1. Measure them according to what you actually deserve (Lamentations 3:39; Ephesians 2:1-3).
2. Measure them according to what Jesus endured on the cross for you (Hebrews 12:3-4).
3. Measure them according to the glory awaiting you in heaven (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
On a tombstone in a graveyard you will likely find a symbol, a short and simple line, between two dates. The dates, on the left and the right, mark the year of the beginning and end of one’s life. The “in-between” part—the life lived–is all summed up and represented to us by a dash.
The dash bears more weight than it should. A simple short line can hardly suffice to tell the story of all that transpired in the life of a person. Did they die young or old? The dates tell that story. But the tombstone and the dash say little or nothing about the dead person’s character or deeds.
Our omniscient Creator knows all both about the dates and that which lies in-between. Where we see a dash, he sees and knows a person. A person created by Him to know and love Him. He has “set eternity in their heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). In the heart of each rebel sinner lies a God-given desire to be reconciled to Him.
Without knowing anything about a person we know something about them. We are all born sinners. We’ve all missed the mark and have fallen short. We’ve failed to measure up to God’s holy standard (Cf. Romans 3:23). The death date on the tombstone testifies to the reality—“death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
The date on the left speaks to the year of one’s birth, but another birthday can work to radically alter the character and eternal trajectory of a life. Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” 1 Timothy 1:15) and died “for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). To those who receive Him He gives “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). The new birth works a wonderful transformation in one’s identity, life, and eternal destination. Jesus can make something beautiful of the dash between the dates.
The death date on the tombstone does not mark the end. “An hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds, to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29). Those who die knowing Jesus will spend eternity with Him. Those who don’t will “pay the penalty of eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Having assurance of heaven the believer in Christ is nevertheless concerned for the character of what lies within the “dash between the dates.” “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). On that day the “quality of each man’s work” will be revealed with fire and he will accordingly either suffer loss or receive reward (Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15). What is done here matters there (i.e. in heaven).
Paul’s instructions to Timothy speak to such matters: “Instruct them (“those who are rich in this present world”; 1 Timothy 6:17) to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Timothy 6:18-19). Our “dash” should be filled with such things.
Missionary C. T. Studd put it this way:
“Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgment seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
What’s in your dash?
Though definitely not the largest of Oregon forest fires, the Eagle Creek fire of September 2017 will be long remembered for the widespread devastation and distress it caused. It was first reported on September 2nd. By the morning of the next day, it had grown to 3000 acres and had trapped 153 hikers, forcing them to spend the night in the woods. On September 5th, it hopped across the wide Columbia River and started a fire on the Washington side. The community of Cascade Locks was evacuated, with 283 structures and 15 businesses being threatened by the fire. The fire also threatened historical structures in the Columbia River gorge, including the iconic and much-visited Multnomah Falls Lodge. Nearby salmon hatcheries were forced to move or release early hundreds of thousands of fish. The main east-west thoroughfare in the region, Interstate 84, was shut down for days, and maritime traffic on the Columbia River was shut down for 20 miles. As of October 7th, the fire had consumed some 50,000 acres. The popular hiking trails in that area are shutdown indefinitely. With the fall rains starting in earnest, warnings have been issued for possible rock and mud slides.
How did it begin? Witnesses reported seeing a group of teenagers lighting fireworks and throwing them into the Eagle Creek Canyon. Oregon State Police later obtained cell phone video footage that showed a 15-year-old boy throwing the smoking firecracker that had started the fire. Do you suppose that that teen could have imagined the extent of destruction that would be caused by that foolhardy stunt? That’s the imagery James uses in his indictment of the human tongue—“How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! (James 3:5).”
There is something very wrong with our tongues. Read James 3:1-12. The indictment of the tongue is unequivocal and universal. The tongue is small, but powerful. It is set on fire by hell itself. We can tame big animals, but the tongue is untamable. Though able to bless God, it is ready and all-too-willing to curse those made in His image. There is plenty of empirical evidence to prove the Bible’s assertion regarding the tongues evil proclivities —in marriages, families, churches, communities and across our country—a “forest fire” of sorts is raging even now. Untamable tongues set fires. They cause misery and destruction.
The problem with the human tongue goes back a long way. We read of it in Genesis chapter 3. The Devil deceived Eve and she succumbed to temptation. Then Adam too. That fateful day unleashed a sin contagion. The effect on Adam and Eve became immediately obvious. God confronted Adam. His response? “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). Eve blamed the serpent. Deception, accusations, and blame-shifting—and a host of other tongue troubles–are all rooted in that day, and in all of us, in Adam (Romans 5:12).
