Here I Am!

Isaiah 65:1-7

Isaiah has prayed. Now, God responds. And the first thing God does is leave the people of Judah without excuse. Ever since the creation of the world, God has made Himself known to all mankind, not just the people of Israel.  The apostle Paul drives home this point in his letter to the Romans.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. – Romans 1:19-20 ESV

And Paul goes on to conclude, “So they are without excuse.” God revealed His invisible attributes to mankind, but they chose to worship the creation rather than its Creator. So, God would later reveal Himself to Abraham, calling him out of Ur and directing him to the land of Canaan. Abraham was given a greater revelation of God, beyond that which the rest of the world had enjoyed. And God even made a covenant with Abraham, promising to create from him a great nation, the people of whom would occupy the land of Canaan for generations. And God fulfilled that promise, and by the time Isaiah wrote the book that bears his name, the descendants of Abraham had been living in the land for centuries. But as we have seen, although God had continued to give His chosen people further revelations of Himself through His law and the sacrificial system, their behavior made it appear as if they didn’t know Him at all.

And in the opening verse of this chapter, God indicates that He had a purpose behind His decision to make the nation of Israel His precious possession. When He had given them the law, God had told them that if they obeyed it, “you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6 NLT). Notice that they were to have been his own special treasure from among all the peoples of the earth.  They were to have been His priests, representing Him before all the peoples of the earth. They were to have been His holy, set-apart nation among all the other nations of the earth. In other words, they were to have been witnesses as to what it looks like to have a right relationship with the Creator-God of the universe.

But they had proven to be lousy priests and poor witnesses. Rather than bringing God glory by living holy lives, they had profaned His name among the nations, leaving God the job of reclaiming the glory His name deserves.

“I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them.” Ezekiel 36:23 ESV

And in verse one, God indicates that He has been calling out to the nations, “Here I am, here I am.” He has been extending an invitation to all the nations “not called by my name,” and the people of Israel had been His chosen means of communicating that message. The apostle Paul used this very passage to let the Gentile believers in Rome understand that God had always intended to use the people of Israel as His means of sharing His grace and mercy with the world. Paul will repeatedly quote from the book of Isaiah to build his case that God’s plan in choosing Israel had far greater implications than just their personal enjoyment of His blessings. God had something much grander in mind.

But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. But I ask, have the people of Israel actually heard the message? Yes, they have:

“The message has gone throughout the earth,
    and the words to all the world.”

But I ask, did the people of Israel really understand? Yes, they did, for even in the time of Moses, God said,

“I will rouse your jealousy through people who are not even a nation.
    I will provoke your anger through the foolish Gentiles.”

And later Isaiah spoke boldly for God, saying,

“I was found by people who were not looking for me.
    I showed myself to those who were not asking for me.”

But regarding Israel, God said,

“All day long I opened my arms to them,
    but they were disobedient and rebellious.” – Romans 10:16-21 NLT

Don’t miss the significance of what Paul is saying here. The very people whom God had chosen to be His means of reaching a lost world had to be constantly invited by God to come back to Him. Rather than doing what He had called them to do, they had proven to be disobedient and rebellious. And God describes their rebellion as anything but subtle. They flaunted it in His face, worshiping false gods right in front of Him. They had disregarded His laws concerning sacrifice, offering inappropriate and unclean gifts in unacceptable ways. They practiced necromancy, a form of divination through attempted communication with the dead. They were guilty of involvement in the occult and witchcraft. Their unholy actions had left them an unholy people, no longer set apart for God and no longer able to be His witnesses to a lost world.

All their religious activity had left them feeling puffed and prideful. And while they would brag about their holiness, God describes them in less-than-flattering terms.

These people are a stench in my nostrils,
    an acrid smell that never goes away. – Isaiah 65:5 NLT

God finds all their religiosity repulsive. While He had been calling out to them with open arms, they had been embracing false gods and pursuing other loves. And the apostle Paul tells us what happens to all those who replace a personal relationship with God with religion.

They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:5 NLT

They were religious but lacked the one thing God was looking for: godliness. Their actions failed to reflect their status as His chosen people. So, God was obligated to punish them for their rebellion. He could not and would not allow them to continue to drag His name through the mud. Their disobedience demanded His divine discipline. And when God says, “Behold, it is written before me,” He is referring to the covenant He had made with them. There was a legally binding agreement between God and His people that spelled out their obligations and His. It clearly articulated what God expected of them and what He would do if they kept or broke their part of the covenant. And while they had failed to do what they said they would do, God would prove faithful to His covenant promise. He vows to bring upon them all the curses He had warned them about.

