’Don’t Waste Your Life’

’Don’t Waste Your Life’

Don’t Waste Your Life is the title of a book John Piper wrote in 2003. Recounting something of his own teenage and early adult experiences in the late 1960s, he observes, ‘existentialism was the air we breathed. And the meaning of existentialism was that “existence precedes essence”. That is, you first exist and then, by existing, you create your essence. You make your essence by freely choosing to be what you will be. There is no essence outside you to conform to. Call it “God” or “Meaning” or “Purpose” – it is not there until you create it by your own courageous existence’ (p.14).

Today, almost 20 years later, I echo Piper’s 2003 comment, ‘this sounds strangely like our own day…’.

In the Gospel of Luke chapter 12, verses 35-40 Jesus of Nazareth draws out a bigger picture of our existence: “You must also be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour”, he says (12:40).

In speaking about an unexpected hour of his coming, that is, his return, Jesus implies that we are much more than the sum of our parts – that we exist, not by happenstance, but by design. Despite the voices in the western world today, there is something, no, someone, far greater than we can imagine – who has given us life (existence) and who gives our life meaning (essence).

Contrary to many in our society who refuse to take Jesus seriously, eminent historians such as Dr. Edwin Judge comment:

‘An ancient historian has no problem seeing the phenomenon of Jesus as an historical one. His many surprising aspects only help anchor him in history. Myth or legend would have created a more predictable figure. The writings that sprang up about Jesus also reveal to us a movement of thought and an experience of life so unusual that something much more substantial than the imagination is needed to explain it’ (EA Judge, emeritus professor of history and director of ancient history at Macquarie University, Sydney).

To treat the four Gospel accounts of Jesus as authentic is key to understanding who we are.

Today and over the coming Wednesdays we’ll be looking in advance at the lectionary Gospel readings for the upcoming Sundays – all from the ‘travel narrative’ in the Gospel of Luke. So come with me to Luke 12:35-40.

Be prepared. In speaking about a day of his coming Jesus uses the metaphor of a wealthy man who was away from home at an important wedding. The man’s servants, Jesus says, must be ready for his return no matter how late the hour: “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him when he comes and knocks” (12:35-36).

It’s easy to miss the force of these words. In the same way the servants needed to be ready for the return of their master, we need to be prepared for Jesus’ return.

There is something special here we often overlook: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes,” Jesus says. “Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them” (12:37). To be blessed by God is to be the beneficiary of his goodness and open-handed generosity.

Furthermore, Jesus is saying that on his return, he himself will serve his faithful people who are alert and actively preparing for his coming. “If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!” (12:38)

Deep Joy. We can only begin to imagine the deep joy that we will experience if Christ finds us faithful when he returns.

Jesus’ imagery here indicates three things about the timing of his coming. It is imminent, the master could return at any time; there is delay, the master seems to be taking his time. And there is a third element: surprise. In 12:39 Jesus references a householder not knowing when the thief will come.

We are seriously mistaken if we think we know the time of this. Yes, some who profess to be God’s people are constantly looking for signs. Some even set a date and give away all their possessions. But they ignore Jesus’ words: ‘When the day comes, it will come as a surprise’.

The reality is that one day all men and women will stand before God. While this is a frightening thought, it is also encouraging, for it means that justice will be done and all wrongs in the world throughout the centuries will be perfectly addressed.

But this is not Jesus’ focus here: he is addressing his people. The sobering thought here is that all of us who profess to be his followers are answerable to him – not just for the things we have done, but also for the things we have not done.

He is challenging us all to ask, What kind of life am I living? Am I growing in the faith? Am I simply serving my own interests in life or am I honoring the Lord in my thoughts, my words and my actions? How do I use the gifts, skills and material resources the Lord has given me? And what about my relationships – with my family and my friends, my colleagues and in the wider community?

Am I prepared for the Lord’s return? And am I helping others to prepare for the return of the King – using the opportunity to introduce them to him before it’s too late? How am I using the time the Lord has given me? Will I find on that final day that I have lived a wasted life?