God’s indictment on sinful humanity in Romans 3:11-18 focuses especially on the destructive nature of our tongues. Romans 3:13-18, “Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; Their feet are swift to shed blood, Destruction and Misery are in their paths, And the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” God’s indictment was consistent to Isaiah’s own appraisal when God unveiled the glory of His holiness to him. Isaiah witnessed the angels doing what they were created to do—worshipping God in His awesome holiness. By comparison, he was confronted with man’s shortcomings in that regard. His assessment? “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). An honest, Spirit-led appraisal, will work to bring any of us to a similar conclusion.
The God-man Jesus Christ was born into a world of troubled tongues. His speech was according to His nature, full of “grace and truth” (John 1:14). He spoke only truth, but His speech was also always characterized by grace. He who knew no sin and never sinned had a perfect tongue. The religious leaders once sent men to arrest Jesus. When they returned without Him, the leaders asked why. Their response, “Never has a man spoke the way this man speaks” (John 7:46). Never indeed! The extent of man’s tongue troubles was dramatically demonstrated at the cross. Jesus, the creator of all things, had come into the world to save (1 Timothy 1:15). He purposed to go to that cross for lost sinners like you and me. Though He had done nothing wrong, He was falsely accused and tried and convicted. Then the multitudes cried out for His crucifixion! As He hung on the cross, He was mocked and insulted—by the leaders, the soldiers, those passing by, and even by the two thieves who were crucified with Him (until one experienced a change of heart). As they hurled insults, He spoke contrary words, saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). How contrary was Jesus to the ways of men! How glorious is the measure of His grace! Against the backdrop of such a cacophony of misery and hate, His words from the cross stand as the most melodious ever uttered. His death on the cross is of sin “the double-cure,” cleansing from its “guilt and power”. In Him alone, by faith in Him alone, do we find both forgiveness of sins and His power to be changed.
The Apostle Peter would later write of how we, as believers, need to follow Jesus’ example, saying, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:21-23). Peter then went on to say this: “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead. For the one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.” (1 Peter 3:8-10).
James wrote that “But no man can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). Years ago, I served in the US Navy aboard a submarine. There is a reason that there is a saying which speaks of “cursing like a sailor.” You can probably imagine the degree of complaining and cursing and vindictive speech that might exist in that underwater, sun-deprived, environment. My buddy, Darwin, and I once decided to try an experiment. We ventured to attempt to go through a day without complaining or speaking evil. Of course–you know what happened–as it wasn’t long until our tongues had their own way. We all know the truth of it! Human tongues cannot be tamed. Jesus traced the “tongue” problem to our hearts, saying, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you every careless word that people speak, they shall give accountability for in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:35-37).
The key then, to having tongues that speak as they should, is to have a tongue that speaks according to our new nature in Christ. We speak as Jesus would have us, when we speak not according to our human nature or fleshly tendencies, but according to the indwelling Spirit and the Word. We still have the flesh; left to our own devices, we will speak accordingly. Such speech is characterized by “enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions” (Galatians 5:20). But by the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit (Christlike virtue), is born in us. As we walk by the Spirit, our speech is consistent to who Christ is, and is characterized by “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23; Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Likewise, Ephesians 5:18 and Colossians 3:16 speak to the worshipful and edifying words that characterize the lives of those whose hearts are “filled up” with the Spirit and the Word.
We live in a day where hateful words and insults fill the airwaves and too many conversations. And that’s sadly true in too many “Christian” homes and churches! Even Christians toss fireworks into tinder dry regions. The fires started then quickly spread to destroy relationships and dishonor God. A raging firestorm exists in the spiritual realm—a raging firestorm set on fire by hell itself (James 3:6). Are you a firestarter or a firefighter? We’ve got to stop with the insults and name-calling that are so commonplace in our day (Cf. Matthew 5:21-22; Ephesians 4:29), and get back to the business of living out and sharing the good news. We are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20-21). We are His representatives! Imagine an ambassador being sent out from our country to another. How long would he last in that role if he only cursed and insulted his fellow ambassadors and the people of the country to whom he was sent? As citizens of heaven, we ambassadors for Christ bear a message of reconciliation in the gospel. Let’s share that and words that are always “with grace” (Colossians 4:6)! I remember how I once started a day in Uganda by singing to myself these words, “Take my lips and let it be, filled with messages from Thee.” That was my prayer for that day—as it should be for every day—that the Spirit might do with my lips what I could never do on my own. What a divine privilege, to be speak for God in truth and in love—words that heal, not hurt.
