Repentance and Worship

“When you lift up your hands in prayer,
 I will refuse to look at you;
 even if you offer countless prayers, 
I will not listen.
 Your hands are covered with blood.” – Isaiah 1:15

We live in a world that is filled with boundless activity. From iPhones and social media to the daily demands of school, career, and family, we find ourselves filling the spaces of our lives with busyness, responsibilities, and activities. While those things are not altogether negative in themselves, it is true that the busyness of life can often consume us and keep us from staying connected to that which is most important. I certainly can relate to that in my own life.

In the first chapter of the book of Isaiah, we find the Old Testament nation of Judah in a very similar situation. From an outsider looking in, one would see an abundance of activity in the lives of the people particularly in the area of their worship. From the daily offering of sacrifices to the celebration of Jewish festivals to the offering of incense and lifting up of prayers, the Jerusalem Temple was certainly a very busy place! If we could take a look at the religious activity represented by the worshipers, we would see, hear, smell, and touch a whole community of people that, by all appearances, were very devout in their worship practices.

Fortunately, for the nation of Judah, God in his wisdom saw through the busy religious exterior and sent Isaiah, the prophet, to warn the people of what was truly happening. You see, behind the busyness of the nation’s religious activity was a stubborn heart of rebellion and sin toward God. Worshipers found themselves going through the motions without giving any thought to how their sin affected their relationship with God. As a result, the nation approached God on its own terms rather than on his. How many of us today find ourselves in the exact same situation? God speaks through the prophet Isaiah and lays down a blistering indictment to the people:

“When you come to appear before Me, 
who requires this from you —
 this trampling of My courts? Stop bringing useless offerings.
Your incense is detestable to Me. 
New Moons and Sabbaths,
and the calling of solemn assemblies — I cannot stand iniquity with a festival. I hate your New Moons and prescribed festivals.
 They have become a burden to Me; 
I am tired of putting up with them. When you lift up your hands in prayer, 
I will refuse to look at you;
 even if you offer countless prayers,
 I will not listen.
 Your hands are covered with blood.” – Isaiah 1: 12-15

God describes the nation’s approach to worship in no uncertain terms. In this case, the worshipers expected God’s blessing as they worshiped but continued to live in blatant disobedience without any intent to change their sinful behavior. God calls this approach to worship a “trampling” of his courts, and he describes the nation’s offering of worship as useless, detestable, filled with iniquity, burdensome, and tiresome! Approaching God without a sensitivity toward sin has serious consequences. God would turn his eyes and ears from paying attention to their prayers (Isaiah. 1:15; 59:2-4; Psalm. 66:18).

Isaiah points out the only solution to remedy their problem – repentance. To repent means to change one’s mind about sin and do something about it. In other words, repentance involves acknowledging sin for what it is, taking action to turn from it, and turning toward God in obedience. Isaiah puts forth the pathway to repentance for the people if they would only accept:

“Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves.
 Remove your evil deeds from My sight.
 Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good.
 Seek justice.
 Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. 
Plead the widow’s cause.” – Isaiah 1:16-17

This pattern of repentance involves both 1) acknowledging and addressing the sin that is there and 2) turning the other way and doing what is right. Through the words of Isaiah, God commands the sinners to “wash,” “cleanse,” “remove,” and “stop.” This language brings to mind the ritual purification washings that took place before the priests were able to offer any sacrifices to God. It was a reminder to address the sin in one’s life prior to approaching God in worship. In the same way, Isaiah commands the worshipers to actively and intentionally turn away from their sin and go the opposite direction by using by the words, “seek,” “correct,” “defend,” and “plead.” These words reversed the specific sinful behaviors in which the people engaged and revealed the changes that God required for them to demonstrate true repentance.

For believers today, we are also called to repentance when we approach God in worship. That is a biblical concept that endures. While we understand that our sins have indeed been forgiven once for all (past, present, and future) through faith in Jesus Christ, we also know that our redemption has not seen its ultimate completion. In other words, we still live in bodies of sin. There are still temptations to which we succumb. We live with those tensions until the day Jesus Christ returns to make all things new. With regard to repentance, there is a relational aspect in our relationship to our heavenly Father in the “already, but not yet” part of our existence that is affected by our sin. Repentance leads to a restoration of that relationship.

In a fitting conclusion to Isaiah’s call to repentance lies the redemptive promise that comes through faith: “Though your sins are like scarlet,
 they will be as white as snow; 
though they are as red as crimson,
 they will be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). God extends to the nation of Judah a message of grace and hope including the forgiveness of sins to those who repent and believe. The Old Testament faithful looked forward to the fulfillment of this promise through the promised Messiah. So it is with us today except that we look back to what has already been accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment of God’s promise to take away our sin. Worshiping God must have at its core this truth: God alone forgives sin, and that redemptive promise is found only through faith in the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and took our guilt away.

As you prepare to worship God this week, I would like to offer a word of encouragement to you. Rather than rush into your worship gathering without adequate preparation, take a moment to heed these words of challenge to approach God with a greater sense of his holiness and with an increased sensitivity to your own sin. As the Holy Spirit brings areas of your life into clearer focus, you may be convicted of sin that is hindering your relationship with God. If so, take time to confess that sin to God. He is gracious to forgive those who come to him in repentance and draws near to those who do.

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people.” – James 4:8

Worshiping with you,
Paul Rogers

Pure Spiritual Milk

“Like newborn infants, desire the pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow by it for your salvation, since you have tasted that the Lord is good.” – 1 Peter 2:2-3

 

I remember when my twin boys, Chris and Mark, were first born back in 1998.  What a change it was to our lifestyle!  It was quite an adjustment particularly since my wife and I had not had any prior experience caring for babies!   One of the memories that I have during that first hectic year of life was the demanding feeding schedule. My wife did an incredible job nursing them, but it was certainly not easy and required a lot of patience.  As those of you who have children are aware, newborn babies have a way of letting you know when they want their milk.  In our case, two high-pitched screams was the preferred method to get our attention!