A prayer. Lord God, you know that we cannot put our trust in anything that we do: help us to have faith in you alone, and mercifully defend us by your power against all adversity as, through your grace, we endeavor to serve you faithfully throughout our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

’Don’t Waste Your Life’

’The LORD Reigns’

Introduction – John Mason

Psalm 96 is set in a cluster of psalms that form a celebration of joyful praise to God. Announcing God’s reign over his creation, Psalm 96 alerts us to God’s justice and the mystery of his mercy, even in the face of our unfaithfulness. Nothing can stop the LORD from being himself: slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

At the Anglican Connection Conference last year, Dr. Jim Salladin, Senior Minister of Emmanuel Anglican Church, New York City, gave two Bible talks on Psalm 96 – morning and afternoon. Here is his second Reflection with the title, ‘The LORD Reigns’. While his notes were prepared for a spoken rather than a written presentation, we are grateful for his permission to use them for this week’s ‘Word on Wednesday’.

Reflection: Psalm 96 (2) – Jim Salladin

We are picking up where we left this morning. Psalm 96, verses 7-13. Now, you remember this morning we looked at the first 6 verses of the Psalm. And we said that worship animates evangelism. Worship motivates gospel ministry.

So the Israelite Psalmist stands up, looks out on to the whole Gentile world and says, “Hey, whole world, listen up! Join me. Get on board with declaring God’s glory. Evangelize and tell everyone about the Lord of Israel!

And do you know why you should do that? Because he is surpassingly worthy, glorious, beautiful. Worship drives gospel ministry. That was this morning. But there is still a bit of a nagging question. Here is the question: What produces worship?

Do you see the question? If we will only really evangelize when we worship the LORD, then what is it that will get us to worship the LORD? Now we hinted at the answer this morning, but now Psalm 96 gives us more details. And here is what I want you to see: the Gospel imparts the joy of worship.

Let me explain. Look at verse 10. Now verse 10 is important because it gives us the Gospel. What I mean is that verse 10 is the message that Psalm 96 wants us to proclaim. And the Gospel of Psalm 96 might surprise you: Say among the nations, the LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the nations with equity.

There is it is. That is the Gospel. The LORD reigns as King. He is coming to judge the world! Is that the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the word ‘Gospel’? It sort of surprises me, but we’ll come back to it.

First, watch the joy that breaks forth. Verse 11:

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar and all that fills it;

Let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes, to judge the earth…

Did you catch that? The Gospel is: ‘The LORD is King. He is coming to judge! The response is: The crowd goes wild; the universe explodes in cosmic joy. The Gospel ignites the world in the joy of worship.

This is how God brings the human heart to a place of worship. Remember the question from this morning: How can I get my heart to worship? This is the answer. The human heart ignites with worship when we internalize the Gospel.

The Gospel of the LORD’s reign & judgement ignites the cosmos to worship and it also ignites the human heart. Which explains why it is so important that as Gospel proclaimers we apply the gospel to ourselves before we apply it to others.

But go back to the reading because I want to know why does God’s reign and God’s judgment produce joy. God’s reign and God’s judgment do not seem like happy things. Why does that Gospel produce joy? I think this might be easier for a lot of people to grasp now than it was just a few years ago.

When I was younger it was vogue to deny the existence of evil. But I don’t know anyone doing that much now. It seems like everyone knows that something is really messed up. Now no one agrees what is causing the problem but everyone thinks something is wrong. And everyone wants someone to set it right. Democrats think the Republicans are the problem; Republicans think the Democrats are the problem, but the one thing everyone can agree on is that we need a good leader who will set things in order.

Now the Bible goes way deeper. It is not just the Republicans; it is not just the Democrats who are the problem. It is Sin. All of us have repudiated God’s Kingship. All of us have staged an insurrection against God and we have enthroned ourselves. But it ends up that we are horrible kings. In fact, we are so awful at running the world that we end up ruining not only our own lives, not only each other, not only the nations, but we have ruined the whole universe in a deep and profound way.

