The Lord Christ sets His Face as Flint.

Luke 9:51 ‘….he (that is, the Lord Jesus) steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem;’
Says John Gill ‘or “strengthened his face”, as the Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions; set his face like a flint, as in Isa 1:7 denoting not impudence, as hardening of the face is used in Pro 21:29 but boldness, courage, constancy and firmness of mind: or “he prepared his face”, as the Syriac; or “turned his face”, as the Arabic, he looked that way, and set forward; or as the Persic version renders it, “he made a firm purpose”, he resolved upon it, and was determined to go to Jerusalem, his time being up in Galilee; and though he knew what he was to meet with and endure; that he should bear the sins of his people, the curse of the law, and wrath of God; that he should have many enemies, men and devils to grapple with, and undergo a painful, shameful, and accursed death; yet none of these things moved him, he was resolutely bent on going thither, and accordingly prepared for his journey;’
Source: From the Luke 9:51 verse comments in John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible.

The Arrogance of Man & The Mercy of God.

The Coronavirus is upon us. I regularly monitor and to keep up to date with its progress via a statistics page. It’s a world event. Hardly a country is untouched. President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson have made their pronouncements and promises to end the progress of the virus. I admit that that is eventually what will happen – perhaps. But it won’t be because man has conquered an unseen enemy. It certainly won’t be because of any world leader. The only reason the progress of the virus will be halted is down entirely to the grace of God. That’s right. The Grace of God. Searching for a Vaccine is right and helping to limit its progress is something we all need to do. That’s the responsible thing to do. And we all play our part, however small. There is no inconsistency with the sovereignty and power of God and our acting responsibly.

A friend emailed me the other day and suggested Boris call for the Nation to beseech God to stay his hand in judgment. Will that happen? Unlikely. In the event the virus is stopped, a vaccine found and lives are saved – does that mean people are no longer going to die? No. It simply means people will die by another means. The Bible says in Hebrews 9:27 ‘And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (the final judgment)…) The message is that we will all die by some means. We die because we are sinners. As sinners we live a fallen world. The Coronavirus shouts that reality to us. Are we listening?

Where did the virus originate? Many speculate the answer to that. I’ve no doubt many Christians will answer by saying the virus has been sent by God as judgment as my friend suggested. Maybe so.

‘There is no question in the Hebrew or NT mind that plagues are part of the judgment God sends to individuals, families, and nations. God himself threatens to send plagues to the Israelites in proportion to their sins (Lv 26:21) and takes full responsibility for the Egyptian plagues (Jos 24:5). The OT plagues demonstrated God’s control over the processes of nature just as do Christ’s miracles in the NT.’

Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Plague. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, pp. 1698–1699). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Is the Coronavirus a judgement from God then. It’s a question we should ask.

If it is a judgment, the Virus is also a mercy.

Psa 101:1 A Psalm of David. ‘I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O LORD, will I sing. (AV)’

Not only a judgment but a mercy. How can a virus that is killing thousands be a mercy?

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world….No doubt pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. it removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

The mercy is that it causes us to look up. That is to look to God for deliverance. Yet man in rebellion towards his creator will look anywhere rather than look to God for deliverance. The message to ancient Israel comes down the centuries to us in our modern technological proud arrogant age. That message is to repent and call upon The Lord for mercy and salvation.

Eze 18:31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?
Eze 18:32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.

It was the message of The Lord Jesus. It’s still his message through his church:

Mar 1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,
Mar 1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Will you look up. Never mind what others will say. Will you call upon God for salvation through Christ? Will you receive the mercy offered by a Gracious God?

Christians are caught up in the present Coronavirus. We don’t get a free pass. But there’s a difference. Because the gospel ‘…. has been manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2Ti 1:10)….’

Maybe the Virus will eventually disappear. But the concern you have for what will happen when you die will also disappear. But the fact of your own death will not. The abolition of death is only for those whose faith and trust is in The Lord Jesus Christ. Will you trust Christ? Will you repent and believe the Gospel?

The Dead can do Nothing

On Saturday evening at Ebenezer’s 50th Church anniversary weekend; Dr Eryl Davies gave a most striking illustration on Eph 2:1  ‘And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.’

It went something like this:

‘Some of you,’ he said, ‘have stood over the body of a loved one, maybe you were crying, but no matter how much you wanted that loved one to be alive, they are dead.’

And they stay dead.