“I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will indeed repay into their lap
   both your iniquities and your fathers’ iniquities together.” – Isaiah 65:6-7 ESV

It is important to remember that God had warned them what would happen if they failed to be His priests and His holy nation. He had let them know well in advance what the ramifications would be if they failed to be His witness to the nations. They would end up scattered among the nations, worshiping gods they never knew before.

For the Lord will scatter you among all the nations from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship foreign gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods made of wood and stone! There among those nations, you will find no peace or place to rest. And the Lord will cause your heart to tremble, your eyesight to fail, and your soul to despair. Your life will constantly hang in the balance. You will live night and day in fear, unsure if you will survive. – Deuteronomy 28:64-64 NLT

They would lose their witness. Their role as a light to the nations would fade because they had failed to remain faithful to the call of God. But as we have seen all along in the book of Isaiah, God would remain faithful to them because He had plans to bring salvation to the world through them. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, would be born as a Jew and would become the Priest who lived a perfectly holy life and offered a completely holy sacrifice on behalf of the sins of all mankind.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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If You Believe It, Prove It.

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  – 2 Peter 1:8-11 ESV

Virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. Seven characteristics that should mark the life of each and every child of God. They reflect what Peter means when he says, “as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15 ESV). These are character qualities found in the life of Jesus and, as the author of Hebrews puts it, “the Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God” (Hebrews 1:3 NLT). To be holy as God is holy, is to reflect His nature, just as Jesus did. It is to live a life that is set apart and distinctly different from all those who don’t know Him, who don’t have His Spirit living within them. These seven qualities are Spirit-induced and empowered, not man-made and self-produced. But if someone has placed his faith in Christ, these qualities should be a part of his life. That is why Peter says, “if these qualities are yours and are increasing” (2 Peter 1:8 ESV). He is not suggesting that his readers do not have these qualities. He is simply separating those who do from those who don’t. Peter knew there were those in his audience who had failed to supplement their faith with these virtues. Some of them were not even believers. They had never placed their faith in Christ. Their lives would not be marked by these characteristics, because they are essentially spiritual in nature.

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. – 1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV

So, Peter is addressing believers, reminding them that these qualities are theirs and should be increasing. That is to be the norm. That is what God intended. And their very presence in a believer’s life, and that believer’s determination to see these constantly added and increased will result in an extremely positive outcome: “they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8 ESV). The Greek word Peter uses that is translated “ineffective” is argos, and it refers to someone who is lazy, shunning their responsibilities or assigned duties. The Greek word for “unfruitful” is akarpos, and it refers to a tree that is not yielding fruit as it should. Like a barren tree, the believer whose life lacks the “fruit” of these seven qualities, is abnormal and unnatural. His life is not as God intended. It doesn’t take a high IQ to figure out that the opposites of these two negative words would be diligence and fruitfulness. But notice what Peter states is to be our focus: the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The seven characteristics Peter has outlined are to be a means to an end, a very specific end. As the NET Bible puts it: “they will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your pursuit of knowing our Lord Jesus Christ more intimately” (2 Peter 1:8 NET). That is the end game, the final goal, an intimate knowledge of Christ. And we get there, Peter suggests, by diligently adding these seven virtues to our life. When we supplement our faith in Christ with the attitudes of Christ, we grow to know Him better. We grow in our understanding of who He was and how He has called us to live. Because we can add these seven virtues only with the help of the Holy Spirit, we become increasingly more dependent upon Him. And it is He who makes Christ known to us. Jesus told His disciples regarding the Holy Spirit, “he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26 ESV). He also told them, “he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13 ESV) and “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14 ESV).

So, as we diligently add these virtues to our lives, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we grow in our knowledge of Christ. We become more like Him. We begin to see life the way He does. And our lives begin to take on His very same character and truly become Christians, not just in name, but in action and attitude.

But Peter knows that there are believers in his audience whose lives are not marked by these seven attributes. Which is why he states, “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (2 Peter 1:9 ESV). Think about it. A believer who lacks virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love, is missing the whole point behind being a believer. He is living as if he was still enslaved to sin and incapable of exhibiting Christ-likeness. He is nearsighted, living with a stunted perspective on life, that never allows him to see his true identity as a child of God. He forgets that he has been chosen by God. He can’t see that he has been set apart for God’s glory and purposes. His ability to see that he is a new creation and has a new capacity to live out his faith in everyday life is cloudy and lacks focus. And he comes across as lazy and unfruitful. 