For much of 2015 my Sunday morning sermons were in a study entitled “First Things First: What We Can Learn from the Church in its Beginning.” Our purpose was to look to the example of the early church as a model in guiding us in what the church should be and do in this present day. I felt compelled to do the study, and thought it to be very profitable for our church. I was also able to some of things that we learned with our fellow pastors in Uganda.
It would be impossible in this article like this to review all of that which we covered. But here are some of the main points:
The early church was Spirit-led and empowered. Jesus spoke five times in His Farewell Discourse of the pending ministry of the Holy Spirit. And in Acts 1:4 He commanded His apostles to “wait for what the Father had promised.”
And in Acts chapter 2 we read of how the Apostles were filled with the Spirit–Just like Jesus had promised. The fact that they spoke in tongues gets a lot of attention by folks. But the Spirit’s ministry in the lives of those people was about far more than just speaking in tongues. Jesus had spoken to His disciples of the ministry of the Spirit (Cf. John chapters 14-16). How they would be forever indwelt by Him. How He would teach them and bring to their remembrance the things that Jesus had taught them. How He would bear witness of Jesus and empower them to do the same. How He would be in the world convicting of sin and righteousness and judgment. How the Spirit would glorify Jesus Christ.
According to Acts 1:8, one of His chief ministries would be to empower them to bear witness of Jesus. And we find evidence of that in Acts chapter 2. Not many weeks prior Peter had failed to bear witness of Christ. He had affirmed His allegiance to Jesus and said that he was prepared even to die with Him. But he failed. He denied Jesus three times. He denied ever knowing Jesus. He denied Jesus even to a slave girl.
But in Acts chapter 2 we read of how cowardly Peter was made courageous by the power of the Holy Spirit. He stood before that great crowd of people and forthrightly proclaimed the truth about Jesus Christ.
But the Spirit was also at work in the hearts of those who were listening to Peter’s sermon. They were Jews and proselytes. The crucifixion had taken place mere weeks before. Some of Peter’s listeners had likely been there, crying out with the multitude “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” But Peter affirms to them the truth about Jesus, that He is the Christ. And how He died and rose again as their Savior-Messiah. Under conviction of the Spirit those previously hard-hearted listeners were “pierced to the heart” (Acts 2:37). And 3000 people believed unto salvation. Salvation was the result when Spirit-empowered preaching met with Spirit-prepared hearts.
Note the promise made by Peter to them. “And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” And they did. “They were born of the Spirit with life from above into God’s family divine.” And the things that they did subsequent to that day were things that they were Spirit-led and empowered to do. The Spirit not only caused them to be born again but worked an incredible transformation in them.
Now every born-again believer had shared in that same experience. They too have been filled with the Spirit (Romans 8:9; Titus 3:5-6; John 7:37-39).
The great work that took place in the beginning of the Church was a work of the Spirit. In fact, the book of Acts would be better entitled, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” The words “of the Apostles” is not a part of the inspired text. The Spirit is referred to repeatedly throughout the book.
We need to realize this about our lives and ministries. God does not call upon us to do the things He calls upon us to do in the power of the flesh, “the flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63; Cf. Philippians 3:3). Human wisdom, strength and self-effort are all inadequate.
We do well to appreciate this dynamic. We are tempted to try to do things in our own strength. But to endeavor to try is foolhardy. The Apostle Paul condemned the church in Galatia, saying: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh” (Galatians 3:3)?
The life and ministry of the believer in Christ lies in the realm of the miraculous. By the Spirit we are born again and by the Spirit we grow and serve God. It is impossible and foolhardy to try to do the things that God has given us to do according to human wisdom or self-effort. That is why we are commanded to be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) and to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16).