It’s an extremely powerful image. I’ve stood over the bodies of several dead loved ones. I can tell you, it’s a sobering experience. So his illustration wasn’t lost on me, or on others.

The point he went on to make is that only the Spirit of God can bring life to the sinner. The Bible speaks very plainly that spiritually by nature we are dead. The problem is that unbelievers think they are very much alive.

The Apostle Paul goes on to say that ‘we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:3)’ That is the position of the person without Christ. All seems well and Christians appear to be the most foolish people on earth. The reality is very different. Unbelievers are described in a variety of ways. Dead, darkened in their understanding, blind, ignorant, hard-hearted and many more. In other words, it’s a hopeless situation. There is no flicker of life.

Those of us that are Christians recognise that description because it describes where we were. (Our redemption is not yet complete. We know we have black hearts.) What happened?

Eph 2:4  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,

Eph 2:5  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

God stepped in. There’s no room for pride or any sense of achievement.

Eph 2:8  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

Eph 2:9  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

So how does a dead person, a walking dead person, become alive? Well, he certainly doesn’t do it to himself as the above illustration so clearly demonstrates. God does it. God makes us alive and grants the gift of repentance and faith in The Lord Jesus Christ. And He normally works through something similar to what you have just read. That is, the proclamation of the Gospel. This is why it is SO important to be in a church where the Gospel of the grace of a God in Christ is regularly preached.

How can you become alive? Or how can you be saved? Read how this happened to a hardened jailer in the 1st Century.

Act 16:29  And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas.

Act 16:30  Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Act 16:31  And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Or as Jesus Himself put it:

Mar 1:15 …. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Go to The House of Mourning

The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth (or house of pleasure NIV & NASB) (Ecc 7:4).

These words come at the end of a short passage that puts before us two quite distinct attitudes of the heart.

Ecc 7:1  A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth.
Ecc 7:2  It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.
Ecc 7:3  Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.
Ecc 7:4  The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Most people perhaps view these verses as utter folly: which is quite ironic considering Ecclesiastes is contrasting folly and wisdom throughout. In verse 4 it speaks about the heart. The heart is in the house of mourning or the house of mirth or pleasure. Verse two does speak of an activity – going somewhere. To put it in the language of today we’re either going to a funeral or going down the pub. As you well know, in our culture, one tends to foolishly follow the other.

As you get older you go to more funerals. In fact, I’m going to one on Tuesday. These often aren’t places we would normally choose to attend. But the writer doesn’t say that; he says out of the two it’s better to go to the house of mourning. Faced with this stark choice how many of us would choose to attend a funeral. But here Solomon (the author), tells us what we all know, namely, that ‘death is the destiny of everyone.’ And just this morning, the news came that a member of the church here experienced that very destiny. Yes, death will come upon us all. Solomon doesn’t say don’t go to the house of pleasure. He says it’s better, or wiser, to be in the house of mourning. I’m quite sure the funeral I will attend on Tuesday will be followed by refreshments: where there is an opportunity to apply Solomon’s counsel and ‘lay it (death) to heart.’ It’s not wrong to celebrate, a wedding or birth for example. But if the two (celebration or mourning) were set side by side, Solomon tells us it would be better, more profitable that is, to be in the house if mourning.

Why is it better to go to the house of mourning? We most clearly see ‘the end of all mankind.’ We see our own end. We see the ruin that sin has caused. When our first parents disobeyed God by eating of the forbidden fruit, their disobedience plunged our whole world, and everyone that was to be born, into death. They brought the judgment of God upon the whole world. We see this. We know this. We see the frailty of the human condition. We see the very best and very worst of people die. There it is, placed before us in stark reality – our end. Solomon says, the living, us, will lay it to heart. That is, take it seriously. To consider it. To think deeply about it. To consider our end. But so often we are far too quick to be down the Pub. There is sorrow. Of course, there is sorrow and sadness. But we shouldn’t be so quick to drown out the opportunity to ‘lay it to heart.’ It’s understandable to drown out our sorrows, but it’s folly to drown out the reality of our end. It is especially the height of folly to drown out the voice of God. It is folly to ignore The Gospel.