It is this “everyday” experience of life that helps us learn a spiritual lesson.  In the verse above, the apostle Peter encourages his readers to desire the “pure, spiritual milk” of the gospel, God’s Word…like newborn infants.  The metaphor is a good one for newborn infants really desire their milk!  For those who have had children, you can certainly relate to the “rooting” reflex present at birth when a newborn infant turns toward the direction of milk with mouth open wide.  It reflects a desperately strong desire and an intentional effort to drink what is life sustaining and physically satisfying.  Take away a newborn’s milk and what happens?  A baby quickly declines and suffers.

In a similar way, we have been given the pure, spiritual milk of God’s Word to nourish us in our faith resulting in spiritual growth.  We understand, like a newborn, that God’s Word is essential to growing in the knowledge of God and what He desires from us.  If I am honest, however, I have to admit that there are times in my spiritual walk when I lack the desire to read God’s Word.  In those “dry” seasons of life, I can assure you that it can easily lead to spiritual decline.  So, the question is: what can we do when we experience a lack of desire for God’s Word?

In those “dry” seasons of our lives, there are things we can do to whet our appetites and experience once again a deep hunger for God’s Word.  Here are a few thoughts and suggestions that have been discussed by some members of my church’s worship team as we have looked at this topic:

1)    Pray.  If we are not taking time to pray to God, the desire to read God’s Word significantly declines.  Pray that the Holy Spirit would give insight and wisdom into your reading.

2)    Study the Bible with others.  Join a small group Bible study at a local church and share your insights with others.  You may find it beneficial learning with another friend in a more intimate setting as well.  Studying with others gives accountability and sharpens our understanding.  What a way to grow!

3)    Start a habit of reading.  Pick a quiet time of day and begin to daily read a portion of Scripture.  Maybe it’s a one-year Bible reading plan.  Once a habit is formed, it is much easier to stay disciplined and engaged.

4)    Read Psalm 119.  While this happens to be the longest chapter in the entire Bible, it is broken into small bite-sized sections that focus primarily on the benefits of God’s Word for the believer.  If you need a spiritual dose of encouragement, read this inspirational chapter as a reminder of the importance and benefit of God’s Word.

These are only a few ideas, and you probably have some others that have been helpful to you.  That’s great!  Let’s continue to encourage one another as we grow in our desire for the nourishing riches of God’s Word.

“Your words were found, and I ate them.  Your words became a delight to me
 and the joy of my heart.” – Jeremiah 15:16

Worshiping with you,

Paul Rogers

Lessons from Laodicea

“The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Originator of God’s creation says:  I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot.  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth.  Because you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see.  As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent.  Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me.  The victor: I will give him the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I also won the victory and sat down with My Father on His throne.  “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” – Revelation 3:14-22

 

Self-sufficient…independently wealthy…financially secure.  Sounds attractive, doesn’t it?  These phrases are all buzzwords of the American dream that promise contentment and fulfillment in life.  Many of us have bought into its message believing that somehow if we only had enough money our problems would go away and we would have everything needed for life and happiness.  Sadly, many find out the hard way that this is simply not the case.

In the first century Roman Empire, the church in Laodicea bought into this lie as well.  Laodicea was a city located inland on a major trade route in modern-day Turkey.  It was well-known for being an affluent city, a strong banking center, as well as a manufacturer of textiles and highly sought-after eye salve.  Laodicea did have one problem, however.  It lacked its own water supply that necessitated the use of aqueducts to bring in water from outside sources.  The city also happened to be situated in an area very prone to earthquakes.  In fact, in A.D. 60, a powerful earthquake devastated the area.  While most of the cities required the resources of the Roman Empire in order to rebuild, Laodicea was completely self-sufficient and did not accept any outside assistance.   It was an affluent city, relying upon itself for all of its needs.

Jesus began his letter by identifying the works of the Laodicean church as being “neither cold nor hot” but “lukewarm.”  This scathing rebuke would have been clearly understood by the residents in Laodicea.  Located several miles away from Laodicea was the spring from which the city received its water.  Because aqueducts were used to pipe the water to the city, the water became lukewarm by the time it arrived.  It was also so high in mineral content that it actually resulted in people getting sick.  It was a serious problem.

Jesus used the word “lukewarm” to describe the spiritual condition of the church.  Unlike cool water that is refreshing or hot spring water that has healing properties, lukewarm water goes bad very quickly.  In fact, the lukewarm water of Laodicea was of such poor quality that it made people sick.  Jesus warned the Laodicean church that he was about to spit them out of his mouth.

Another major problem with church at Laodicea was its self-sufficient posture towards wealth.  Laodicea was a city of abundance, prospering in trade and flourishing financially.  Following the earthquake in A.D. 60, the people of Laodicea took pride in rebuilding the city rather than accepting outside help.  Money was plentiful, and it appeared that the people of the Laodicean church had everything they could ever need.   In reality, their priorities were completely turned upside down.

“You say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked…” – Revelation 3:17

Unfortunately, the church at Laodicea did not recognize its true spiritual condition.  It had become so prosperous and dependent upon its own resources and abilities that it actually had no need for Jesus at all!  Jesus encouraged the church to repent and seek him for things of true value.  Jesus invited the people to come to him for “gold refined in the fire,“ a reference to faith proved through trial.  In addition, Jesus also advised them to come to him for “white clothes,” a picture of the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ.  Jesus also encouraged the people to come to him for “ointment” for the eyes, a wish that they could properly see themselves the way he saw them.

So severely had the church neglected Jesus that it had become useless and ineffective in its witness for Christ.  Jesus’s response to this issue was swift and direct – “be committed and repent.”   Jesus encouraged the people to respond in repentance and faith in order to restore their spiritual brokenness.  Using an image that the people would understand, Jesus identified himself as being on the outside waiting to be invited in to enjoy a restored relationship characterized by the most intimate of Jewish settings – the sharing of a meal together.

“Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me.” – Revelation 3:20

This call for repentance is at the heart of genuine worship.  To repent in a godly manner involves surrendering to the Lordship of Christ over specific areas of our lives.  The apostle Paul reminds us that each of us is to offer our bodies as “a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).  Offering ourselves sacrificially pleases God and demonstrates a heart that chooses to place God above all else.