Which is why Peter so strongly admonishes his readers: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10 ESV). He encourages them to get busy, to make every effort to prove their new identity in Christ by purposefully and diligently adding these seven virtues to their faith. Their presence proves our calling. They give outward evidence of our new nature and our status as sons and daughters of God. Peter promises, “if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10 ESV). Peter is not suggesting that it is our practice of these seven virtues that keeps us saved. No, our eternal salvation has been secured by God’s grace through His Son’s death on the cross. We don’t save ourselves and we don’t keep ourselves saved by doing good works. Peter made this clear in his first letter.

…he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time – 1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV

What Peter is trying to say is that when you “make every effort to supplement your faith” (2 Peter 1:5 ESV) with these seven character qualities, you give evidence of your new life in Christ. This evidence is not for your benefit. In other words, it isn’t intended to prove to you that you are saved, but it does reveal to the lost world around you that faith in Christ is truly life-changing. It is marked by diligent, obedient effort and fruitfulness. Jesus spoke of this very thing.

“Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5 ESV

And He went on to say:

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” – John 15:8 ESV

Those who are believers in Christ are to live lives of fruitfulness. They are to be marked by these seven characteristics that emulate the very life of Christ. And their lives will have an impact on all those around them, both saved and unsaved. And we do so with the confident assurance that our eternity has bee permanently secured for us by Christ.

For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 1:11 ESV

Our reward is in the life to come We live in this life in order to obey and portray Christ to a lost and dying world. We will face rejection and persecution for our efforts, just as He did. But we are willing to endure the suffering because we anticipate the reward to come.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Beautiful Feet.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. – Romans 10:14-17 ESV

Paul has just finished saying, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 10:11 ESV), and “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13 ESV). Once again, Paul used the Old Testament Scriptures, quoting from Isaiah 28:16 and Joel 2:32 to prove his point. Belief in God will lead one to call out to God in times of need or trouble. His emphasis has been on the Jewish people. He has expressed his heart’s desire that they be saved, even suggesting that he would be willing to suffer eternal damnation if it meant that the Jews would come to faith. But Paul knew they would have to experience salvation the same way as everyone else. They would have to call on the name of the Lord.

But at this point in his letter, Paul turned his attention to the believers in his audience, asking them, “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? ” (Romans 10:15 NLT). Yes, the Jews had a responsibility to believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior, just like everyone else. But Paul was adamant that the believers in Rome had an even weightier responsibility to tell them about Christ. After His death and resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples and commanded them, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matthew 28:19-20 NLT). He also told them, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21 NLT). And that great commission didn’t just apply to the eleven men who Jesus left behind. It has been the marching orders for every follower or disciple of Jesus Christ from that point until today.

Once again, Paul quotes from the Old Testament Scriptures, using the words found in Isaiah 52:7: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!” These original words were given to the people of Judah to announce that God was going to restore them from captivity in Babylon and return them to Jerusalem. Paul uses these words of comfort and joy to express what it is like when someone hears the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time, telling them that they can be restored to a right relationship with God, even though they are undeserving of His amazing grace. When someone shares the gospel with an unbeliever, faithfully obeying Christ’s command to tell, they are bringing news of peace and salvation.

But Paul breaks the sad news that not everyone who hears will listen. Even when Isaiah told the people of Judah that God was going to set them free from captivity in the land of Babylon, not everyone listened. Not everyone believed. God had told them, “Get out! Get out and leave your captivity, where everything you touch is unclean. Get out of there and purify yourselves” (Isaiah 52:11 NLT). Yet the prophet would, “Who has believed our message? To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?” (Isaiah 53:1 NLT). Many of the Jews living in Babylon would refuse to return to the land of promise. Rather than believe God and make the long, arduous journey back to Judah, they would choose to remain in captivity. And Paul stated that, in his day, not everyone who heard the gospel ended up receiving it. Both Jews and Gentiles rejected the good news regarding Jesus Christ. They refused to accept the message of salvation through faith in Christ alone. For Paul it always came back to faith. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17 ESV). We have a responsibility to tell. But each and every person who hears must express faith in what they have heard. We have a responsibility to communicate the gospel with unbelievers, but it is NOT our responsibility to convert them. They must confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in their heart that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9). Then and only then will they experience salvation.

