God can have his way in each of our hearts and lives.
It is obvious that many of you have already raised your children and are now watching your grandchildren and maybe even great-grandchildren grow up. In a time when so many families have purposely or ignorantly forgotten their aging parents and grandparents, I believe with all my heart that as believers age they also need to know that they still have a very special and vital role to play in the family, and that family needs to allow them the privilege of having a part.
We live in a time when families are scattered all over the country and the world. The opportunity for many grandparents to relate with their grandchildren and adult children is not the same as it once used to be, but with God’s help aging believers can still have a powerful impact upon their family, their church and the society they live in.
I want to direct my thoughts toward the aged men in our congregations. I will let you decide who I am speaking about, for medical science tells us that our bodies start their inevitable downward progression at the age of 35 or there about, so you see this could take in many of the men who ordinarily would not expect it. Next, I will direct my thoughts to the aged women that this text also speaks of.
The truths we are going to examine in the next two studies are clearly associated with the church body of believers, but that is family as well, so the truths can also be transferred to the blood family.
My aged brothers and sisters in Christ never ever feel or believe that your age in earth years makes you not as valuable to the Lord, the church, and especially to your family. Those years of experience are what the Lord can use in a wonderful and mighty way.
I. OLDER MEN ARE TO BE SOBER:
This word "sober" is used in two ways.
First, it is used of men who are sober in contrast to being drunk with wine. When alcohol or drug is ingested, the body will respond accordingly. Paul was clear on what happens when men allow alcoholic drinks to enter their body. Titus was to remind these aged, gray-haired men that they were Christian men now and had a responsibility before Christ, the younger men, their wife, the children, and the church, to not allow themselves to act in uncontrolled ways.
It certainly is a sad situation when an older man who knows the Lord as his Savior, feels constrained because of the circumstances of life, a habit, or whatever to turn to the bottle to drown his problems. I do believe we all understand that this is not God’s way to deal with the hard times of life. Rather, he should take it to the Lord in prayer.
Second, it is used by analogy of those who are sober-minded about life in general. Essentially, they are clearheaded, they have a balanced perspective on matters of life, they view things as they really are - not better than they are or worse than they are. The older Christian man recognizes both his God-given strengths and his areas of weakness in which to improve with God’s help. Some translations of the scriptures have rendered this word "sober" as temperate which brings out the idea of a person who is balanced and under control at all times.
Older men, by this time in your life you have seen many things happen, you have many years to grow close to your Lord, and simply many years to know what life is all about. Let the closing years of your life be known by God and all those around you as being well balanced and sound. Since it is to the elderly men that many turn to for advice in regard to all matters, it is imperative that these men remain strong and sure in their daily walk with the Lord and not allow themselves to slip as they enter the waning years of their life.
II. OLDER MEN ARE TO BE GRAVE:
This term does not imply that it is wrong to have an appropriate sense of humor when we get older. An older man who can still laugh and help others to laugh at the trials of life is certainly going to look at life through eyes and heart that enjoys what God is doing.But rather, this term "grave" means one who is valuable, one who is venerated because of their character. This is a man who is worthy of respect because of his bearing of character. The older Christian man should not be frivolous in his actions but one who is respectable.
This respect towards one’s character simply does not come with age, though those who are younger ought to show respect toward those who are older than themselves and who love the Lord. No, this respect comes because this older man has walked with His Lord faithfully for many years and has taken on many of the traits of His Lord through the years of spiritual grow and maturity.
When this is true, this man deserves the respect and honor due to him by other believers. He ought to be venerated for what he brings to his family and to his church. These are the spiritual giants who help their local church through difficult times for they have been there before and learned how to go through that time. They have the experience of years behind them and have proven true to their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Such men deserve high esteem for what the Lord has done in their life.
Sadly, many men go through their whole life and arrive at their silver and golden years with a tarnished reputation and not much to offer their family or their church. What started so well is not finishing well. Praise God these sins can be forgiven but the locusts have already eaten up the years of opportunity to walk with the Lord faithfully. Those years cannot be brought back; they are gone forever.
Young men, take heed to this passage of scripture for if God tarries His coming, and blesses us with long life, we too, and very soon, will be counted among the aged men and what kind of experience will we bring with us when those days arrive? Will we be just as weak and inexperienced spiritually then, as we were when we first were saved? Will there be many experiences which could have been avoided had we only obeyed the scriptures faithfully?
Note what Acts 6:5. says about Stephen, one of the first deacons and the first martyrs of the church "Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost..." A man who expects to be esteemed in his old age need to be a man who walks in his faith, and who is not only indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God, but also filled with the Holy Spirit of God for service. That man’s life will stand forth as a glorious testimony of the grace of God.
Let us show respect and veneration for those men in the Body of Christ and in our local church who have faithfully walked with their Lord and exhibit the sure signs of spiritual maturity in the fact that they are "grave".
III. OLDER MEN ARE TO BE TEMPERATE:
This word is a close cousin to the word "sober" which we examined first. This word carries the meaning of being "of sound mind," "self-controlled," "self-disciplined." He is a man who trained himself with God’s help to temper his natural desires and instincts to sin and not allow the flesh to have its way.In Luke 8:35. from the story of the Demoniac of the Gadarenes we have this statement after Jesus cast the demons out and the man was healed spiritually, "Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devil (demons) were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid."
Ages men, are you looking upon all things with the values and priorities of God Himself? The temperate man will not need others to help him remain disciplined, he will have learned to self-discipline himself. This should be a clear sign of age and one which our families need, and which our church family needs.
IV. OLDER MEN ARE TO BE SOUND IN THE FAITH:
We have here an interesting usage of words to explain another aspect of the older man’s relationship to his family and his church family.First, the text says "sound" in faith. The word "sound" means healthy. Just as we say that somebody’s body is sound, that it is healthy, so too here we use the word sound to describe a healthy Christian. As we age physically, we begin to find out that we are not as healthy as we once were. We begin to feel the aches and pains of age, but when it comes to spiritual matters there is no such thing as spiritual arthritis coming on naturally.
It is true that some Christian men appear to be afflicted with this unnatural malady for they have not been growing in the Lord through the years. Men, how sound are you in the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ? Are you spiritually healthy or unhealthy? If you are not feeding yourself daily, and exercising yourself in spiritual service, chances are you have grown weak and flabby in the spiritual sense. From what the text says here in Titus 2:2, this is not the Lord’s will for older Christian men.
Consider the next generation of believers in your family and in your church that need a "sound" example of Godliness lived out before them. Do your grandchildren consider you a Godly grandfather, or do they have no idea at all where you stand spiritually? Sadly, a lack of spiritual health in old age is often a sign of a lack of spiritual health while one’s children were growing up, so there is also a lacking in their families as well because Dad, in earlier years, did not faithfully walk with the Lord.
Second, older Christian men are to be "sound in faith." In the Greek text an article is placed before the word "faith" thus rendering it "the faith. " This helps to define what Paul was referring to as he wrote to Titus. He is referring to the whole body of doctrine that had been taught to them. His instruction to Titus was to teach the older men to be healthy in all that they had been taught doctrinally.
It was absolutely vital that these older men who knew the Lord remain rock solid in their commitment and defense of the doctrines of the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice these other verses which commend and teach the same truth:
1 Corinthians 16:13. "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong."
Jude 3 "Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints."
If ever there was a time for Christian men and women, young or old to be sound in the faith it is today. There is so much compromising taking place in some denominations that it sickens the heart to see it happening and to know that more and more people are accepting these falsehoods every day. Even among those who claim to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior there is a strong tendency to defend others who are good people but do not believe the truth that is taught in the Holy Scriptures.
There is a strong tendency to water down what one has been taught, or to totally reject it as out of hand and unreasonable. I see this as a problem among older saints as well as younger ones. That unwillingness to stand firm in what the Word of God says has led many a believer to make decisions of great error in their life and to try to rationalize it away as acceptable.
I warn you, if the truth is not believed and adamantly held to, error will reign in your life and your light will go out.
Older men, do not come to the place of thinking that because you are older and retired, that you can retire from the faith and defending the faith. There is no retirement from doing what is right in God’s Word. We are to do right until we die or the Lord returns. God is not pleased nor honored when older men in the Lord who are to know better, stop serving the Lord and defending the faith.
V. OLDER MEN ARE TO BE SOUND IN CHARITY:
Again, the article "the" is found before the word love or charity. Paul is obviously referring to God’s love which is also the first fruit of the Spirit in the list found in Galatians 5:22, 23. In Ephesians 5:1, 2 we have this same kind of love spelled out for us so that no one is left with any doubts as to what God means. Let us take a look at those verses and the four characteristics of "agape" love.Ephesians 5:1. "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour."
1. Agape love is a choice of the will, "and walk in love." This is a command that ought to be followed, but it is still an act of the will to obey God’s Word.
2. Agape love is unconditional, "as Christ also hath loved us."
3. Agape love is demonstrative, "and hath given himself for us."
4. Agape love is sacrificial, "an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour."
This is the kind of love that ought to be demonstrated by the elder men of the faith. Often younger people turn away from older people because they have fallen into a state of ugliness, and hatefulness and often bitterness. Rather than building up younger men in the faith, these older Christians find fault with everything that they do, are unchangeable in practical matters, and discourage growth, etc.
Though there are changes that take place in our bodies as we grow older, it is pretty well established that an older person who is unloving was also a younger person who was unloving. Just because one is older doesn’t mean they are predisposed to being unloving.
Some of the most loving and beautiful saints are the senior saints who have grown in the Lord for years and are totally sure of their place in Christ and serving others. Thank the Lord, with His help; changes can be made to one’s character for the good of Christ and the Church.
VI. OLDER MEN ARE TO BE SOUND IN PATIENCE:
This word "patience" is a combination of two words that mean "to abide" and "under." It speaks of the ability to remain faithful to a given task or lifestyle even under difficult circumstances.We normally think of patience as having a calm attitude under difficult circumstances and that is true. That thought is here as well, but that calmness and clarity of thought causes these saints to hold their ground while others fall away during difficult times.
Another word that we could use here is the word "endurance." Aged men, I have already said some things in this message about this issue, but this word brings it out again, God’s Word instructs you, and especially you, to endure faithfully for your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ even when other, weaker saints are calling it quits. No one who loves the Lord ought to be "signing out" on the cause of Christ when things do not work out the way we thought they should.
Aged men, your testimony before the whole body of Christ when death comes into your family, when sickness strikes, when financial distresses arise, when church disputes arise, is going to be what others are going to look at and often copy in their own lives.
You have a very important and vital part to play in your family’s spiritual well-being, and especially that of your spiritual family at church. These are badges of honor that God gives to those who remain faithful to Him and serve Him for many years.