From the house of mourning, we learn something. From the house of feasting, we learn very little. But if we aren’t actually in the house of mourning, according to Solomon that’s where our heart needs to be. Because that’s wise. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning. What does it mean though for our hearts to be in the ‘house of mourning.’ It must surely mean we are conscious of our mortality and that we must depart this life. It means we are conscious that we must meet God and stand before His judgment seat. As Paul says: …. we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10).’ The Scripture tells us ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Pro 9:10).’ The mind of the one whose heart is in the house of mourning contemplates Eternal Realities. We come into the world as sinners under the Judgement of God. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:3 we are ‘by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.’

We are born in the house of feasting without a thought of God, or of Christ or of Eternal Realities. One reality is this: found in 1 Cor 2:14;

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

The need is to not be natural but spiritual. But we are born ‘dead in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1).’ What we need is life. Ironically, we find out about true life by going to the house of mourning. But here in the house of mourning, we also find the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. He died that we might have life. So Jesus says:

Joh 10:10  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
Joh 10:11  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

The Good Shepherd (Jesus) says:

Mat 11:28  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Mat 11:29  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Mat 11:30  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Will you come to Him?

JESUS – Who is He?

JESUS – Who is He?

One Christmas hymn asks:

‘Who is He in yonder stall,
At whose feet the shepherds fall?’

Who is this person? Jesus has profoundly affected the lives of millions and even altered the direction and history of whole nations. Yet there’s an astonishing ignorance of who He really is.

The Bible teaches that Jesus is the Son of God. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day fully understood what Jesus was claiming by saying He was the Son of God. Jesus was claiming equality with God the Father. The religious leaders were incensed by this claim. They were seeking to kill Him because He was ‘making himself equal with God (John 5:18).’ Jesus was claiming to be God and under Jewish religious law was blasphemy and punishable by death.

The Christian Church makes exactly the same claim today. Jesus, the Son of God, is God. Many today are incensed by that truth claim.

Jesus at one time asked His disciples ‘Whom do people say that I am’. Just like our own day, they replied by saying, the people have many ideas about His identity. But then Jesus made it more personal by asking ‘Whom do YOU say that I am?.

There’s a vague notion about the identity of Jesus, but few find out for themselves, preferring to simply parrot what others say.

When Jesus asked ‘Whom do you say that I am?’ Peter, one of the disciples, replied by saying that Jesus is ‘The Son of the living God.’ In saying this, Peter acknowledges that Jesus is God (See Matthew 16:13-17).

You too may have a vague notion that Jesus is not like everyone else and might even concede that Jesus said some good things. You might even see that it makes sense to see Him as God, but you just don’t believe it. You might say ‘I’m fine, it’s not for me.’ But this has no bearing on its truthfulness. As an illustration: think about gravity. You can’t see it. But it affects our lives every moment. And if you were to jump out of a window you would very quickly be confronted with its reality. Apparently, survivors of suicide regretted jumping the split second gravity took over as they hurtled to their death.

The split second you leave this life and your spirit leaves your cold dead body you will immediately believe that Jesus is God. Tragically, it will be too late. The Bible says ‘now is the accepted time, now is the day of Salvation (2 Cor 6:2).’

The chorus of the hymn I started with answers the ‘Who is He’ question by saying this:

‘Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
‘Tis the Lord! the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall,
Crown Him! Crown Him, Lord of all!

What must you do in the light of who Jesus is? It’s what we all must do. You need to bow before Him. Acknowledge your rebellion towards your God and plead for mercy on the basis that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners 1 Timothy 1:15).


To hear more about The Lord Jesus Christ, join us for a Sunday service.

Service times at Alfred Place Baptist Church

Sunday morning at 11:00 & Sunday evening at 5:00.

Or drop into our regular Coffee morning: Wednesdays 11:00 – 1:00.

 


This is my first attempt at an Evangelistic Leaflet. The errors are all mine but If you can use it, please go ahead.

Patrick of Ireland: His Life and Impact by Michael Haykin – Brief Overview

Now I have visited Ireland (RoI and NI) I wanted to read about Patrick (Circa 390-Circa 460 AD). So I decided to read Patrick of Ireland: His Life and Impact by Michael A. G. Haykin. For such a small book there is an awful lot packed into it yet avoids being a dense read. Probably too short at 102 pages (total) for an index but each of the chapters has easy to follow headings. There are quite extensive footnotes throughout each chapter, mainly references to other works with the occasional helpful comment. The text is small but not difficult to read. There are a few pages at the end of the book with recommended further reading with helpful summaries of each work should you wish to research further into the life and times of Patrick.

