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What is Revival?

The word “revival” is as familiar in our mouths as a household word. We are constantly speaking about and praying for a “revival;” would it not be as well to know what we mean by it? Of the Samaritans our Lord said, “Ye worship ye know not what,” let him not have to say to us, “Ye know not what ye ask.” The word “revive” wears its meaning upon its forehead; it is from the Latin, and may be interpreted thus—to live again, to receive again a life which has almost expired; to rekindle into a flame the vital spark which was nearly extinguished.

When a person has been dragged out of a pond nearly drowned, the bystanders are afraid that he is dead, and are anxious to ascertain if life still lingers. The proper means are used to restore animation; the body is rubbed, stimulants are administered, and if by God’s providence life still tarries in the poor clay, the rescued man opens his eyes, sits up, and speaks, and those around him rejoice that he has revived. A young girl is in a fainting fit, but after a while she returns to consciousness, and we say, “she revives.” The flickering lamp of life in dying men suddenly flames up with unusual brightness at intervals, and those who are watching around the sick bed say of the patient, “he revives.”

In these days, when the dead are not miraculously restored, we do not expect to see the revival of a person who is totally dead, and we could not speak of the re-vival of a thing which never lived before. It is clear that the, term “revival” can only be applied to a living soul, or to that which once lived. To be revived is a blessing which can only be enjoyed by those who have some degree of life. Those who have no spiritual life are not, and cannot be, in the strictest sense of the term, the subjects of a revival.

*Many blessings may come to the unconverted in consequence of a revival among Christians, but the revival itself has to do only with those who already possess spiritual life. There must be vitality in some degree before there can be a quickening of vitality, or, in other words, a revival.

A true revival is to be looked for in the church of God. Only in the river of gracious life can the pearl of revival be found. It has been said that a revival must begin with God’s people; this is very true, but it is not all the truth, for the revival itself must end as well as begin there. The results of the revival will extend to the outside world, but the revival, strictly speaking, must be within the circle of life, and must therefore essentially be enjoyed by the possessors of vital godliness, and by them only. Is not this quite a different view of revival from that; which is common in society; but is it not manifestly the correct one?

It is a sorrowful fact that many who are spiritually alive greatly need reviving. It is sorrowful because it is a proof of the existence of much spiritual evil. A man in sound health with every part of his body in a vigorous condition does not need reviving. He requires daily sustenance, but reviving would be quite out of place. If he has not yet attained maturity growth will be most desirable, but a hale hearty young man wants no reviving, it would be thrown away upon him. Who thinks of reviving the noonday sun, the ocean at its flood, or the year at its prime? The tree planted by the rivers of water loaded with fruit needs not excite our anxiety for its revival, for its fruitfulness and beauty charm every one. Such should be the constant condition of the sons of God. Feeding and lying down in green pastures and led by the still waters they ought not always to be crying, “my leanness, my leanness, woe unto me.” Sustained by gracious promises and enriched out of the fullness which God has treasured up in his dear Son, their souls should prosper and be in health, and their piety ought to need no reviving. They should aspire to a higher blessing, a richer mercy, than a mere revival. They have the nether springs already; they should earnestly covet the upper springs. They should be asking for growth in grace, for increase of strength, for greater success; they should have out-climbed and out-soared the period in which they need to be constantly crying, “Wilt thou not revive us again?” For a church to be constantly needing revival is the indication of much sin, for if it were sound before the Lord it would remain in the condition into which a revival would uplift its members. A church should be a camp of soldiers, not an hospital of invalids. But there is exceedingly much difference between what ought be and what is, and consequently many of God’s people are in so sad a state that the very fittest prayer for them is for revival. Some Christians are, spiritually, but barely alive. When a man has been let down into a vat or into a well full of bad air, yea do not wonder when he is drawn up again that he is half-dead, and urgently requires to be revived. Some Christians—to their shame be it spoken!—descend into such worldly company, not upon such unhallowed principles, and become so carnal, that when they are drawn up by God’s grace from their backsliding position they want reviving, and even need that their spiritual breath should as it were be breathed into their nostrils afresh by God’s Spirit.

When a man starves himself, continuing for a long time without food, when he is day after day without a morsel of bread between his lips, we do not marvel that the surgeon, finding him in extremities, says, “This man has weakened his system, he is too low, and wants reviving.” Of course he does, for he has brought himself by low diet into a state of weakness. Are there not hundreds of Christians—shame that it should be so!—who live day after day without feeding upon Bible truth? shall it be added without real spiritual communion with God? they do not even attend the week-night services, and they are indifferent hearers on the Lord’s day. Is it remarkable that they want reviving? Is not the fact that they do so greatly need it most dishonorable to themselves and distressing to their truly spiritual brethren?

There is, a condition of mind which is even more sad than either of the two above mentioned; it is a thorough, gradual, but certain decline of all the spiritual powers. Look at that consumptive man whose lungs are decaying, and in whom the vital energy is ebbing; it is painful to see the faintness which suffuses him after exertion, and the general languor which overspreads his weakened frame. Far more sad to the spiritual eye is the spectacle presented by spiritual consumptives who in some quarters meet us on all hands. The eye of faith is dim and overcast, and seldom flashes with holy joy; the spiritual countenance is hollow and sunken with doubts and fears; the tongue of praise is partially paralyzed, and has little to say for Jesus; the spiritual frame is lethargic, and its movements are far from vigorous; the man is not anxious to be doing anything for Christ; a horrible numbness, a dreadful insensibility has come over him; he is in soul like a sluggard in the dog-days, who finds it hard labor to lie in bed and brush away the flies from his face. If these spiritual consumptives hate sin they do it so weakly that one might fear that they loved it still. If they love Jesus, it is so coldly that it is a point of question whether they love at all. If they sing Jehovah’s praises it is very sadly, as if hallelujahs were dirges. If they mourn for sin it is only with half-broken hearts, and their grief is shallow and unpractical. If they hear the Word of God they are never stirred by it; enthusiasm is an unknown luxury. If they come across a precious truth they perceive nothing particular in it, any more than the cock in the fable, in the jewel which he found in the farmyard. They throw themselves back upon the enchanted couch of sloth, and while they are covered with rags they dream of riches and great increase of goods. It is a sad, sad thing when Christians fall into this state; then indeed they need reviving, and they must have it, for “the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint.” Every lover of souls should intercede for declining professors that the visitations of God may restore them; that the Sun of righteousness may arise upon them with healing beneath his wings.

When revival comes to a people who are in the state thus briefly described, it simply brings them to the condition in which they ought always to have been; it quickens them, gives them new life, stirs the coals of the expiring fire, and puts heavenly breath into the languid lungs. The sickly soul which before was insensible, weak, and sorrowful, grows earnest, vigorous, and happy in the Lord. This is the immediate fruit of revival, and it becomes all of us who are believers to seek this blessing for backsliders, and for ourselves if we are declining in grace.