Aged men of God - lift up your heads and stand firm for your Savior in obeying the Word of God and being faithful unto Him. Your family needs this, your grandchildren and great grandchildren need this, and your church family needs this. Don’t retire from God’s Work.
Let the rest of us encourage the aged men of the church to obey the Word of God and uphold them in prayer. Amen
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3. CHOOSING THE BEST PART
By James L. Thornton
Luke 10:38. "Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
39. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word.
40. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
41. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
42. But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."
I realize that today’s woman has no easy task. I know that more appliances and conveniences are placed within the home with the goal of making the household chores easier. Things have certainly changed from the time that I was a child.
There were no micro-wave ovens, icemaker refrigerators, and many of the other modern appliances found in today’s home. However, in spite of all these changes that supposedly add to the convenience of the home, women today are probably busier than at any other point in history.
Expectations for women have changed as well. Today, she is expected to not only cook the bacon, she has to help bring it home as well. Even though she may work 40 hours plus, she is still expected to be the main housekeeper. She is often expected to keep the house, cook the meals, wash the clothes, and take care of the children. Their day is often from sunup to sundown and beyond.
Another change we have seen in recent years is the "super mom." This is the woman that attempts to have it all, a good education, a great career, and be a great mother as well. Many women are finding that this is not that easy. Regardless of time schedules, and calendar organizers, there is still only 24 hours to work with in a day. I know, there are occasions that I wish for 36 hours in a day so I could get everything done as well, but there is no such thing.
With all that is expected of them, many women try to cut corners in order to make for time for a busy day. The problem with this is that one aspect that often gets cut or overlooked is that of the spiritual. Many women, (and men as well) fail to make time for God. If they focus only on the material, and neglect the spiritual, they will not be fulfilled and happy.
Someone once said, "It’s the woman that sets the mood for the home." Today’s version of that is, "If momma’s not happy, nobody’s gonna be happy." Today’s women, through motherhood, have the greatest opportunity to mold the future. It was Napoleon who once said, "The fate of a child is always the work of his mother." I realize that the passage I read today is not about mothers.
As far as I know, the scripture never mentions either Martha or Mary as being mothers. That’s one detail that we may never know. We can only speculate and wonder. Tradition sees Martha as the older sister who was widowed and who took her brother and sister under her care. What we do know about them was that they lived in Bethany, just outside Jerusalem.
However, Martha and Mary were women, who faced decisions that were important, with results that had eternal consequences. Jesus loved both of these women, they were dear to Him, along with their brother, Lazarus (John 11:5) . This study is by no means intended to bash Martha, as I have heard too many times from too many preachers. I feel that she was at Pentecost and received the Holy Ghost also.
Here in Luke, is the only time they are mentioned in this Gospel. We are told that Martha received Jesus into her house. Jesus was an up and coming rabbi, who was gathering a following. No doubt, Martha wanted everything to be just right, after all, some were even saying that this was the Messiah. She was busy, working, while Mary, her sister, was listening to the words that Jesus taught.
Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the best part. This passage of scripture shows three differences between Martha and Mary. I want to show them to you this morning, all the while remembering that Mary had chosen the better part. This text applies to mothers, women, as well as to men. See where you fit in this morning.
I. THERE WAS A DIFFERENCE IN FOCUS:
1. Both of them had differences focuses. Webster Dictionary defines focus as the point where reflected rays come together, the center. Here by focus, I mean the things they were most concerned about. That which was the center of their lives.
2. Notice what they were paying attention to. The scripture tells us that Martha was concerned about serving. That is what she was focused upon.
3. No doubt she was excited. Jesus was coming to her house. She wanted everything to be just right. Jesus was the honored guest so it was customary to prepare a meal for the guest. I don’t know what was being prepared, but I’m sure that Martha put everything she had into it. She was busy serving the Master. Also we must remember she had the added burden of feeding a large group of men who were following Jesus, this meant more food than normal had to be prepared and served.
4. I have met people who spend all the time being busy. They serve on every committee the church has. They
teach Sunday School, they teach Wednesday night Bible study classes, they head up the Ladies’ Ministries. If there’s a position open in the church they do their best to fill it. However, they do all these things, yet they never find the time to develop a closer relationship with Jesus. Did you know that you can be too busy for the Lord?
5. Now I not saying it’s a bad thing to serve the Lord, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to be involved in church work. May God help us; we need more people that are willing to be involved for I believe that God has a work for every single one of you. There are classes that need to be taught, and ministries that need to be developed.
A study was conducted several years ago and it found, regardless of the size of the church, be it 20 or 2000, that roughly only 10 % of the church’s attendance are active in performing the ministries of the church. No wonder so many people suffer burnout and no wonder some people are too busy working for the Lord to develop a closer relationship with Him. They have to do their job plus someone else’s. Would to God we had more people who were willing to serve.
6. Martha’s service was not a bad thing. The problem was in much serving. Martha was focused on serving. The Greek word used here for "serving" is the word diakonia. The Greek word for deacon comes from this word. Serving is not a bad thing, but Martha had allowed it to become the center of her attention. She was cumbered about (distracted) with much serving.
I think that is the key word, "much." All her energy, all her attention, and all her focus was on serving. Some would attempt to psychoanalyze her and say that maybe she suffered from low self-esteem and by her "service" she was attempting to overcompensate for it. Some might say that she was just a "type A" personality. Theologians might say that she was "works" based, thinking that maybe by her works she could please the Lord. I don’t know. I do know that she was focused upon the wrong thing.
7. Now think what a tragedy it is, to have the Lord of the universe in your house, and you’re too busy to hear what He has to say. Did you know that we have people that sit in churches every Sunday, in the presence of the Lord, and their thoughts are 10,000 miles away, they’re too busy to hear what the Lord has to say? Many run in and out of the service and never "get" the message God wanted them to hear.
8. This in not just confined to church work either. There are mothers who labor hard on the job, working to build a future for their children, working to build a good home for their families, and they never give thought to the spiritual needs of their children. Thank God for every mother who takes the time to teach her children about the Word of God, and thank God for every mother who pays enough attention to the Word of God that they can teach it to their children.
John 6:27. "Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed."
9. Jesus said to not put all your energy into that which is only temporary. I know of Dads and Moms who work and lay up for their children and when they are gone, everything they put up, their children waste it in just a short time. It is not appreciated but it is taken for granted. I have yet to hear a child say that they didn’t appreciate the faith that their parents passed on to them.
10. Now notice Mary, the scripture says that she was sitting at the feet of Jesus and notice this, she heard His word. Moms, Dads, are you hearing His Word today? Are you taking the time to listen to Jesus? Are you focused upon Him? Mary was focused on Jesus and His word, she chose the better part.
II. THERE WAS A DIFFERENCE IN THEIR FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST:
1. Now let’s pay attention to Mary. She was sitting at the feet of Jesus. To be at someone’s feet is a place of closeness. The Greek means that she literally sat down right in front of the feet of Jesus. She wanted to get as close to Him as she possibly could. She didn’t want to miss a word of what Jesus was saying. She knew that there was something special about this man called Jesus.
2. Let me tell you something, you are as close to Jesus as you want to be. I know that you don’t like that, I know that you will give me your excuses, but Jesus desires for you to be close to Him. If you are not as close to Him as you used to be, guess who moved? You see, it all comes down to priorities, for Mary, fellowship with Christ was a priority in her life. Listen, the scriptures say that you have been called into fellowship with Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:9. "God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord."
3. Mary knew that to fully receive from Jesus, she must shut everything else out and focus on being close to Him.
4. Now let’s go back to Martha. We are not told that she was in a specific location. We are just told that she was cumbered about with much serving. She was probably here in this place for a while and then she would move to another place within the house.
What I want you to notice is the word "cumbered." This is a word that we don’t use a lot in modern English. The New Revised Standard translates it as "But Martha was distracted by her many tasks;" That’s probably pretty close to what the text says in the Greek. The Greek word used literally means to "draw away" or "distract."
5. Martha was letting her tasks draw her away from Christ. Remember, she was the one who received Christ into her home, she was the one who welcomed Him, yet now, other things have become more important and she is drawn away from the One she needs to hear the most.
6. How many times do we receive Christ into the home of our hearts, welcome Him, and then allow other things to consume us and draw our attention away from Him? If we are not careful, we will be like "the ground that received the seed with joy," yet because we do not take the time to ground ourselves in fellowship with Him, the rocks and stones of our lives don’t allow the seed to grow (Matthew 13:20) . Then we become overwhelmed with our troubles and cares and die out spiritually. Ladies and Gentlemen this is a grave danger.
Hebrews 2:1. "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip."
Hebrews 2:1. "Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it" (New Revised Standard).
7. What do you have to do to drift away? Absolutely nothing. The currents of life, the cares of life, and the temptations of life, will naturally cause you to drift away.
8. I recently read the story of a man who had just brought a boat and kept it in the harbor on the coast of Florida. A hurricane warning went into effect, the storm was brewing just off the coast and was about to hit land. He didn’t know what to do. He had made a sizable investment in this boat and he didn’t want to loose it so he asked for advice.
A friend, who had experience with both boats and hurricane, gave him this advice. "Don’t attempt to tie the boat to the dock or anything on land. It will be torn to pieces. Here’s what you need to do. Your only hope is to anchor deep. Take four anchors, and drop them deep, and the boat will ride out the storm."
That’s good advice spiritually as well. If you don’t want to drift away, if you want your life to mean something, if you want to leave your children an example of what it means to be a Christian, anchor deep in your fellowship with Christ. If we don’t center our lives upon Christ, we too will drift away.
9. Remember again, that Mary had chosen the best part.
III. THERE WAS A DIFFENENCE IN THEIR FEELINGS:
1. Notice what Jesus said about Martha in verse 41. And Jesus answered and said unto her, "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:" The RSV says "Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things;" The New Revised Standard – "Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;" The NIV says, "worried and upset."
2. What I want you to see was Martha’s feelings. She was upset, she was anxious and she was worried. When you don’t focus upon Christ, when you don’t anchor deep in fellowship with Him, this is often the end result.
3. I love the old hymn, "What a Friend We Have." The first verse reads,
"What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.
What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer.
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer."
4. Martha had the One Who could speak peace to the storm, the Prince of peace, right in her home, but she’s far from being peaceful. Her feelings are those of anxiety, fear and concern. She is troubled. I can’t help but wonder, how many mothers today are filled with fear, worry, and concern, all because they don’t focus on the Peacemaker?
It’s a scary world that we live in. We send our children to school everyday and we don’t know if we will ever see them again. School shootings, kidnapers, drugs, and alcohol, occult activities can all be found in our schools today. If you don’t want to go crazy, you had better have the Prince of Peace as the center of your life.