The book is easy to read and not overly concerned about the historical difficulties: although at first, I thought it might overshadow Patrick Himself. However, Dr Haykin doesn’t shy away from the problems so the book isn’t a hagiography. The two primary sources are his ‘Confession’ and ‘Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus.’

The explanatory boxes throughout the book, I thought, are a nice touch and help the context. For example: ‘The fall of the Roman Empire’, ‘On The Teaching of Arius’ and ‘Celtic Paganism.’ Not all the pages are so full of page notes (see example below) but if notes are not your thing you can easily read through without referencing them. Unfortunately, I like to read them so it can break the flow a bit. Very helpful if I wanted to look into the life of Patrick in more detail. His Confession and Letter are referenced throughout.

After being captured by a party of Irish raiders Patrick is taken to Ireland. Patrick interprets this as a judgment for ignoring the Word of God. After coming to know Christ he escapes back to Britain and some 20 years later (after theological training) returns full of missionary zeal to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to the very same people who kidnapped him!

There are quotes from his Confession and Letter throughout – all referenced. Embedded in the test the words of Patrick really brings the man alive. There were huge controversies in Patrick’s day, not the least of these was the Trinity. What comes over very clearly is a man committed theologically to The Triune God, The Gospel of Christ and a fearless missionary burden to bring the Gospel to the unreached no matter what the cost to himself. Patrick’s life challenges us in these areas: Theological commitment, Love for Christ and the Gospel and Missionary Zeal.

After a brief chronology and preface there are five chapters:

  1. ‘I Am Patrick’: The Life and Historical Context of Patrick.
  2. ‘One God in the Trinity of the Holy Name’: The divine foundation of Patrick’s theology
  3. ‘I am bound by the Spirit’: Patrick and his Irish Mission
  4. ‘God has spoken’: Word and Spirit in Patrick’s piety
  5. An Evangelical reflects on Patrick – Very brief

This a great introduction to Patrick. It gives a flavour of the man and his time. I enjoyed it very much and thoroughly recommend it. I bought it for a £1.00 with another book plus postage on 10 of Those (still £1). It normally sells for £7.99. Buy it anyway, you won’t be disappointed.

‘Grieving, Hope and Solace’ by Al Martin – A Review

I recommended ‘Grieving, Hope and Solace: When a loved one dies In Christ‘ by Al Martin two years ago (almost to the day) but that was only on reading the first chapter. At long last, I have finished it. When I first started the book the grieving was still quite raw. It’s taken me these two years to read it maybe because I completely entered into the author’s own experience.

I don’t think on a practical level, for me, it’s quite as helpful as the book by James White. Al Martin’s book though is answering a different question. The book is focused on dealing with the bereavement of a spouse and is asking ‘What happens to a Christian loved one when they die?’ He not only answers that question but shows the relevance of that knowledge to the here and now for the grieving spouse.

The book (my copy) was first published by Cruciform Press in 2011 and written several years after his wife died, based on a series of sermons he preached soon after she died. It’s a short book at just 116 pages as this usually needs to be. it’s easy to read with short chapters with several headings for each chapter. There are only a few endnotes but with lots of scripture references throughout. It’s divided into Four Parts with a total of 13 Chapters plus a preface. Although there’s a lot of theology I definitely entered into his grief. It touched a lot of nerves for me. I’m grateful for that.

My copy is full of notes, underlining and asterisks. I can only mention a few things. The reality of his grief is evident. He doesn’t hide it. This paragraph from page 21 I thought was very helpful.

‘The idea here is not that if we truly obey these verses, we will no longer suffer the pain of loss. In my best efforts to fix my thoughts on the things above, I still felt the pain of my wife’s absence. Rather, in the midst of our grief (Italics are his) – which can be painful, sorrowful, lengthy, and at times even debilitating – the kind of grieving that brings glory to God nevertheless includes a grace-motivated determination, in obedience to these verses, to direct our thoughts to the things above. This both glorifies God and helps to ease – not eliminate – the pain and sorrow of our grief.’ (The verses he is referring to are Philippians 4:8 and Colossians 3: 1-2.)

Then this from page 95 & 96:

Few things more quickly and effectively snap some of the shackles that bind us to this world than does the death of a dearly loved one. Tenderly holding their lifeless form in our arms, or wistfully looking as they lie in a coffin, such experiences become powerful voices. These voices call out, urging us to obtain the wisdom that alone can enable us to live as those who “number our days.”