If revival is confined to living men we may further notice that it must result from the proclamation and the receiving of living truth. We speak of “vital godliness,” and vital godliness must subsist upon vital truth. Vital godliness is not revived in Christians by mere excitement, by crowded meetings, by the stamping of the foot, or the knocking of the pulpit cushion, or the delirious bawlings of ignorant zeal; these are the stock in trade of revivals among dead souls, but to revive living saints other means are needed. Intense excitement may produce a revival of the animal, but how can it operate upon the spiritual, for the spiritual demands other food than that which stews in the fleshpots of mere carnal enthusiasm. The Holy Ghost must come into the living heart through living truth, and so bring nutriment and stimulant to the pining spirit, for so only can it be revived. This, then, leads us to the conclusion that if we are to obtain a revival we must go directly to the Holy Ghost for it, and not resort to the machinery of the professional revival-maker. The true vital spark of heavenly flame comes from the Holy Ghost, and the priests of the Lord must beware of strange fire. There is no spiritual vitality in anything except as the Holy Spirit is all in all in the work; and if our vitality has fallen near to zero, we can only have it renewed by him who first kindled it in us. We must go to the cross and look up to the dying Savior, and expect that the Holy Spirit will renew our faith and quicken all our graces. We must feed anew by faith upon the flesh and blood of the Lord Jesus, and so the Holy Ghost will recruit our strength and give us a revival. When men in India sicken in the plains, they climb the hills and breathe the more bracing air of the upper regions; we need to get nearer to God, and to bathe ourselves in heaven, and revived piety will be the sure result.

When a minister obtains this revival he preaches very differently from his former manner. It is very hard work to preach when the head aches and when the body is languid, but it is a much harder task when the soul is unfeeling and lifeless. It is sad, sad work—painfully, dolorously, horribly sad, but saddest of all if we do not feel it to be sad, if we can go on preaching and remain careless concerning the truths we preach, indifferent as to whether men are saved or lost! May God deliver every minister from abiding in such a state! Can there be a more wretched object than a man who preaches in God’s name truths which he does not feel, and which he is conscious have never impressed his own heart? To be a mere sign-post, pointing out the road but never moving in it, is a lot against which every tame heart may plead night and day.

Should this revival be granted to deacons and elders what different men it would make of them! Lifeless, lukewarm church officers are of no more value to a church, than a crew of sailors would be to a vessel if they were all fainting and if in their berths when they were wanted to hoist the sails or lower the boats. Church officers who need reviving must be fearful dead weights upon a Christian community. It is incumbent upon all Christians to be thoroughly awake to the interests of Zion, but upon the leaders most of all. Special supplication should be made for beloved brethren in office that they may be full of the Holy Ghost.

Workers in the Sunday-schools, tract distributors, and other laborers for Christ, what different people they become when grace is vigorous from what they are when their life flickers in the socket! Like sickly vegetation in a cellar, all blanched and unhealthy, are workers who have little grace; like willows by the water-courses, like grease with reeds and rushes in well-watered valleys, are the servants of God who live in his presence. It is no wonder that our Lord said, “Because thou art neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth,” for when the earnest Christian’s heart is full of fire it is sickening to talk with lukewarm people. Have not warm-hearted lovers of Jesus felt when they have been discouraged by doubtful sluggish people, who could see a lion in the way, as if they could put on express speed and run over them? Every earnest minister has known times when he has felt cold hearts to be as intolerable as the drones in the hive are to the working bees. Careless professors are as much out of place as snow in harvest among truly living Christians. As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes are these sluggards. As well be bound to a dead body as forced into union with lifeless professors; they are a burden, a plague, and an abomination. You turn to one of these cold brethren after a graciously earnest prayer-meeting, and say with holy joy, “What a delightful meeting we have had!” “Yes,” he says carelessly and deliberately, as if it were an effort to say so much, “there was a good number of people.” How his frostbitten words grate on one’s ear! You ask yourself, “Where has the man been? Is he not conscious that the Holy Ghost has been with us?” Does not our Lord speak of these people as being cast out of his mouth, just because he himself is altogether in earnest, and consequently, when he meets with lukewarm people he will not endure them? He says, “I would thou wert cold or hot,” either utterly averse to good or in earnest concerning it. It is easy to see his meaning. If you heard an ungodly man blaspheme after an earnest meeting, you would lament it, but you would feel that from such a man it was not a thing to make you vexed, for he has only spoken after his kind, but when you meet with a child of God who is lukewarm, how can you stand that? It is sickening, and makes the inmost spirit feel the horrors of mental nausea.

While a true revival in its essence belongs only to God’s people, it always brings with it a blessing for the other sheep who are not yet of the fold. If you drop a stone into a lake the ring widens continually, till the farthest corner of the lake feels the influence. Let the Lord revive a believer and very soon his family, his friends, his neighbors, receive a share of the benefit; for when a Christian is revived, he prays more fervently for sinners. Longing, loving prayer for sinners, is one of the marks of a revival in the renewed heart. Since the blessing is asked for sinners, the blessing comes from him who hears the prayers of his people; and thus the world gains by revival. Soon the revived Christian speaks concerning Jesus and the gospel; he sows good seed, and God’s good seed is never lost, for he has said, “It shall not return unto me void.” The good seed is sown in the furrows, and in some sinners’ hearts God prepares the soil, so that the seed springs up in a glorious harvest. Thus by the zealous conversation of believers another door of mercy opens to men.

When Christians are revived they live more consistently, they make their homes more holy and more happy, and this leads the ungodly to envy them, and to enquire after their secret. Sinners by God’s grace long to be like such cheerful happy saints; their mouths water to feast with them upon their hidden manna, and this is another blessing, for it leads men to seek the Savior. If an ungodly man steps into a congregation where all the saints are revived he does not go to sleep under the sermon. The minister will not let him do that, for the hearer perceives that the preacher feels what he is preaching, and has a right to be heard. This is a clear gain, for now the man listens with deep emotion; and above all, the Holy Spirit’s power, which the preacher has received in answer to prayer comes upon the hearer’s mind; he is convinced of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come, and Christians who are on the watch around him hasten to tell him of the Savior, and point him to the redeeming blood, so that though the revival, strictly speaking, is with the people of God, yet the result of it no man can limit. Brethren, let us seek a revival during the present month, that the year may close with showers of blessing, and that the new year may open with abundant benediction. Let us pledge ourselves to form a prayer-union, a sacred band of suppliants, and may God do unto us according to our faith.

Father, for thy promised blessing,

Still we plead before thy throne;

For the time of sweet refreshing

Which can come from thee alone.

Blessed earnests thou hast given,

But in these we would not rest,

Blessings still with thee are hidden,

Pour them forth, and make us blest.

Wake thy siren bering children, wake them,

Bid them to thy harvest go;

Blessings, O our Father, make them;

Round their steps let blessing flow.

Let no hamlet be forgotten,

Let thy showers on all descend;

That in one loud blessed anthem,

Myriads may in triumph blend.