5. Let’s look at Mary. The scripture doesn’t say what she was feeling. It just tells us that she was sitting at the feet of the Master. Those who focus their minds, who lean on Christ, are kept in perfect peace. Mary had indeed chosen the good part. She is focused upon Him and His words, but I know she was feeling peace. You say, how can you say that? How do you know that she was feeling peace? Because of what the Bible says.
Isaiah 26:3. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee."
6. Notice what the Lord said to Martha. He said one thing is needful. Did you catch that? One thing is necessary (Greek translation). I realize that your days are filled with activities; I realize that your schedules are busy. But Jesus said one thing is necessary.
Martha was busy, but what would it had mattered, in the big picture of eternity, if maybe supper was a few minutes late? What would it have mattered, if the biscuits were burned just a little? (I know they didn’t eat biscuits, but I had to put that in there). What would it have mattered, if she had everything just perfect, and yet missed out on eternity?
7. You may keep an immaculate house, I hope you do, but do you find time for God? You may be moving up the corporate ladder of success, I hope you are, but it is worth missing out on eternity? You may be raising your children according to the latest principles of child rearing currently being advocated by the American Psychological Association, but only one thing is needful, only one thing is necessary, and that’s your relationship with God.
Jesus told Martha, "Mary has chosen the good part that won’t be taken away from her." She was making plans for eternity. Amen.
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4. LOOSING YOUR FIRST LOVE
Loosing Your First Love
By James L. Thornton
Revelation 2:4. "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love."
Hebrews 2:1. "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip (drift away).
Edmund Burke said that very seldom does a man take one giant step from a life of virtue and goodness into a life of vice and corruption. Usually, he begins his journey into evil by taking little steps into the shaded areas, areas tinted and colored just a bit, almost unnoticed by those around him.
Until one day, hardly aware that he has made the journey, he finds himself firmly entangled in a life of vice & corruption.
A. We see that same kind of journey pictured again and again in scripture.
In the book of Judges we read about Samson. Almost everybody knows his story. Samson was a man of God. From birth to manhood, his life was dedicated to God. He started the morning with God. He spent the day with God. He ended his day with God.
But then gradually, Samson started flirting with evil. And little by little, evil came into his life. And then, in Judges 16:20 we read one of the most startling verses in all the Bible. It says that the Lord had departed from Samson, and Samson didn’t realize it.
Isn’t that sad? Samson had become so deeply enmeshed in sin that God couldn’t stand to stay around any more. So God left him. And Samson, once a great man of God, was so insensitive to the presence of God, that when God left, Samson didn’t even realize it.
That was true of King Saul, too. The sun comes up on his life and we see a cloudless sky, a beautiful beginning for Saul. He is a man whom God loves, and who loves God.
But gradually, he turns his back on God, and the storm clouds begin to collect. Finally, he can’t see the sun anymore because God has left him. And the Bible says that Saul ended up slinking off to the witch of Endor, seeking help from the powers of evil because those were the forces that were now controlling his life.
It isn’t the giant step from virtue into corruption that we need to fear. It’s the little steps that ultimately lead us away from God.
It must have happened that way in the church in Ephesus. In Revelation 2:1-5, as Jesus looked at that church, He saw many positive things. Listen as I read the first 3 verses:
"These are the words of Him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden candlesticks: `I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.’"
Isn’t that a great description of a church? We’d be proud to have Jesus say something like that about us, wouldn’t we? But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on in vs. 4, "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love."
I don’t imagine that their forsaking their first love happened in one giant step. It wasn’t that just one day they decided not to love God any more. It was a gradual thing.
For a while their love for God was so great and so infectious that people were drawn into their fellowship. Great sermons were preached, and wonderful things were happening. And they were known far and wide for their steadfast faithfulness, even in the face of persecution.
But then, people who used to pray a lot gradually stopped praying. People who may have been giving a lot gradually stopped giving. People who used to witness to the lost gradually stopped witnessing. Until finally, when Jesus looks at this church, He says, "This I have against you. You have forsaken your first love."
I have 3 questions that I want us to consider.
WHAT IS FIRST LOVE?
The first question is, "What is first love?"
A while back I listened to someone reminiscing about his first love. He recalled tree-lined streets, and long summer evenings when he and his girl friend walked down the street holding hands and dreaming of their future together.
They envisioned themselves living in a little cottage built for two in their blue heaven somewhere. When practical questions arose concerning money, they answered it in what seemed to them a most logical way. They said, "We’ll live on love."
That’s the way first love is, isn’t it? It loves the object of its affection without reservation. It is being totally head over heels in love.
Now what is "first love " in God’s eyes? It is the love that first brought you to God. It is the love that you experienced when you saw the cross as it really was. It was when you realized that the blood of Jesus Christ was shed for your sin and you were overwhelmed with His amazing love. So you became a child of God, and you experienced His forgiveness. That’s first love.
First love looks at mountains of troubles and sees them as hills to conquer. First love looks at rivers of grief and worry that may arise in life and says, "That’s nothing. God and I together can swim through that."
First love looks at stumbling blocks and sees them as stepping stones that prove the power of God. First love cries out, "Just give us a mountain to climb. Give us a river to swim. Give us something to do to prove the greatness of God’s love and how powerful He really is." That’s first love.
But first love is vulnerable. It needs to be protected. It needs to be reinforced. Because love, you see, when it really loves, stretches out its arms and rolls up its sleeves to help the hurting multitudes. It isn’t selfish. It gives itself totally and completely.
Paul is an amazing example of that first love. Paul recognized that he owed everything to God. Again and again he said, "I am the chiefest of sinners. I don’t even deserve to be called an apostle." He was always very much aware of who he was and what he had done. And he is overwhelmed that God could love someone like him.
And when he thinks about that he calls himself a "debtor" to God and a debtor to the Jews and to the Greeks and to the barbarians. In other words, because he had been so wondrously loved by God, he owed it to God to share that wonderful love with others.
That wonderful first love caused Paul to write these amazing words in
Romans 9:1. "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,
2. That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.
3. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:
Do you hear the heartbeat? Do you hear what he is saying? He is so much in love with God, and consequently in love with his brothers and sisters, that he was willing to be cursed and go to hell himself, if it would mean that they would be saved.
Moses prayed the same kind of prayer in the wilderness, after the people had rebelled against God. We read these words in Exodus.
Exodus 32:31. "And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold.
32. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.
In other words, Moses was saying his love for God was so great and his love for the people was so deep that he was willing to offer himself in their place. "Blot me out, but forgive them."
That’s the unselfish quality of first love.
HOW DO YOU LOSE SOMETHING AS WONDERFUL AS FIRST LOVE?
Now, how do you lose something as exciting and as wonderful as first love? I would think that we would take very good care of it, and never take a chance on losing it. But we can lose it. Sometimes it just disappears, vanishes, and goes away. But how does that happen? Let me offer some suggestions.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is talking about the end of time, and here is what He says in
Matthew 24:12. "And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold."
Did you hear that? That is the way sin works. Not by taking giant steps from virtue to corruption, just little steps. And as wickedness increases, this once wonderful, warm, unselfish, vibrant love in your life begins to grow cold like an ember that is all alone, no longer a part of the fire. And soon it will die.
Scripture often uses the marriage relationship as an illustration and I want to do that too.
Two people meet and fall in love. So they spend precious time with each other, talking to one another, sharing their hopes and dreams. And when they’re apart, they’re thinking about each other, wishing they were together again.
Their love just seems to grow and mushroom. Then one day they become husband and wife. They build a cocoon of love about themselves and they say, "We will always be together, and life will be so wonderful."
But there are jobs to go to, and appointments to be kept, and stresses to be dealt with, and arguments and problems and family feuds and fusses. And all of these things pull on us, until soon the demands become so overwhelming that the love relationship begins to suffer.
Then one day you look across the table at each other and you think, "That’s not the person I married. You’re a stranger. I don’t know you anymore." And what’s happened is that your love has been starved. It didn’t receive the daily nourishment it needed to grow healthy and strong.
A modern song writer sings, "Doesn’t anybody stay together anymore?"
That’s kind of the way it was in Ephesus, wasn’t it? So many good things and yet they had forsaken their first love.
HOW DO YOU FIND A LOVE THAT IS LOST?
Now, how do you find again a love that is lost? Well, in Revelation 2:5 Jesus gives us a prescription that is very simple and very direct.
Revelation 2:5. "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works;"
Do you know where something is that you lose? It is always wherever you left it. You lose your car keys or your glasses. Guess where they are. They are where you left them. Wherever you had them last, if you can remember where that was, you’ll find them there.
And it is that way with your love for God, too. If you have lost it, guess where it is. It is wherever you left it.
That is what Jesus is saying. He is saying that if you have lost it then remember where you had it last, go back and find it again. Was it in a church service? Was it in a moment of dealing with temptation that you felt His overwhelming power and you were able to resist and gain the victory?
Where was the last time that you were touched by the wondrous love of God? Wherever it was, if you’ve lost it, it is still there. God hasn’t moved, and He is waiting for you to come back, to become reacquainted with Him.
Secondly, Jesus tells us how to do it. He said, "Repent and do the things you did at first." And that word, "repent," is a greatly neglected Biblical word.
When John the Baptist started to preach, the first word out of his mouth was the word "repent." When Jesus sent the 70 out 2 by 2, the first word out of their mouths was to be "repent."
Go back and read the prophets. Every time they stood before the rebellious nation of Israel, they spoke with the authority of God and they commanded the people to repent.
It’s a strong word, and it has lots of implications. When you repent you look at your sin and you see how ugly and horrible it is. And you don’t try to deny it. You don’t blame it on someone or something else. It is your burden. You made it, and you face the reality of it.
Finally, you come with no pretense before God and say, "God, I can’t carry it. It’s too heavy for me." And God says, "Welcome home, my child." And He reaches down and lifts the burden and begins to carry it for you. That’s when healing takes place and that’s when love is restored.
There is something about a ghost town that captures the imagination. As you walk the streets you can almost hear the echoes of the past. But the buildings stand empty as mute reminders of life that is gone.
With every passing season more buildings collapse, more weeds grow up; more animals take over the ruins where a thriving town once stood. A ghost town is nature’s testimony that once something has been emptied, destruction and death follow, unless the void is filled.
In the parable of the empty house, Jesus tells us that it is not enough for a man to be freed from the power of Satan. His life must be filled with the Spirit of God or Satan will get hold of him again. Like the ghost town, if a person is not filled with a life in Christ, he will be filled with something else, and the end result is death and decay.
That is why we thrill at the words of Jesus when He said, "I am come that you might have life, and that more abundantly."
That’s God’s invitation. We offer it in His name and we pray you will respond to it. Amen.
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5. HAST THOU BELIEVED OUR REPORT.