We are in a hopeless state of insurrection and we really need a good leader who will set things in order. And that is why when the Cosmos hears the Gospel, that the King is returning, that the LORD will judge – even the trees start to rejoice.

But slow down. If the King is returning, if the King will judge, then where does that leave the insurrectionists? You see this is why the Gospel makes me nervous. This is why the Gospel sort of scares me, because I am an insurrectionist. And if the LORD reigns then it means I don’t. And if the LORD judges, then it means I am condemned.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear…’ You see, this why verse 10 leads us to the Cross. Because it ends up a long time later the LORD was enthroned on a Cross. And while Jesus, the LORD was dying on the Cross, God the Father was judging my insurrection. Jesus was voluntarily taking my place suffering my penalty so that I could be declared ‘NOT guilty’.

And when Jesus rose from the dead, he proved first, that the time of amnesty had begun, and second that he would one day judge all who refused the amnesty. Now friends, look at Jesus. He is the LORD who reigns. He is the LORD who judges. And when you are an insurrectionist who has now received mercy, you can’t help but rejoice.

I mean, verse 11 says, the heavens and the earth and the sea and even the trees rejoice, but no one rejoices like a forgiven sinner, those who have been forgiven much, love much and only a forgiven sinner can appreciate the glory of the Gospel and the glory of God. The Gospel imparts the joy of worship and worship drives Gospel proclamation.

So, how does all this apply? It applies in all sorts of ways, but at least it gives us motivation, confidence and something of a method. We already said this morning that this gives us motivation. We will be bold in our proclamation when our hearts are warmed with the glory of the LORD. But it also gives us confidence if the LORD really is more glorious than any other competitor. Then who ever we talk to we can know without doubt that Jesus is precisely what they need.

And finally it gives us some help toward a method. Psalm 96 tells us to lift up the glory of Jesus and show how he is greater than everything else. And when the Spirit makes Jesus’ glory clear, people will drop their idols and turn to Christ.

But in another way, the best application is verse 7: Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples; Ascribe to the LORD, glory and strength; Ascribe to the LORD, the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.

And then, with heart filled with worship, go and declare his glory among the nations. Amen.

© Dr. Jim Salladin

’Don’t Waste Your Life’

’Worship Animates Evangelism’

Introduction – John Mason

William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during the Second World War, remarked: ‘The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.’ How often we put aside the missional nature of Christianity that bubbles throughout the Bible – and not least that we find in the Psalms.

At the Anglican Connection Conference last year, Dr. Jim Salladin, Senior Minister of Emmanuel Anglican Church, New York City, gave two Bible Reflections, morning and afternoon, on Psalm 96. He spoke on the missional focus of the Psalm’s theme that there is only one LORD.

Here is the first of Jim’s reflections with the title, ‘Worship Animates Evangelism’. While his notes were prepared for a spoken rather than a written presentation, we are grateful for his permission to use them for this week’s ‘Word on Wednesday’.

Reflection: Psalm 19 (#2) – John Yates III

Well good morning everyone. It is great to be part of the conference today. Let’s get to it. We are looking at Psalm 96 this morning and this afternoon.

Right now the focus is verses 1-6 And I want to talk about motivation for evangelism. What motivates us to proclaim the Gospel? What motivates evangelism?

Now this is a huge issue isn’t it? I mean most Bible believing Christians know we should all do evangelism. But the reality is evangelism is scary – a lot of our people are ashamed and let’s face it, aren’t you ashamed sometimes?

So, what motivates evangelism? What animates evangelism? What moves it from duty to delight? Answer: According to Psalm 96 it is worship. Worship animates evangelism. You will proclaim the Gospel when you are captivated by God’s glory. Let me show you.

Psalm 96 is super strange for a bunch of reasons. Here is one reason it is strange. It is a worship song packed full of commandments. Look at the first few verses. The Psalm is quivering with commands: Sing! Sing! Sing! Bless! Tell! Declare! That is just the first 3 verses.