– Reprinted from December 1866 “Sword and Trowel”

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Zechariah: A Prophecy Full of Christ

Zechariah’s Prophecy is full of Christ, a precious mine for study concerning our Lord and Saviour. George L. Robinson, a Bible scholar, called Zechariah ‘the most Messianic, the most truly apocalyptic and eschatological, of all the writings of the Old Testament’. The Lord through Zechariah was encouraging His despondent and disheartened people, who had returned from the Babylonian Exile, by raising their vision to consider in glowing terms the future glories of their coming Messiah and the wonderful glory and blessing into which He will one day bring them to enjoy forever. Predictive prophecy is certainly intended to have this present stimulating practical effect upon God’s people in every age. It certainly had this good effect on the discouraged remnant of Jews who had ventured to return to their former city of Jerusalem in order to re-establish the worship of their covenant Lord in a proper manner worthy of Him. Both the temple and eventually the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt as a result of the ministry of both Haggai and Zechariah.

Zechariah’s visions and predictive prophecies embrace both the first and second comings of Christ, although the emphasis is largely upon the second coming of Israel’s Messiah, since the nation would reject Christ at His first coming. Certainly, Zechariah was one of the Old Testament prophets concerning whom Peter wrote that they searched diligently to understand “what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (1 Peter 1:11). To them there appeared to be a contradiction in their messages between a suffering and reigning Messiah which they were unable to understand. Only with the benefit of hindsight can we see clearly how these two aspects of Christ’s ministry are reconciled. Christ’s first coming fulfilled the predictions concerning His great sufferings, while His glorious second coming will fulfill the remainder perfectly. The Old testament prophets were unable to see the great valley which lay between the first and second comings of Christ, since the New Testament Age of the Church of Jesus Christ was then a mystery hidden in God from previous ages prior to the formation of the one body of Christ at Pentecost by the Holy Spirit and the revelation of this mystery given later to the apostle Paul.

Turning, therefore, to consider the varied predictions concerning Christ in this short prophecy, we will first consider Him as the Man riding a red horse among the myrtle trees in a lowly hollow in chapter 1 verse 8. This Man is identified as the Angel of the Lord in verse 11, and is there a Christophany, or appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ in human form. This vision of Christ was intended to be an encouragement to the Lord’s downtrodden people Israel, who were truly in a lowly hollow in their present experience in the world. He was standing identified with them there in all their affliction and despondency. He was not happy about the complacency of the Gentile nations around them who had subjected them to captivity any more than they were, and He was about to act on His people’s behalf to help them in their weakness. It is in this context that the Lord, in verse 14, state that He was jealous for Jerusalem and all its citizens, His own earthly people Israel. He had not finally given them up, nor ever will do so. The Lord loves and cares for Israel still, in spite of all their waywardness and disobedience in the past.

Again, in Zechariah’s third vision in chapter 2 of the Man with the measuring line, who was going to measure Jerusalem, and thus claim it for God, this may again be a Christophany, a vision of pre-incarnate Christ. Nevertheless, in chapter 3 in connection with the fourth vision, there are several different descriptions of Christ. Verse 8 speaks of Him as “My servant the Branch”, renewing the spiritual life and fortunes of His people Israel, growing out of the felled tree stump of the house of David. Then verse 9 refers to Christ as the Stone, the foundation stone of the temple building. On it were engraved seven eyes, which symbolize His omniscience and infinite intelligence. Again, in chapter 6 verse 12, Christ is referred to as the Branch who will build the temple of the Lord. Here the reference is not so much to the second temple, which Zerubbabel was then building, but to the Millennial Temple in a day still future to us. In the same passage Christ is predicted as the future King-Priest on the restored throne of David. The two offices of king and priest will then be united in Him for the first time in Israel’s history.

Zechariah’s first burden in chapters 9-11 traces Christ’ rejection at His first coming in humiliation and grace. In chapter 9 verse 9, the Lord through Zechariah tells Israel to rejoice greatly, because their King was going to come to them in justice and lowliness, bringing them salvation and riding on an ass, the symbol of peace, not war, and on a colt, the foal of an ass, as Matthew’s gospel chapter 21 verses 4-5 records in the fulfilment at Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem before His crucifixion. Verse 10 then jumps forward in time to the beginning of Christ’s Millennial reign at His second coming in glory, when he will rule in peace over the whole world. As often in Old Testament prophecy, there is no mention made of the intervening prophetic gap of the present Church Age. Chapter 11 verses 12-13 then predict Christ’s betrayal for the derisory sum of thirty pieces of silver, the value of a gored slave, and how these would then thrown into the temple in remorse by His betrayer, Judas Iscariot.

Zechariah’s second burden in chapters 12-14 predicts Christ’s eventual acceptance and glory at His future second coming. Chapter 12 verse 10 predicts that all Israel who survive the Great Tribulation will mourn bitterly when they see Christ returning to deliver them, because he will still be bearing the wounds which they inflicted on Him and with which they pierced Him on the cross at His first coming in grace. Then in chapter 13 verse 1, He and His precious blood are symbolized by the fountain of water which will be opened to cleanse Israel’s sin and uncleanness, and thus make them fit for His presence. Christ’s unique Deity and Humanity are referred to in chapter 13 verse 7, when the Lord calls Him both ‘My Shepherd’ and ‘My fellow’, whom He must smite in His vicarious sacrificial death. Christ referred to this verse when He was about to be forsaken by His disciples at His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane; see Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:27. By contrast, chapter 14 predicts Christ’s second coming in glory and power to save Israel from all their enemies and to reign as universal king. Chapter 14 verse 5 identified Him as ‘the Lord my God,’ when He returns with all His saints, who include both church believers and holy angels. Verse 9 again identifies Christ as ‘the Lord’ who will personally be King over the whole earth.

Zechariah’s predictions and descriptions of Christ are thus very wide-ranging and comprehensive of both His first and His second comings. Only Isaiah’s prophecy contains a comparable revelation of prophetic truth concerning both His Person and work.

– An excerpt from the book “When The Lord Remembers His Own”

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Editorial: The Appearing of Jesus Christ

“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:” (1 Peter 1:6, 7)

Peter points the weary strangers to what he calls ‘the appearing’ – or has some translate it – ‘the revelation of Jesus Christ’ This is not the mystery of the rapture that Paul speaks about, when the church shall be taken to be with Christ. Peter points to the second coming of Christ at the close of the tribulation period when Christ shall visibly return to the earth to establish His kingdom.

The Certainty of His Coming

He really is coming again. The Old Testament prophets said He would come. There are scores of references but consider this one from Zechariah 14:4, 5, “and His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem….And the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.” Or consider these famous words of Daniel found in chapter 7 and verses 13 and 14, “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”

The New Testament apostles said He would come. Paul spoke of His second coming in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10, ”…when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power, when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe…” Peter spoke of His second coming in the verse quoted above (1 Peter 1:6, 7). John spoke of His second coming in the book of Revelation. Consider Revelation 1:7, “Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also who pierced him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.”

The Lord Himself said He would come. Of the many references here is one from Matthew 27:30, “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

Both Old and New Testaments are unmistakably clear that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming again.