In many ways, the church in Laodicea mirrors many who are in the church today.  We live in a society of incredible material wealth.  Over time, the dependence upon the security that wealth provides can distort our view of God.  This distortion can leave us with a perspective that sees no true need for God resulting in an almost unconscious dependence upon our own strength and abilities.  Before we know it, we can find ourselves looking very similar to the Laodiceans who “have become wealthy and need nothing” (Revelation 3:17).

Where is your heart today, friend, and where do you find your hope and security?  It is written in Scripture that “the heart is more deceitful than anything else” (Jeremiah 17:9).  Because of this truth, we must carefully and prayerfully ask God to show us anything that is competing with our devotion to him.  With regard to earthly riches, Jesus said to his followers that worshipers cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24).  There is a choice.  To worship God demands our allegiance to God and God alone.  Let’s heed the words of Jesus and listen to what the Spirit says to the church.

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my concerns.  See if there is any offensive way in me;
lead me in the everlasting way.” – Psalm 139:23-24

Worshiping with you,

Paul Rogers

Lessons from Philadelphia

“The Holy One, the True One, the One who has the key of David, who opens and no one will close, and closes and no one opens says: I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close. Take note! I will make those from the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews and are not, but are lying—note this—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and they will know that I have loved you.  Because you have kept My command to endure, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world to test those who live on the earth.  I am coming quickly. Hold on to what you have, so that no one takes your crown.  The victor: I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of My God, and he will never go out again. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God—the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God—and My new name.  “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” – Revelation 3:7-13

 

Most of us remember as children forming exclusive clubs of various sorts.  I recall as a young boy attempting to establish a “boys only” club in our little neighborhood.  Obviously, open only to boys, it restricted membership to those we deemed worthy of entrance.  You can imagine all that went along with our inventive brainstorming – secret passwords, handshakes, and even a dog as our mascot!  For those privileged to gain entry into our little kingdom, it was a dubious honor.  But for those on the outside, it meant only a closed door that could not be opened.  This story opens our thinking to what Jesus would write in a letter addressed to believers in the first century church of Philadelphia.

Over the past several posts, we have looked at letters addressed to specific churches throughout Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) during the first century Roman Empire.  These letters were written to each of the churches in an effort to instruct, encourage, and rebuke the believers in the midst of a culture that was increasingly anti-Christian.  We read these letters knowing that in them lie truths and warnings that apply to each of us today.  It is the author of these letters, Jesus Christ himself, who commands our attention.

Jesus began his letter to the church at Philadelphia by identifying himself as the “Holy One” and the “True One.”  What is most striking is the fact that, in the Old Testament, these titles are attributed only to God himself (Isaiah 40:25; 43:15; Jeremiah 10:10; Deuteronomy 32:4).  This authoritative introduction speaks strongly to the deity of Christ and the weight and authority of his words.  Jesus also referred to himself as the “One who has the key of David, who opens and no one will close, and closes, and no one opens.”  Perhaps referencing an Old Testament text about the Temple gatekeeper, Jesus’ words about the one who has “the key of David” points to the one in charge of controlling who enters the kingdom:

I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; what he opens, no one can close; what he closes, no one can open.” – Isaiah 22:22

To the church at Philadelphia, Jesus identified himself as the one who determines who enters the true kingdom of God.  He is the one who holds the key of David.  He is the one with the right to sit on David’s throne and rule a kingdom that would never end.  He is the one who determines who can enter into the eternal kingdom of God.  To the Jewish believers who had been shut out of the synagogue and turned over to the Roman authorities, these words would have hit close to home.

The believers at Philadelphia knew the stakes were extremely high.  Persecution was very real, and it would have been relatively easy to bow the knee to Caesar and go on with life as usual.  Yet, amazingly, the church in Philadelphia did not waver in standing firm for their faith in Christ.  Described as having “kept My word” and having “not denied My name,” the church in Philadelphia had proven itself faithful amidst strong opposition.  Because of the faithful witness and stand for Christ, the Christians were told that for them there remained an open door to the kingdom of God that no one was able to close.  Not the Roman officials, not the Jewish authorities in the synagogue, not anyone!  In fact, Jesus promised that those in the “synagogue of Satan,” those Jews who refused to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, would eventually have their eyes opened, bow before them, and recognize the love that God has for those who worship Christ as Savior and Lord.  In other words, God would bring vindication to the believers at Philadelphia for their faithful witness for him.  An encouraging word indeed.

Jesus further promised to keep them “from the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world to test those who live on the earth.”  This “hour of testing” likely refers to the time of tribulation at the end of the age that will culminate in the Day of the Lord’s wrath and the second coming of Jesus Christ.  The promise is clear.  Jesus will not forget those who endure hardship for his name’s sake.  He will deliver, preserve, and keep those who are his own possession.  Encouraging them to hold on, Jesus reminds them that they are enduring for a heavenly reward that far surpasses anything this earth can offer them.

Jesus gives them the picture of the spiritual race they are running.  To the one who successfully finishes this race, Jesus compares them to a pillar in the sanctuary of God.  This imagery speaks of a permanence that the faithful believer will experience in the presence of God.  It refers to an eternal salvation that cannot be taken away.  The one who endures to the end will literally be unmovable in God’s kingdom.  Upon the one who is faithful to the end will be written the name of God, the new Jerusalem, and of Jesus Christ.

As worshipers of God, we are encouraged to stand firm and be prepared to suffer for our faith in Christ if necessary.  In the end, it is worth everything.  Worship involves presenting oneself “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).  Sometimes this sacrifice to God involves suffering great hardship for Christ and his name.  As difficult as this may be to endure, suffering for Christ actually serves to advance the gospel and God’s kingdom in a world that is lost and dying (Philippians 1:12-13).  Jesus encourages us by providing an open door to the kingdom through faith as we run the spiritual race before us with him as our source of strength and inspiration.

“Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.” – Hebrews 12:1b-2

Worshiping with you,

Paul Rogers

Lessons from Sardis

“I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead.  Be alert and strengthen what remains, which is about to die, for I have not found your works complete before My God.  Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent. But if you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come against you.  But you have a few people in Sardis who have not defiled their clothes, and they will walk with Me in white, because they are worthy.  In the same way, the victor will be dressed in white clothes, and I will never erase his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name before My Father and before His angels. Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” – Revelation 3:1-6

 

In the first century AD, seven churches in Asia Minor were recipients of letters penned by the Lord Jesus.  These individual letters were dictated to the apostle John and recorded in the last book of the bible, the book of Revelation.  Jesus issued a variety of commendations and warnings to the churches.  In view of the persecution that was taking place in the Roman Empire, the churches wrestled with what it meant to be faithful to Christ in a society that pressured them to compromise at every turn.

In the ancient city of Sardis, the church had a reputation.  Jesus said, “You have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead (Revelation 3:1).”  A scathing rebuke indeed!  This was a church that outwardly appeared to be thriving and living comfortably in a society that was otherwise opposed to the gospel.  It somehow fit in nicely among the plethora of pagan gods and goddesses which were available to worship.  Conspicuously absent from Jesus’ comments to this church was the mention of this church standing up to persecution.  It is likely that there was no persecution at all for the church at Sardis.  Instead we see a church that was so conformed to the world’s system that it had lost its identity altogether.

For the church at Sardis, Jesus issued a stern warning to remember what they had received and heard.  No doubt, the message they had received was the gospel itself that the apostle Paul himself and his associates passed along to the churches.  What was that message?  Paul outlines the gospel message very clearly:

Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it.  You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you—unless you believed for no purpose.  For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures, that He was buried,
that He was raised on the third day
according to the Scriptures.” – 1 Corinthians 15:1-4

In this case, the church at Sardis had received the message of the gospel but had not held on to it.  Instead, neglecting it entirely, the gospel eventually lost its power in their midst.  They were a dying church indeed.  Jesus gave them a reprimand to “be alert and strengthen what remains, which is about to die (Revelation 3:2).”  Again, Jesus tells them to “remember therefore what you have received and heard; keep it and repent (Revelation 3:3).”  In other words, turn back to the gospel and hold fast to it!

Be alert,” Jesus wrote to the church at Sardis.  Yes, be alert that the gospel can be neglected in a church.  Be alert that the exclusive message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ can be ignored or replaced altogether entirely.  Be alert and do not let it happen!  Guard the treasure that has been entrusted to you!  Keep the gospel as of first importance and strengthen its impact so its power is bearing fruit in salvation to those who believe in faith.

No doubt the challenge to the church at Sardis has application for us today.  By definition, the true church of Jesus Christ consists of those persons who have repented and believed by faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  Those who have not trusted in Christ alone to save them are not part of the living church.  They are not holding on to the gospel or its power to save.

For those who do not heed this warning, the message is clear: “I will come like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come against you (Revelation 3:3).”    This language is eerily reminiscent of the judgment that God would bring on the Day of the Lord’s wrath when he would return sudden retribution and destruction to those who do not “obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:8).”  A sobering warning indeed!

Thankfully, within the church at Sardis, there were a few persons who had not “defiled their clothes” or conformed to the false religious systems of the day.  In other words, these people remained unstained by the spiritual corruption around them.  These believers, though very few in number, still held to the gospel and its power for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ gives them an assurance of hope that their names would be written in the book of life and would be acknowledged before the Father and his angels at the final judgment.

“In the same way, the victor will be dressed in white clothes, and I will never erase his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before My Father and before His angels.” – Revelation 3:5

Jesus speaks elsewhere on this theme in the gospels – acknowledging the true worshiper as one who would offer his very life to follow Christ no matter what the cost (Luke 9:23-26).  Self-sacrifice, denying one’s self, suffering for the name of Christ…these qualities are the ones that reflect the offering of true spiritual worship that is holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12:1).

 

Living for Jesus, wherever I am

Doing each duty in His holy Name

Willing to suffer affliction and loss

Deeming each trial a part of my cross

 

O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to Thee

For Thou, in Thy atonement didst give Thyself for me

I own no other Master, my heart shall be Thy throne

My life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for Thee alone

 

Worshiping with you,

Paul Rogers

Lessons from Thyatira

“The Son of God, the One whose eyes are like a fiery flame and whose feet are like fine bronze, says: I know your works—your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first.  But I have this against you: You tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and deceives My slaves to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols.  I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to repent of her sexual immorality.  Look! I will throw her into a sickbed and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her practices.  I will kill her children with the plague.  Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works.” – Revelation 2:18-23

 

On occasion, I have been known to watch an episode of Judge Judy.  If you have never seen Judge Judy in action before, you will immediately notice a no-nonsense, “take-no-prisoners” approach to imposing justice in the courtroom.  Judge Judy has experienced many plaintiffs and defendants throughout the years giving “he-said, she-said” testimonies under oath.  It always impresses me how Judge Judy is able to discern when someone is lying and sift through the nonsense to get to the truth.

In a similar way, Jesus has a way of seeing right through our façade and straight into our hearts.  In the first century, Jesus took the opportunity to have letters sent to seven churches in Asia Minor.  These letters spoke directly to the believers as they navigated their fragile faith in an ever-increasing hostile environment.  In this posting, we will look at the church that was situated in ancient Thyatira, a city whose ruins are located in modern-day Turkey.

Thyatira was an average town that was experiencing prosperity.  Established as a military outpost during the time of Alexander the Great, it was known for the worship of Apollo, called the “son of God.”  It was also largely recognized for its textile industry and dyes of color (Acts 16: 14).  Many other industries thrived there including bronze, silver, pottery, etc.  Part of this industrial makeup also saw the establishment of various trade unions or guilds.  These guilds were very much a part of the social and religious life of the community.  In order to survive as a merchant in Thyatira, one needed not only to belong but also participate in the activities that these guilds sanctioned.