By James L. Thornton
A treatise on
Isaiah 53:1. “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
2. For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
3. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
6. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
8. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? For he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
9. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
10. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
12. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Isaiah 53:10. “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief:”
The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah reads as if it had been written beneath the Cross of Calvary. This chapter is the most central chapter, the deepest and the highest chapter in the whole of the Old Testament. The Holy Ghost has here excelled Himself.
It was when Jerome was engaged in translating this chapter out of the original Hebrew into his western Latin, that he exclaimed in wonder and praise; “Surely this is the chapter of a New Testament Prophet.”
And ever since Jerome said that, Isaiah has been known in the Church as “The Evangelical Prophet.”
Not only many Jews, but even atheists have been converted to Jesus Christ by means of this Fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, History records the names of some of them: God alone knows the names of them all. And indeed, this most wonderful chapter deserves all that has ever been said in admiration of it.
There is nothing like this chapter (Isaiah 53) even in the New Testament itself: There is no other single Scripture—in the whole of the Word of God—in which the sin-atoning death of the Son Of God is set before the faith of a sinner as it is here.
Simply nowhere else is the redeeming death of Christ set forth so clearly, so fully, so emphatically, so explicitly, so positively, so impossibly-to-be-disputed, and so impossibly-to-be-for-one-moment-doubted—as it is here.
A sinner must have his eyes sealed up very tight indeed, not to see his salvation here. He must surely have a very seared conscience, who does not flee to the Cross of Christ as it stands so open to him in Isaiah Chapter fifty-three.
A Review Of Isaiah Chapter Fifty-Three
Listen as we review the accumulated statements of the atonement in this passage of Scripture—listen, and cast your anchor on every one of them, as I repeat them to you for that purpose.
All other Scriptures of the Old Testament are written with pen and ink; But these (Isaiah 53) read as if they were written with the very Blood Of Jesus Christ Himself, with the sin-atoning Blood of The Lamb Of God slain for old Testament believers, and New, before the foundation of the world.
1. “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
2 Corinthians 5:21. "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
This is the first point I want us to consider. Now, though it is not too much for Almighty God, and His divine Son, to take up and deal with the iniquities of us all, it is impossible for us to take up all that iniquity into our minds, and to lay it all upon our hearts.
I am told there are six billion souls on earth at the present time, and if each of them had sinned only six times, that would be thirty-six-billion sins that Jesus died for, not counting the billions who have already lived and sinned that would be added to the weight of sins Jesus bore to Calvary. But it is not intended for us to weigh ourselves down with such staggering numbers.
Jesus took our own sins to Calvary.
What we are called to think of, and to deal with here, is our own individual iniquity, and to think of it as taken off us and laid upon Jesus Christ. We shall simply lose ourselves, we shall simply drown ourselves, if we begin with the iniquity of all other men, and try to wade out into that ocean of sin, and into our Lord’s atoning death for all that.
The right way is to begin, and end, with our own iniquities, and with our Lord’s atoning death for us and our sins.
The right way is to read this great Scripture, as if it were addressed to each and every single one of us separately and alone—and as if there were no other sinful man for Jesus to die for in the whole world.
In the first verse of this great chapter (Isaiah 53:1) the Prophet asks two questions.
“Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?
2. “Hast thou believed our report?”
This demand is made to each one of us, severely and alone.
“Has the arm of the Lord been revealed to thee?”
Has the Lord made all thine iniquities to meet on His Substituted Son?
The whole atonement—in all its length, and breadth, and height, and depth—is far too high and too deep for us. It is enough for us to have to make sure that our own sins have been atoned for, and that the Son Of God has taken them all for-ever away, and has given us His own justifying righteousness in their place.
It is our own sins and iniquities that we are to think of when the atonement is read by us, even so it is particular sins and transgressions of our own that we are thinking of. We are not to attempt to think of the mass and the immensity of our sins, for that is also far too much for us.
A whole lifetime of sin, and then our whole nature steeped and soaked in sin,--what human mind could keep all that in memory, or could ever take up and feel correctly the full weight and guilt and shame of all that? No human mind, no human heart could do so, it is absolutely impossible.
But it is possible to take this and that sin, this and that transgression, and lay it on our offered surety and substitute.
Innumerable evils compass us all about, and pursue us like so many avengers of blood. But it is not in our innumerable evils that we are always to deal with, so much as this evil, and that evil, and that other evil: committed at that time, and at that place, and against that person, God or man.
It is that particular evil and special sin that we are to fix our eyes on, as the Lord takes it, and lays it on His sin-bearing Son. And then, when we do that—how our sins horrify us at such times, and makes us at such times hate them almost as much as God hates them.
To have to take this and that sin, in all its vileness and wickedness, and to have to stand and see it taken off ourselves, and laid on the sinless head of the Son Of God.
How Does Sin Then Survive?
It should break our hearts in pieces, never to be healed again. Why does that not make it impossible for us to perpetrate that sin again?
Oh, the fearful dominion of sin!
Oh, the unspeakable deceitfulness and persistence of sin!
That it can survive such awful experiences as that.
And that it can still steal away our hearts from such a God and such a Savior!
But hard and all but hopeless as our hearts are—yet every time we do attempt to take such and such a sin, and, for the hundredth time, and lay on Another, and such Another—as a matter of fact that does something to horrify our hearts at that sin, and at the thought of loading and defiling and “Crucifying the Son Of God afresh” (Hebrews 6:6) with that sin.
Yet it remains absolutely true—as true as God is true; as true as Christ is true; as true as the Gospel is true;--that “The Lord hath laid on him all our iniquities,” all the abominable, and the most aggravating of our iniquities and our transgressions.
What an awful list of our Lord’s sufferings for our sins, Isaiah here brings home to our hearts. Let us read.
“His visage was marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men. He was stricken, smitten, wounded, bruised, chastised, scourged, oppressed, and afflicted.”
And all that—“For Me.”
Nothing of all that would ever have happened to him, but for me.
All that was my deserving reward or punishment.
All that was the wages for my sins.
But for Him, and His interposition, and for His substitution (1 Peter 2:24) of Himself, my visage would have been marred more than any man.
But for Him, I would have been despised and rejected of men, and no man would ever have put any esteem upon me.
I would have been stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.
I would have been wounded, and bruised, and chastised, and scourged--
I would have had all my iniquities laid on myself--
I would have been oppressed and afflicted--
I would have been bruised and put to grief.
That is the way that you and I should go through this chapter (Isaiah 53) on Christ’s death. This is the way for a man to examine himself and so to “Eat of that bread and drink of that cup.” This is the way to receive the atonement. That is the way to let Him “see the travail of his soul”—that it has not been thrown away on us.
Let us cry out to Isaiah, I, O Isaiah: I have believed thy report!
To me, for one, “Has the arm of the Lord been revealed.”
So let us all say, and each man for him self.
3. “It Pleased The Lord To Bruise Him.”
Among the most amazing things of which this chapter (Isaiah 53) is full of, there is nothing that strikes us, and overawes us, and staggers us more than this—that “It pleased the Lord to bruise” His Messiah Son.
This means that God was so set, from everlasting, on the salvation of sinners that the most awful steps that had to be taken in order to work out that salvation are here said to have absolutely pleased Him.
It is somewhat like our Lord’s own words,--“I delight to do thy will,”—even when His Father’s will led Him to the Garden Of Gethsemane and the cross of Calvary.
But it brings out the simple truth of God in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoso believeth on Him shall have everlasting life.”
God could not be pleased with the death of His Son—in itself.
No. But nothing ever pleased Him more than that His Son should lay down His life as a ransom, in atonement for those sinners whom the Father wanted to save and give everlasting life.
Listen to what the Apostle Paul tells us.
“God hath set forth Christ Jesus to be a propitiation through faith in His blood: To declare His righteousness, …. that He might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:25-26) .
“It pleased the Lord to bruise Him,” because in this way alone could God’s full hatred of sin be declared to men and angels, and at the same time God’s Justice might be manifested in the salvation of sinners.
This is the way one great preacher of another century described it.
“For God to deliver up His Son to death, and for Himself to bruise Him, and that this should be His good pleasure: there must have been some incomprehensibly vast design of glory to accrue there-from and to be attained only by doing it: some high end, and far transcending design, that was to be the issue and the product of it; and which, as you know, was the manifestation and magnifying of His grace in the salvation of sinners.
And this is surely the very highest evidence and arguments to our faith that can possibly be given—that God is determined to save sinners. For what has been done to Christ is forever past recalling: and is not to be justified or recompensed in any other way, than by saving many by knowledge of him—as God here speaks by the mouth of His Prophet.”
4.“He Shall See His Seed”
This is the conclusion of the matter.
“Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him:
He hath put Him to Grief:
When Thou shalt make His Soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed,
He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hands,”
Does He see His seed in us? In you and me?
If He does, then He is “satisfied’ for the travail of His soul—so far as we are concerned.
He forgets and forgives all His sufferings when He sees His seed. When He sees the souls He has redeemed to God with His own blood, and putting on His image, and filled with His Spirit, and continuing His work in this world.
Now let us look back into this great chapter (Isaiah 53) as into a mirror in order to see if we can recognize any of the features and characteristics of Christ in ourselves. Do we see any of those features and characteristics of Christ as they here so impressively set forth to our faith, and to our love, and to our imitation?
Such as this:
“He is despised and rejected of men:
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief:
He was despised and we esteemed Him not.”
As to the meaning of all this and its bearing upon us, the Apostle Peter has spoken for all time.
“For hereunto were ye called: because Christ has suffered for us, leaving us an example that ye should follow in His steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile (deceit) found in His mouth; Who when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not;” (1 Peter 2:21-23)
Now how do you stand in these?
For, every day and every hour, God so orders things around some of you, and so brings things to bear upon some of you, that you are buffeted and reviled and despised and rejected—almost every day. And that for this very purpose that at such times Christ shall see His seed in you.
Now you know your own heart under all that discipline; and He knows it.
Now, does He see in your heart at such times of temptation and trial a copy of his own? “A Copy, Lord, Of Thine.”
You will sometimes be “wounded” for other people’s transgressions,” as He was for yours.
And, “Bruised for their iniquities, "as He was for yours.
5. “He opened not His mouth.”
How about your speech or your silence under all that?
How happy (blessed) you are, and how much to be envied, if you are His seed in that also.
To suffer injury and pain and shame and humiliation—at home and around, and never to retaliate, or to let it be seen that you suffer so acutely, the seed and solace of Christ rests upon you if you do so.
Blessed are ye, “if ye be reproached (criticized) for the name of Christ, happy (blessed) are ye; for the Spirit of Glory and of God rests upon you;” (1 Peter 4:14a) .
Almost above everything else in this world imitate Christ Jesus in His silence.
For “The tongue can no man tame.” No man, but the Man of Sorrows.
