have, to introduce family and friends, colleagues, and people in the wider community to Jesus. Why not invite a friend to join you in finding out who Jesus really is through ‘The Word 121’? It’s not a course or a program. Rather, it is a ministry that opens up the Gospel of John. Families are using it to grow in their understanding of Jesus, God’s Son who has come amongst us. The Word One-to-One is available online at: www.theword121.com.

A Prayer for Pentecost / WhitSunday. Almighty God, who taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending them the light of your Holy Spirit: so enable us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things and always to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip us all with everything good that we may do his will, working in us what is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

You may like to listen to the Keith Getty and Stuart Townend song, Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God.

© John G. Mason