Jesus began his letter by identifying himself as the true “Son of God” with eyes like a “fiery flame” and feet like “fine bronze.”  This description would certainly have caused the recipients of his letter to take notice.  If you recall, the apostle John in chapter 1 described seeing Jesus in a vision in a strikingly similar way – “his eyes like a fiery flame, his feet like fine bronze fired in a furnace (Revelation 1:14b-15a).”  John was so overcome by what he saw that he fell at Jesus’ feet as a dead man.  Before the eyes of the one to whom we must all give an account there is no place to hide.  As Jesus addressed the church at Thyatira, they were to pay utmost attention to his words with that image in mind.

Jesus began with words of commendation for their works.  In an environment that put tremendous pressure on believers to conform, the believers were bearing fruit for Christ by showing love, being faithful, and serving others.  This was an encouraging word from the Lord Jesus and showed that the church in Thyatira as a whole was growing.  Indeed, we read that their works were “greater than the first.”  How encouraging to hear that report!

However, there was a wolf in sheep’s clothing in their midst – a prophetess whom Jesus called “Jezebel.”  The name “Jezebel” was likely a reference to Queen Jezebel in the Old Testament who was married to King Ahab of Israel (1 Kings 16:31).  As a foreigner brought into the royal family, Queen Jezebel introduced Baal worship to the Israelites which ultimately led to divine judgment and to the conquest and exile of the nation.

The church at Thyatira allowed a “Jezebel” in its midst who encouraged the people to engage in pagan worship and immoral behavior. Indeed, the guilds in Thyatira demanded active participation in pagan activities by all who sought to engage in any kind of commerce.  The festivities in the temple of Apollo would have included eating food sacrificed for idol worship as well as engaging in all kinds of sexual immorality.  “Jezebel” spoke with authority that it was acceptable to join in these ungodly activities.  With little discernment and courage, the church tolerated this sin in their midst.

In light of this, Jesus warned the church that judgment was coming upon “Jezebel” and all those who were joined together with her in sin unless they repented.  In fact, “Jezebel” had been given ample time to repent and yet refused.  God’s judgment had already been rendered toward her and now the church itself was on notice.  His message to the church: repent!

Repentance is not something we gravitate toward by nature, is it?  Yet worship demands it.  Neglecting repentance in our life of worship has devastating consequences.  It allows sin to flourish with little resistance.  Over time, this posture allows a callous attitude toward sin along with a lack of spiritual sensitivity.  Unrepentant sin impedes our fellowship with God and with others.  We become distant in our own experience with God and often drift deeper into sin without sensing its grip on our lives.  We must remember that God is the one who truly sees us for who we are.  He is the sole judge of our hearts and is the only one capable of revealing the depth of sin in our lives.  He sees everything, even the things we try to hide from him.

Jesus reminded the believers in Thyatira that he was coming to judge those in the church who tolerated the sin of “Jezebel.”  This, so that “all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds and hearts (Revelation 2:23).”

As we stand exposed to the fiery eyes of our Savior’s gaze, let’s heed his words.  Where there is sin, may we repent and embrace the forgiveness that was earned for us through Christ’s death and resurrection.  Let us persevere and remain faithful.  To the believers in Thyatira who were faithful and did not compromise, Jesus reminded them that there was an eternal reward waiting for them that far outweighed anything they were experiencing in this life.  

“Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” – Hebrews 10:23

Worshiping with you,

Paul Rogers

Lessons from Pergamum

The One who has the sharp, double-edged sword says: I know where you live—where Satan’s throne is! And you are holding on to My name and did not deny your faith in Me, even in the days of Antipas, My faithful witness who was killed among you, where Satan lives. But I have a few things against you. You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to place a stumbling block in front of the Israelites: to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality.  In the same way, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent! Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of My mouth. Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it.” – Revelation 2:12-17

 

I remember as a young boy feeling a sense of excitement to go to the mailbox to see what had just been delivered.  To be honest, most of the time I would find a lot of bills and junk mail addressed to my parents.  However, to my delight, I would occasionally find a card or letter addressed specifically to me with my name on it.  Those pieces of mail were often sent on birthdays and holidays reminding me that someone special was thinking about me from a distance.  What a special feeling that was!

In a similar way, we can imagine what believers in the first century must have been feeling when they received a letter from Jesus himself!  According to the book of Revelation, seven specific churches received letters from the divine Savior.  Dictated by Jesus himself, these letters were written for the sole purpose of encouraging and warning the churches in matters related to their faithfulness in ministry.  In this posting we will take a look at the church located in the city of Pergamum, a very influential first-century city situated in the region known in the ancient world as Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey).

Pergamum was a major city of Hellenistic culture in the Roman Empire featuring a very prominent theater and library.  It also happened to be one of the primary centers of worship for the gods of the Roman Empire.  Nearly every major deity was represented with a temple in Pergamum.  For Christians, it had been just a few decades since the time Jesus had been crucified and resurrected.  Now they were trying to navigate their fragile Christian beliefs and convictions in a culture that was increasingly hostile to their faith.  In the midst of this environment, Jesus brings a letter of encouragement and warning.

Jesus began his salutation to the believers in Pergamum by identifying himself in a very specific way – from “the One who has the sharp, double-edged sword.”  This reference to possessing the sharp, double-edged sword would have made a deep connection with those living in the first century.  During the time of the Roman Empire, a specific legal term had become identified with the authority that Rome wielded – the “right to the sword.”  It was a term that reinforced the idea that the final judgment for matters of life and death rested solely in the hands of Rome.

In his introduction, Jesus identified himself as the One who stands as the ultimate Judge over all – even Rome.  He is the One with the greatest authority and will judge all people (2 Timothy 4:1; John 5:27; Acts 10:42).  The symbol of the sword is seen as the Word of God able to penetrate and divide to the deepest part of our soul (Hebrews 4:12).  Jesus is described both at the beginning and the end of the book of Revelation as coming to judge with the two-edged sword (Revelation 1:16; 19:15, 21).  In other words, Jesus’ authority was much more intimidating than even mighty Rome.  So, the believers at Pergamum were alerted to take notice!

