Unknown Enemy

Acts 19:15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?

The seven sons of Sceva form a piece of the comic history of the church.  They were the sons of a Jewish priest who branded themselves as exorcists.  Having witnessed real power in the Ephesian revival (Acts 19), they added the name of Jesus to their bag of tricks.  Only, they were a little shaky in the use of the name.  They felt the need to shore it up with another name.  “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches!” they told an evil spirit.  There, that ought to do it.

Perhaps it is discomfiting to think that the devil knows your name.  After all, that probably means you have caused him enough problems to merit some attention and his attentions are not a thing to be desired.  But it is certainly discomfiting to realize that he doesn’t know your name.  For those in league with him, it must come as a shock to realize how little he cares about you.  But for these men who presumed they were his enemies, it was more than a shock.  Acts 19:16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

Such folly often gains some honest laughter.  But if ever there was a story to cure presumption and to banish forever any trace of a magical view of the use of Jesus’ name, this is it.  The nails in evil’s coffin were driven at great cost.  John 12:31-33  “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

Doctrinally sound, Word centered, Spirit empowered revival comes with a price tag.  Paul knew the one who paid that price and followed after him with a whole heart.  The seven of sons of Sceva never paid the price and they did not know the one who did.  They were pretenders.  If we will not pay the price of revival, then we must of necessity pay the price of not having it.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Rend the Heavens

Isaiah 64:1  Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence

Isaiah remembered the mighty deeds of the Lord on behalf of Israel.  He scanned the sorry state of affairs of the present hour and his heart cry was for God to rip the veil of the heavens that hid his power and glory from a people in such need.  He longed for God to do the thing that men were obviously incapable of doing, bring about righteousness and justice in the earth, and restore the worship of God that alone could bless the nation once again.

God answered Isaiah’s prayer and he will answer once again.  He did rend the heavens and come down, but in the most amazing way.  For it was not the veil of the heavens that hid his power and glory.  As Elizabeth Browning said, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees takes off his shoes, the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries…”  Nature does not hide him, but testifies to him.  God came down and took upon himself the veil of flesh.  At the cross he became all the sinfulness of that flesh and carried it away, as far as east from west.  Symbolically, the veil in the Temple was torn in two that we might know that God did rend the veil and come down. (Matthew 27:50-51)

He will rend the heavens and come down once more.  Revelation 1:7  Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.  It is a most excellent thought and the last prayer of the New Testament, “Even so, Lord Jesus, come.” (Revelation 22:20)  But in our longing for him to come, let us not forget those for whom their sin is not as far away as east is from west, but as near as north is to south.  The deceived are oblivious and the harassed are powerless.  Only one can bring light and life.

John 1:4-5  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

One Day at His Place

Psalm 84:1-2  How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!  My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.

My soul faints.  This word, sometimes translated ‘yearns,’ is a very strong word that means to be at an end.  We might say, “my soul was at the end of its rope.”  It is like the cowboy stranded in the desert with head rolled back, canteen lifted high, watching the last pitiful drop of water form on the lip of the canteen, not even enough to fall on its own.  He shakes the canteen in desperation and throws it away in disgust.  This situation can’t continue or he will perish.

Such was the psalmist’s desperation for the gathering of God’s people to worship.  It was no duty that pushed him.  He was driven by need.  His experience was long enough to know that there was only one path for the restoration of his soul.  Psalm 84:5 How blessed is the man whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion!  God had written upon this child’s heart the directions for home.  There he would find strength, safety, joy, goodness, grace and glory.  There the soul would drink and feast and repair.  No wonder he could say, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” (Psalm 84:10)

Would you rather be outside at his place than inside anywhere else?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

What a Savior!

For the Glory of His Name

Psalm 79:9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!