But Jesus can. He tamed the tongue in Himself, and He is taming it in you if you are indeed His seed.
More and more imitate Him, then, amid all the injuries and insults, and provocations, and vexations, and even annoyances that are let loose upon you every day and for this very end—that your Redeemer may see His seed in you and in your silence under injuries and wrongs.
“For even hereunto were ye called:” (1 Peter 2:21a)
6. “Neither was deceit in His mouth.”
Cleanse your mouth also of all double-talk and wishy-washy mouthing. Be sincere and simple; and in everything and to every man be honest and honorable.
Let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay, till the God of all truth and all integrity shall see true children in you, and till the Son of God shall see His true seed in you.
7. “He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bare the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
This is the crowning grace of the Lord Jesus Christ—both in Messianic prophecy and its evangelical fulfillment—“He made intercession for the transgressors,” and especially for those who had transgressed against Him.“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) .
Do you do the same?
Shut your doors and do the same.
Make intercession for those who transgress against you.
Make intercession for those who will never know it till the books are opened that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; and that Christ Jesus may be the firstborn among many such as you.
Romans 8:14. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God”—in such things as these—“they are the Sons of God.
16. The Spirit also bearing witness with our spirit, that we are children of God,
17. And, if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we shall may also glorified together.” Amen>
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6. LOOKING UNTO JESUS
By James L. Thornton
Hebrews 12:2. (KJV) "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."
In Hebrews chapter 11 the writer has been calling over the muster roll of the heroes of faith. In chapter 12 he proceeds to draw the practical lessons from their lives.
Hebrews 12:1. (KJV) "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,"
The writer puts us in the arena where we are appointed to run, to wrestle, to fight, and they, the heroes he has enumerated, are like spectators in the bleachers or grandstand, filling the benches, rising tier upon tier above the sand, like a luminous cloud.
Let us imagine ourselves in the arena of life, fighting our daily battles, or lined up on the track "to run the race that is set before us." We fight, or run to the cheers of the crowd. But no crowd ever assembled compares to those who fill that great arena to watch and cheer us on.
There is Adam and Eve the first parents.
There is Able who offer up the first acceptable sacrifice.
There is Enoch who lived before God in such a way that God took him home with Him one day.
There is Noah who saved the human race from the flood.
There is Job who lived perfect before God.
There is Abraham who became the father of faith.
There is Isaac who submitted to being sacrificed by his father and lived to bless his sons.
There is Jacob who became the father of the Jewish race.
There is Joseph who saved the race from starvation.
There is Moses who became their deliverer and lawgiver.
There is Miriam who led the people in the song of deliverance.
There is Aaron who became the first High Priest.
There is Joshua who led in conquering the land of Cana.
There is Hur who held Moses’ arms up on the day of battle.
There is Rahab, and Gideon, and Debora, and Barak, and Samson, and Jephthae.
There is Samuel, and King David along with Nathan the fearless prophet.
There is Elijah, and Elisha.
There is a whole row upon row of Prophets and Priests.
There is Ezra and Nehemiah who saved the Jews from extinction.
There is Matthew, Mark, Luke and Timothy, Pricilla and Aquila and Apollos.
There is Mary and Martha and Lazarus.
There is a Whole row for the Apostles, with Peter having a prominent position.
There is the great apostle Paul, and Silas, and Barnabus.
There is the old preacher who baptized me many years ago.
There are many saints and ministers who have run the race before me.
There are those who helped pray me through to the Holy Ghost a life-time ago.
There is my mother and dad, along with my mother-in-law and father-in-law.
In fact there are thousands already in the stands cheering us on to victory.
The front rows of our church are almost empty; they were once occupied by old-time saints, now they are in the stands leaning over the balcony.
They are witnesses as well as spectators, for they testify to the power of God by which they have overcome, and they witness to the end of a faithful life.
But they are not all that look upon us, or to whom we are to look.
There on the benches sit not only the multitudinous ranks of spectators and witnesses, but yonder in the most conspicuous place, high-up so he can be seen by all who run, is the Emperor!
He sees and can be seen from all parts and corners of the arena. It is the figure of a man who fought, still he stands distinct, and his brightness dims all else. Surrounded by pomp and glory, throned and exalted.
It is the same one who was on the Mount of Transfiguration, where, for a short period of time, the great lawgiver, Moses, and the chief of the prophets, Elijah, stood side by side. Then the three apostles "Lifted up their eyes, and saw no man save Jesus only."
It is to Him the fighters and runners are to look. And what if I should tell you He once was a fighter, a runner. He was down there where you are now, struggling, before He sat yonder on the throne.
Our King has been down there in the strife and the writer says, "He is the author of our faith." "We are compassed about with witnesses," but we are "LOOKING UNTO JESUS."
"The author of faith," is translated,
"The prince of life," in Acts 3:15.
And "The captain of their salvation," in Hebrews 2:10.
Jesus Christ is the Captain of the great army in Hebrews—yet he is Commander-in-Chief. He rides at the head of the columns, leading in the fight.
Our commander rides the White Horse in Revelation 6.
Most of the great conquerors rode in front leading the charge. I have read where some had two or three horses killed from under them only to mount up on another one to lead the battle on.
"Looking unto Jesus," "The author of Faith."
The main aspect which concerns the Christian fighter is to look steadfastly to Jesus, Being Himself the perfect example of the conflict and race.
WE SEE THROUGH THE EYE OF FAITH.
With believing hearts, and thoughts,
It is possible to have a sight,
As real, As direct, And far more reliable,
Than the sight given to us by natural eyes.
Christ comes to us in an altogether unique and unparalleled experience.
The Christ, "whom having not seen (with our eyes), ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:." (1 Peter 1:8)
There is nothing in the whole world like that strange love that Christians have for Jesus Christ. Love, in general, needs the experience of physical sight, at some stage or other. But the love for Christ, perfectly independent of physical sight, gushes out in such exuberant streams towards a man who has been dead for almost twenty centuries, and whom none of his lovers have ever seen.
Think of the warm, solid, living grasp which Christian hands lay on the unseen hand of the Lord, and you will understand something of the uniqueness of the Christian relation to Jesus Christ.
But while the lower kind of (natural) sight fails, The higher kind (spiritual eye-sight) survives.
The Apostle says, "We see not yet all things put Him"—that is, with the bodily eye—"but," as he goes on to say, "we see Jesus …. crowned with glory and honour" (Hebrews 2:9) .
And that coronation of Jesus is the pledge that we, too, if we look to Him, shall one day sit among the witnesses robed in righteousness, and adorned with glory (Revelation 7:9) .
JESUS CHRIST THE OBJECT OF CONTINUAL GAZING:
Let me press upon you that this, the suffering and exalted Christ, is to be the object of our HABITUAL CONTEMPLATION.
"Looking" – more than a casual glance. Nothing great reveals itself to a hasty glance. No great book can be read in bits and pieces. No great picture can be understood or felt by the man, who runs through the art gallery and looks at a hundred in half an hour.
This modern life of ours, with its hurry and bustle, is fatal to our spiritual being, unless we exercise continual watchfulness over ourselves and contemplate the deep and noble things of Christ.
SIT DOWN AND LET HIS LOVELINESS SOAK INTO YOU if you want to understand the fairest scenes of all.
Sit down in front of Jesus Christ, and take your time, and as you look you will learn that which no hasty glance, no couple of minutes in the morning before you go to work, no still more abbreviated and drowsy moments at night before you go to sleep, will ever reveal to you.
You must, "Summer and winter with Him Ere that to you, He will seem worthy of your love."
WE MUST SHUT-OFF THE THINGS THAT DISRACT OUR VISION:
The word "looking" as used in our KJV is a compound expression which would be fully represented by "Looking Off," or "Looking Away."
Looking away from other things that would "cloud," or "crowd-out," our vision of Jesus. Like a mother watching her small boy play baseball. Other boys are there playing, and much is going on, but she watches to see her son’s actions above all his fellow teammates.
The same hold true in the natural world of science, or medical field, or any other profession. No one can be an accomplished brain surgeon and concentrate on a dozen other fields of labor. They have to concentrate themselves and give up the attempt to "intermeddle with all knowledge" if they would excel in any field.
WE MUST NARROW OUR VISION:
We must put our hand to our brow, in order to shut out everything else, and fix our gaze, if we would see Jesus.
LOOK AWAY from the things which would intrude, things that glare and shine, of "the things that are seen that are temporal." You will never see Jesus as you ought to see Him, if your thoughts and desires and aims are all squandered upon this fleeting present world.
A worldly Christian will see but a dim Christ. Such and nothing more, is the Christ that a great many of you have seen. You have let the little things near shut out the great things "afar-off." Many have turned his, or her, current life to the things of this present world, and there is no force left to drive the wheels of a higher life. I urge you to "LOOK AWAY" from the present if you would see Jesus.
LOOK AWAY from the "cloud of witnesses,"
LOOK AWAY from the men living and dead whose examples may, in some measure stimulate, but who have no power to reproduce in us their own likeness.
LOOK AWAY from the living. They can do much for us. Thank God for human ties, and friendships and all its sweetness. But each human soul need more than any human soul can give. We all have too many human ties to name, both living and dead, that have helped us in our spiritual walk.
LOOK AWAY from them. The racer has to neglect the crowd, whether they roar with applause, or yell denunciation and discouragement, as he speeds past them. They cannot help us, Jesus can. LOOK AWAY from the maddening crowd, and look to Him.
LOOK AWAY FROM DIFFICULTIES:
No race will be run, if we begin by counting up the roughness and the obstacles. There is nothing more weakening than the habit of anticipating difficulties in the course. "He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap" (Ecclesiastes 11:4) .
Difficulties – they are the things to be overcome. The climber who looks down will usually go down. The only safety is to look up. LOOK AWAY from the arena, and, up to the "Captain of our salvation."
LOOK AWAY FROM YOURSELVES:
There many who are always emphasizing their disabilities, or lack of strength and the hardships they go through. They are fearful and unbelieving of the outcome. They have no confidence in themselves, or even the scriptures.
You will never make yourselves strong by groaning over your weaknesses. You may get some hint as to what you should avoid and so forth, by self-examination
(1 Corinthians 11:28), and I am not advising against that.
Yet there are few more causes of imperfect and unprogressive Christian lives than those with the habit of always looking at ourselves, and recounting to ourselves our own failures. That is not the way to gain strength, "LOOK OFF UNTO JESUS."
LOOKING TO JESUS WILL BRING STRENGTH FOR THE RACE:
Strength for duty comes from the look. In our text Hebrews 12:1-2, the writer suggests that "Looking unto Jesus" is the principal force for "Running with patience the race that is set before us."