Clearly this Psalm wants us to do something. What does it want us to do? We find out in verse 3: Declare [the LORD’s] glory among the nations. There it is:

This Psalm is a commission to proclaim, tell and declare the LORD’s glory. Or in verse 2, the LORD’s salvation to all nations. It is a little bit like the Great Commission:

Psalm 96 says: “Hey, whole world, listen up! Join me. Get on board with declaring God’s glory among all nations. Proclaim his glory, evangelize and tell everyone about the LORD of Israel! Now that is surprising. Does that surprise you? Did you know the Great Commission is anticipated in the Old Testament?

But again my question is why? Why does this Psalm think that we should proclaim the LORD among all the nations? And he answers that question in verse 4. Why should we proclaim the LORD among the nations? What is the motivation for Gospel ministry?

Verse 4: For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens.

The Psalmist is convinced that the LORD is great, so great and so magnificent, so powerful and so glorious that he outshines every other god any nation could imagine. The Psalmist is driven by the conviction that the LORD is glorious. His proclamation is driven by worship.

Look with me more closely at verse 5. Do you see the contrast between worthless idols and the LORD who made the heavens? His argument there is sort of interesting. I expect the Psalm to say: The LORD is real. The idols are fake.

That is true, but that is not the Psalm’s point. The argument is: ‘The LORD is way more valuable than idols. The argument is: The LORD is more worthy of worship than idols. Idols are stupid and worthless. And when you really see the glory of the LORD, when you see the LORD who created everything, then you will drop your idols like a bad habit.

Can you see it is an argument animated by worship. It is an argument that only works if you really think that the LORD is supremely valuable. And we can fill in a bit more detail here.

In verse 5 the LORD is valuable because he created everything. In verse 2, the LORD is glorious because of his works of salvation. The LORD is glorious because of both creation & redemption. The Psalmist says: Look at all God did in creation – all the beauty of this world, the sky, the mountains, works of art, humanity itself. God made it all. So all you find compelling in this world, is just a shadow of his glory.

But then add to that all God did in redemption and in salvation, all God did for Israel – the Passover and the Exodus, the Mana in the Wilderness, all of it – put all that together and you will see that the LORD’S glory dwarfs all possible competitors.

Now friends, that conviction, that heart worship is what drives boldness in evangelism, when you can see (verse 6) the splendor and majesty, the strength and beauty that are before the LORD. That is when it makes sense to obey the commands to sing and sing, and sing and bless, tell, declare his glory among the nations. Worship drives evangelism.

Does it drive you? Many of us are pastors. You know how sometimes you get people;

they are pretty moral. Maybe their hearts are cold; they might not be converted; they are not driven by love yet. Well, what do they need? They need the gospel. They need verse 3; they need the glory of God to be declared to their hearts.

But guess what? It’s possible to is possible to be a preacher. It is possible to be a pretty good preacher, an expositor of the Bible. It is possible to say all the right things and yet still to have a cold heart.

Can you (verse 6) see something of the LORD’s splendor and majesty, his strength and beauty? When you say (verse 4) that the LORD is great, is that mainly a correct statement, or is it also the conviction of your soul? Well, if you look at your heart and find it cold, what do you need?

I think you are orthodox enough to know the answer: you need the Gospel. You need verse 3, the glory of God declared to you. And you know that you see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He died so that our heart of stone could be replaced with a heart of flesh. He became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God.

Look at him. Receive his mercy again and you will see his splendor. Jesus was glorified when he was lifted up on the Cross. He was lifted up so that we could be lifted out of our sin. Sing his glory among the nations. Amen.

© Dr. John Yates III

’Don’t Waste Your Life’

’The Word of God …’

Introduction – John Mason

Last year the Anglican Connection held an online conference with the theme, ‘The Unchanging God in a World of Change’. As the Bible provides timeless answers to questions about life various speakers brought us reflections on the Scriptures to remind us or to help us learn of God and the world in which we live.

Dr. John Yates, Senior Minister of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Raleigh, NC, gave us two meditations on Psalm 19. With John’s permission, here is his second reflection.