The psalmist may have learned to pray by observing Moses.  Moses learned to pray by trial and error.  On one occasion he attempted to pray on the basis of his own goodness.  After Israel’s idolatry in the wilderness, Moses interceded with God, “But now if you will forgive their sin – but it not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” (Exodus 32:32)  God did not chide Moses for this effort any more than you would chide a child who was making an honest effort in a poor way.  But he did do for Moses what you would do for the child.  God showed Moses that it doesn’t work that way.  Exodus 32:33 But the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.”

Moses already knew a better way to pray.  Earlier on the mountain, he had interceded with God on the ground of God’s glory.  Exodus 32:11f  “Why should the Egyptians say…”  God’s reputation among the nations was at stake.  If men deserved forgiveness they wouldn’t need it!  The only real hope of forgiveness is always found in the nature of God himself.  “Lord, because of who you are, forgive us!”

Moses came back to that better prayer.  When the nation balked at God’s future for them and refused to enter into his promises, God was ready to start over.  Numbers 14:13-19 But Moses said to the LORD, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, … Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.”

From Egypt until now, he always forgives for the same reason, because of who he is and not because of who we are.  Romans 5:8 But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  It is his glory to save sinners by his grace.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Desire

“What!” stammered the king.  “Haven’t we given her every mortal thing she wanted?”
“Surely,” said the wise woman; “what else could have all but killed her?” (George MacDonald, The Wise Woman, or The Lost Princess)

The king stood accused of being responsible for his daughter’s wickedness.  The foolish man had done many things for his daughter, but never once had he done the thing she needed.  Never having denied a desire she had, he could never lead her to a desire for something greater.

Would God let us go without?  What if the quenching of a desire for a lesser thing kept us from a greater thing?  Deuteronomy 8:3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.  What if our hunger for the bread of earth went unmet, but that same hunger led us on to the bread of heaven?

If God sometimes works in this way, then it might not bode well to be always full and always satisfied.  A perpetual satisfaction might be a sign of poor taste at least and a portent of judgment at worst.  In the calamity that beset Babylon the Great, men watched and lamented that so much wealth and luxury, so much to be desired, had fallen into ruin.  Revelation 18:14 The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendors are lost to you, never to be found again!  When the temporal passes, which it must, how sad to have gained nothing eternal.

Of an evil desire, there is no question.  It must be denied.  But the danger of a good desire is not that it might be satisfied, but that it might be settled for.  The child of God who says “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot,” also says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:5, 11)  Recall the words of Jim Elliot. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Looking Up

Psalm 65:8 You make the going out of the morning and the evening shout for joy.

In the west this morning, a sinking harvest moon shed its soft light on and through a bank of clouds.  Shortly after in the east, the morning sun set the sky on fire.  He never paints quite the same picture.  His thought must be too creative.  His power beyond our imagination.  Not the sky, but the sky painter certainly deserves a shout of joy.

But then there is this.  Psalm 66:8-9 Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip.  If he is that careful and creative over the sky, what is he over you today?  He has preserved your life and he watches your steps.  Bless him today.

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  And not one of them is forgotten before God.  Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7)

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Get Your Groove Back

Psalm 73:1-2 Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.  But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.

The psalmist lost his spiritual groove.  He had become envious of the arrogant.  Their prosperity troubled him.  Their boasting made him ill.  His mind was filled with images of the triumph of wickedness.  “Their tongue struts through the earth.” (v9)  What an image!  Can you see it?  Or more likely, have you heard it?

As for the psalmist, he struggled day after day for a clean heart (v13) and he felt the sting of rebuke every morning (v14).  But at least he was fighting and what did he have to show for it?  He was certainly in a groove, but not a good one.

Then something happened and the happening was worship.  Psalm 73:16-17 But when I thought to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.  Genuine worship, whenever or wherever it happens, restores so many essential things.  Read Psalm 73:18-18 and consider what worship brought to one person.

Perspective. (v20)  Like a dream upon waking, wickedness would pass just that quickly.

Insight. (v21-22)  He was bitter.  What a waste of life and energy!  He was brutish and beastly before God, spiritually dumb when he should have been devoted.