There are three sections in Chapter 10 (God’s Purposes In Us Through This Death) that I noted by writing Vital!!! Couldn’t be overstated!

The headings are: We Have Opportunity to Grow in Fellowship (page 93). For this, I had in mind some very special people who helped immensely during Sue’s illness and after she had died. Also: The Word of God comes more Vividly Alive (page 94). This is so true. The Scripture becomes alive in a completely new and fresh way. And: We Become More Heavenly Minded (page 94). Heaven is close.

There’s an extremely poignant paragraph at the beginning of that chapter where I wrote the following in the margin: I have no doubt about this. This was upon my mind very early on. However, it made me feel responsible for her death. I realise I’m not. But even so…. This is the paragraph I was responding to:

‘When a servant of God prays from the heart, “Lord, do whatever you need to do to me and in me to make me a better shepherd of your people,” we have no idea how God will answer. For me, such a prayer was answered in part by God’s severe mercy in taking Marilyn from me. (page 85)’

A severe mercy. Indeed so. I’m not a shepherd but God will sanctify His people. In all honesty, as I’m writing this and looking through the book at my notes and underlinings I realise how helpful the book has been. It helps enormously to have your own experience confirmed. Not everyone can enter into it with you but this author, for me, has done that. And for that, I’m truly thankful. I’m sure he will do that for others. Not for everyone, but it will help some. Maybe it will help you.

The only parts of the book I found unhelpful and that jarred with my own experience is how perfect his wife was through her illness right up until her death. Sue wasn’t like that, and yet I think for all her struggles with dying she displayed the grace of God in a way that wouldn’t have been possible had she been so perfect. Obviously, I can’t criticise Al Martin’s wife Marilyn for dying so well (by the grace of God in that way). My note in the book reads: ‘We must not make these things the norm, wonderful though it is.‘ I’m glad that was her testimony. I just don’t think that is the experience of most people. As Christians, we don’t want to admit how hard dying is. Death is the final enemy. And it is horrible. Really horrible. So in Sue’s dying, I saw a paradox. I saw how hard it was for us both, especially for her, and yet I saw the grace of God displayed through her in a truly remarkable manner. That glorified God I believe.

The book closes with a Gospel message that tells it straight but points to the only hope. That hope is found in The Lord Jesus Christ, the only one who has conquered death.

I still recommend the book. I do wonder about the recommendations that come on the cover with this type of book. Do they know anything of what the author is talking about? I think the answer is often, no they don’t. That’s just my opinion, as all this is. There is so much in the book, not a word is wasted. Ministers of the Gospel ought to read it as they are going to encounter grief in their people. The book will help prepare you. Grief is such a personal thing. I’m not sure it would be the first book I’d reach for to give to a grieving spouse, but then it depends who it’s for. It’s not a touchy-feely book, but it is real. Above all, we need the reality of Christ and His Word and His presence. This book by God’s grace will help. Order it from your local Bookshop.

I’d love the opportunity to speak with the author.

God takes Ezekiel’s Wife ‘at a stroke’

The following singular personal account in the life of Ezekiel stands out like the proverbial ‘sore thumb’. Poor Ezekiel, I feel for him. Derek Thomas calls this incident ‘one of the saddest and most difficult in Scripture.’ (God Strengthens, Derek Thomas p, 177, EP, 1993.)

Eze 24:15  The word of the LORD came to me:
Eze 24:16  “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.
Eze 24:17  Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.”
Eze 24:18  So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

I was trying to think what it feels like to have ‘the delight of your eyes taken away.’ I described it the other day like having your insides sucked out through your eyes. The inner pain is indescribable. Unless you’ve been through it you have no idea. So like I say, I feel for Ezekiel.

A very hard providence

Whether his wife had been ill for some time we aren’t told. But it seems to be sudden and unexpected: hence literally ‘at a stroke’ would be the best interpretation I feel. A mercy really, for him and his wife. No protracted illness for her or long-term care for him. Nevertheless, a very hard providence. If a man like Ezekiel delighted in his wife, I’d expect her to be a Godly woman. There was more than looks going on here. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it but it seems to me this verse from Peter would describe Ezekiel’s wife and the inner beauty of her godliness. 1 Peter 3:4  ‘but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.’ (1 Peter 3:1-6) Ezekiel will see her again. He knows this. His faith is in The Redeemer, the One to come. That is, his faith is in Christ. As was his wife, I believe. This softens the blow, but a blow Ezekiel would have keenly felt.