Jesus acknowledged the challenging environment in which the believers at Pergamum found themselves.  Describing the city as “Satan’s throne,” he praised them for holding to his name and not denying their faith in Christ.  This was not easy to do in the midst of such spiritual darkness.  Apparently, a prominent figure in the church named Antipas had recently been martyred for his faith.  Jesus described Antipas in this passage as a “faithful witness” further affirming the special place that is held by martyrs in the sight of God (Psalm 116:15; Revelation 20:4-5).  Jesus praised the church at Pergamum for remaining faithful even in the face of martyrdom.

In spite of the praise, however, there were also areas in the church that needed attention.  The remainder of Jesus’ letter served to rebuke the church for other ways they were compromising their witness. Using the Old Testament example of Balaam and Balak (who deceived the Israelites by causing them to engage in sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols), Jesus exposed certain teachers in the church at Pergamum who were advocating similar kinds of involvement for Christians in pagan temple activities.  One can imagine in a place in which all of life was centered upon the worship of deities that the attraction to engage in these activities was very strong.  It was part of everyday society and culture.  Even though Scripture did not condemn food that had been sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8:4, 8), it did command believers not to cause others to stumble over the issue (1 Corinthians 10:27-29), and it certainly prohibited those eating to refrain from doing so within the context of pagan worship!  It is very possible there were individuals in the church encouraging participation in these pagan feasts and in so doing giving tacit approval to the idolatry and sexual immorality that were also connected to these celebrations.

In response to these indictments to the church at Pergamum, Jesus instructed the church in no uncertain terms to repent immediately!  In fact, he indicated that if they did not repent, he would come quickly and bring judgment in their midst.  Using the familiar image of the double-edged sword, Jesus reminded them that he would personally judge those who were teaching those things and deceiving others.

How often do we find ourselves compromising our witness for Christ by giving tacit approval to ungodly influences?  It is certain that when we allow worldly and unspiritual beliefs and practices to infiltrate our lives, the purity of our devotion to Christ is affected.  Trying to live in both worlds is a dangerous way to live.  It is syncretism that weakens the allegiance or our hearts, souls, and minds to Christ and results in an ineffective witness for the gospel.

As we live out our faith in today’s culture, we must be aware that, though we are in the world, we are not of the world.  We do not share the world’s values and, in fact, are set apart from the world to live sanctified and holy lives (John 17:14-15).  Our mandate is not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).  This is the life of worship.

“Adulteresses! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.” – James 4:4

“Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world.” – 1 John 2:15-16

“No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money.” – Matthew 6:24

As we seek to live out lives of worship and devotion to Christ, we would do well to “listen to what the Spirit says” to the church at Pergamum.  Did you hear that?  Yes, LISTEN!  Interestingly, in the gospels, Jesus often used a particular phrase when he sought the full attention of his followers – a phrase like this: “Anyone who has ears should listen! (Matthew 11:15).”  With this urgent clarion call, Jesus holds out the supreme motivation for living this kind of worship-filled life:

“I will give the victor some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it.” – Revelation 2:17

When we think of the word manna, we think of provision.  Most of us immediately recall the way God provided for the physical needs of his people in the wilderness by giving them manna from heaven every single day to eat (Exodus 16:4, 35).  In the New Testament, we see how this manna foreshadowed the spiritual provision of eternal life to which only Jesus Christ, the true manna from heaven, provides (John 6:32).  Jesus is the bread of life who came down from heaven and gives eternal life to anyone who truly believes.  God’s promise of eternal life is our motivator!  What greater call is there for us than the promise of eternal life?  It is a reminder that when we have Jesus we have all we need!

With reference to the white stone, Bible commentators differ as to its exact meaning.  Of one thing we can be certain, however.  That white stone with one’s name on it is certainly a symbol that expresses a very intimate relationship with the Savior of the world – a personal name given by Jesus known only to the recipient.  Can you imagine the honor of that gift?  What a wonderful blessing to receive such an incredible gift!  It reflects a personal knowledge of the one saved by the One who is the Savior, the Shepherd of our souls.  A precious gift indeed!

 

Living for Jesus, a life that is true

Striving to please Him in all that I do

Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free

This is the pathway of blessing for me

 

O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to Thee

For Thou, in Thy atonement, didst give myself to Thee

I own no other Master, my heart shall be Thy throne

My life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for Thee alone

 

Worshiping with you,

Paul Rogers

Lessons from Smyrna

“I know your affliction and poverty, yet you are rich. I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the Devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will have affliction for 10 days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” – Revelation 2:9-10 

 

Words of encouragement are so valuable.  How important those words can be especially when we are in the midst of challenging circumstances.  Think for a moment about the troops preparing themselves for battle on D-Day in June 1944.  Consider the uncertainties and fears that must have gripped their hearts.  General Dwight D. Eisenhower knew what his troops were facing and what they would endure as they would storm the beach at Normandy.  He understood that many soldiers would pay the ultimate price and lay down their lives in service to the greater cause of toppling the Nazi war machine.  It was in this context in which Eisenhower paid a visit to his troops.  In the hours before the D-Day invasion would begin, Eisenhower showed up to encourage the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne and give them words of encouragement for the challenges they would surely face.

We can make a similar analogy with the ministry of Jesus Christ to the Christians who were facing many difficulties in the first-century Roman Empire.  Life as a Christian was less than ideal and, in fact, many Christians faced lives of extreme hardships, persecution, imprisonment, and even death.  In the midst of these kinds of tribulations, Jesus paid a visit to several churches by way of letters of encouragement and warning to persevere and stay true to their calling.  The book of Revelation records seven specific letters addressed to particular first-century churches located in what is now modern-day Turkey.  In this posting, we will consider the second letter addressed to the church in ancient Smyrna (known today as the city of Izmir).

The first encouragement that Jesus made referenced the poverty of the believers in Smyrna. Being a Christian in the Roman Empire often resulted in Christians being marginalized and pushed aside out of the social and economic circles.  This left the Christians at the bottom of their social structure, poor and unimportant.  However, because of their faithfulness to him above everything else, Jesus reminded them that, in the things that truly mattered, they were actually very rich indeed!  Harkening back to the command of Jesus as he spoke to his listeners during his earthly ministry, the Christians in Smyrna were laying up for themselves “treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20).  What an incredible encouragement for those who had so little of their own!  Their life of worship being lived for the Lord was resulting in a much greater reward of infinite and eternal value for them that far transcended their earthly poverty!