Ultimately, it is God who calls, justifies and glorifies (Romans 8:30). Salvation does not depend on human will or effort, but on God, who has mercy (Romans 9:16). And God said, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9:15 ESV). Conversion is never the result of coercion. We will never debate someone into a saving relationship with Christ. Our responsibility is to share. We must learn to leave the results up to God. Paul provides us with an interesting and important analogy in his letter to the Corinthians believers.

After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. – 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 NLT

Some of us plant. Others water. But God alone causes the growth. We simply work for Him and get to watch the amazing fruit of His harvest.

The Divine Witness.

But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. – John 15:26-27 ESV

Once again, Jesus is attempting to prepare His disciples for His imminent departure. In a matter of hours, His betrayal and arrest will take place and the disciples will find their world turned upside down by the events that will follow. So in this message, which has come to be known as the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus gave His disciples a glimpse into what was to come, including an assurance that they would have help after He had gone. He would send them a helper or advocate, in the form of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. And according to all that Jesus said was going to happen to them after He was gone, they were going to need the Spirit’s help.

First, Jesus said that the world would hate them, just as it hated Him. And they were going to be first-hand witnesses as to just how much the world hated Jesus when they saw Him brutally crucified. They would watch as the crowds turned their joyful shouts of “Hosannah!” into angry screams of “Crucify Him!” But Jesus let them know that things were going to get even worse after His departure. “I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19 ESV). He warned them that they were going to be persecuted. Why? Because of their relationship with Him and because they were going to be His representatives on earth after He returned to His Father.

So Jesus told them to abide in Him. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). But this statement had to confound the disciples, because Jesus was telling them that He was going away. He was leaving them. So how were they supposed to abide in Him when He was no longer going to be with them? How was He going to be in them if He was going to be absent from them? And how could Jesus say to them, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full”? (John 15:11 ESV). Joy in the midst of persecution? How were they supposed to have fullness of joy at the thought of the death of their friend and teacher?

That’s where the Helper was going to come in. Jesus knew something they didn’t know. He knew that none of what He was asking them to do was going to be possible without help. They were incapable of surviving all that lie ahead without the aid of the Holy Spirit. The joy that would be in them would come in the form of the Holy Spirit. His presence would provide them with a constant internal reminder of all that Jesus had said and done when He was with them. The Spirit would make it possible for them to endure all the persecution that was coming and be fruitful in the process. They would not only survive, but thrive in the midst of abundant difficulty. They would discover a supernatural capacity to love selflessly and sacrificially, just as they were about to see Jesus do. The Spirit within them would bear witness to them regarding Jesus. The Holy Spirit would make sense of all the seeming madness regarding Jesus’ coming, miracles, teachings and startling death. The Spirit would provide undeniable proof of just who Jesus had claimed to be. His presence within them would prove that Jesus was still abiding with them. And as a result, they would become unwavering witnesses of Jesus, testifying of His resurrection and proclaiming His offer of forgiveness of sin and eternal life to any who would receive it.

It is the Holy Spirit who proves once and for all that Jesus was who He claimed to be and that the salvation He so boldly offered is real. The apostle Paul put it in words that make it so clear: “he [Jesus] has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us” (2 Corinthians 1:22 NLT). In his letter to the believers in Rome, he put it this way: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16 ESV). It is the abiding presence of God’s Spirit within us that provides us with inarguable evidence that Jesus’ offer of salvation was real. It proves that Jesus really did rise from the dead. He does sit at the right hand of the Father. He is going to return some day. The Spirit of God who lives in us is our personal guarantee regarding all that Jesus promised to us. And while we wait for the ultimate climax of all that Jesus promised: His return, we can enjoy fullness of joy and assurance of our salvation. We can experience abundant fruitfulness and express unconditional love. We can sense the reality of Christ’s abiding presence and trust in the promise of His imminent return.

Prayer for the Lost.

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. – Romans 10:1 ESV

How many people do you know who are lost, who don’t know Jesus as their personal Savior? We all know someone. We are surrounded by an endless number of individuals who have yet to hear of the good news of salvation made possible by the death of Jesus on the cross. They remain ignorant of the free gift of grace available to them. They don’t know how to be restored to a right relationship with God. They live in the world, blind to their own sin, oblivious to their own eternal destiny and hopeless as to how to do anything about their situation. They search for meaning and significance in this world. They seek to find fulfillment in the things this world offers. Some are religious. Some are good people who have good intentions. Others are prideful, arrogant, boastful, self-righteous and satisfied with their lives just like they are. Paul described some of the people in the word as those “who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NLT). Paul told Timothy that the “last days” would be filled with lost people, who he described in very detailed terms: “For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly” (2 Timothy 3:2-5 NLT).