Reflection: Psalm 19 (#2) – John Yates III

This morning we listened in to the silent song of heaven in the opening verses of Psalm 19. Bruce Waltke and Jim Houston wonderfully summarize the impact of that song when they write that, “The firmament’s uninterrupted proclamation of God’s glory is copious, extravagant, powerful, and inescapable.” (Houston & Waltke, p.360). It’s an apt description, isn’t it?

But the testimony of the heavens takes up only the first 6 verses of this Psalm. From v.7 on, no longer is it the sun, moon and stars singing God’s praise. Now it is David’s turn, and in taking up the song he shifts his attention to another source of divine knowledge: God’s law.

With this new focus David changes his language. In vv.1-6, the term he used for God was the Hebrew word El, which is a general term affirming that God is supreme and all-powerful. But from v.7 on David uses Yahweh, a personal and particular name given by God himself and shared with his people. Yahweh is the name of the covenant-maker, the God who reaches down into creation in order to make himself known by direct revelation to his people. And David carefully uses this name 7 times – the number of completion and perfection.

While the grandeur of the heavens elicits awe in the opening lines, the intimacy of direct and personal revelation draws forth devotion in the verses that follow. David writes,

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;

the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;

8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;

9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;

the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.

In vv.7-9 David uses 6 different terms for God’s revealed word. He speaks of law, testimony, precepts, commandments, and rules or decrees – covering every aspect of God’s self-revelation. He also speaks of the purifying fear of the Lord, which is the attitude of every heart that rightly encounters God’s word.

What does this polyvalent word from God accomplish? David explains in rapid-fire succession. First it revives – it gives new life. Second, it takes the simple, the ill-equipped, the ignorant and makes them wise. Third, it brings forth deep-seated joy. Fourth, it makes the eyes of those who read and obey it sparkle with righteousness. Fifth, it produces pure, single-hearted, fearful devotion to God himself. Finally, it sets all who hear it on a firm and unalterable foundation – the eternal and unchanging character of God.

While the heavens declare the glory of God, it is the law of Yahweh that reveals his love and goodness. The heavens tell us that there is a sovereign, powerful God who created all things in a precise and orderly manner. But only God’s law can convince us that this God is good and loving and so concerned for the people he created that he invites them to call on him by name.

In vv.10-11 David’s exploration of the goodness of God’s word continues as he offers insight into the value, desirability and effectiveness of this word.

More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;

sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.

11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

God’s word is more valuable than even the most well-refined gold. In other words, there is nothing on earth that surpasses it in value. God’s word is also desirable, sweeter even than the sweetest honey left trapped in the honeycomb. There is nothing that tastes as good as God’s word or is as deeply satisfying to consume. As Thomas Cranmer wrote in his preface to the Great Bible, “in the Scriptures are the fat pastures of the soul.”

Finally, the one who heeds God’s word and obeys it is warned of dangers and rewarded by faithfulness. God’s revelation to us accomplishes something. It is powerfully effective to rescue and to bless those who keep it.

Back in v. 4 David invited us to consider the sun: 1.3 million times the size of earth, containing 98% of the mass in our solar system, and burning at a temperature of 27 million degrees Fahrenheit at its core. This blazing sphere cries out “glory” like no other star in the sky. But the power of it’s testimony pales in comparison to the words of God himself. This is what David is trying to show us in vv.7-11.

No wonder Spurgeon once said of God’s word: “it is a crime to add to it, treason to alter it, and felony to take from it.” (See Houston & Waltke, p.365).

With this torrent of praise for the goodness of God’s word we might expect the psalm to end. But it doesn’t. There is one more section, one more change in focus – this time it is a shift inward. Verse 12,

Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.

Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!

Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

The shift is abrupt and superficially surprising. We want David’s poem to end on a high. Instead it concludes with a plea rooted in the humility of one who has stood beneath the glories of heaven and reveled in the love of God’s revealed law. For David, this is the natural and necessary conclusion to his reflections.