The early church was Christ-centered in its ministry. Acts 1:8, “You shall be My witnesses.” There are two main parts to Peter’s first sermon. Acts 2:14-21 is an introduction. Peter says “this is that” in explaining why it was that the disciples were speaking in tongues. The heart of the sermon is Acts 2:22-36. Note this about that part of the sermon. It begins and ends with Jesus. The first important word uttered is “Jesus” (Acts 2:22). The last phrase in the sermon? “This Jesus whom you crucified.” So we have in this sermon the great theme which is the great theme of all of the Scriptures—the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul summed up the concern of His ministry in these same terms. 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
D. L. Moody once said that the “main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing.” And here we find here, in Peter’s first sermon, the main thing. The main thing is bearing witness of Christ.
And note also how Peter elaborates on these truths. His message was to Jews and proselytes. His chief concern was to affirm to them that Jesus is the Christ. So he speaks of how this truth was affirmed in the life of Jesus—in the miracles that He performed (Acts 2:22). One of the questions that would have puzzled those folks was how could the Messiah die. So Peter spoke of the death of Jesus being by “the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Then he proved the resurrection of Christ both by prophecy and his own witness (Acts 2:24-32). And finally spoke of the ascension of Jesus Christ to the right hand of God (Acts 2:33-36).
His message? The life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.
And this Christ-centeredness continued on in the ministry of the early church. This is a test for us. The ministry of the Spirit of God is to glorify the Son of God. There is something wrong with a church when it is diverted or distracted from its ministry of bearing witness to Jesus. To be sure, the Spirit of God is not at work if there is a failure in this regard. And, on the other side of the coin, there is nothing of more importance or of greater need that for the church to bear witness of Him. Salvation is bound up in Christ alone. That is why Peter and John later said to their persecutors: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). And why they said, “We cannot stop speaking of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
The early church was preaching the gospel. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I have also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
We find here that the gospel is a matter of “first importance.” It has always been that to the church—from its beginning.
- The message of Christ’s death and resurrection are there in Peter’s first sermon (Acts 2:23-24).
- In his second sermon (Acts 3:15).
- In the response of Peter and John to the religious leaders (Acts 4:10).
- In the ongoing ministry of the church (Acts 4:33).
- When Peter responded to the religious leaders on a second occasion (Acts 5:30).
- In the preaching of Philip in Samaria (Acts 8:12).
- In Peter’s message to Cornelius and his family (Acts 10:40).
- In Paul’s messages to the Gentiles (Acts 13:30-32).
So the church was preaching the gospel. And that is the legacy of the truth church through the ages—preaching the message of Christ’s death for sins and resurrection from the dead.
The gospel is the message by which we are being saved (1 Corinthians 15:2). So we ourselves have a constant need to be reminded of it.
It is the “glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11). God is glorified in the preaching of the gospel.
It is “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). We preach the gospel so that souls might be saved.
That’s what the early church was doing. That’s what we need to do. We need to work together for that purpose. Both living out and proclaiming the truth of the gospel: “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).
The early church loved the truth. They were “continually devoting themselves to the Apostle’s teaching” (Acts 2:42). These folks were Jews and Jewish proselytes. They knew something of the Scriptures. They had been taught in the synagogues from what we now call the Old Testament. But they didn’t own their own copies of the Scriptures. And as they were born again to constitute this new church they had need for instruction.
And that ministry of instruction was given to the Apostles. They received revelation from God. They were sent forth to declare the truth. And as these folks gathered they listened intently to the instruction they were given.
Now this is the way that God has designed things. Those that are born again by the Spirit are born again to a love for the truth.
The Apostle Peter used the analogy of a newborn babe in describing that ought to be the attitude of the believer towards the truth of God’s Word. “Like newborn babes,” he said, “long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).
Newborn babes love mama’s milk. They instinctively know that they need to drink much of it if they are to grow. And by the Spirit believers in Christ love the Word. And in loving the Word and partaking of the Word they grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is something very wrong if there is no love for truth in the life of a believer in Christ. Paul chided the believers in Corinth because they had no appetite for his teaching. What was the cause? They were not spiritual, but fleshly, and because they were fleshly they had no appetite for truth. So where the Spirit, the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17), is at work there will be a corresponding love for the truth.
Paul warned Timothy of a day to come in which “they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). That’s the spirit of the day in which we live. We need to deliberately determine to think and live differently. Love of the truth characterized the lives of those early believers. We do well to follow their example.
The early church was devoted to fellowship. Acts 2:42, “And they were continually devoted to…fellowship.” The term translated “fellowship” means “communion, fellowship, sharing in common.”
What did these believers share in common? Everything. But the basis for their fellowship was their shared relationship in Christ. Having been Spirit baptized into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13), they were literally “members of one another” (Romans 12:5).