The Clarity of His Coming

When our Lord left this earth most did not know Him.  Among those who did opinions were divided. Even after the miraculous witness of the early apostles many rejected the testimony about Him. Today men and women know little of Christ. Through the enemy’s efforts of confusion many are unclear who He really is. Our role as believers to give witness to Him and shine as lights in this world.  But on that day, there will be no doubt who He really is. He will shine in power and great glory. The vision of Isaiah 6 witnessed by the prophet saw the whole earth filled with His glory. This will be seen the day of His return. There will be no doubt who He is. Every knee will bow to Him.  What a privilege is ours to bow the knee to Him now!

The Compensation of His Coming

Peter has more to tell us. He links the ‘trial of your faith’ with His second coming. He tells us that our tried faith will be ‘found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ’ This echoes Paul’s words of 2 Corinthians 5:17, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,”  Do you wonder why you pass through times of trial and difficulty?  Why do God’s people suffer? Is this normal Christian experience? Yes. We will meet our trials again, except we will hardly recognize them. They will be found to give us glory and honour. A glory and honour we could not obtain any other way than by the way the Lord led us through life. Its storms and its sorrows. Its tears and its trials. In all of these He will compensate us at that future day.

Yes, He is coming. The church looks for the rapture when we will be taken away. But we look too for His second coming when He will be seen in glory, a glory that we too shall share.

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Christ Our Forerunner

C.H. Macintosh said “There are two grand facts which characterize Christianity, and mark it off from all that had gone before; and these are, first, man glorified in heaven; and secondly, God dwelling in man on the earth.”

One result of Christ glorified is the truth of the forerunner, a word found only once in scripture, and attributed to our Lord Jesus after His ascension:

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 6:19-20).

Ascending to heaven (Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9) He entered as our Forerunner. Doing so He prepared our way, awaits to welcome us, and asks that we bear witness to His glory.

The Way of the Glorified Man

The word translated “forerunner” was a military term used to describe a soldier, scout or spy who ran ahead before the regular forces followed. At the same time it was also used to describe a small boat that went ahead with an anchor when the ship could not get past the sand bar at low tide. Rowing past the sand bar, this small vessel would drop the anchor, securing the ship until the tide arose allowing the ship to follow. Christ, our forerunner has carried our anchor – hope – and fastened it behind the veil. He is our certainty that we will someday follow Him.

Considering our Forerunner we see a significant difference between Him and the Old Testament priesthood. The O. T. High Priest could only represent the Israelites. On the Day of Atonement none could follow him behind the veil. Our great High Priest sits in heaven not only representing believers from all nations, but is also our Pioneer having blazed a trail for us. Today we follow by faith (Heb. 4:16), but someday we will follow Him into God’s presence.

The Lord told Peter, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.” (John 13:36). These words carried a double significance. Peter could not follow the Lord to the cross because the Lord alone must bear the world’s sins. But after the Lord’s ascension Peter would not only take up his cross in service to his Master (Matt. 16:24, Luke 22:31-32) but would also glorify God on a cross, dying a martyr’s death (John 21:18-19). Dying to self, we also have the wonderful privilege of daily taking up our cross and following Him (Luke 9:23, Gal. 2:20).

However the deeper and fuller significance is found in the fact that He has now prepared the way for us to follow Him to heaven (John 14:1-6). When the Lord told His disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them (John 14:3), it was still future. This preparation began at Calvary and was completed forty days after His resurrection when He ascended to His Father. He has fully prepared the way by His presence before the throne of God. Being the first man to enter heaven, He is our pioneer.

Upon death, the Old Testament saints’ spirits were transported to a place called Abraham’s Bosom (Luke 16:22) or paradise (Luke 23:43). But when Christ ascended to Heaven in His glorified body He emptied Paradise of these saints (Eph. 4:8) and their spirits followed Him into glory. Since that day, when each believer dies, their body is placed in the ground but their spirit enters the very presence of God (2 Cor. 5:8). Someday all believers, dead and alive, will be resurrected in glorified bodies (1 Cor. 15:51-57; 1 Thess. 4:13-18, 5:23; 1 John 3:2).

By returning to His Father, Christ said that the Spirit would convict the world of righteousness (John 16:8, 10). God used this event to powerfully demonstrate Christ’s unchanged intrinsic righteousness. The Lord touched a leper without becoming ceremonially unclean (Matt. 8:3) and on the cross our Substitute bore our sins without becoming sinful. He became a holy sin offering yet remained untouched by iniquity. He suffered the law’s curse without defiling Himself. He took away our sin yet there is still no sin in Him (1 John 3:5). From eternity to the cross and back to heaven He is “Jesus Christ the Righteous” (1 John 2:1).

Showing satisfaction in His perfect work the Father raised the Righteous One from the dead, and welcomed Him back into His presence, not only as the eternal Son but now also as the glorified Man.

The Welcome of the Glorified Man

What a day that must have been when heaven received our Lord Jesus (Acts 3:21). We have sometimes sat transfixed or even participated in standing ovations for heroic people who have performed courageous feats. However we cannot even begin to imagine the loving reception Christ received from His Father (Psa. 110:1). This joyful occasion must have also included poignant worship from Heaven’s hosts and would have been thrilling to witness and partake. Now we worship by faith but someday we will see Him and worship with the angels.

Welcomed back to heaven, our forerunner is waiting to welcome us. Shortly before Calvary Christ prayed to His Father, desiring that we be with Him (John 17:24). We find it both touching and comforting that Christ is looking forward to our arrival. A time of great joy awaits us, a time of great joy awaits Him (Jude 24). He expects and anticipates us. We expect and anticipate Him. Let us serve Him wholeheartedly so that day will not be tempered by the sadness of our infidelity and disobedience.

We get a glimpse of this in the life of Stephen. Just before the authorities stoned him, heaven’s curtains opened so he could see Christ standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55) – approving his testimony, sympathizing with his pain, and eagerly awaiting his arrival.

There may have been times when you have not felt very welcome, sadly maybe even ostracized by other believers. Beloved, let us show impartiality (Jam. 2:1-9), forbearance (Eph. 4:2), and forgiveness (Eph. 4:32) toward one another. For after all Christ does. Let us esteem our brothers and sisters highly (Php. 2:3-5), for after all Christ does. Rest assured that the day you pass into glory Christ will welcome you with the most heartfelt, genuine, and loving reception you have ever received.

In His prayer to the Father Christ asked that we see His glory (John 17:24). Someday we will (1 John 3:2) but now by faith we have the privilege to testify to it.

The Witness to the Glorified Man

The underlying theme of Stephen’s sermon after his arrest was God’s glory. The Jewish people still revered the temple (Acts 6:13-14) but God’s glory had left it long ago (Eze. 10:4, 18-19, 11:23; Acts 7:48). He described individuals such as Abraham and Moses who witnessed God’s glory. The Israelites witnessed the Shekinah (dwelling place) glory hovering over the ark and later filling the temple. Stephen explained that God does not dwell in things made with hands but in both his word and character he showed that God now dwells in individual believers (Acts 7:48-49; 1 Cor. 6:19-20). Initially rejecting their saviours (Joseph, Moses), always persecuting the prophets, this privileged nation (Rom. 9:4-5) had ultimately rejected and crucified the Lord of glory (Acts 7:52; 1 Cor. 2:8).