Jesus also recognized the slander the believers were receiving from the Jewish establishment.  We know from historical documents during this period of church history that Christians were accused of many atrocities in their meetings ranging from cannibalism (eating and drinking “flesh and blood” – referring to the Lord’s Supper) all the way to incest (reference to Christians calling themselves “brothers and sisters”).  Indeed, it was extremely difficult for the believers in Smyrna to endure such harmful and slanderous remarks and to have their reputations and names tarnished with untrue statements.  However, Jesus certainly knew what was true about the believers, and his opinion was the only one that truly mattered.  Jesus encouraged the church to continue to persevere and to recognize that Satan was the originator behind these attacks.

As an extension of this struggle against the spiritual forces of darkness, Jesus warned the church in Smyrna that Satan was going to bring even more tribulation upon them.  In fact, it would be such an intense season of persecution that it would ultimately result in imprisonment and even death for his name.  It would be a time of testing that would push the Christians to their physical and spiritual limits.  Jesus, the Commander-in-Chief of this spiritual battle, encouraged his soldiers to stand firm and be ready keeping their eyes on their eternal reward.

“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” – Revelation 2:10

What a tremendous motivation for following Christ!  The one who perseveres to death will receive the crown of life and be brought into an eternal salvation!  The judgment reserved for Satan and his demons is not the experience of the faithful followers of Jesus Christ!

The believers in Smyrna were worshipers at heart.  They stood firm for Christ amidst great opposition.  They surrendered themselves to the Lord and demonstrated that commitment by living lives for Christ in an anti-Christian environment.  They presented their bodies as a “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1).  Jesus Christ was the object of their worship.

While we may not have to undergo the same testing as the believers in the first-century church, it is worth noting that these enduring principles from Smyrna are still ones that are applicable to us today:

1)    Having an eternal focus toward true “spiritual” riches in a materialistic culture

2)    Having a willingness to endure those who would slander us for our Christian faith

3)    Having a heart to remain faithful to God to the end no matter what happens

Be encouraged to persevere, my friend!  Jesus is calling his worshipers to seek the greater reward.

Worshiping with you,

Paul Rogers

“Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.  For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-17

Lessons from Ephesus

“I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars. You also possess endurance and have tolerated many things because of My name and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” – Revelation 2:2-5

 

In the book of Revelation, the apostle John delivered a series of letters that Jesus addressed to specific churches that existed in the first century A.D.  Numbering seven in all, these churches were located within the geographical area known as Asia Minor (known as Turkey today).  These churches were the result of the fruits of the labors of the first apostles and other missionaries as Christianity began spreading throughout the Roman Empire in the decades following Christ’s death and resurrection.  They included churches in the following cities:

1)    Ephesus

2)    Smyrna

3)    Pergamum

4)    Thyatira

5)    Sardis

6)    Philadelphia

7)    Laodicea

In this post, we will examine the first letter to the church at Ephesus. The city of Ephesus was a very prominent city in the ancient Roman Empire.  Located on the coast of the Aegean Sea, Ephesus was a center of learning and boasted one of the great libraries of the ancient world.  Since Ephesus was located on a major seaport, it was also a hub for major trade routes that flowed in and out of the city.  In the center of Ephesus was the famous Agora marketplace in which all kinds of goods were sold from around the world. Ephesus was also a very prominent center for pagan worship.  Ephesus housed the magnificent Temple of Artemis that stood as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  Ephesus was indeed a world-class city in the Roman Empire.

For Christians residing in the city of Ephesus, living a life of worship was difficult at best.  In order to fit in socially and economically, one needed to participate in the activities in both the marketplace and the pagan Temple.  However, physical entrance into the marketplace required taking some incense and offering it as tribute to Caesar as Lord.  Would the Christians do this to maintain good standing in relationships, earn a living, and provide for their families?  Would the Christians resist the temptation to engage in all kinds of sexual immorality with prostitutes at the pagan Temple?

Jesus began his letter to the Ephesian church with words of commendation.  In the midst of all of these difficulties that the Christians faced, Jesus encouraged them for standing up for truth and righteousness.  He praised them for testing those who would claim to be apostles but were not.  He commended them for their endurance and tolerating many things for his name.  The Ephesian believers were a people of principle and did not grow weary in light of opposition.  It was likely that they sacrificed a great deal to follow their convictions. The church found itself increasingly separated and ostracized from the culture.  For resisting these things and standing firm for his name, Jesus gave them his acknowledgment.

However, there was also a lesson for them to learn – a foundational lesson very much related to worship.  You see, in all of the work the church had done to remain steadfast in an anti-Christian culture, they had forgotten the most important thing.  They had abandoned the love that they had at first.  They had set aside their love for Jesus and their love for one another in the midst of their labor.  While continuing to do the things that any Christian should have done in light of their cultural context, they failed to nurture their relationship and love for the God whom they were serving.  And in so doing, the Ephesians lost sight of the relationship of love between God and man and neglected this essential part of their life of worship.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus quoted one of the primary texts on worship as a love relationship that governs everything we do. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus answered:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” – Matthew 22:37-38

In response to this command, we should learn that everything we do in this life should be wrapped up within this framework – to love God and love others.  Christ has taught us to love others as an outflow of our love for him.  The Ephesians had forgotten this truth and their principles and ethic had supplanted love as the primary motivator.  They had neglected to nurture their first love, to grow in it, and abound in the love that God demonstrated in Jesus Christ.