And sadly, we find ourselves surrounded by people who fit those descriptions. But what do we do about it? Paul would suggest that we pray for them. In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul said that he prayed for the Jews living there. He longed to see them come to faith in Christ. They were his fellow brothers and sisters. He was a Jew who had been saved by Christ and he longed for them to have that same experience. That’s the reason Paul made it a habit to head to the synagogue every time he entered a new town on one of his missionary journeys. He made a bee line to the place where he knew he would come into contact with the greatest number of Jews, and he would share the gospel with them. He prayed and he preached. He lifted them up to God and he brought the message of Jesus to them. And in most cases, his efforts resulted in insults, rejection, and on one occasion, stoning.

But he wouldn’t stop sharing. He couldn’t stop praying that they might be saved. He had a love for the lost. He had a passion for the gospel. He couldn’t stand the thought of even one person not having the opportunity to hear about Christ. His heart’s desire was their salvation. And he turned his heart’s desire into prayers to God on their behalf. He wanted to see God save them. He wanted to see them come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and accept His free gift of salvation. He knew they were relying on their own righteousness and that it wasn’t going to get them anywhere. They needed Jesus. So he shared Jesus with them. But he also prayed for them. Regularly and fervently.

So do you pray for the lost? Do you care about their spiritual condition? Do you understand that the salvation you have received from God was totally undeserved and that you were once in the same condition as all those around you who live without Christ? Paul reminds us, “Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11 NLT). We were lost, but then we heard the good news of Jesus Christ. Someone prayed for us. Someone shared with us. So why wouldn’t we want the same thing for those who have yet to hear? Ask God to give you a burden for the lost. Ask Him to help you to see them as He does. Ask Him to give you a love for them like He has. And pray for them. By name. With persistence and with passion.

Make Him Known.

The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you! They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. – Psalm 145:8-12 ESV

Psalm 145

How does anyone really get to know God? Of course, the Scriptures tell us that God has revealed Himself in His creation. “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Romans 1:20 NLT). But there is a sense in which creation provides only a limited understanding of God. It reveals His invisible qualities – His power and nature. But there is so much more to God. He is gracious, slow to anger, merciful, and incredibly loving. How are people to come to know those things about God? How will they discover the full essence of His character if all they have to go by is nature itself? God never intended nature to be the end all or final revelation of Himself. His eternal plan was to send His Son as the ultimate expression of Himself. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15 ESV). “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18 NIV). Jesus the Son made God the Father known to mankind. That is why He is called Emmanuel, which means, “God with us”. God came to earth in the form of a helpless baby and dwelt among men. That baby grew to be a man and for three and a half years He made God known to man. He revealed His power. taught about His Kingdom, expressed His love and, ultimately, gave His own life, so that men might be made right with God.

But what about us? What is our role? What part do we play in making God known to men? According to the psalmist, we too play a significant part in making God known. We are to talk about His power, testify to His grace and mercy, give thanks for all His blessings, and praise Him for all the mighty deeds He has done and continues to do in our lives. More than anything else, as those who have benefited from the saving grace made available through Jesus Christ, we are to tell others of the good news of salvation that God has made possible. People can look at nature and see the power and creativity of God, but they should be able to look at us and see the grace, mercy. love and forgiveness of God. They should be able to see what it looks like when a sinner becomes a saint as a result of God’s remarkable gift of grace. And when they hear us talk about all that God has done and continues to do for us, they get a glimpse of God that they would otherwise have missed. But in order for them to hear, we must speak up. We must make God known. We have a responsibility to act as God’s personal press agents, telling everyone we meet of His glory, grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. We have been commissioned to make disciples. But it is impossible to make disciples if we remain silent. Paul reminds us, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14 ESV).