As he was speaking his face shone (Acts 6:15) and learned witnesses such as Saul must have recalled reading how Moses’ face shone after being in God’s presence (Ex. 34:29-35; 2 Cor. 3:12-18). For the Christian, the Spirit’s ministry increasingly radiates out from within, manifesting the reality that we have spent time in Christ’s presence. As we commune with Him in His word and in prayer, we are gradually changed into His image. This transformation is greater than Moses’ temporary, reflecting glory (2 Cor. 3:6-11) and is a powerful witness to Christ.

Seeing Christ in us provides an unveiling ministry to a lost world that the god of this age has blinded – it helps take away the veil that hides the good news about Christ’s glory (2 Cor. 4:3-4, 6).

The gospel primarily concerns Christ’s glory. In eternity He shared the Godhead’s glory with the Father but stepping into time He veiled it: clothing Himself in human flesh, serving His God, dying for the sins of the world. Anticipating victory the Son asked the Father to fully return Him to His previous state of manifested glory (John 17:5), now also in a glorified Man. We confidently preach salvation in Christ, His presence in glory affirming both that God has accepted His work and answered His prayer.

Our testimony for Christ is not only about a Saviour who died for our sins, but also about a Lord who is risen for our justification (Rom. 4:25), glorified in Heaven with all things put under Him (Eph. 1:20-22). The gospel glorifies Christ who opened the way, awaits our arrival, and whom we unveil to a lost world.

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Rightly Dividing Vs. Wrongly Dividing

Sir Francis Bacon made a very insightful comment concerning books and reading. He said, “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some to be chewed and digested.” The Bible is clearly a book to be chewed and digested. It takes prayer, preparation of time, heart and persistence of effort. The Bible needs not only to be read, re-read and read again, but then diligently studied and finally meditated on or chewed and digested. To view it as light snatches of readings pressed together in a hurried way will not only spiritually impoverish the reader but will do dishonor to the author, our great God and Savior.

The Bible is complete, wonderful book whose pages show harmony and consistency. It is God-breathed.

To rightly divide, we quote the exhortation of Paul and Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

The Bible is an orderly book and there are certain rules or principles to keep in mind when studying and then its order and comprehensive whole will be realized for our benefit. The word “dividing” (Greek: orthotomeo) means to make a straight cut (handling a right R. V.) as in road-making or ploughing. It is used here metaphorically and it is found only here in the N.T. If the metaphor is drawn from cutting a straight furrow as in ploughing, the verb would express a careful cultivation. In a farmer’s cultivation, a crooked row stands out and is impossible to correct. So it is in the spiritual realm. A crooked row of misinterpretation will result in wrongly dividing the Word of Truth.

As believers, we need to be like a skilled workman or artisan rightly dividing the Word. When the Word is wrongly divided, Satan seizes the opportunity to present his most subtle deceptions. And he uses scripture to do it, as he did to the Lord in the wilderness. Scripture misinterpreted can be more dangerous than out and out denial. The real danger in teaching an incorrect interpretation lies not only in the one who may be teaching it, he could be easily corrected, and often is he is willing to learn, but note (Satan is quick to seize the opportunity) that those who are being taught accept it and teach it to others. It thereby spreads like a cancer until it becomes a “doctrine” and those who hold it resent any correction by someone who may give the matter most careful thought.

Serious harm then results when unskilled workmen try to practice rightly dividing the word. You can see what havoc can come about by a wrong dividing of the Word of Truth. Law and grace have been jumbled together, Israel robbed of her promises, and the church impoverished on account of it. Confusion is produced.

Taking a verse out of context is one of the most serious errors. So a good rule to remember would be, do not interpret a passage independently of its context. Certainly no passage of Scripture can have two or more interpretations, which would conflict the one with the other. It has been said and well worth noting that there are three ways to study the Bible: context, context and context. Taking something out of context is pretext. An example of taking verses out of context is in Philippians 2:12 “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” To say salvation is by works would be a serious error. What about the context? What the passage is saying, God works in you and then you work it out. The salvation spoken is not of the soul, but deliverance from difficulties or contentions, the Philippians were facing. Also while there may be only one interpretation to a portion of God’s Word, there may be many applications, but keep in mind not any application.

An example of an application is in 2 Samuel chapter nine. The interpretation is the kindness shown by David to Mephiboseth and his faithfulness to his covenant with Jonathan. The application is a beautiful picture of salvation by Christ.

Interpretation must be determined by the context. But the application may be at the will of the writer or speaker. In interpretations, we deal with the truth presented by scripture; in an application we deal rather with the truth illustrated by Scripture. And it is always best to make it clear to the reader or the listener that it is an application, lest some young believer be stumbled, and indeed, if he be studying the Word, find another scripture which would be contradictory. Scripture does not contradict itself. But everything falls beautifully into place if care is taken to keep all scripture within its context.

It is always best to keep in mind that there can only be one interpretation, but many applications. Or as someone has said so well, “If two disagree as to an interpretation, one could be right, the other wrong, or they both could be wrong, but they could never both be right.”

In speaking to rightly divide the Word of Truth, keep in mind some of the following principles or rules to help guide you:

1. Ascertain what the passage actually says. This may seem elementary, but it needs to be said. In order to get the right interpretation, we should read our doctrines out of scripture and not read into it.

2. A passage should be interpreted in the light of the general purpose of the book in which it occurs.

3. Paralleled to the above statement, a passage should be interpreted in the light of scripture as a whole.

4. Be true to the Word of God. Too many speakers prepare a message and then hunt a text to fit it. This is not a text it is a pre-text.

5. To truly understand scripture, there is only one way to explain the Bible and that is with the Bible. Since God is the Author of the Bible it would be folly to try to explain it by the things of man. The Direct Statement Principle is that principle under which God says what He means and means what He says. This is an important principle because of the attempts of many to spiritualize the Word of God and to make it a mystical book.

There are more principles that could be written to guide us, these mentioned will hopefully help you and your understanding of the Word and your love for the Truth expanded.

In conclusion, it may be of profit to quote from the Golden Rule of Interpretation by John Wycliffe, a man of God who lived many years ago and one who could perhaps convey thoughts of more value than we can today: “It shall greatly help thee to understand scripture if thou mark, not only what is spoken or written, but of whom, and to whom, with what words, at what time, where and to what intent, under what circumstances, considering what goeth before and what followeth.”

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The Spiritual Importance of Christian Baptism

It takes only a few minutes to be baptized but it takes the believer all the remaining years of his life to live out what it means. Baptism is simple but its spiritual meaning is most important. It is not necessary for a person to understand all of this before he is baptized, but of course it is good for him to think about these things.

The Israelites did not understand all the spiritual meaning of the feasts of the Lord, the tabernacle or the offerings. But this did not stop them from keeping the feasts and offering the sacrifices. They simply obeyed the instructions God gave them in His Word. The same is true when it comes to baptism.

God commands believers to be baptized and we should obey.