He knows that his wanderings, his errors, his hidden faults and flaws make no sense at all in light of what he has seen and said. But he knows they are there and that he is ultimately powerless in the face of them. So he pleads not just for mercy but for protection and purification. He asks the all-powerful God who made the heavens, and the loving Lord who revealed his law, to reign in his life and strengthen him for obedience.

The whole psalm progresses with the logic of grace, and comes to its quiet climax in v.14 when David refers to God as his redeemer. The term is pregnant with meaning in the context of God’s law. It comes from the verb that describes the work of a near relative whose obligation is to rescue, protect, and restore life and liberty when a family member has strayed or been enslaved or abused.

The God whose glory fills the skies is David’s kinsman redeemer. How? David likely doesn’t fully understand himself. But we do. We know that the ultimate revelation of God’s glory and God’s love is not the stars that dazzle or the word that reveals. It is the only-begotten Son, slain from the foundation of the world. For Jesus came as our kinsman redeemer and laid down his own life that we might be restored to God our father.

Though the song of glory sung by the heavens echoes over us, and the revelation of divine love pours forth from God’s word, we cannot comprehend him until we meet his Son. Only in Jesus, our kinsman redeemer, do we see the full extent of God’s glory and love. And it is only through Jesus that we can hear the song of heaven and rightly read his word.

So we pray with David: Let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

© Dr. John Yates III

’Don’t Waste Your Life’

’The Glory of God…’

Introduction – John Mason

Last year the Anglican Connection held an online conference addressing the theme, ‘The Unchanging God in a World of Change’. As the Bible provides timeless answers to questions about life various speakers brought us reflections on the Scriptures to help us learn of God and the world in which we live.

Dr. John Yates, Senior Minister of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Raleigh, NC, gave us two meditations on Psalm 19. With John’s permission, here is his first reflection.

Psalm 19 Reflection (1) – John Yates III

Psalm 19 is well-known to all of us, and for good reason.  As CS Lewis unabashedly wrote, “I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”  (Reflections on the Psalms, London 1958, p.63).

This psalm of David begins with an emphatic declaration of the glory of God in the heavens in vv.1-6, pivots to a profound proclamation of the gifts of God in scripture in vv.7-11, and then concludes with a heartfelt confession and plea in vv.12-14.

As we focus on the first 6 verses this morning I want to ask two rather simple questions.  The first is this: What exactly are the heavens doing?  Verse 1,

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.

3 There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.

4 Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

To put it simply, the heavens are praising God.  But this is no normal song of praise.

The first thing to notice about it is that it is continuous.  “Day to day” and “night to night” signify that the song is unending.  The heavens never pause for breath.  They never take a rest, which means that a melody of praise has played in the heavens since God first separated the firmaments and named them.  Every age, epoch and season has been serenaded by it.

The second thing to notice about the heavens’ praise is that it is inaudible.  It is nonetheless intelligible.  It reveals the vast storehouses of God’s knowledge, which unlike human knowledge cannot be taught but is simply possessed by God.  His knowledge and understanding is so vast it can only be displayed in the infinitude of space.

The third thing to notice is that this song is totally unconstrained.  It knows no national borders or physical barriers.  It covers every nook and cranny of the earth, and is therefore inescapable.  It is everywhere all at once.

These are the first things we notice about the song of the heavens as the poem begins.  In the second half of v.4, then, a shift takes place.  David narrows the focus of his reflection, moving from the broad expanse of the cosmos to the more familiar track of the sun.  David writes,

In them [the heavens] he has set a tent for the sun,

5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,

    and like a strong man, runs its course with joy.

6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them,

   and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

In that last phrase, the unconstrained and inescapable nature of heaven’s witness is illustrated by the searching heat of the sun – something every Jew living in the land of Israel would have experienced first-hand on the long, hot days of a Mediterranean summer.

But David is doing more than repeating his opening theme here.  By likening the sun to a happy bridegroom he is painting a more complete picture of the character of heaven’s praise.