Jesus came in order to make His Father known. But He didn’t stop there. He died in order to make men right with God. His death was an expression of God’s love. “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9 NLT). Jesus make known the love of God. And we can do the same thing as we talk about what He has done for us. As believers in Jesus Christ, we are the recipients of that love. We now know God in a way that was impossible before Jesus Christ died. We enjoy an intimate relationship with God that is based on love and forgiveness. We have enjoyed the benefits of His grace. We know God as holy and righteous, but also as loving and kind. He is our God, but also our Father. He loves us. He has adopted us as His sons and daughters. We are His children and heirs. And we should want to make all that known to everyone we meet. We should gladly brag about our God. We should take every opportunity to tell others about the grace of God made available through His Son. But our great testimony isn’t always what God has done for us in the past at our salvation. Sometimes our greatest testimony is what God is doing for us right here and now as a result of our new relationship with Him. It is His ongoing activity in our lives that a lost and dying world wants to know about. Yes, we have been saved. But in a real sense we are being saved each and every day as God works in and through our lives, transforming us into the likeness of His Son. When we talk about all that God is doing, and express our gratitude for His daily activity in our lives, we make Him known. We make Him visible. God becomes real to those who would otherwise be unable to see Him.

Job Security.

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. – Psalm 71:18-19 ESV

These two simple verses found in Psalm 71 have struck a chord with me. Maybe it’s because I turned 60 this year and the mention of old age and gray hairs felt a bit too personal. But I think what really impacted me was the sense of passion the Psalmist felt for God. He had sensed God teaching him from his earliest memories as a young man. And now that he was an older man, he was still proclaiming the wonders of God. There is a sense of continuity in his words. He and God had a relationship that ongoing and always evolving. The psalmist felt a responsibility to tell others about the goodness and greatness of God. He was not content to merely receive God’s blessings and enjoy His presence in his life. He had to tell someone. And the older he got, the greater his resolve to proclaim the greatness of God became. The years were increasing his passion rather than diminishing it. Each passing year simply provided more personal testimonies of God’s wondrous deeds to share with others.

There is a sense in which our primary job description as God’s creation is to tell of His greatness. We are to declare His glory. The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” We exist to glorify God and our job is never done because God’s glory is inexhaustible. We will never run out of reasons to praise Him. We will never run short of His great deeds to proclaim. Because God never rests. He never takes a day off. He never ceases to perform wonders on behalf of His children. The problem is not that God is silent or still, but that we too often fail to recognize all that He is doing all around us. We can also lose sight of our primary function as His creatures: to glorify Him.

I think the thing about these verses that struck a chord with me was the intentionality and passion they express. Here is a man who recognized the influence of God over his life, but who also recognized his own responsibility to tell others about it. He had a lifelong duty to proclaim all that he knew about God to everyone he met. And he was asking God to keep him at it well into his “golden years”. There is no sense of retirement in his words. He isn’t looking to coast into old age. He realized he has a God-given responsibility to proclaim God’s might to the generation to come. Each generation of believers has the responsibility to share with those who come after them, to “tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Psalm 78:4 ESV). Old age is no excuse to slow down or give up. To our final dying breath, we should be telling the next generation all that we know about God. And the longer we live, the more we should have to share. As the number of our days remaining decrease, our determination to tell others about God’s wonders should increase, so “the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God” (Psalm 78:6-7 ESV).

All of those reminds me of a verse in the early chapters of the book of Judges that sets up the sad story that was to follow. It simply says, “After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the LORD or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10 NLT). One generation had failed to tell the next, and the result was a new generation that had no real knowledge of God. The rest of the book of Judges tells us how that generation abandoned God and served false gods. One generation had failed the next. They hadn’t done their job. And the consequences were serious. The book of Judges closes with a sobering message. “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (judges 21:25 NLT). Not only did they have no human king, they failed to recognize God as King. Each man and woman lived with their eyes focused on themselves. They had become their own personal kings reigning over their petty kingdoms of one. All because one generation had failed to do its job. Could the same thing happen in our day? I believe it already is. But it is not too late. Those of us with graying hair and diminishing strength still have an opportunity to make a difference. We may be working less, but our work is far from done. We must tell the next generation about the greatness and goodness of God. We must proclaim His wonders and give testimony to His unfailing faithfulness.

Growing old is no excuse for growing complacent. We have a job to do and God has not given us permission to retire or renege on our responsibility. Increasing years should only increase our sense of urgency. Our time is running out. We must take advantage of every day that God gives us to proclaim His might to another generation, His power to all those to come.

Hear Indiscriminately.

Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake  (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name. – 1 Kings 8:41-43 ESV

1 Kings 8:22-53

It was Peter who wrote, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35 ESV). The apostle Paul seconded this sentiment when he wrote that God, “will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury … God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:6-8, 11 ESV). Solomon knew that God had chosen the people of Israel as His special possession. He was well aware of the fact that they enjoyed a unique relationship with God and were privileged to be called His people. But Solomon also understood that God was the God of all the nations. Their privileged position as His chosen people was in order that they might be a witness to the rest of the world. As they lived in obedience to God’s commands and experienced His abiding presence and power, the nations around them would stand in awe and admiration. Long before the days of Solomon, Moses had told the people, “See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8 ESV).