We don’t make excuses for God

Here we are in no doubt as to why Ezekiel’s wife is taken from him. It’s for a sign to Israel. And is for their good. Though it falls on unrepentant hearts. And, we are specifically told that God was going to ‘take away the delight of his eyes’. The cause is known. We don’t have to try and work it out or make apologies for God. I certainly feel no need to make apologies for God and feel no need to defend the fact that He is the potter, and we are the clay. (Isaiah 64:8) He is The Lord, He does what He wills.

Ezekiel wasn’t to weep or grieve – he was allowed to quietly sigh – for his wife even though everything within him would want to. And God knows this, otherwise, why give that command to not weep. God isn’t oblivious to what this will cost Ezekiel and the pain His prophet will experience. Even in this, He is still ‘the Father of all mercies.’ Ezekiel is allowed to sigh, ‘but not aloud.’ What a sigh that must have been!

We aren’t told anything about Ezekiel’s wife other than that she was ‘the delight of his eyes.’ That doesn’t necessarily mean she was unbelievably beautiful to look at, but it does mean he loved her very much. She was a delight to him. When he saw her his heart skipped a beat we might say. She was to be taken from him. She wasn’t lost but taken.

The Lord gives and The Lord takes away

To the unbeliever, and maybe for some Christians, this will seem incredibly cruel. However, the caricature of a vindictive and hateful God just isn’t true. I know. I’ve walked in Ezekiel’s shoes. Admittedly, I wasn’t commanded to ‘weep not’ like Ezekiel but I do know but what it’s like to have ‘the desire of your eyes’ taken away. And taken away by God. Like Ezekiel, I was under no illusion as to who was in control. It was The Lord who took away ‘the delight of my eyes.’ I could say with Job “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21) This is a salutary lesson for us all. I’m sure Ezekiel wasn’t expecting this. He could say perhaps with Job ‘For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.’ (Job 3:25) We are NOT the masters of our own destiny. We aren’t in control. That thing you live for could be gone ‘at a stroke.’ And God doesn’t have to ask your permission or give notice. God can take away from our lives whatever He pleases – and that ‘at a stroke.’ Don’t deceive yourself into thinking all will be well when without Christ and without God, it won’t be.

Had Ezekiel sinned (I mean here in a specific instance as we are all fallen – including Ezekiel)? He had not. Had his wife sinned? We aren’t told, but I think we can infer not. The death of his wife then illustrates in a most tragic and powerful way the sudden destruction that is to come upon Jerusalem. Did the people get it? Did they respond to the sign? No, they did not.

How will you respond?

Will you respond to this sign? It’s as relevant now as it ever was. In our materialistic age, especially here in the West, we push our ‘inalienable rights’ to the limit. All the time God could take everything away at a stroke. Yes, and even our most precious things. And even our very own lives. Jesus put it this way ‘You fool, this night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ (Luke 12:20) Without being overly dramatic, this could well be your last day on earth. By evening you could be having to give an account of yourself before God! Without an advocate, without a Saviour that is, that is not something to look forward to.

Extreme Love from God

It probably seems quite extreme the lengths The Lord will go for the good of His lost people. He took Ezekiel’s wife, but that’s as nothing compared to the plan of God to rescue sinners. He has done this by sending into the world His Son. And the Son comes Himself to rescue and redeem.

Heb 10:5  Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;
Heb 10:6  in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Heb 10:7  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

The cost of Redemption is plainly stated by Christ ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ (John 10:10&11) Nothing but the blood of Christ can redeem sinners like us. This is extreme love! You have heard this and you know this.

Be Reconciled

Much more could be said but in the words of the Apostle Paul (2 Cor 5:20):

‘Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.’

Giving out Gospel Tracts is hard work.

One Saturday morning members from the church went out into the town to give out evangelistic leaflets and if possible get into a conversation. Our church does this once a month or so. I do not find this ‘cold calling’ style of evangelism easy. In fact, that’s an understatement, I find it incredibly difficult. It’s not talking to people I find difficult, there’s something about giving away literature in that cold manner. I don’t know why this is. Honestly, I question whether this is my calling even though I’ve done it for years – door to door and open-air preaching. Maybe I’m just doing it all wrong.