The sun is like a man in the fullness of life who strides across the heavens in a demonstration of strength, full of the joy of his exertion.  The sun is doing what it was made to do and loving every minute of it.  We get a hint here of the profound truth that the praise of the heavens is not an accident; it is essential to the vocation of creation.

Not to be lost in this wonderful imagery is the fact that the sun is simply part of God’s creation.  In David’s world the pagans worshiped the sun as a god.  The Babylonians even referred to the sun-god as a bridegroom.  For David, however, the sun gives worship rather than receiving it.  It is a powerful witness – but only a witness – to the far greater glory of its creator.

The subtle polemic of this portrayal is reinforced in the second half of the psalm when Yahweh is named as the one who gives the law and establishes righteousness.  Among the pagans that was the work of the sun-god.  We know this from the stele that contains Hammurabi’s law code, where the sun-god, Shamash, is portrayed as giving the law to the king.  As David will soon explain, however, the sun only heralds the one true God who alone reveals his law directly to Moses.

What are the heavens doing?  They are bearing incessant and unconstrained witness to the glory of God over every inch of creation.  In doing so they are joyfully manifesting part of their very purpose in creation.

But what is the content of their revelation?  What knowledge, exactly, do the heavens reveal?  This, our second question, needs to be addressed briefly before we conclude.

There is a noticeable lack of content in the proclamation of the heavens.  We are told of the vastness of God’s knowledge and his incomparable glory, but little is actually said about God.  Quite a bit, however, is implied in David’s description.

First we see order and intent.  The heavens are well organized; the sun skillfully sent on its daily circuit.  The “handiwork” of God is evident across the expanse of the firmament.  The God whose glory the heavens’ proclaim is orderly and intentional in all that he creates.

Second, we see engagement and accessibility.  God is involved in his creation.  He has not simply wound the spring and walked away.  He sets a tent for the sun, and daily guides its course.  He is also accessible – meaning that he has chosen to make himself known and to reveal his glory.  The extent to which he can be known, and by whom he can be known, is left a mystery at this point, but will soon be revealed in the latter half of the psalm.

Finally, we see distance.  Even though he is active and engaged, the God of David still stands apart from his creation.  He is un-created, and he alone.  The song of the heavens is a declaration of his unique glory – his weightiness, dignity and authority.

The content of heaven’s declaration may be limited, but it is still substantial.  This is a god unlike any other known to the ancient world.

As we conclude I want to leave you with a brief thought about David himself.

A psalm like this requires a lot of staring up into space: head high, shoulders back, mouth agape, mind spinning.  It is the fruit of observing the glories of the heavenly spheres, attending to their silent speech and contemplating divine intent.  Only a man looking up and outside of himself could pen a poem like this.  Only a man keen to see God’s glory and to name it could explore creation in this way.

In asking us to consider the glory of the heavens David invites us to do the same.  He invites us to stop looking at our feet or gazing at our navels, to straighten our backs, and to throw back our heads in wonder.  He invites us to see the heavens from a fresh perspective, to seek out and name God’s glory wherever we see it.

In David’s delightful description the heavens fulfill their vocation by proclaiming the glory of God – by giving him praise.  This vocation is not unique to the sun, moon and stars.  It is ours as well.  And while we may never write a poem like this, we are right to seek out God’s glory and to proclaim it boldly to the world around us.

© Dr. John Yates III

’Don’t Waste Your Life’

’Ambition …’

I have a simple question: What is your ambition in life?

With the celebration of the seventy-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II, attention has been given to her commitment to serve her people. Service, not self-service, has been a characteristic of her reign.

The themes of royalty and service stand out in Dr. Luke’s record of the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth. One of the constant features of Jesus’ public life is his service. Although, he is God’s king, he never used his divine powers out of self-interest or self-aggrandizement, but for the good of others.

In the opening lines of Luke chapter 10, we read that Jesus sent out seventy (or seventy-two) of his followers on a training mission so they could experience first-hand what ministry in his name means. Three themes stand out.