The relationship between God and His chosen people was not intended to be exclusive, but an example of what it meant for men to live in a right relationship with God. As those outside the nation of Israel watched God work among His people and act on their behalf. they would be intrigued and attracted. As they witnessed Israel’s adherence to God’s commands and jealously watched as He blessed them abundantly, some would find themselves drawn to Israel’s God. Converts to Judaism were a regular occurrence even during the days of Solomon. He knew that there were those from foreign lands who would turn to Yahweh, “for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm.” They would show up at the newly completed temple and pray to God, and when they did, Solomon asked that God would hear them indiscriminately. He knew his God to be accepting of all those who called on Him for His name’s sake. Any who knew God to be the one true god and approached Him humbly and reverently would be heard by Him. But Solomon’s request was based on his desire for God’s glory and fame to be spread around the world and among the nations. He knew that when God heard and answered the prayers of even the non-Israelite, the news of God’s gracious favor would spread. For Solomon this meant “that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel.” He wanted everyone to know, fear and worship God as he did. He desired for God to be known among the nations. His was not a biased and bigoted view that refused to share His God with others. He simply wanted the glory and greatness of his God to be known among all men.

It is interesting to juxtapose Solomon’s outlook with that of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. They had become intolerant of and even hateful toward anyone who did not measure up to their exacting standards – Jew and Gentile alike. They looked down their noses at Jesus and the disciples. They despised the Romans. They treated the common people with derision. They were far more concerned with their own glory than they were with God’s. Their reputations were far more important to them than His. Yet Solomon begged that God would hear the prayers of the foreigner indiscriminately and answer graciously and mercifully. Why? So that God’s fame and glory might spread. Is that my desire? Do I want to see God’s fame spread among the nations? Do I ask that God would hear the cries of all those who call out to Him, so that they might see the goodness and glory of God? Perhaps if we were more interested in God’s glory being spread, we would care more interested in sharing the good news of God’s grace among the nations. If we really wanted God’s fame to fill the earth, we would more readily desire to see God’s power to be revealed among all people. We would also want to see to it that we illustrated what it looks like to have the God of the universe intimately involved in the everyday affairs of life. We would want our lives to be a testimony to God’s goodness, grace, and glory – “in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you.”

Unity With A Purpose.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. – John 17:21-22 ESV

John 17:1-26

Jesus has just finished asking God the Father to sanctify the disciples in the truth, the truth of the Word. But He qualifies and clarifies His request by expanding it to include all “those who will believe in me through their word.” This sanctification process made possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and based on the truth of God’s Word would result in oneness – a unity based on conformity to the Word of God. Jesus is not asking His Father to make it so everyone would just get along. No, He is asking for sanctification – an increasing spiritual transformation in the lives of His disciples and every subsequent Christ-follower to come. He is asking for the same kind of unity that He and the Father share. He is not talking about friendship, but a unity based on a shared will and a common desire to glorify God. The unity Jesus prayed for was based on the kind of unity He knew intimately well. He knew the will of His Father and He desired nothing more than to see it fulfilled – in His life and in the world. I think that is why, in His model prayer, Jesus gave us the words, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 ESV). Jesus and His Father were completely unified when it came to the divine plan for mankind. There was never any disunity or disagreement between the two as to what needed to be done and what Jesus’ role was to be. In the garden Jesus did pray, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV). His humanity would have preferred a different path than the one chosen for Him by God. But because He and the Father were one, Jesus was willing to submit His will to the One He trusted and loved. Jesus knew the Father well. He knew His heart and was intimately aware of His character. He did not doubt the Father’s love for Him. He did not question the Father’s plans for Him. They were one.