They were spiritually and supernaturally united to God and therefore to one another. 1 John 1:3, “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
So fellowship is not just something we do, it is something we are. We don’t go to church, we are the church. And we are Spirit-led and drawn to be with and minister together with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
This was the experience of those early believers. They were steadfast in their fellowship. They experienced a great unity in Christ:
- They were together (Acts 2:44).
- They had all things in common (Acts 2:44).
- They were sharing what they had (Acts 2:45).
- They were of one mind (Acts 2:46).
- They were meeting day by day (Acts 2:46).
- They were breaking bread together (Acts 2:46).
- They were eating their meals together (Acts 2:46).
There was oneness to the church. A oneness that was exemplified in their love for one another and their desire to be together.
Now this is the way God has designed things. And if you look both to the beginning of the church and also to its consummation when it is ushered into heaven you see something of this. Revelation 5:9 speaks of that great heavenly gathering when people from every tribe and tongue and people of nation will be heavenly united to sing praise to the Lamb who was slain.
But the in-between time is a challenge to us. The visible church is divided into countless and various denominations and factions.
There is that little ditty that says, “To dwell above with saints we love, Oh, that will be glory; to dwell below with saints we know, Well, that’s another story.”
And for countless reasons and with a myriad of excuses people don’t fellowship together with fellow believers as those first believers did. But the Spirit would have us to. He would lift our sights higher to view the church as God does. The church triumphant is a beautiful thing. The Church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth, is glorious because it’s Savior and Lord is glorious. And no matter how people view it, the truth is that it will prevail. God’s purposes for His people in His church will not be thwarted.
By the Spirit we need to recapture something of what those early believers had. Hebrews 10:24-25, “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.”
The early church was devoted to the breaking of bread. Acts 2:42, “And they were continually devoted to…the breaking of bread.”
The reference to “breaking of bread” is a reference to what we also refer to as “communion” (1 Corinthians 10:16) or the “Lord’s Supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20).
The book of Acts was authored by Luke who also wrote the gospel of Luke. He used the same language in speaking of what Jesus did in the last supper (Cf. Luke 22:19; 24:35). Later in the book of Acts he used similar terminology (Acts 20:7).
They were devoted to the observance of the Lord’s Supper.
The observance of the Lord’s Supper is not a religious ritual. No one can be saved by doing it (Cf. Ephesians 2:8-9). There is no religious advantage gained by its practice. But there is a good reason to observe it purposefully on a regular basis…
- We are instructed to (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-24).
- We are Spirit-led to (Acts 2:42).
- It is an act of worship (Philippians 3:3; Galatians 6:14).
- It serves as a reminder of what God had done for us (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24; Exodus 12:14, 17, 25-27).
- It bears witness concerning Christ and His death for sins (Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 11:26).
- It helps to remind us to keep the matter of first importance a matter of first importance to us (1 Corinthians 15:3; 2:2).
- It reminds us, by way of Christ’s example, of the command He has given that we should love one another and forgive each other (John 13:34-35; Ephesians 5:1).
- It is something the Spirit can use to kindle afresh our love for Jesus (Revelation 2:4-5).
In the Lord’s Supper God has condescended to our need. He has given to us simple emblems which speak to the great truths of Christ’s sacrifice and our salvation through His shed blood. We are privileged to observe it, looking to the Spirit to bear witness through the observance to our hearts so that a Spirit-borne love for Christ might be enlivened and refreshed in an ongoing manner.
The early church was devoted to prayer. Acts 2:42, “And they were continually devoted to…prayer.”
They were steadfast in their prayers. If you had been there at the time you would have seen them praying. They were always praying. That doesn’t mean that they only prayed and never did anything else. It means that prayer was a consistent part of their experience.
They were Spirit-led to do that. And we see something of that when a person is newly born again of the Spirit. They have such a heart with respect to prayer.
When confronted with various problems, they prayed. In Acts 3 we read of the miracle of the healing of the lame beggar. That miracle led to a sermon by Peter. And that sermon was met by an amazing response. 5000 people believed unto salvation. This upset the religious leaders. So they arrested and interrogated Peter and John. Peter and John were not dissuaded at all from their objective of preaching Christ. They were given a mandate (Acts 1:8). They knew the truth that salvation cannot be found in anyone else (Acts 4:9-12). So when the religious leaders commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus Christ, they said no (Acts 4:18-20). And when Peter and John were released, do you know that they did? They went back to their companions and had a prayer meeting (Acts 4:23-31).