LOOKING UNTO JESUS will bring to us the strength that comes from meditating on a perfect example. When we try to grasp the unseen hand in the darkness—When we try tremblingly to bow our wills, and to say, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him," THAT LOOK WILL SUSTAIN US.
We try to nerve ourselves for duty and for sacrifice, and then we try to shut out the gaudy brightness of today and make solid the vision of the future and to "endure the cross," "despising the shame," that look is a priceless source of inspiration and of power to us to think that Jesus Christ, in all things went before us, and did the very same.
Lives of great men all remind us – and of good men still more – how we may make our lives great and good. But they have little power to help us. Jesus Christ can help us, and his example is more than example.
"LOOKING UNTO JESUS." That look will bring to us the strength of a continual presence with us. Our yearning hearts often ask, "Are the dead near us?" We get no answer.
But Jesus is near us, and as surely as the man who lifts his face to the sun has his face irradiated and his eyes illuminated by its brightness, so surely will Jesus Christ lift up the light of His countenance on every eye that looks to Him and make it glad.
And every "eye of faith" has the bright ray coming straight to itself through all the distant space. That look by the "eye of faith" will give strength for the race by making certain of the prize.
The "Forerunner" hath for us entered. So brethren, sisters, LOOK OFF TO JESUS.
He is our example; therefore looking to Him will give us instructions and strength.
JESUS IS THE GOAL; therefore looking to him will be no hindrance, nor will it entangle our feet.
JESUS IS THE JUDGE; therefore run cautiously, and "Lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us." The we may please Him who has chosen us.
JESUS IS THE REWARD; therefore looking to him we see what’s waiting for us. "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne" (Revelation 3:21) .
One day the far-off gaze, from this dim spot, will be changed for the closer vision – "For we shall see him as He is" (1 John 3:2).
Then it will transform the beholder into the image of that which is beheld. And then the great promise will be fulfilled: "As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness, I shall be satisfied when I awake in thy likeness" (Psalms 17:15) .
Help us, O Lord.
We beseech thee, to look unto Jesus Christ in all our conflicts and struggles.
Turn away our eyes from seeing vanity.
And may we, looking unto Him from the ends of the earth, be saved.
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7. ONLY A DREAM
ONLY A DREAM
By James L. Thornton
The Bible records many dreams—it is one of God’s ways of communicating with man (Job 4:12-16) . Some are soothing, some are informative and some are disturbing. In this study we will look at the most well known dream in human history. A dream that has been preached about, sung about, and painted by artists more than any other. It is still an inspiration to everyone who reads or hears about. We are talking about Jacob’s Dream.
Why is it that this dream is so important to us? And how can we draw inspiration from someone’s dream who has been dead 35 centuries, after all it was only a dream? These and other question we will attempt to answer in this study.
Genesis 28:12. "And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
13a. And, behold, the LORD stood above it,
Jacob, pursued by the fierce and adamant hatred of his brother Esau, for the first time in his life, had left his parental roof and, taking the wanderer’s staff in his hand, had journeyed forth to the doubtful haven of refuge, which was his uncle’s home in Haran.
On the first day of his journey the sun slowly sank from sight, and for the first time in his life he had to sleep, not at home, but in the open, not in his tent, but under the starry sky. It needs little effort of the imagination to realize that his sleep was not a peaceful one. No man ever had more on his mind to disturb his sleep.
The nameless fear of the unknown, the very real danger of wild animals, which made him place a protective circle of stone round him, his brother Esau possibly not far behind, the hard stone which he used as a pillow, anxiety, and deep concern about the future, all these considerations combined to make his sleep fitful and disturbed, and the natural result was that he dreamed. And what a dream.
And what was his dream? That wondrous vision of which the passage of time has not succeeded in diminishing the beauty, which makes its instant appeal at all times to every age. As we have said, the subject of song and sermon and artists that can never be exhausted.
Let us look at his dream. He dreamed that a ladder stretched from heaven to earth. At the top was the divine presence of God. At the foot was Jacob, and the link between Jacob on earth and God in heaven was a ladder, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
And Lo, God spoke to him and said: Genesis 28:13. "I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;
14. And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
15. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of" (Genesis 28:13-15) .
So vivid and breath taking was this dream that Jacob awoke from his troubled sleep very much afraid.
20. "And Jacob vowed a vow saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on,
21. So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God:
22. And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee" (Genesis 28:20-22) .
Let us ask a very pertinent question and then give an answer to that question.
Surely did not that vow of Jacob constitute a serious lack of faith on Jacob’s part? Here God had appeared to him and said explicitly, "behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest." Jacob has the faithlessness, one might say, effrontery, we could say the presumptuousness, to doubt God’s word and say, "If God be with me, and if he will keep me in the way I am going."
If ? But had not God said that he would?
The answer we give is simple. Jacob was not sure, If, after all it was only a dream.
ONLY A DREAM:
But what is a dream? One fact seems established beyond doubt and that is, that thoughts and ideas which are ruthlessly pressed into the subconscious during one’s waking hours take advantage of the removal of the guard of the conscious mind during sleep and crowd into the foreground. It is for that reason that dreams constitute such a valuable indication of the true inner, unsuspected thoughts of man.
The dream of Jacob takes on a new meaning in the light of the logic of the psycho-annalist.
Here for the first time the real inner man, which had been obscured, obfuscated, suppressed and overlaid, was revealed, and for the first time the glimpse of future greatness was seen.
All his life Jacob had been "a plain man dwelling in tents" (Genesis 25:27) , and under these circumstances there was nothing which could enable one to plumb the hidden depths.
On the contrary, of the little we know of Jacob before this rude shock of awakening came to him, there is nothing to his credit; the sale of the birthright, the deception of his father to obtain the blessing—not in any of these things was the future "Israel" who strove with God and with man and prevailed, "Israel a Prince with God" seen.
Look back for a moment on his birth, his mother asking God why she was having so much trouble in her expectancy, and the answer from God himself setting the younger, Jacob, before his twin older brother Esau (Genesis 25:23) .
We can be sure Rebekah told and retold this to Jacob many times and also explained the meaning and possibilities which went with the birthright.
Jacob grew up with this dream of the future suppressed for years and years—he was seventy-seven when he left home. "Its can never come to pass," he thought. But when his mother’s plan worked to his advantage in obtaining the blessing from his father, and after listening to the words of the blessing, all these old suppressed memories returned.
And now circumstances had conspired to bring the subconscious to the forefront of his mind, and here for the first time we see a man with vision, visions of himself as the channel through which God would come down from heaven to earth, visions of his children living in the land from which he had been driven out as a homeless wanderer.
There is not a more tragic life in history than that of Jacob. From the moment of that dream until a broken and battered old man aged On-hundred-thirty, he passed the last seventeen years in a foreign land, dependant on his son’s bounty, his life was one succession of unrelieved tragedy.
His unremitting toil in the employ of his kinsman Laban, his unceremonious flight, his terror of Esau’s approach, the premature death of his beloved wife, the disgrace of his only daughter, the cruel act of vengeance of his sons Simeon and Levi, the shameful act of Ruben, the apparent loss of his most beloved son Joseph, one tragedy followed hard on the heels of others, and with truth he said to Pharaoh, "Few and evil have been the years of my life" (Genesis 47:9).
But throughout the whole of that tragedy of life he hugged to his bosom the memory, the promise, the hope of that wondrous dream.
At some half-century after the dream, he lay upon his death bed, he said to Joseph, "God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me, And said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession. (Genesis 48:3-4) .
""God did appear to me." It is that sentence that reveals that throughout all his sufferings that blessing and promise God made to him in a dream, sustained him.
How many of us had an experience with God some years back, and many time the devil has tried to make us believe that it was only an illusion, only a dream with no real substance to back it up? Trials and tests have come upon us, the way seems uphill all the time, but somehow we have clung to the promise, the hope, we obtained when God appeared to us.
Let us tell the devil "God did appear to me, and gave me a promise, and I am not going to let it go, come what may." Amen.
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8. TEACH US TO NUMBER OUR DAYS
Teach Us To Number Our Days
By James L. Thornton
Psalms 90:12So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
Leviticus 25:8 "And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years.
From out of the depths of the wisdom of God’s Old Testament laws we take our text.
After seven years the land was to lie fallow (uncultivated) in order for it to recover its fertility. After the seven years came seven times seven years, forty-nine years, and the fiftieth year was proclaimed a year of freedom by sounding of the ram’s horn.
Slaves went free, land alienated from its original owners reverted back to them, debts were canceled, and a new beginning made. It is not my purpose, however, fascinating though the subject is, to go further into the details of these laws.
"And seven Sabbaths of years shall be unto you forty and nine years." (Leviticus 25:8) .
At first sight it appears that the verse says nothing, that it is entirely superfluous and meaningless. Has the Bible to inform us that seven times seven is forty-nine?
And yet there lies in this simple verse a profound moral and direct challenge to each one of us, there lies in it the reproach from which none of us can absolve himself, the reproach of wasted years and of lost opportunities, of tearful but futile regrets at the "years which the locusts have eaten" (Joel 1:4) , of time that flies and cannot be recaptured.
How many of us can truly say that in their lives they have fulfilled the verse? "And The seven Sabbaths of years shall be unto you nine and forty years," that to you seven times seven years has been forty-nine years, that in terms of true use of time, our day has been a day, our year a year, our cycle of seven years a true cycle, and that seven times seven has been forty-nine, so that at the approach of the fiftieth we can truly say, "ye can sanctify the fiftieth year?"
Those of you who have reached that fiftieth year, cast your minds back to the days and the thoughts of eager, enthusiastic youth, when the world lay before you like an open book. Think back on the glorious ideals which infused you in those days, the resolutions of making something worth while of your lives, the determination which you had that you live not for yourselves alone, but for your people, for mankind; your resolve that you would, by your efforts, leave your world a better place than you found it.
Or rather does not a groan break involuntarily from your lips and you feel inclined to sat, "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner." How have you spent your time, that precious, limited, fleeting thing which once it passes its beyond hope of recall?
It was that thought which gave rise to one of the most penetrating and striking statements of a famous and honored Rabbi, Sussya of Annapol.
He said, "On the day of judgment I shall be judged, not because I was not a Moses, for I was not a Moses, nor because I was not a R. Akiba—because I was not a R. Akiba—but I shall be judged, and woe is me, that I was not Sussya of Annapol."
That he was not what the potential Sussya of Annapol might have been. What a tale of lost opportunities lies in these words, and hoe much more true are they of us, than that of the Saintly Rabbi?
But if for those of you who have reached the fiftieth year, these considerations may give rise only to regret and disappointment, to those of you who still have the major portion of your life in front of you, you young men and women whom I am so well pleased to see attending service in increasing numbers, in your case they should give rise to a resolve that seven times seven will be forty-nine years to you, a resolve to make the best of your time.
What does one do in one’s spare time? Have you ever thought of the implications of the meaning of the word used in English to express the use of it? the word " pastime," or the even more expressive American term, " To kill time."
It is based upon the assumption, which sorrowfully, in too many instances prove true, that time is an enemy, an unwelcome guest who hangs heavily on your hand, and who has to be gotten rid of either by escaping from it, and thus indulging in a " passtime," a " passing of time," or by killing it, and thereby " killing time."
It suggests a total inability profitably and usefully to employ one’s time, with its natural consequence of our days being burdens and our years not years.
In the last half century the remarkable development of mechanical inventions under the impetus of war has rendered it possible for working hours to be shortened and reduced. People have far more time off from their occupations than any generation before us. Some jobs provide weeks and weeks of paid vacation which is a great thing for the working man or woman.
Yet that brings us to the grave question of how is man to use his leisure?
Experience has shown that man is hopelessly unfitted and untrained for the right use of his leisure, that if he finds himself with time to spare, that time hangs heavily on his hands that, without knowledge of how to employ it usefully, he must inevitably turn to ways of degeneracy and demoralization.
Far more true than that "Satan finds mischief for idle hands to do," is the truth that "he finds mischief for idle minds to do."
"Distraction" becomes the order of the day, to distract one’s mind from the painful agony of time. He must resort to an opiate (something that dulls the senses and induces relaxation), or a drug, to take his mind away from that pain.
Satan has filled the airwaves with ads and programs designed to captivate the mind and thereby lure one to their way of thinking and thereby " stealing" your time. Thousands of hours of " spare time," or " pastime," is " killed," or used uselessly on non-enlightening subjects ever year.
And thus the question of the right use of leisure becomes the most urgent question facing our generation; especially the older one’s of us and our text comes to emphasize the fact.
Let us read and consider the words of Moses as recorded in the book of Psalms. Moses is an old man when this admonition and prayer was uttered. He could look back upon a long life in God’s service. He could also remember 40 wasted years in the desert of Midian keeping sheep for his father-in-law Jethro (Exodus 2:21; 3:1) .
Psalms 90:9b. "We spend our years as a tale that is told.
10.. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
12.. So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
The scripture tells us that "Moses was content" (Exodus 2:21) . Here was one of the highest educated men in the world (Acts 7:22) that was content to dwell in the desert of Midian, keeping some one else’s sheep for forty long years, fourteen thousand six hundred days and nights. A man who was at one time one of the wealthiest men who ever lived (Hebrews 11:26) , but now was "content" with only a tent and no sheep of his own.
Only God knew what was shut up inside this "contented" man. Shut up inside him was the first five book of our Bible. Shut up in him was the ability to hear what God said and to write what God said, thereby becoming known as the "Great Law-giver," bringing to the world written laws and commandments that are still used to govern the civilized world. What would the world be like today if Moses had not heeded the call from God? I’m sure that God would have raised up someone else but in a different era.
Let us read what he had to say near the close of that long life. "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom" (Psalms 90:12) .
Let seven times seven of your years be a fruitful forty nine years. Let seven time seven of your years really become to you whole forty nine years. Mke of your time, instead of an unwelcome guest, an enemy, make of it a friend who gives you an opportunity to develop your mind to the fullest extent of your potentials, fitting you to be a worthy human being, a worthy Christian, a worthy citizen of the world.
Then indeed, and then only, "Ye shall proclaim liberty in the land to all its inhabitants" (Leviticus 25:10) .
There will be a proclamation of liberty of the soul and spirit in the land. Amen.
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9. THE WONDERS OF HEAVEN
The Wonders Of Heaven
By James L. Thornton
Revelation 12:1a. "And there appeared a great wonder in heaven;"
A wonder is something that arrests, that surprises, and astonishes. A wonder is something unexpected, unprepared for, unprecedented, and surpassing all experience.
When we were a child, the whole world was full of wonders. The apostle Paul explains it, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things." (1 Corinthians 13:11)
But the Apostle put away his childhood, only to be possessed by far greater wonders: Till in the ripe manhood of his mind and heart, he is not able to put into words the wonders he had seen.
"Whether in the body, I cannot tell; or out of the body, I cannot tell; God knoweth:) such an one was caught up into the third heaven. How he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not possible for men to utter." (2 Corinthians 12:2-3).
1. Heaven Itself Is A Wonder:
John says, "I saw a great wonder in heaven." Everything that is really wonderful, everything that surpasses, everything that captivates, everything that enraptures, everything that transcends--it is all collected in heaven.
Even to paint a far-off picture of heaven, Prophets and Apostles have been compelled to lay this whole earth under contribution, for forms, for colors, for riches and beauty, wherewith to describe and adorn their theme.
Here is a sample of heaven described in earthly terms.
"For brass I will bring gold, and for iron I will bring silver, and for wood brass, and for stones iron: I will also make thy officers peace, and thine exactors righteousness. Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise. The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the LORD shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory" (Isaiah 60:17-19).
"Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God. Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah (my delight is in her), and thy land Beulah:" (Isaiah 62:3-4).
Then the New Testament seer has a splendid passage on the same subject.
"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates.
And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst.
And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. (Revelation 21)
The wonders of heaven defy description. Another Apostle wrote, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9) .
2. Jesus Is The Great Wonder John Saw:
The Great Wonder: that John saw in heaven was not heaven itself, wonderful as heaven itself was, with streets of gold and walls of jasper and gates of pearl. The greatest wonder that John saw in heaven was, in his own words, a man-child with whom a woman had travailed in birth, and who had been caught up unto God and to the throne of God.
John had been greatly favored, for he had seen the two extremes--so to call them--of his Master's life. And these extremes was that which John had in mind, and in his heart, as he stood and looked at that Great Wonder.
The one extreme was this.
"And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in wrapped him in swaddling cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7) .
"The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son Of Man hath not where to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20) .
"Now in the morning, as he returned into the city, he hungered" (Matthew 21:18) .
And now the other extreme.
"He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God hath highly exalted him and given him a name which is above every mane; that, at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:8-11.
Our hearts are surely made of stone, if we can be told that, without one thrill either of wonder or of worship. But the day is at the door, when He will have revenge on all for their indifference towards Him, and all unbelief about Him.
A day when every knee shall bow, and when all shall fall at His feet as dead. The dark scales that are sealed down on our eyes today shall fall off and every eye that day, and every eye shall see Him, and shall see nothing but Him. (Revelation 1:7)
"The bride eyes not her garment, But her dear bridegroom's face; I will not gaze at glory, But on my King of Grace. Not at the crown he gifted, But at His pieced hand; The Lamb is all glory Of Immanuel's land." (A. W. D.D.)
"If I could but look at Him through the keyhole of heaven, I would be satisfied." So says Samuel Rutherford in his own enraptured way.
3. Could There Be An Even Greater Wonder In Heaven?
Could there be a far greater wonder than heaven itself and that of the glorified manchild? For, after all, heaven is His Father's House, and His own proper home and inheritance.
But when I awake in His likeness, and find myself in heaven--that will swallow up all heaven's wonders to me. I ask myself, "Is this, in very deed, myself? Am I, actually and in reality, in heaven? Am I made acceptable, at last, for the inheritance of the saints in light?"
"Am I, O my God, at last set free from sin? Am I now to be forever delivered from that hell-born thing that poisoned every hour of my life on earth, and that so blasted, to me, the best joys of earth?"
"O, saints and angels of God, say to me and assure me, that I am not in a dream: Confirm me, O ye holy ones, that I am not beside myself!"
"Come, all ye shinning host of His, and as you pass by on your errands of glory--come see if, in all your seven heavens, there is another wonder of redeeming love, and saving grace, like me!"
William Cowper counted himself the greatest wonder in all of England. "I am surely the only convert in all England that was ever made in a madhouse," He said. Perhaps so. But bedlam and all, to borrow Cowper's own strong words--yet there will be saved sinners standing beside Cowper on that day, at the gate, who will put both him and his blood-bought harp to silence with a conversion, and with a lifetime of God's forbearance and long-suffering--far, far more wonderful that his.
The Apostle Paul called himself the "chief" of sinners. We are all sinners saved by the grace (undeserved favor) of God.
We are all familiar with the great hymn by John Newton the former slave trader.
"Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now I'm found,
Was blind but now I see."
And then when we stand on the sea of glass and look down into its transparent depths--what a revelation that will be. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out"
And as the ministering spirits gather around us and they will wonder at us, and at what it is that we are seeing, as we so long continue to look down at the hole of the pit out of which we were digged, and at the hole of the rock whence we were hewn.
We shall answer them that we have come out to see a sight that we could not see while on earth, and to think upon a matter that they could not comprehend.
The Apostle Peter tells us concerning the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow and the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, which things the angels desire to look into (1 Peter 1:11-12) .
Looking down into that see of glass, we will be shown all the mysteries of our life. Our understanding will be completely satisfied. We all have had things come in our life that we could not understand. Some trial, some test, some sickness, both of our loved ones, and ourselves we could not understand. We ask why? The answer is withheld from us.
However, we shall receive the answer to all life's questions when we stand on the sea of glass and look down into its depths. For once we are there, our eyes will receive such an unction that they will see down into those deep mysteries of God that were far past finding out on earth. The Apostle Paul says, "Now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know as I am known" (1 Corinthians 13:12)).
We shall all find out the Almighty to perfection in heaven.
"There is a path that no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen. The lion's whelps have not trod it, nor the fierce lion passed by it" (Job 28:7-8)
And that unfathomable path is none other than that wonderful way on which God leads all His people home from earth to heaven, from grace to grace, from glory to glory.
We look upon so many sorely afflicted people that we are unable to speak before the depths and darkness of God's judgments. There are times and places where we cannot open our mouth, so dark and so full of distress are God's ways with this and that soul. We have neither the experience, nor the faith, nor hope, that we would need to have, who would venture out as a comforter to those who are going through such great tribulation.
God's ways are sometimes so overwhelming that it sounds cruel and heartless to go repeat promises that are never to be fulfilled in this world.
But the boldest promises in all the believer's Bible will be fulfilled in heaven, the postponed answers to all the promises will be heaped up, and made to run over in heaven. In addition, those elect saints, whose lives of such suffering were the stumbling block of their boldest comforters, will there be found to God's incomparable and everlasting praise.
Till that terrible sufferer, who spent all his days in a furnace heated seven times, will come forth without a hair of his head singed, or so much as the smell of the smoke of the furnace fire upon his garments; and his song, among all the songs of glorified, will ever be: "O the depth! O the depth of wisdom, and knowledge, and the grace of God to me!"
4. A Wonderful Mansion:
And to complete the wonders of heaven will be the fulfillment of this fine promise, "In my Father's house are many mansions: I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2). And it will be so. For you will all find a place prepared for yourselves in heaven.