So Jesus prayed that all His followers would experience the same kind of oneness that He and His Father enjoyed. A oneness or unity based on the truth of God’s Word and the unchanging character of God that it reveals. To be sanctified in the truth of God’s Word is to be constantly transformed by the growing awareness of God’s loving, sovereign, perfect plan for mankind as revealed in Jesus Christ. It is to be increasingly convinced of the supernatural reality of Christ’s redemptive work, the Father’s love, the world’s lostness, and our God-ordained commission to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to anyone and everyone we meet. When Jesus prays for our unity, He is asking for so much more than just a let’s-get-along mentality. He is asking for more than just agreement over doctrine and a mutual assent to certain theological truths. He is praying for the same kind of non-negotiable unity that He and the Father share. We can waste so much time debating and disagreeing over issues of doctrine and lose sight of God’s plan of redemption for mankind. We can end up arguing over certain theological issues, defending our point of view and demanding our interpretation be accepted, all the while failing to seek that God’s Kingdom come and His will be done. The apostle John reminds us, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV) and “that he appeared in order to take away sins” (1 John 3:5 ESV). How easy it is to forget those two truths and become obsessed with something other than the will of God.

It is interesting to note that the end result of our unity is not just to be horizontal in nature, but vertical. Our unity is ultimately to be with God and His Son. If our unity is merely horizontal in nature; in other words, if we just get along with one another, but lack an awareness of and submission to the will of God, it is wasted. There are cults, religions, organizations and groups of all kinds that share a oneness that is anything but godly. What Jesus prayed for was a growing godliness based on God’s Word and an increasing oneness with one another based on the same oneness He shared with His Father. He wanted us to share a common cause and commitment based on the will of God for mankind. And Jesus knew that when His followers were unified in that way, the world would know that He had been sent by the Father. In other words, when we, as His disciples, become convinced of God’s redemptive will and submit to it willingly, we will want what He wants. We will do everything in our power to see that His Kingdom come and His is done on this earth just as it is done in heaven. And the world will know that Jesus Christ truly was the Son of God sent to provide salvation from sin and death and a restored relationship with God the Father.

Present-tense Belief.

Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. – 1 John 5:10 ESV

1 John 5:6-12

The problem with many of us as Christians is that we live in the past. We can recall the place, date and time when we accepted Jesus as our Savior. We can give our “testimony” as if it happened yesterday. But sadly, for more than a few believers, it makes little difference in the way they live their lives today. It is interesting that, as John attempts to assure us of the truth of Jesus’ role as the Son of God, he uses present-tense language when talking about our belief. He writes, “whoever believes” – present tense. When he speaks of “whoever does not believe God,” he also uses the present tense again, along with the active voice. John’s emphasis seems to be on a progressive, ongoing and active belief that is taking place in the present, not just the past. Having had a past belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God is all well and good, but that belief should be continuous, having an impact on our lives in the here-and-now. Saving faith is present-tense faith. It doesn’t live in the past, as some distant memory, but is an ever-present, always growing reality in the life of the believer. Peter tells us, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 ESV). Paul told the believers in Ephesus they were to move from immaturity to maturity,  “growing in every way more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT). Neither Peter or Paul were suggesting that we can become any more saved than we already are, but we can continue to increase in our faith and grow in confidence that what we believed in at a given point in time was really true and continues to be true.

The real question we need to consider is what is the nature of our belief today? Has our faith increased? Are we still placing our trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord? I am not suggesting that you can lose your salvation. And neither was John. But our belief in Jesus Christ should be active and ongoing. The idea that I prayed a prayer, walked the aisle, gave my life to Christ or got “born again” is all well and good, but is my faith alive and well? Is my belief present tense? Is it active and growing? I have often wondered what our testimony really should be. Many of us have been trained to see our testimony as a past event. In other words, we think of it in terms of a point in time where we “accepted” Jesus. For me, that event took place nearly 53 years ago. I was seven years old and walked down the aisle of the church during what our denomination called the “invitation.” It was at that moment I “gave my life to Jesus.” That became my testimony. When someone asked me to share my testimony, it was to that point in time I would refer. But the older I get the more I realize that my testimony is a living thing. It is ongoing and alive. When a lost person wants to know what Jesus means to me, they are looking for present tense implications, not some past experience to which they can’t relate. They want to know what Jesus is doing in my life right now. My testimony should be an evolving, ever-growing thing, as I continue to live out my life in faith and trust in God and His Son.

It is faith that is active and alive that gives us assurance. John writes, “ I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13 ESV). Once again, John uses the present tense. My ongoing belief in Jesus provides me with an ongoing assurance of eternal life. I have eternal life right now. It is not just a future promise, but a present reality. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36 NLT). The apostle Paul encourages us to keep on keeping on. He wants us to have an active, ongoing, present-tense faith. “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT). Keep on believing. Keep on trusting. Live in the present tense. Let your testimony be a living, vibrant, ever-changing witness to the goodness of God, the reality of your salvation, and the life-transforming power of the Spirit of God in your life.