Another example is given to us in Acts 12. King Herod had James the brother of John put to death. He did this to please the Jews. This religious persecution against Christians goes on to this day. King Herod saw how this pleased the Jews and he had Peter arrested and put in jail. So what did the church do? The people prayed (Acts 12:5). They were fervently praying for Peter.
A third example of corporate prayer in the book of Acts is found in Acts 13. The Spirit called upon the church in Antioch to send forth Barnabas and Saul on a missionary journey. This was according to the church’s mandate in Acts 1:8. So the church sent them off. But note the manner in which they sent them off. They understood something about the work that they would be involved in. It was a work that would be fully dependent upon God and His grace. They needed to be strengthened by God to do the work. And so the church “fasted and prayed and laid hands on them” before they sent them on their way.
J. Hudson Tayler, founder of the China Inland Mission, once said, “Brother, if you are to enter that province by must go forward on your knees.” And so it is with all missionary endeavor.
A healthy church is a praying church. Charles Spurgeon, “If God be near a church, it must pray. And if he be not there, one of the first tokens of his absence will be a slothfulness in prayer.” The early church was a praying church. And we’ve been called to follow in their example (Colossians 1:9, 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).
The Gospel of John was written by the Apostle John near the end of his life. Most scholars assign a date of about A.D. 90 to its writing. John was a disciple of Jesus and a witness of His death and resurrection (1 John 1:1-2; Acts 1:1-3). Following Christ’s ascension into heaven (Acts 1:9) John served in a foundational role in the establishment of the church (Acts 3:1; 4:19). He faithfully served as a leader in the church for the remainder of his life and suffered persecution for the witness he maintained (Revelation 1:9).
What motivated John to devote his life to serving Jesus Christ and bearing witness of Him? No doubt it was his love for the One who had so loved him, but rooted in that love was his understanding of the truth about Jesus. He had personally walked with Jesus. He had personally witnessed the truth about Him. In his gospel, he wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). John beheld Jesus. He saw for Himself the glory of the person of Jesus Christ. But what did John mean when he said, “We beheld His glory.”? The term “glory” is a “weighty” word, reserved for extraordinary things. We use it in describing such things as a beautiful sunrise or sunset, or a majestic mountain, or of the birth of a newborn baby. The Greek term forms the first part of our word “doxology,” and means, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, “the honor resulting from a good opinion.” But then Vine’s goes on to explain how the term also speaks to “what God essentially is and does, as exhibited in whatever way he reveals Himself in these respects, and particularly in the person of Jesus Christ.”
God is “glorious” in who He is and whatever He does. He is glorious in His nature and in all His ways. Whenever we see God unveiled to us, in whatever way, we behold His glory. In this respect, He is transcendent and extraordinary, for mere men all fall short of His glory (Romans 3:23). But God is always glorious, for that is who He is.
So John’s inspired testimony was that he and his companions, beheld in Jesus, the glory which is intrinsic to the person of God Himself. His glory manifested Him to be the “only Son from the Father” (John 1:14), unveiling the truth of which the hymn speaks, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity, pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel” (“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”). The immediate context focuses on Jesus’ character (John 1:14-18), but His glory was unveiled to John in other ways too.
John beheld the glory of Jesus’ person and character. He was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). John and his companions received from Jesus “grace upon grace” (John 1:16). In contrast to the law given by Moses, “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:18). The term “grace” speaks to “graciousness, loving-kindness, goodwill” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary). God is a God who is rich in grace and mercy. Jesus unveiled this aspect of God’s essential nature to us. When Jesus appeared it was as if the “grace of God” and the “goodness and loving kindness of God” appeared, because they did (Titus 2:11, 3:4). These characteristics of God, intrinsic to His very nature, were unveiled to man in Jesus. And so that is what John saw in the life of Jesus. He was full of truth, embodying truth itself, but He was full of grace, “grace upon grace,” too. He was always gracious, always kind, always putting the needs of others ahead of His own. He was never selfish or demanding. So gracious in His ways that He willingly gave up His own life for us (2 Corinthians 8:9). And even while dying on the cross He would only speak gracious words. Jesus was glorious in His grace and glorious in every other virtuous way. But of sin He had neither part nor practice. Never, either before or after, has the world witnessed anyone like Him!