Baptism is a simple act of obedience to the Lord. It is the duty of every Christian to obey his Lord without hesitating, because a good disciple must be obedient. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “If you love Me you will obey what I command,” John 14:15. Again he said, “If you know these things you will be happy if you do them,” John 13:17. Nothing can take the place of obedience to the known will of the Lord.

It is a divinely given picture of the believer with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.

Baptism shows the Christian as having died in the person of Christ the One who took his place. This is an important truth. We know it is true because it is clearly written in the Word of God. Paul knew he had been put to death with Christ on His cross, so that it is no longer he himself, but Christ who lived in him. This life that I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me, Galatians 2:20.

Death is the end of a person’s life. The life lived by a person before salvation was separate from the life of God. When the believer trusted Christ as Saviour his old life ended. The old has gone, the new has come, 2 Corinthians 5:17. The believer can now say, “When Christ died I died to all that for which He died, there I count myself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” Romans 6:11

In baptism the believer shares Christ’s burial. We were buried with Him through baptism and shared his death, Romans 6:4. Burial proved that a person has died, for only the dead are buried. So going under the water is the only reasonable picture of baptism. The one to be baptized stands in the water. He allows himself to be buried under the water as a picture of his burial with Christ who died for his sins.

The believer also shares with Christ in His resurrection. He rises out of the water to show that he has been raised from death with his Lord, in order to live a new life. See Romans 6:4, 5.

So baptism has a deep spiritual meaning for the Christian. We must not be careless about it. We cannot say it is not necessary: to say so would question God’s wisdom when He commanded believers to be baptized. It is just as wrong to say that baptism is necessary for salvation. The real meaning of baptism would be lost if we were to sprinkle believers instead of putting them under the water. There is no command in the Bible to christen babies instead of baptizing believers.

A person confesses his faith in Christ openly before other people when he is baptized.

There were no secret baptisms in the New Testament. Believers were baptized before others to show that they had faith in the Lord. In the early years of the church this brought real trouble to the believer and often death. The Lord had said it would be so, John 16:33; 15:20.

– Excerpt from Believer’s Baptism by Alfred P. Gibbs published by Everyday Publications Inc. Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada.

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Truth for Today

The Bible has always been the foundation for Christian truth. Since the beginning of Christianity it is the Bible which has determined what Christians believe and also how they conduct themselves, both in personal life and collectively in the life of the church. The Bible as God’s revelation to us needs to be read and studied with seriousness and integrity. A.W. Tozer said, many years ago, that ‘Whatever keeps me from my Bible is my enemy, however, harmless it may appear to me.’ While J.C. Ryle wrote: ‘We must read our Bibles like men digging for hidden treasure!’

To develop such an approach is not easy because it requires discipline, prayerfulness and time. The latter is always at a premium and it can’t just be found, we need to make time for the important work of Bible study.  Yet the rewards for our souls cannot be calculated for through such study we learn to understand the ways of God and realise all that He has done for us through the work of Christ on the cross, which through faith brings eternal blessings into our lives. Therefore Bible study ought to be an essential ingredient in every Christian’s life.

There are basically two methods of approach when it comes to studying the Bible.

The first is the expositional method. Here a passage of Scripture is chosen for study. Such a passage may simply be a paragraph, or longer sections like a chapter or a whole book. It is read many times until the main theme is understood and then any secondary themes are appreciated.  From this a more minute study might be engaged in, such as word studies, and eventually the lessons and practical applications of the passage are learnt and put into practice in our daily lives. It is trying to understand and apply that passage to the best of our ability. This is the expositional approach.

The second approach to the study of Scripture is the topical method. Here a subject (or topic) from Scripture is chosen for study. Such topics could include the use of a particular number, a city or town, plants or animals or anything else which may come into our minds. Naturally such a study will not be restricted to one particular passage, but with the use of a concordance, many passages will be studied which have a bearing upon the subject.  Thus a chain of such passages are studied with each having the common thread of relating to the subject under consideration. Through this method we try to understand the subject to the best of our ability. This is the topical approach.

A sub-section of the topical method is the biographical approach to the study of the Bible. Here the life-stories of men and women of Scripture are looked at and lessons learned from their lives. The pitfalls into which they fell are warnings for us to avoid similar failures or defeats in our own lives, while the successes and victories they experienced in the Lord are incentives for us to imitate and so be blessed with similar triumphs in our own lives before God. So here are two biographical studies.

LUKE

There are three direct references in the New Testament to Luke:

The first is Colossians 4:14: which says: ‘Luke the beloved physician’, or as it is sometimes translated, ‘Our dear friend, Luke, the doctor’.

The second is 2 Timothy 4:11: which says: ‘Only Luke is with me’.

The third and final verse is Philemon v.24: which says: ‘Luke my fellow-worker’

To say the least these are extremely brief references to this early Christian and though we can build up some insights into his character from these verses, we are glad to say that there are other parts of the New Testament which we can use to look into Luke’s life and experience.

Luke in humility does not mention it, but he did in fact write two of the most substantial books of the New Testament namely, ‘The Gospel according to Luke’ and ‘The Acts of the Apostles’.  In the book of Acts he indirectly refers to himself on a number of occasions through the well known ‘us’ or ‘we’ passages. These passages clearly reveal that Luke was personally involved in the missionary activities which he described as he was part of that missionary group and was therefore an eyewitness of all that took place when he was with the other missionaries.    

The two books he wrote are remarkable pieces of writing and give wonderful insights into the early years of the church. The Gospel account focuses upon the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus, culminating in His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. The Acts covers a period of approximately thirty years which were the formative years of the church. Acts focuses upon two great apostles. In the first twelve chapters the spotlight is upon the apostle Peter, who was the apostle to the Jews, but was used by God to bring the first Gentiles to faith in Christ. From chapter thirteen to the end of the book the focus is upon the apostle Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul is seen on three great missionary journeys and then on a final journey to Rome as a prisoner. On some of these journeys Luke joined him and so witnessed many of the happenings about which he later wrote. So through these writings we can appreciate something of the worth of Luke and glimpse insights into his life and personality.

The first such insight into Luke is to point out that he was a Gentile. He did not belong to the privileged nation of Israel. His heritage was non-Jewish and he could not trace his ancestry back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  We are informed of his Gentile background from two sources. One is non-Biblical and the other Biblical.

The non-Biblical source is found in the ancient traditions of the church. These have all without exception maintained that Luke was a Gentile.

The Biblical source is Colossians 4: 10-14, where the apostle Paul gives a list of six of his companions. The first three were named as Aristarchus, Mark and someone called Jesus Justus, these the apostle refers to as his only Jewish fellow-workers. If that is so then we must conclude that the next three in that list, Epaphras, Luke and Demas were Gentile Christians.

So our conclusion must be that Luke was a Gentile. This means that he was the only non-Jewish writer in the New Testament, all the others writers were Jewish.  In fact in the whole of the Bible, Old and New Testament all the writers were Jewish, except this lone figure of Luke. He contributes two substantial volumes to the New Testament and stands as a great reminder of the truth that the Gospel is not for the Jews only, but for all mankind.