What about you?  Most likely many of us can relate to the Ephesian church.  We may be part of a church that stands up for truth and justice in the name of Christ.  Perhaps we may belong to a church that staunchly defends its doctrine and is not afraid to speak up against the declining morals of our society.  We may involve ourselves in public service and look after those who are less fortunate.  All of these things are commendable, but if our labor is accomplished apart from a growing, nurturing love for God, it misses the mark.  You see, God created us to serve him because we love him.  Listen to how the apostle Paul stresses the importance of love in how we live our lives in worship:

“If I speak human or angelic languages 
but do not have love, 
I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy
 and understand all mysteries 
and all knowledge,
 and if I have all faith 
so that I can move mountains 
but do not have love, I am nothing.  And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor,
 and if I give my body in order to boast 
but do not have love, I gain nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Perhaps the modern-day “Ephesian” church is one that looks really good on the outside but sounds more like a “gong or a clanging symbol.”  We must be aware that what happened to the Ephesian church can also happen to the 21st century church.  As worshipers of the Lord Jesus Christ, love must continually fill our hearts and minds.  It must pervade all aspects of our service to God.  It must be reflected in how we reach out to others and how we show compassion to the world.  Love must be that which motivates our obedience and service.  In other words, love must be the fuel that drives our life of worship.

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

Worshiping with you,

Paul Rogers

Trust and Obey

This is what the Lord says: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow, go down against them. You will see them coming up the ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the valley facing the Wilderness of Jeruel. You do not have to fight this battle. Position yourselves, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord. He is with you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Tomorrow, go out to face them, for the Lord is with you.'” Then Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord to worship Him.” – 2 Chronicles 20:15-18

 

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by your circumstances in life?  In this passage, King Jehoshaphat of Judah faced a huge problem.  At a particular point in Jehoshaphat’s reign, a vast multitude of armies came from across the Jordan River assembling for battle against the southern kingdom of Judah.  So overwhelming was the situation that we read that the King was afraid and obviously very concerned for the survival of his people and nation.

According to Scripture, King Jehoshaphat was one of a few kings who did right in the sight of God.  A couple of chapters earlier we read that “the Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he walked in the former ways of his father David. (2 Chronicles 17:3).”  Facing a real threat of annihilation at the hand of his enemies, Jehoshaphat resolved to seek the Lord.  He gathered the people of Judah to fast and seek God.  In fact, people came “from all the cities of Judah to seek him (2 Chronicles 20:4)”.

Standing in the Temple courts, King Jehoshaphat led the people in a beautiful prayer of faith and trust in God in the midst of an overwhelming situation.  Jehoshaphat began by addressing the Lord and acknowledging that all power and might were in his hand and that no one could stand against him.  Admitting his own position of utter helplessness, Jehoshaphat appealed to the Lord for help:

“For we are powerless before this vast multitude that comes to fight against us. We do not know what to do, but we look to You.” – 2 Chronicles 20:12

So unified was the nation in that prayer gathering that we read “all Judah was standing before the Lord with their infants, their wives, and their children (2 Chronicles 20:13).”  And in a moment inspired by the Holy Spirit, one of the Levite priests delivered the Lord’s answer to the prayers of the people:

This is what the Lord says: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow, go down against them. You will see them coming up the ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the valley facing the Wilderness of Jeruel. You do not have to fight this battle. Position yourselves, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord. He is with you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Tomorrow, go out to face them, for the Lord is with you.'”- 2 Chronicles 20: 15-17

What a test of faith and encouragement given by the Lord to his people!  They were to trust the Lord and not be afraid.  They were to believe solely and completely upon God for their deliverance and salvation.  They were to depend upon God and he would provide for them.  It was a revelation by God which prompted a heartfelt and genuine response of worship by the entire assembly.

“Then Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord to worship Him. Then the Levites from the sons of the Kohathites and the Korahites stood up to praise the Lord God of Israel shouting in a loud voice.” – 2 Chronicles 20:18-19

The next day Jehoshaphat demonstrated his faith in God and appointed singers to go in front of the army to sing praises as they positioned themselves before those assembled against them.  Instead of fighting the battle themselves they exercised their trust in God by singing:

“Give thanks to the Lord, for His faithful love endures forever.” – 2 Chronicles 20:21

As the people began singing, God intervened miraculously on their behalf and caused the enemies of Judah to destroy one another.  So utterly complete was the destruction that not one person escaped alive.  The victory was total and complete and was the Lord’s alone.

In this story, we see a biblical pattern of worship that involves a response to God by believing and trusting him with a humble heart of obedience.  God told the people what he was going to do, but there was a response required on the part of the people in order to see it accomplished.  The people needed to act upon God’s words in faith and do what he told them to do.  Would the people actually take position in battle and do absolutely nothing to defend themselves?  The response called for a faith completely dependent upon God and resting in his promise.

As humans we are also positioned against seemingly overwhelming odds.  We are born into a world tainted by sin and that curse of sin extends to everyone.  There is no one born into this world that is not unaffected by sin (Romans 3:23, Isaiah 53:6).  And the just reward for our own sinfulness is eternal punishment and separation from God.  A dire situation indeed!  Left up to our own devices, we are completely helpless and in desperate need of the salvation of God.  Will we come before him humbly and appeal to him?

God revealed to the world that his plan was to stretch forth his arm of salvation to do for us what we could never do for ourselves – to bring salvation and deliverance from the curse of sin and to render us guiltless and reconciled before a holy God.  Through the ministry of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, the battle against sin was fought and won!  The perfect solution for the guilt of our sin was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for us.  In his death, Jesus took away our sin eternally, justly, and righteously.  But in order for us to receive that offer of salvation, we must respond in faith and obedience personally.  We must trust the message that God has given us and believe upon Jesus Christ as our only hope of salvation.  We must lay down our arms and trust that the battle is not ours but the Lord’s.  He has done it all, and he has given the victory!

 

A mighty fortress is our God

A bulwark never failing

Our helper He amid the flood

Of mortal ills prevailing

For still our ancient foe

Doth seek to work us woe

His craft and pow’r are great

And armed with cruel hate

On earth is not his equal

 

Did we in our own strength confide

Our striving would be losing

Were not the right Man on our side

The Man of God’s own choosing

Dost ask who that may be

Christ Jesus it is He

Lord Sabaoth His name

From age to age the same

And He must win the battle

 

Worshiping with you,

Paul Rogers