John witnessed the numerous and remarkable miracles that attested to Jesus’ glory. While Jesus performed countless miracles (Cf. John 21:25), John focused on seven in his gospel account: Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:1-12); healed a nobleman’s son (John 4:46-54); healed a lame man (John 5:1-17); fed the 5000 (John 6:1-14); walked on water (John 6:15-21); healed the man born blind (John 9:1-41); and raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:17-45). These miracles attested to the truth about Jesus’ identity as the Divine Son of God. The miracle of turning the water into wine “manifested his glory” (John 2:11). Likewise, the resurrection of Lazarus was described as an opportunity to “see the glory of God” (John 11:40). His miracles all attested to the truth of who Jesus is. John’s very purpose in writing the gospel was to speak to this: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which were not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing you may have eternal life in his name” (John 20:30-31). John beheld the glory of Jesus in the miracles that Jesus did!
John beheld the glory of Jesus in another way too. He was there, with Peter and James, when Jesus was suddenly gloriously transfigured on the mountain, His garments becoming white as light (Cf. Matthew 17:1-2). The event left a deep impression on Peter, who later wrote of the experience, saying, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice of was borne to him by the Majestic Glory,’ ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18). Notably, Peter spoke to his readers of how they possessed, in the Word of God, something of even greater value—for it speaks to us from God, leading us through this dark place onward to the future unveiling of the glory of Jesus in our very hearts (2 Peter 1:20-21). But as with Peter, the experience undoubtedly left a deep and lasting impression on John
He also beheld Jesus’ glory as it was unveiled in His willing sacrifice for sins and resurrection from the dead. He stood with Jesus’ mother when Jesus hung on a cross and later beheld Him after He rose from the dead (John 19:26; Matthew 28:8-9). The glory of God was unveiled to mankind in Jesus in those events. It was the “Lord of glory” that was crucified and who rose again (1 Corinthians 2:9). The “power of God and the wisdom of God” was revealed (1 Corinthians 1:24). As was His love, grace, and mercy (Titus 2:11; 3:4-5). A strong case could be made that all of the attributes of God were put on display for all to see in Christ’s death and resurrection. The death of Christ for sins and resurrection from the dead also constitute “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God,” the good news of the salvation provided when “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:11,15). The Apostle John saw the message unfold, was commissioned to spread it, and devoted his life to it. The message itself speaks to the glory of God and of the Son who died and rose again.
Behold His glory! The eternal Son of God was born of a virgin and dwelt among men (John 1:14). The disciples walked with Him. They heard Him speak as no man had ever spoke before. They saw Him do things that no mere man could ever do. His miraculous deeds testified to His true identity (John 20:30-31). He was full of grace and truth and empty of sin. In His love, and to fulfill the Father’s will, He purposed to die on a cross for our sins. Though He had done nothing wrong, He was tried and convicted and then nailed to a cruel and pain- inflicting cross. The Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world bore our sins on Calvary (John 1:29; 1 Peter 3:18). Death could not hold Him; He rose from the grave (Acts 2:24). Having made payment for sin, He won the victory over sin and death and the Devil (Colossians 2:13-15; Hebrews 2:14-15). He appeared to His disciples and others (1 Corinthians 15:5-8) and commissioned them to share the good news of His death and resurrection (Acts 1:8). That message, His glorious gospel, is the truth of salvation by grace through faith in Him (1 Timothy 1:11; Ephesians 2:8-9).
He is a glorious Savior and His gospel is a glorious truth. His disciples beheld His glory when He walked with them, but the Spirit is able to open blind eyes, in salvation, to the truth of it still (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). The Spirit works henceforth to progressively unveil the glory of Jesus to His own (2 Corinthians 3:18; John 16:14). In His first advent He came in humility, but in His second it will be in glory–for all to see. Every knee will bow to Him and every tongue will confess Him as Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). Some, having never trusted in Him, will be banished from His presence to an eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9). But on that day, He will be “marveled at among all who believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:10). They will all behold His glory, face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12; John 3:2). Will you be amongst them?
“More about Jesus would I know,
More of His grace to others show,
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me.
More about Jesus on His throne,
Riches in glory all His own,
More of His kingdom’s sure increase,
More of His coming—Prince of Peace.“
“More About Jesus”; Text: Eliza E. Hewitt; Music: John R. Sweney