The last time I experienced something new. Call it what you will but I just completely lost it. It was as if I was paralyzed. I just couldn’t do it. I said to myself ‘the fear of man brings a snare’ but eventually, I went home defeated and very downcast. My stomach was all churned up. I felt dreadful. It was physical. It just never occurred to me that it could be some sort of attack by The Devil. Maybe it was. I don’t know. Probably pride related.
I’m kicking myself really because if that was a moment of intense weakness, that was the time to rely on God’s power in weakness. Maybe it was some sort of ‘fainting fit’ as they were called. Maybe God was letting me know my complete and utter inability and that this was a time to trust and not a time to rely on my own feeble inner resources. My own feeble resources dried up – completely dried up! This is a good thing to know. We aren’t about God’s work in our own strength. We might get the blessing by doing the work of evangelism, but we don’t get to have the glory. We daren’t have the glory: that belongs to God alone!
 
Can any good come out of this? The first thing to know is that we need to be praying. We need to be praying in the prayer meeting. We need to pray as a team (however many that might be) before going out. And then to cultivate an attitude of dependence even if that means a feeling of complete despair in our own capability.
 
The second thing is to aware of your fellow workers. You might not be the only one conscious of complete inability. Therefore support one another. It’s very easy to get discouraged in the work. Support your struggling brethren in Gospel work. For some of us at times, it is best not to be left alone. Most of the time I’m probably fine on my own but it was a good reminder that we aren’t Mavericks – even when going out from the same church. And we aren’t sufficient in ourselves either. Our sufficiency is of God. So if someone came to me now, armed with my recent experience, I would say something like: ‘Be courageous Brother, stand with me and we’ll enter the fray in the fellowship of the Gospel – let’s give out tracts together’.
It probably all sounds quite pathetic. If you aren’t a Christian you might think we are a bunch of nitwits. But the reason we do this ‘work’ is because we want people like you to trust in Christ and be saved. There’s no other reason for doing it.

I discovered nearly everyone that Saturday found it incredibly tough. Perhaps you find it hard work as well. So what about next time? Will there be a next time? By God’s grace, there will be. But next time should the same thing happen – and it might – I need to look up, not in. Easy to say. We’ll see. Some Christians are very able at giving out tracts, I’m not. I thank God for those that are and it’s a joy to see.

Since starting to write this post a few weeks ago, in our prayer meeting, we have been going through 2 Corinthians and considering being weak. It’s not a pleasant feeling and is completely ‘counter-cultural’. We have another Evangelistic opportunity later this month. In some ways, I’m looking forward to the sense of dread, that feeling of despair so I can be weak for God. In other ways, I’m dreading it. But it’s not about us, it’s about Christ.

Sweetening the action

I’ve heard it said or prayed over the years something like ‘O Lord if you do not meet with us we are wasting our time’. Roughly translated that means we want to feel and know the presence of God in our meetings. And what Christian wouldn’t want that! I get the sentiment, I do. I do want to experience the presence of God.

But as I’ve thought about it, why would it be a waste of time to do something that Christ has directly commanded us in His Word to do? And, on top of that, we have promises that tell us God is with us. We aren’t told ‘when you meet together you’ll have a gooey warm feeling’. But we are told He will be with us.

As I read through ‘The Bruised Reed’ by Richard Sibbes, this paragraph recently stood out.

Obedience is most direct when there a nothing else to sweeten the action. Although the sacrifice is imperfect, yet the obedience with which it is offered is accepted.

We could apply these words of Sibbes in many ways, but let’s apply them to when the Church in obedience gathers for worship. When we meet together we want it to be sweet. We want something to ‘sweeten the action’ as Sibbes calls it. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if we engineer our services to make sure it’s sweet, I do have a problem with that. Whatever it is that’s added, or taken away (e.g. pews), let’s make as sure as we possibly can that it isn’t to ‘sweeten the action’. Often I think it’s because we aren’t feeling something – whatever that something is – that we make adjustments to our services to sweeten them. Whereas Sibbes is telling us that because there’s nothing in it for us except the obedience, God accepts that. God accepts our obedience even if it isn’t sweet to us. Are we really adding it because we think the action is Biblical or because it makes us (or others) feel good, or sweet as Sibbes call it.

Our obedience is already tainted, it is an imperfect sacrifice, let’s not make it any worse. Especially when God accepts it for Christ’s sake. Christ has offered the perfect sacrifice and is the only ‘sweet smelling aroma’ that’s required. Praise God it is so.