Recovery. Psalm 73:23-24  Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.  Talk about a chest of forgotten treasures!   God’s presence, God’s strength, God’s wisdom, and God’s future all belonged to this child of faith, but he could not see them for he was in the wrong groove.

If you’ve lost your spiritual groove, get it back!  Walk into worship with the psalmist and walk out with a new groove.

Psalm 73:25 Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

What wonderful Savior he is!

The Peace of His Presence

Luke 2:29-32 Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.

Those were Simeon’s words of praise to God when he saw the child Jesus as Mary and Joseph presented him in the Temple.  Simeon had lived on a promise.  When the promise is from God, it is daily nourishment for the soul.  Simeon’s promise was unique.  He had been told that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  How many years he lived on that promise we are not told.  But he waited until the promise walked in.  Then his heart sprang up in praise for the faithfulness of God.

Simeon was at peace.  It would be three decades before Jesus began to preach and the people would be astonished at what they were hearing.  Simeon would not be there.  Simeon would not witness a leper on his way home or see the residue of water in the bottom of a boat now serene on calm sea.  He would not eat the bread that was more than enough and wonder at its source.  He would not be standing beside Mary when the sword of which he prophesied pierced her heart and her baby, grown strong, was beaten down, not against his will, but by his will.  He would not hear a crusty Roman soldier, wide-eyed in an awesome darkness, cry out ‘surely this man was the Son of God.’  Nor could he stand again with Mary beside a cast away stone as every wicked thing was turned on its head and the pain of the sword in her heart began to feel the balm of healing grace.  Simeon would not see any of that.  But seeing him was enough.  Simeon was at peace.

The critical thing, the thing people of faith were always looking for, was his arrival.  For Simeon, once he was present, everything else was done.  He was just waiting for him to get here.  One of his names is Immanuel and the name embodies the promise that brought Simeon peace.  God with us.  Many things matter.  Nothing matters like this.  For faith, where he is present there is peace.

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

What a promise!  What a Savior!

Stranger to His Brothers

Psalm 69:7-9 For it is for your sake that I have born reproach, that dishonor has covered my face.  I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother’s sons.  For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.

When Jesus first cleansed the Temple (John 2:13f), his disciples remembered these words from Psalm 69, “for zeal for your house has consumed me.”  The place appointed for his worship found him strange.  He visited his estranged people and they did not recognize him.  John 1:10-11 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  Even their religious exercise was about themselves, self-taught doctrine giving rise to self-shaped practice.  When he started knocking things over, they became angry.

Wonder how long it took for the disciples to further understand that if the zeal thing was about Jesus, then the bearing of undeserved reproach thing was about him too?  And if the bearing of undeserved reproach was about him, then the reproach had to come from somewhere.  If the dishonor that covered his face on the cross was not his, whose was it?

2 Corinthians 5:21 He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Do you know that you are a sinner?  O what a Savior, O what a Savior!

A Different Taste

1 Samuel 10:20 Then Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot.

The scene was the public selection of Saul as the first king of Israel.  God had already made his choice.  In fact, Saul had already been anointed by Samuel.  The people needed to see.

Every kingship save that of the King of kings is temporal by nature.  But Saul’s kingship was especially so.  Anyone who had paid attention to Jacob’s prophecy over his sons would have noted two things.  Genesis 49:10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.  It was not the destiny of Benjamin but the destiny of Judah to be the tribe from which enduring rule would come.  Then, they might have noted this.  Genesis 49:27 Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey and at evening dividing the spoil.  If you choose to pal around with this guy, you might want to keep one eye open.  Better yet, keep two eyes open, one on your self and one on your stuff.

Saul was the ‘People’s Choice’ award for kingship.  God had a plan for a king from long ago.  The people had a different plan, a better plan they thought.  God does allow people to taste the difference between their choices and his.  Some have already tasted.  Some are about to taste.  All will taste the difference by and by.  The sooner the better.  For the sooner we taste the difference, the sooner we will agree with the psalmist.

Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

What a wonderful Savior he is!