1. Prayer. In sending out the seventy Jesus wanted his disciples to involve others in their ministry. Because God’s good news is for all peoples, many more than the disciples would be needed. The harvest is plentiful, Jesus said, ‘but the laborers are few; pray the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field’ (10:2).

The Book of Revelation tells us that in the last day the Kingdom of God will include a huge multitude, drawn from every nation and tribe and from every generation. It will be as countless in size as the sands on the seashore and the stars in the sky.

A vast international company like this will require the involvement of thousands – people who are willing to leave their comfort zones and commit to serving the cause of Jesus Christ; people who, left to themselves, would sit comfortably in church on Sundays and in front of the television during the week.

In Reformation Anglicanism Archbishop Ben Kwashi writes, ‘In much of the world today there are churches seemingly everywhere and very many Christians, yet with little positive impact on society’.

How important it is that we pray the Lord of the harvest to stir up amongst his people a gospel mindset and the resources that are needed for the work of gospel ministry.

2. Partnership. Jesus’ instructions Luke records here were specific to a particular mission. The seventy were to ‘carry no purse, no bag, no sandals’ (10:5). Rather they were to trust God to provide for their material needs.

Jesus also impressed on them the urgency of their work: ‘Greet no one on the road,’ he said (10:5). Saying Hello to someone in the Middle East can be time-consuming. Jesus is saying that someone with a job to do can’t let themselves be caught up in small talk with everyone they meet. It doesn’t mean God’s people are to be dismissive and discourteous. Rather, Jesus draws attention to how easily we can be distracted from the ministry he is passionate about – namely rescuing the lost, giving them new life and hope in his name.

How then were the seventy to find bed and board? Jesus answered by saying: ‘Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’’ (10:5-8).

People who are involved in ‘full-time ministry’ are to receive their support from others who are not so called. But ministers are not charity cases: ‘They work as hard as anyone,’ Jesus is saying, ‘and they deserve their wages’.

However, he also sounds a warning. Our ministry may be rejected: But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near” (10:10-11).

None of us likes rejection. But Jesus warns this is a real possibility. Christian ministry can be unpopular, even dangerous work. ‘I send you out as lambs amongst wolves,’ he says elsewhere. ‘Not everyone will want your message: in some places whole societies will reject you.’ And, Jesus adds: ‘You are to accept the rejection; but warn those who reject you that the kingdom of God is near.

Ministry is about life and death issues. Men and women can reject other views about life with impunity, but when we reject God’s Messiah we put our souls in jeopardy. The stakes are high when we hear God’s gospel and when we open a Bible.  We are given a choice: will we reject or accept the message? “He who listens to you, listens to me” Jesus said; “He who rejects you, rejects me; and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (10:16).

3. Warning. The seventy returned from their mission trip and were enthusiastic about the way God had changed lives. Their ministry was authenticated as they saw people from all walks of life receiving the message of God’s kingdom. Who wouldn’t be excited?

But Jesus has some sobering words. He not only alerts his young followers to times of ministry disappointment, he also alerts them to the perils of ministry success. Taking them aside he points out that the arrival of God’s kingdom heralded the downfall of the evil powers. ‘Ministers of God’s good news will see signs of my greater power and lives being changed for good. But don’t let this success go to your head. Remember Satan himself fell because of spiritual pride. Your greatest reason for joy is that your names are written in heaven’ (10:20).

Three very important themes emerge in 10:1-20. We see that God’s ambition is to draw into his kingdom countless numbers of people from all walks of life. We also see the conjunction of ministry and prayer. Alongside the ministry of God’s Word is the ministry of prayer.

What is your ambition? Jesus challenges us to ask how can we serve in God’s plan to rescue men and women and bring them into his kingdom.

A prayer. Lord, give your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only true God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Teach us, gracious Lord, to begin our works with reverence, to go on in obedience, and finish them with love; and then to wait patiently in hope, and with cheerful countenance to look up to you, whose promises are faithful and rewards infinite; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You may enjoy listening to Across the Lands from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason