Intercession

Connecting Points

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Today’s Topic: Intercession

 Today’s Text:  Isaiah 53:12  Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

When I rose this morning I was still thinking about the wonder of my justification through Jesus Christ.  When I got to the office to write today’s Connecting Point I was still thinking about it. There was maybe a little flesh being manifested when I wondered if anyone else really understood the magnitude and magnificence of what the Lord said yesterday about the sacrifice of Jesus. But whether or not they did, I did, and the Lord is deeply touching my heart with His grace.

Then I read for probably the 50th time in the last two months the last verse of Isaiah 53, and in a fresh way an old truth jumped out at me. Jesus was numbered with the transgressors – He became one of us!

I couldn’t help but think of the old Paul Harvey story of the birds. In case you don’t know it, here’s a link so you can listen to it. http://everydaychristian.com/blogs/post/9201/

Jesus, as God, became one of us so He could bear our sins and make intercession for us to the Father.

That got me to thinking about intercession – you know – when we go to God the Father and pray for someone else for their benefit. As I was contemplating that from the perspective of Jesus making intercession for us, the Lord put a clear thought in my mind – True intercession requires total identification.

This was the case with Jesus, who now sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes with Him on our behalf. Romans 8:34 says, Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. That is amazing – Jesus constantly talks to the Father on our behalf. In fact, the apostle John says Jesus is our advocate, defending us to the Father even when we sin. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

But we must acknowledge that He is qualified to do that because He first totally identified with us in every way. The book of Hebrews states this clearly for us. Take the time to read and absorb these precious truths:

  • For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for  the sins of the people.   Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:17-18)
  • Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens,  Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.   For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.   Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Jesus is able to intercede for us because He identifies with us. He identified with our sin. He identifies with our suffering. He identifies with our needs. He identifies with our circumstances and experiences. Therefore He can intercede on our behalf to the Father. He does this through His indwelling Holy Spirit. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. (Romans 8:26-27)

Just think, our intercessor not only knows us completely, but also knows the heart and mind of God completely. He identifies with both, which makes Him the perfect intercessor and able to meet our every need. That’s what Romans 8:28 means when Paul says, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Besides the huge blessing I have received from the truth of Jesus as my intercessor, there’s a huge challenge in this for me when it comes to how I pray for others. Can I really say I am interceding to the Father on behalf of someone if I have not first identified with the person for whom I am praying? Can I truly be interceding if I do not fully, as much as is humanly possible, identify with the Father’s heart for that person? How would my prayer life be changed if I really identified with others when I promised to pray for them?

Pastor John

Justification

Connecting Points

Monday, November 28, 2011

Today’s Topic: Justification

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 53:11  After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

When I was in the Philippines in October, my dear friend Glenn and I developed a little joke between us. It was actually more than a joke – it was a loving admonition. It involved the use of one word. In our conversations with each other or with other people, when we would hear any form of rationalization or defense of behavior, we would simply look at each other and say, “justification.”

I am amazed at how many times we had to say that to each other. I am embarrassed to admit how many times in any given day I attempt to justify my behavior or my choices. I think you can agree with me that we have become expert justifiers of self.

For example, I wonder how many hunters shot at deer last night after sunset? I know of at least two around me that did. One shot I heard was so close to dark that I had my flashlight on so I could see the deer I had legally shot. I wonder how they would attempt to defend that action if confronted by a game warden.

How much justification of materialism will take place between now and Christmas? How much justification of gluttony just took place at Thanksgiving? How much justification of setting aside our personal quiet time with our Lord because we are so busy is going on right now?

Justification simply means to declare innocence. The foundation for justification is laid out in the Old Testament law, where God declares that He will never punish the innocent or let the guilty off the hook. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. (Exodus 23:7) When King Solomon dedicated the temple he had built for the Lord, he reviewed the laws that would be upheld in the spiritually revived nation. “When a man wrongs his neighbor and is required to take an oath and he comes and swears the oath before your altar in this temple,   then hear from heaven and act. Judge between your servants, condemning the guilty and bringing down on his own head what he has done. Declare the innocent not guilty, and so establish his innocence. (1 Kings 8:31-32)

Justification is the declaration of innocence. But notice that in the Old Testament law, only the truly innocent were declared innocent. Justification was simply the acknowledgment of what was already true.

In contrast to that, consider the justification that was provided by Jesus Christ through His death on the cross. He has declared the guilty to be innocent! The Righteous Servant has born the iniquities of the unrighteous sinner. The innocent One has taken the punishment of the guilty.

But the guilty are not justified automatically. It is only by faith. The guilty cannot be declared innocent by earning it through obedience to the law. A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16) The law cannot declare the guilty to be innocent nor can it declare the innocent to be guilty.

But what the law does do is lead us to faith in Jesus Christ’s work on the cross so that He can declare us to be innocent. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.(Galatians 3:24) It is by faith alone in the finished work of Christ that we are justified. The Apostle Paul specifically states this in Romans 5 where we read, Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

How marvelous! How magnificent! How incredible! Jesus the Innocent One bore the sins of all the guilty, and those who have faith in Him are eternally declared innocent. Oh the splendor of justification!

Pastor John

I’m Still Here

I heard from a friend yesterday who told me he missed my blog and wondered if I had stopped writing it. I assured him I had not stopped permanently, but that since returning from the Philippines I have been overwhelmed with things that interfered with my writing time in the mornings. I also assured him that I was not falling away from the daily discipline of my devotional life.

I want to assure all of you of the same things. Between meetings with people and trips to see family, I have not been available to write. Next week will be no better as I already have every morning booked up. You see, even though writing is important to me, and ministers to many people, it’s the personal one-on-one contact with people that is most important. That is always God’s priority for me. Because of my extended time away in Davao City there has been a lot of personal ministry to accomplish. After Thanksgiving I intend to block out the early mornings again for writing these Connecting Points.

For today, consider this activity of God in my heart – Without exception,  Love always dictates conduct.

My heart has been torn apart by that truth. What I choose to do is always a result of what or whom I have chosen to love. If you spend any time at all considering the reality of that in your own life, you will be broken as I have been with the truth that we love self much more than we would ever admit publicly. And yet the public already knows because they see the choices we make that serve self. They see the contradictions between our statement of faith and our code of conduct. We have a serious love issue.

Jesus told us quite plainly that love always dictates conduct. When asked about the greatest commandment, He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And the second is like it – Love you neighbor as yourself.”

The impetus behind obedience to every law of God is love for God. Nothing less. Nothing more. It sounds easy, but it’s not. Love for self constantly conflicts with love for God. Serving self severely stifles the sacrifice of self. Decisions are made every day, over and over, based on the single criteria of personal benefit – the love of self. Love always determines conduct.

For the last several weeks I have woken each day to that truth. As a result, I don’t like what I see in me much of the time. God is changing my heart. I am renewing my love for my wonderful Savior. It has been the one overwhelming blessing of my study of Isaiah 53 for the past 6 weeks. My deepest desire is to love Jesus more, and that is only possible if I first understand how much He loves me. This is what I know about His love:

He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed…because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

May every word of my mouth and every meditation of my heart be pleasing to the One I love, and let that One be Jesus.

Pastor John

 

Whiter than Snow

Connecting Points

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Today’s Topic: Snow?

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 53:11  After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Yesterday morning (Wednesday) I rose from bed at 4:20 A.M. to prepare for a day of deer hunting. I was in the car on the way to my tree stand at 5:00. When I got to within six miles of the hunting land, it started to snow. It snowed hard, and it was wet. I put on all of my hunting clothes and started walking the 500 yards through the swamp and forest to my stand. The snow was so heavy that the flashlight did nothing but reflect back into my eyes, so I had to go by memory, which isn’t so good. Somewhere in the thicket I took a wrong turn and ended up looking for my stand for over 20 minutes. I didn’t really make any progress until I waited for a little of the natural light to appear. When I got there I was wet and sweaty; not a good combination when the plan is to spend several hours sitting still in a tree.

As the snow continued to fall everything became white. Deer hunters love the snow, and I’m no different. It makes the deer so much easier to see, and I saw deer. I didn’t shoot any of them, making the decision to let each one grow up a little more, but it was so great to see them and watch their movements as they related to each other during this breeding season. Up until this time I hadn’t seen a deer, but when everything was white I was able to see what I was pursuing.

As I sat in the tree for those five hours I pondered the truths that had been revealed to me:

  • I thought about how long we wander around in the thickets of our circumstances looking for the tree from which we will have a better vantage point on life and be able to accomplish our goals. We think we know the way, but we constantly make the wrong turns and get lost.
  • We get angry that we can’t find our way because the snow keeps blinding us with the reflection of our own light. We know we need the snow, but we are mad at it at the same time because it increases the awareness of our lost condition.
  • When we return to the place where we made the wrong turn, God is there waiting to reveal His way to us, and when we take it, we cease to be lost. We get to use His light, not ours, and that brings us to life.
  • When we let the snow cover everything in us and around us, we finally get to see what we’ve been looking for. The pursuit of our heart becomes obvious.

Simple thoughts, but I trust the Lord will use them to help you understand how great it is to know that our sins are forgiven, and through the blood of Jesus Christ we have been washed from all unrighteousness and are now whiter than snow.

Pastor John

How Could He Do That?

Connecting Points

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Today’s Topic: How Could He Do That?

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 53:7-8a  He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away.     

How could He do that? He was right; they were wrong. It was injustice to the max. He was falsely accused and unjustly abused. He was tortured without truth. Yet not once did He defend Himself, with words or with actions. How could He do that?

In my flesh, I can’t do what Jesus did. My first response to criticism is self-protection. My love for self motivates my response to threats against my value and worth. My pride protects what I believe are my rights. My words and my actions are defense mechanisms to justify my behavior. It appears that I would rather see others suffer from the expression of my pride than to experience any personal pain that might be caused by being humble. How foolish I am, for ultimately the pain I am seeking to avoid is magnified many times over by my pride.

In my spirit, under the influence of God’s Spirit, I have discovered how Jesus could do what He did. It is a simple answer, but oh so difficult to actually put into practice. The answer is found in Hebrews 12:2, which says, Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Jesus understood and accepted the higher purpose of what was happening. He did not have his heart focused on the immediate, but the eternal. That is how He could endure the opposition of sinful men and scorn the shame of the cross – He saw the joy and glory that was to come, and He chose it as His own.

I know that my fleshly response to criticism and correction is completely driven by my focus on the immediate need for approval and acceptance which I wrongly believe cannot be granted if I am found guilty. I know that my pride pushes me to protect my rights because I have given them far too much value in determining my worth. I know my love for self causes me to do anything I can to avoid pain in the present because my heart is fixed on happiness rather than joy. I know that this is all true of me, and would destroy me were it not for the grace of God in me.

But praise God my flesh does not control me. My eyes are fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith, who was oppressed and afflicted unjustly, and was led away by oppression and judgment to suffer the shame of the cross. How could He do it? Because He saw me in my sin, and His love for me overcame any obstacle to saving me. He was completely focused on the higher purpose.

That will be my goal today and every day – to stay focused on God’s higher purpose. No more living for the immediate. No more unbelief in the joy of eternity which is manifested in the avoidance of pain today. No more self-protection by resisting oppression. No more defense mechanisms against injustice. No more exaltation of my rights. There will only be the quiet response of Jesus that shows the world that my eyes are fixed on eternal joy for which I am completely qualified in Christ. And as the world observes a life so lived, may they ask, “How can he do that?”

Pastor John

It’s All About the All

Connecting Points

Monday, November 07, 2011

Today’s Topic: It’s All about the All

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 53:6  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Many years ago, after a mission service, the preacher of the evening was hurrying away to catch a late train back to his home. He had just three minutes to get through the station when he heard a man calling out to him as he ran after him.

“Oh, sir,” he said breathlessly as he came up, “can you help me? I am very anxious about my salvation.”

“Well,” replied the preacher, “my train is just here, and it is the last one; but look up Isaiah 53:6. Go in at the first ‘all’ and go out at the last ‘all.’ Good night.”

The man stood staring after him until he had disappeared into the station and then he muttered, “Go in at the first ‘all’ and go out at the last ‘all.’ What does he mean?”

When he arrived home he took down his Bible and turning to Isaiah 53:6 read these words, “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.”

Go in at the first ‘all,’ ” he repeated. “ ‘All we like sheep have gone astray.’ I am to go in with that ‘all.’ Yes, I see. It means that I am one of those who have gone astray. I am one who has turned to my own way. I am one who is responsible for my own sin.I am one who deserves to be punished for my sin.”

“And go out with the last ‘all.’ ‘The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ I see. God has chosen to punish Jesus Christ for my sin. Yes, I am to go out free with those whose iniquity has been laid on Christ.”

At last he realized his individual lost condition and his individual redemption available through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

“O praise the One who paid my debt, and raised this life up from the dead!”

Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow!

Pastor John

The Exceeding Sinfulness of Sin

Connecting Points

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Today’s Topic: The Exceeding Sinfulness of Sin

 Today’s Text:  Isaiah 53:5  But He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.

This is really hard. I’ve been away from this routine for so long that it is hard to get started again. Now don’t get me wrong, I have not stopped spending personal time with my wonderful Lord, but I have been away from the routine of sitting down every morning and writing a devotional thought on what I am learning from God. It’s hard to get started again.

The whole time I was on my trip to the Philippines I had a routine. I would arise at 5 to 5:30 AM as usual, and would turn on my laptop. I would first check to see if the second greatest gift God ever gave me was available on Skype, and if so we would chat for a while. How I praise God for that technology that allows our love to grow even when we are apart! Then I would open my Bible and spend time with the One who delivered to me the greatest gift I have ever received. How I praise God for that old fashioned but never obsolete technology of the Holy Spirit inspired Word of God. It allows our love to grow even though we are not physically face to face.

Typically I spent time in devotions preparing for the sermon(s) that I would be delivering that day. There were very few days when I was not preaching. But behind it all was a constant meditation on the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. Even now as I think about it and try to write about it I am so overwhelmed with emotion that I have tears forming in my eyes. I will never grow tired of diving into the depths of God’s grace.

But there can be no true understanding of God’s grace without a deep and heart-breaking recognition of our sin. I am currently reading a book written by an acquaintance from my distant past. His name is John Ensor, and he and I went to the same college together. He is the Executive Director of Global Initiatives for Heartbeat International – introducing and fostering pregnancy help ministries in countries with extremely high abortion rates. You can find out about his ministry at http://johnensor.org/.

The book is entitled The Great Work of the Gospel: How We Experience God’s Grace. In the introduction, as John reviews the story of King David’s sin, he takes us through David’s confession in Psalm 51.

1 Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. 2 Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. 3 For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. 4 Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just. 5 For I was born a sinner— yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. (New Living Translation)

Then he says this on pages 17-18:

Nathan’s probing…forced David to consider his life before God. This is the prerequisite work of grace. We must own up to our real guilt. David wept and fasted before the Lord. David discovered what the old preachers called “the exceeding sinfulness of sin” and acknowledged the justice of God’s judgment.

We would do well to change our attitude towards sin. We will never understand the depths of grace, which in turn will keep us from knowing the depths of God’s love, if we continue to love ourselves so much that we deny the horror of our sin before a holy God. We have adapted to a culture of cover-ups. We hide our sin. We underestimate its repulsiveness to God. We justify its presence in our lives because we think we need the immediate rewards. We choose to ignore the consequences, which far outweigh any of the perceived benefits.

With that in mind, go back and read today’s Scripture verse in Isaiah 53:5. Consider the cost of God’s judgment against sin. Consider the unworthiness of the Savior to be judged, but His willingness to suffer the wrath of God on our behalf. Consider carefully the consequences of sin, and the amazing grace that God showed to us because of His love for us. Nothing in us was worthy of that love, and until we come face to face with the desperateness of our condition, we will never truly know the grace of God nor will we be able live in the love of Jesus Christ.

Pastor John