After a couple million years of gazing on the face of my Savior and once we have had time to walk about the city of gold, and look upon the towers thereof, to see the walls of jasper and gates of pearl, I am ready to move into my mansion. Then I want to have Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, And Moses and Elijah, Peter and John, and Paul and all the rest of those mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11, over for a few thousand years of conversation and fellowship.
"When I awake, I shall be satisfied," said the Psalmist, and so will you. For one thing--all the affections of your hearts will find their full outlet, their full delight, and full fruition there.
When we consider where John was when he saw these visions, and the awful conditions he was subjected to on Patmos, is it any wonder that he prayed for the coming of his Lord. Even though lifted in the spirit into a glorious realm, he nevertheless had to come back to the harsh realities of life. And he longed to return permanently to the heavenly scenes.
I’m concerned that the plush living conditions many of us live in have robbed us of thoughts of the glory realm. Many have it so good that we think heaven cannot be any better. I remember the days of the great depression in America when meat was a rarity and the gravy was thin, so to speak, and people didn’t have it so easy. Today’s labor saving devices (thank God for them), have taken the toil and drudgery out of the daily toils. Air-condition, ease of travel, abundant food supply, and etc., have all created a heavenly environment in many countries.
No longer do the Saints look up with longing and tears in their eyes when we sing “when we all get to Heaven.” It is a proven fact that when times get hard people pray more, seek God more, and sing songs of deliverance. Let us take heed lest our abundance causes us to loose sight of what John told us about in his Revelation of Jesus Christ. Amen.
These, then, will be the first three wonders, as I think, of the great wonders that we shall see in heaven.
1. Heaven Itself in all its wonderful glory.
2. Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, risen from the dead, ascended, exalted, and glorified.
3. And myself, my enraptured soul, standing on the sea of glass.
What a wonderful world we are in, my brethren!
What a wonderful world awaits us.
Come then, away, O downcast soul!
And William Cowper, and you, and I, will one-day hold a three-cornered contest in heaven as to which of us has the most wonderful story to tell, and the most wonderful song to sing. I think I know who will carry away the prize from you both.
I will close this short meditation with words from the Apostle Paul.
Romans 8:16. "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
17. And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
18. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
19. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
20. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,
21. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
22. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
23. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
24. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
25. But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
Jesus we thank you for the hope we have in thee. We thank you, On Lord, for the hope of eternal life in heaven. Thank you for your mercy in revealing thy truths to us. Keep us in thy peace until we come to the day of our redemption, when we can enjoy all the wonders of heaven. Amen.
By James L. Thornton
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10. FATTY DEGENERATION OF THE HEART
By James l. Thornton
Deuteronomy 32:15. “But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation.”
This verse comes from the song of Moses which he spake to Israel just before God called him home (Deuteronomy 31:30) .
The song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32) is a masterpiece of that class of poetry known as didactic ode which is used in morally instructive teaching. Majestic and full of divine fire, it consists of a review of Israel’s past history along with its future history, with the moral purpose of justifying the ways of God to man and to Israel.
God had appeared in the tabernacle (Deuteronomy 31:15) instructing Moses and Aaron. The theme for this song comes from the nineteenth and twentieth and twenty-first verse of Deuteronomy 31.
Deuteronomy 31:19. “Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach it the children of Israel: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel.
20. For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, that floweth with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and provoke me, and break my covenant.
21. And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles are befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed: for I know their imagination which they go about, even now, before I have brought them into the land which I sware.
It is this theme which is developed with the important addition that in the song, instead of concluding on that note of disaster, Moses goes on and describes God’s intervention on behalf of His people and their ultimate salvation. As Moses sang in the Spirit, he makes a retrospective survey of Israel’s history, and develops the lessons deducible from it.
As we survey the lessons from Moses’ song I want each of us to use them as a survey of our own lives.
1. The first period is that of innocent childhood of Israel, the period of Moses himself. God finds Israel as a child abandoned in the howling waste of the wilderness (Deuteronomy 32:10). Lovingly God gathers the child up into His protecting arms, cares for him. Looks after him like “The apple of his eye.”
Hovering over him through that blessed, happy state of childhood; “as an eagle over his young,” He leads and guides him with His presence “So the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange God with him (Deuteronomy 32:11-12) .
But Israel would not always remain in that childhood innocence. In Moses’ song we see the passing of time. The child grows to manhood. He “makes good,” waxes prosperous, and disaster strikes. (Deuteronomy 32:13-14)
The Theme Is A Familiar One:
“But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked …. Then he forsook the God that made him” (Deuteronomy 32:15).
I read the story of a great Jewish Rabbi, one of the greatest teachers of young men of his day. He had five students of which one was very bright. This student excelled to the point where he was considered to become a spiritual giant among his peers.
His master made some outstanding remarks about this student.
“He is a spring flowing over with ever-lasting vigor.”
He added, “If all the sages of Israel were put in a scale of the balance and this particular student in the other scale, he would out-weigh them all.”
The “ever-flowing fountain,” outweighing the combined spiritual weight of all the other spiritual giants of the time, and truly there was giants in those days.
One day the master put two questions to these five students. Here are the questions and the respective answers.
1. “What is the essential quality which makes for the good life and to which a man should cleave?”
2. “What is the cardinal vice, which a man should shun?”
To the first question, the bright young student responds, “A good heart.”
To the second question, he responded, “An evil heart, for everything depends on the heart.”
That is the picture given of the towering intellect, the saintly character of this young student. Such high hopes were entertained for this brilliant scholar.
But alas for the high hopes, because this brilliant scholar stands out in subsequent history, not as the religious genius, but as the great disappointment, the man failed to fulfill the glowing promise of youth, because he forsook the way of learning for the debilitating luxury of the prosperous life.
Attracted by the wealth and the good living which was to be had in a spa called Emmaus, he forsook the centers of learning and took up his residence there. Became wealthy and living the life of ease. And in the course of time forgot all his learning, literally all.
Later, on a visit back to his original home he was called up to read from the law. And if we are to take the statement of the Talmud at face value, to such extent he had degenerated that he even forgot the very letters of the Hebrew Alphabet so much so that he could not read from the words of Moses.
Whether or not one believes that the debilitation produced by a life of luxury and prosperity could wreak such havoc, that a man, who was the pride of his generation, would descend so low as not to be able to recognize the alphabet is a matter of opinion.
A DUMB HEART
I believe that there is a deeper meaning to his apparent gross error.
I think his heart had become “Dumb.” (lacking the faculty of speech or the power to speak). Speechless before God who found him.
Was it not the same young student who had placed the highest value on the heart?
Remember he called a “good heart” the highest quality which makes for a good life,and to which a man should cleave, and “an evil heart” the cardinal vise which man should shun.
But now his sad experience had taught him that there is another heart, the heart which develops from enervation of luxury and self-indulgence, the heart which is neither good nor bad, but which is dumb (lacking the faculty of speech or the power to speak, speechless).
That heart which in days of simple youth responded to every spiritual impulse, which was vocal, clamant and quivering before it became overlaid with the fat of the land.
And now a “FATTY DEGENERATION OF THE HEART” had set in.
The curd of kine (cattle) and milk of sheep, with fat of lambs…with the kidney of wheat; and the pure blood of the grape (foaming wine) Deuteronomy 32:14, had laid its successive layers of gross fat over that sensitive organ, rendering it impervious to any call from God.
And that tragedy of the failure of the glowing ideal hopes of youth which we have described in the case of this young student, repeats itself in every generation when the self-indulgence which is the fruit of prosperity sets in.
There is no place for the “good” heart, or the “evil” heart, there is just the “dumb heart.”
“And Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked…and he forsook God who made him” Deuteronomy 32:15.
God, through Moses, gives Israel a glimpse of the future. What God is saying in this song has not, at this point come to pass; it is spoken as a prophetic warning.
Now no lesson is of much value unless we can apply it to our own lives. I want to repeat the verse, and I want each of us to pay particular attention to the wording of this verse.
Deuteronomy 32:15. “But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation.”
We will all agree and nod amen so long as Scripture and I confine themselves to the third person (the other person), and thus make these affirmations impersonal. We always like to hear about somebody else’s sins and not own. But with superb dramatic effect, and sublime disregard for rules governing sentence structure, the song interrupts its impersonal dispassionate analysis and suddenly swerves round and points an embarrassing, accusing finger at you.
“Why,” says the hearer in shocked tone, insulted and offended, “It is I to whom He is speaking. He means me, not him.” Alas, it is too true.
Consider and tell me if I am wrong. Consider the days of your youth before you amassed that wealth which is your glory to-day, the days when you were common folks, when you were plain business men, when your hearts were vocal, and your faith a real thing.
And compare that with your spiritual stature now.
Hast thou not waxed fat?
Hast thou not grown thick?
Hast thou not become gross?
Are not many of you suffering from a Spiritual Degeneration Of The Hheart, which makes it neither good nor evil, only dumb (lacking the faculty of speech or the power to speak)? Have you been rendered speechless before God who found you?
Many of us can remember when the broth was thin and cupboard was empty, closets were not so crowded but our spiritual life was full and vocal. God was in our thoughts and dreams, the Bible was our daily guide, our hearts were happy and a song of praise was always ready to break forth from our lips. We said with the Psalmist, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Songs and sermons about heaven caused us to close our eyes and look away from the daily grind to a better home and environment where we would get relief from the struggles of life.
We prayed for happiness and freedom from want. God heard our prayers and gave us most of our hearts desires. But like the Children of Israel, “And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul” Psalms 106:15.
Today people can yawn through sermons, and songs about heaven, because their environment, they think, is just as good as any of that. Our cabinets are full and the closets are running over, so we can say “We are not hungry, God.”
We need to remember that this was one of the sins of Sodom before God took her away Ezekiel 16:49-50.
Let us hear from God today. Let us pray and sing praises to Him today. Let our hearts become vocal and not dumb before Him. The Lord wants us to restore our spiritual fellowship, and not let the things He has given us become a stumbling block to in our path. Let us purpose in our hearts to “be on speaking terms with God.” Amen.
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James L. Thornton
The words "in his right mind" is a translation of this same Greek word that is translated "temperate" here in Titus 2:2. This man was in "his right mind" for the demons had been cast out and he had been renewed by the Word of God. Every person who has been saved by the power of God can rightfully be said to be in "their right mind" for before salvation a wrong and depraved mind was all that existed.Now, after we become a Christian, the "mind of Christ" is to have full sway in our hearts and lives. Is it not interesting to see the opposites this verse gives to us. When the man was unclothed, he was considered out of his mind, but when he was clothed (because he had been transformed) he is in his "right mind." The world would have us believe that wearing less clothing is ok and normal, but God’s Word says just the opposite.