This is one of the great truths of the Gospel as Paul says in Romans 10:12, ‘There is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile.’  This was also the knowledge which Peter received in Acts 10 and 11 where he says: ‘Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness is accepted with him.’  Thus the Gospel liberates both Jews and Gentiles and gives them freedom to know God personally.

It is commonly believed that Luke was an early convert to Christianity in the city of Antioch in Syria. This city was the second great centre for the Christian faith as recorded in the book of Acts.  Jerusalem was the first important centre for the faith and saw the growth of an enormous church which followed the 3000 who were converted after Peter’s great Pentecostal sermon mentioned in Acts 2. However, that church was solely a Jewish church. It was not made up of Gentiles, except those who may have already converted to Judaism and who were therefore already proselyte Jews.

The second great centre for the Christian faith was Antioch with a church which was ‘mixed’. It was made up of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ and unfortunately this caused some tension and difficulty which Barnabas and the apostle Paul helped to resolve.  The essential difficulty was that the central truth of Christianity was startlingly revolutionary to the Jewish mind, because the Gospel teaches that both Jews and Gentiles come to God on the same basis, namely faith in Christ. Each can know God directly through Christ. In the past the Jews had taught that to know God a Gentile had to first of all become a Jew and then he or she could know God. So the Gospel produced a sweeping and comprehensive change to that thinking, but sadly time and time again Judaism would raise its head in the early church and its insidious effects had to be countered at all costs.  The New Testament book of Galatians deals in great detail with this whole issue, and we can thank God today that people, like the apostle Paul, were courageous enough to face this issue, enabling men and women everywhere to come into contact directly with the living God through faith in Christ. So the Christian church sees no national, tribal, linguistic or cultural barriers, we are all united as one within the body of Christ, which is His church.      

In addition to being a Gentile, Luke was a well educated person. To be educated is a very good thing, though some Christians are reluctant to encourage their young people to go to universities. They feel that such places put too much pressure upon young Christians who may lose faith through encountering criticism and cynicism. This is possibly a problem for some, but it can also strengthen faith for when Christianity is fully analysed its solid foundations in truth, evidence and consistency are uncovered and made abundantly clear.  In fact many young people have been challenged by the Gospel and entered into a living relationship with the Lord during their years at university or college. A more serious potential danger is that the educated person with good qualifications may develop pride and arrogance which may hinder good relations with others and weaken the work of the local church. Such a danger must be guarded against.

Yet, on the whole, education is good because it enables people to think creatively, to express themselves intelligently and concisely, to analyse properly and consistently and to extend their understanding and knowledge. When that is placed at the disposal of God it can be used to very rich and great blessing. That was certainly true of Luke. He poured his abilities, gifts, qualifications and education into the work of God.

It is clear that Luke was a well-educated Greek who had a particularly fine literary style and Greek scholars highlight his excellent writing gift. Luke’s writings flow. They are not ponderous or clumsy and even in translation there is a compelling element to his writing.

Not only was Luke a good writer, but he also used his educated mind as a historian. His two New Testament books are primarily historical accounts. The Gospel is the history of the life and ministry of Jesus, while the Acts is the history of the early church, and through these writings Luke is revealed as a historian of real integrity.

Sir William Ramsey an archaeologist writes: “Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness…Luke is a historian of the first rank: not only are his statements of fact trustworthy, but he is possessed of the true historic sense.”  That is high praise indeed. What I think he means by ‘true historic sense’ is that Luke understood the flow of history.  In Britain most of us are familiar with the date 1066. We know that the Battle of Hastings took place in that year. William the Conqueror defeated Harold in that battle and led the Norman invasion of Britain, which is the last invasion these islands have experienced. We are familiar with the date, but we don’t know what happened in China in 1066, or in Africa, or in the rest of Europe; or what happened in Britain before 1066 or in the centuries afterwards. We may know the date, but don’t have a feel or understanding for the flow of historical events. Luke had that understanding and places events and happenings in their right context and so is revealed as a historian of first rank.

F.F. Bruce has further enlarged upon this point and has written: “Luke’s pages are full of references to provincial governors and client kings.  A historian who does this sort of thing must do it carefully if he does not wish to be exposed as inaccurate; Luke emerges from the severest test with flying colours.”  This is a remarkable commendation because those governors and client kings may have occupied their positions for only limited periods of time, in some cases only a matter of months or just a few years.  Their replacements did not necessarily have the same title and it would have been extremely easy to be confused and make mistakes.  Luke must have taken the trouble and a great deal of trouble to discover the facts and then wrote a comprehensive, accurate and orderly account of early Christianity. So in addition to being a wonderful writer, Luke was also an outstanding historian.

As well as being a writer and a historian, Luke was also a trained doctor. In fact Paul refers to him as ‘the beloved physician’ in Colossians 4:14. Luke as a medical practitioner naturally was not trained with the sophistication and specialism of twentieth century medical schools, but his qualifications were not as primitive as some would think. He would have followed in the footsteps of the great Greek physician called Hippocrates (from which the medical profession has its Hippocratic Oath) and he would undoubtedly be well trained in diagnosis and herbal medicines including the best treatments of his day.

He seems to have acted as a sort of personal physician to the apostle Paul, who does not appear to have been particularly healthy. In fact Paul’s health appears to have been extremely suspect, because when he talked of his ‘thorn in the flesh’ he was very likely speaking of a particular illness. Paul mentions that on three occasions when it seemed that the pain became intolerable and unbearable he cried out to God for deliverance from that ‘thorn’, but the Lord said: ‘My grace is sufficient for you’. At such times we could imagine Luke coming into his own as he medically cared for the apostle, and helped him through the intensity of pain and sickness.   

It is also of interest to note that in Acts 28 Paul and his companions (which included Luke) were shipwrecked on the island of Malta. Paul, through the power of the Lord, healed the father of Publius, the leading man on the island. In Acts 28:8 we read: ‘Paul entered in, prayed, and laid his hands on him and healed him’. The Greek word translated ‘healed’ in that verse means ‘instantaneous healing’. This was a wonderful miracle of immediate healing after Paul had prayed and laid his hands upon the sick man.

The result of that miracle was that other people on the island with illnesses came for healing and the very next verse, Acts 28:9 reads: ‘..others also which had diseases in the island came and were healed.’ Now the Greek word translated as ‘healing’ in this verse does not mean ‘instantaneous healing’ but means a process, a prolonged period of recovery. In fact the Greek word is the root for our English word ‘therapy’. If this is so, then we can imagine Luke taking the primary role in caring medically for the sick. The doctor able to practice his calling.

Luke was a man of wonderful gifts and abilities. He was well educated with a fine writing style, he was a historian of great integrity and a doctor who cared for others. A gifted man able to contribute to the work of God and help in the proclamation of the Gospel.

We may not be as well qualified as Luke. We may say, ‘I am no writer’, ‘I am no historian’, ‘I am no doctor’; ‘never mind being all three, as he was!’ Yet we are not called to be Luke, we are who we are. God has given us our particular gifts and abilities and we must utilise them in the service of the Lord. We must be like Luke in attitude, an attitude which says to God, ‘all that I am is yours and all my gifts and abilities are yielded for your service.’ Like Luke we must place all our gifts at the disposal of the Lord.

So we come to the third great characteristic of Luke. So far we have seen that he was a Gentile and that he was well educated. We must now focus upon the fact, the obvious fact, that he was a Christian. He knew the Lord personally in his life and had committed himself in totality to the Saviour and His service.

We can observe three features about Luke which reveal his Christian faith: his devotion, his hard work and his humility.

So firstly, he was devoted to the Lord, to his fellow workers and to the ministry of proclaiming the Gospel. He joined the missionary party on the second journey of Paul and we can plot Luke’s movements in the book of Acts through the three great sections which are called ‘us’ or ‘we’ passages. In these sections of the book, Luke moves from the third person plural where he uses ‘they’ or ‘them’ to the first person plural ‘we’ or ‘us’ This is powerful evidence that he joined the missionary group, and so during those times he was personally involved in all that took place and thus was able to write from first-hand, eyewitness experience.

These three passages in Acts are as follows: 16:10 – 17; 20:5 – 21:18; 27:1 – 28:16.

These sections plot the fact that Luke joined the second missionary journey at Troas and went on to Philippi. He stayed there while the apostle Paul and Silas went on, and then Luke rejoined them on the third missionary journey at Philippi and went with them to Jerusalem.  Finally, he sailed with the apostle (who was now a prisoner) on the last journey from Caesarea to Rome.

Luke’s devotion to the Lord was seen in his devotion to his fellow missionaries. It was a devotion which never wavered and he stayed with the apostle Paul to the end. Indeed when Paul wrote his final epistle, namely 2 Timothy, he says ‘Only Luke is with me.’ (4:11). Paul wrote that final epistle from a prison cell in Rome and it is full of pathos as the apostle did not expect release, except through execution. An execution which seemed imminent as he dictated the letter, for he wrote: ‘the time of my departure is at hand’. It seems that he could have been put to death at any moment. What makes the epistle even sadder is that Paul writes of fellow Christians who could have stood with him and spoken in his defence in the court case. However, instead of standing with him they remained silent and some even spoke out against him as they joined the opposition. His heart must have been broken by such desertion, but Luke devotedly stood with him and gave him great encouragement.

Luke may have written the defence papers which could later have been developed into the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. He may also have spoken on the apostle’s behalf before the emperor. It would have all been a risky business for Luke, because to be a friend of a prisoner of Rome, was to be considered an enemy of Rome. Luke was putting his own life in jeopardy by standing with the apostle, but that was the measure of his devotion. Loyalty to the Lord was reflected in his loyalty to the Lord’s servants. No wonder he was so deeply loved. Do we show loyalty and devotion on this sort of scale?

In addition to his devotion, Luke was also hard working. Certainly as a missionary he bore up well under the rigours of itinerant life. Like the others he would have faced dangers, persecution, shipwreck and the pain of walking weary miles to tell people the message of the Gospel. He seems to have never shrunk from such hard physical work.

Yet he also had a great capacity for hard mental work. He had wonderful powers of concentration. It would not have been an easy task to write two of the most substantial books of the New Testament. He would have had to painstakingly gather the material, check it constantly for accuracy, interview witnesses and cross-check accounts. He undoubtedly wrote and re-wrote the material until he gave us the two polished volumes which are now incorporated in the text of Scripture. Of course it was all under the hand of the Lord, but Luke’s style and painstaking hard work is there for everyone to witness.

Luke’s name does not appear in the two books he penned and though this fact raised no questions about his authorship for hundreds of years, in more modern times some have seized upon it to raise doubts about the authorship of Luke. Such doubts have tended to arise from what is known as ‘Higher Criticism’ which tends to be a destructive approach to Scripture. Its basis seems to be that the Bible is not the revelation of God but merely a human book and is therefore subject to mistakes, errors and inaccuracies.  True Christians affirm the divine inspiration, revelation, authority and reliability of the Bible as the Word of God. This is not simply blind acceptance but is based upon the accuracy, consistency and effective working of the message of the Bible in all who believe.

We come back to the question. Did Luke write the Gospel which bears his name, together with the book of Acts? Firstly, we can say that the introductions to both books are so similar that certainly the same person wrote them. The Gospel seems to be part one, while the Acts is part two of a treatise written for a person called Theophilus. That might be so, but was that author Luke? All traditions of the church from ancient times affirm that Luke was the author. Also the internal evidence of the books such as style, content and even evidence of medical insights suggests very strongly that Luke was the writer. Also it is particularly difficult to suggest an alternative to this educated Greek as the writer. The obvious conclusion that fits the evidence is that Luke wrote these two books, and great efforts would have been expended by him to produce them. All Christians are called to serve the Lord and work hard, so Luke should not be considered exceptional in this respect. Do we work hard for the Lord?

So Luke was both devoted to the Lord, as well as extremely hard working in his service for Christ, and thirdly, he was humble. This is clearly seen by the fact that he keeps in the background and never allows the spotlight to fall upon himself. His primary goal was always to draw attention to the Saviour, the Lord Jesus and to the message of the Gospel. That was the message which went around the ancient world like a tidal wave bringing a spiritual, social and moral revolution with it. When the focus comes upon people it is never upon Luke, he finds no room for boasting or pride, but he reveals the work of others and especially that of his fellow missionaries.

It is important to be humble. Yet we must say that to be humble is not the same as having an inferiority complex. Christians are not called to view themselves as inferior but they are expected to be humble. Inferiority decries self and considers self to be so worthless and useless that nothing is attempted and all is negative.  To be humble on the other hand is to realise that God has given us a work to do and given us gifts to fulfil those tasks. However, though we are willing to serve Him, we recognise that we can achieve absolutely nothing without the Lord’s help and resources. So we serve Him prayerfully and in dependence upon His Holy Spirit and realise that of ourselves we could never achieve anything of eternal worth or blessing.

God could use Luke and trust him in His service because he was humble. Luke does not appear to have been self-assertive, but quietly dependable and so Paul was able to describe him as a ‘fellow-worker’. (Philemon v.24). He was a worker, namely one who worked hard in the service of the Gospel, but he was more than that, he was a ‘fellow-worker’. This means that he could work with others, and so was capable of team effort. He did not ruffle feathers and did not allow himself to become bitter or upset. He recognised that his role was largely supportive, while the apostle Paul and Silas took the leading public role of speaking and ministry. Thus a great unity was engendered and the result was that the Lord was glorified. We might say to ourselves in the words of Jesus to the lawyer, ‘Go and do thou likewise’.

Luke is reputed to have died in Greece at the age of 84 and at that point he went to receive his reward from the Lord. This is what Peter wrote in his first epistle: ‘Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.’ (1 Peter 5:6)

Luke this humble man is now exalted in the glorious presence of Christ.

Luke was a well educated Gentile, who was a fine writer, a historian of great integrity and a well-qualified doctor. As a Christian he put those fine qualities to use in God’s service and showed true spiritual qualities of devotion, hard work and humility and as a result brought praise and glory to the name of Jesus Christ.

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