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window_pfcross271w St Mary the Virgin Gillingham DorsetBefore concluding my series on John 17, the following posts about Holy Saturday might interest newer subscribers:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Now for the third and final part of John 17, Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer. You might wish to read Parts 1 and 2, if you haven’t already.

He has already prayed for Himself in advance of the Crucifixion and for His disciples in His absence.

Today’s passage is Jesus’s prayer for us. Emphases mine below.

20“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

If those words do not encourage one to repent, I’m not sure what will.

How marvellous that the Holy Spirit inspired John to include this beautiful prayer in his Gospel, my favourite.

Verses 20 and 21 tells us that not only does Jesus wish for holy unity among His disciples, He desires it for us as well.

That holy unity with each other is not a oneness with lukewarm believers or those in error, by the way. John MacArthur explains:

He’s not praying that some day all denominations will get together and we’ll have one big ecumenical hash. He’s not praying that we’ll have one-world church, as some have thought. He’s simply praying that believers who share common eternal life, the very life of God dwelling in them, will be united in their separation from all that is ungodly and worldly…expressing spiritual love and power and obedience, all affections for God burning with the same flame, all aims directed at the same end, all pursuing the harmony of love and holiness.

Jesus goes on to say that He has shared His own glory with us (verse 22) and He prays that God will unite us ‘perfectly’ with Himself and Jesus, just as they have been perfectly one since before the beginning of the world (verses 23 and 24). That glory enables us to manifest to the world that Christ is our Redeemer and Saviour.

Jesus says that those who believe in Him know that He is the Son of God (verse 25). He has accomplished this during His earthly ministry, now at an end, and will continue to do so afterward (verse 26).

Jesus expresses His enduring, generous love for us in this marvellous prayer. This love is so deep, abiding and comprehensive that we will never be able to appreciate it until we meet Him face to face, sharing His glory.

This is what the Holy Week, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost story is all about. Many of us can hardly wait to be in His presence and give God all glory. And one day we will.

John MacArthur unpacks these verses for us:

This praying first for our holiness, our oneness in holiness even as the Father and the Son are one in holiness. But secondly, He prays for our eternal fellowship with Him. And this is this most overwhelming thing. This is how the whole prayer ends. It really is overwhelming. “Father, I desire that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am.” I mean, there aren’t even too many famous people in this world who are interested in having us around, are they? We’re not many noble, not many mighty. Nobody in the palaces of the world is calling me. Nobody in the Oval Office ever calls me. Nobody in the Supreme Court wants to run around with me. Nobody is interested in most of us. In fact, I guess in some ways we’re sort of the dregs, aren’t we? Especially in this culture we live in today. Is it not remarkable that the glorious Son of the living God prays to His Father that He might have us with Him? Is that not a staggering thing, an overwhelming request? He asks for the Father to grant the eternal presence of all of us with Him …

He’s anticipating the time on the cross and He’s going to be going through the sin bearing and the suffering and He’s really just saying to the Father, “Hang on to them while I’m gone for a while. And, Lord, bring them to glory, I don’t want to lose any of them. Bring them to that place where they’ll trade this vile body for a body like unto His body.” We will have a body like Jesus Christ, reflecting His glory. To be with Jesus, that’s heaven, that’s heaven. To gaze at His glory, that’s heaven. That’s what it is …

And lastly, the final two verses, verses 25 and 26 … 

These two verses just breathe the confidence that the Father will listen, that the Father will hear. He said, “I’m only asking for those who know You. I’m only asking for those who are Yours. I have known You,” and that’s the basis for asking, “and these have known You,” and that’s the basis for the petition and the blessing.

Here is a perfect illustration of prayer. He knows the will of God and He prays for it. Prayer is not so much about changing God’s mind about things as it is affirming God’s will. That’s why we pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come…and the next line says…Thy…what?…will be done.” I tell you, when we think about the Lord interceding for us, it is a staggering thing. And the Son always prays like the Spirit, according to the will of God and the Father will always answer.

As I mentioned in my first two posts on John 17, MacArthur has preached extensively about this one chapter in 1972, 1997 and again in 2002. He has several lengthy sermons on this great prayer.

As generous as this prayer is, it is meant for those who truly believe in Christ. MacArthur warns:

And when it says in verse 20: “Who shall believe on Me,” in that word “Me” is everything that Jesus claimed to be and everything that He said … believing in the total content of Christ. The only way a man ever enters into a right relationship with God is by believing in Christ. I don’t care if he goes to church or does this or does that or has religious feelings, it’s only through believing in Christ, accepting His person, His work and everything He said as fact revelation direct from God. Good works, church membership and anything else have absolutely nothing to do with it.

Now pardon for sin, for example, comes by believing. The Bible says that man is a sinner and consequently will pay the penalty, but Christ comes along and pardons His sin by dying on the cross and bearing the penalty Himself. How do you gain this pardon? You gain this pardon by doing something? No. Acts 10:43 says: “Through His name whosoever believeth on Him shall receive remission of sin.” Pardon comes by believing.

The Bible also talks about the fact that a man can be made just before God. You’re dragged into the court of God, God says you’re a sinner, you’re a sinner, you’re a sinner every way you look at it you’re a sinner, every way you slice it, it comes out sin, from the beginning to the end of your life you’re a sinner. How in the world are you ever going to enter into His presence? Well, God has the right to declare you righteous by virtue of what Jesus did for you. But in order to receive that righteousness and be declared just, Acts 13:39 says: “By Him all that believe are righteous.” It is by doing what that we receive righteousness? By believing. You don’t earn it.

The Bible talks about the fact that God wants to make men His children, that He wants to make us sons of God, adopting us into His family. How do you ever get to be adopted into God’s family? How do you become a child of God? John 1:12: “To as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to be called the sons of God, even to them that do what? … believe on His name.”

The Bible talks about spiritual light that is available. How do you get spiritual light to understand spiritual truth? Jesus said: “Whosoever believeth in Me shall not walk in … what? … darkness.” Believing.

The Bible says that God has made available to men peace and joy. How do you get it? Romans 15:13: “Now the God of hope fill you with all peace and joy in believing.” It’s there all the way through the New Testament. Salvation is a matter of believing.

I hope this short series helps to make the Holy Week and Easter story clearer and Jesus Christ more relevant to us.

May we use the time from Easter to Pentecost to contemplate Christ’s immense and eternal love for us. May we turn from sin by asking for more divine grace and profound faith.

Happy Easter to you all!

 

 

Stained glass cross turbophotocom imagesCAGIG2KHBefore I continue with a miniseries on John 17, newer subscribers might find the following posts about Good Friday helpful:

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

Meditations on the Cross

Reflections on the Crucifixion

Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the false views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the true views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the comfort

Incidentally, our Lord’s Crucifixion date showed up in a news email I receive from the French site l’Internaute. It was in their ‘on this day in history’ section. The actual date was April 7, 30 AD.

Now on to today’s topic, which relates to Good Friday, that of John 17 — Christ’s High Priestly Prayer with which He concluded the Last Supper.

Yesterday’s post began a three-part study of this prayer which He prayed before going with the remaining eleven Apostles to await His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Up to now, Jesus had protected His followers from harm. However, now was His time — as God preordained from the beginning and prophesied in the Old Testament — to die an excruciating death on the Cross for our sins.

The High Priestly Prayer is the only example we have of how Jesus communicated directly with His Father. And, despite the fact that both are divine and have been forever, Jesus still prayed.

Perhaps John included this beautiful and perfect prayer in his Gospel to give us that example in detail. As Christ prayed, so shall we.

This prayer is divided into three parts. The first five verses are Jesus’s prayer for Himself as he meets His Crucifixion. The next several verses — 6 to 19 — are His prayer for the Apostles and disciples now and as they establish the Church.

The third part — covered tomorrow — is His prayer for us.

Today’s entry concentrates on verses 11 – 19, a continuation of His prayer for the disciples. Emphases mine below:

11And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Jesus acknowledges that His time on earth is coming to an end (verse 11). For that reason, he prays that God protects His followers and keeps them unified in glorifying Him and holy love (verse 11).

Jesus proclaims that He was a faithful shepherd and lost only the one Apostle in name only — Judas — but says that this was part of His Father’s plan as unveiled in the Old Testament (verse 12).

Verse 13 is particularly striking. He wants His followers to experience His own sense of joy in God.

He goes on to state that His disciples are in the world but not of it and, to this end, preserve them from the snares of Satan (verse 15).

He also asks God to keep them holy, following His word — ‘truth’ (verse 17) — during their ministry (verse 18).

In the final verse — 19 — He says that he must set Himself apart — ‘consecrate’ Himself — by dying so that the people God gave Him can be redeemed eternally.

John MacArthur unpacks the verses at length in several sermons from 1972, 1997 and 2002. One of his sentences sums this passage up beautifully:

What He’s really praying for is this…I want them to continue to radiate My glory even when I’m not there. And that is what He prayed for. He prayed that we would manifest the glory of Jesus Christ even in His absence. The glory of God was revealed in Christ on earth and when He left, Jesus said I want My glory revealed in My church, in My disciples, in My people.

Even though His prayer for us comes later in the chapter, we, too, can derive comfort from His intercession for the disciples.

Those of us who went to Catholic or Protestant schools probably remember teachers, religious and clergy telling us to do everything well ‘for His glory’. Some of us probably took it the wrong way from time to time asking why we had to slave for God. Yet, Jesus’s entire life on earth was lived beginning to end ‘for His glory’. And if Jesus felt such a deep desire to please His Father, shouldn’t we in our Christian walk?

In another sermon, MacArthur discusses what this entails:

we have a divine call to holiness. We, in answer to the prayer of Jesus Christ, must radiate holiness. As an individual, I gain it through the Word. And then as we all grow in the Word, there becomes a oneness of holiness that stands as a testimony in the world. I pray, God, that will be our testimony.

He also tells us what this does not entail, contrary to some denominational beliefs:

God wants faith. God does not want your works, He does not want your religion, He does not want your piousity, that’s, you know, being super religious, you all know that. He does not want your activity; He does not want your membership in the church. He wants your faith commitment to the person of Jesus Christ. And that’s the only kind of person who ever knows God, who ever knows Christ and that’s the only person for whom Jesus intercedes. There are a lot of religious people but they are not those for whom Jesus prays. To be a part of Jesus’ intercessory work, you must believe.

As for the unity and oneness which Jesus prayed the disciples would have, MacArthur says:

there’s an element of this prayer that was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit came and indwelt every believer and continues to do so that we share one common eternal life. There is a spiritual unity that did come to pass in direct answer to this prayer. But I think more than that it’s oneness of a separated body of those who belong to God. It’s a oneness of separation from the world, that we would be one body opposed to the world.

He’s not praying that some day all denominations will get together and we’ll have one big ecumenical hash. He’s not praying that we’ll have one-world church, as some have thought. He’s simply praying that believers who share common eternal life, the very life of God dwelling in them, will be united in their separation from all that is ungodly and worldly…expressing spiritual love and power and obedience, all affections for God burning with the same flame, all aims directed at the same end, all pursuing the harmony of love and holiness.

That’s an essential takeaway message from Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

So often, by the end of Lent, we wonder why we made our voluntary effort for personal sacrifices or extra devotions. Easter comes and a week later, it’s all forgotten for another year.

I think of it differently. Perhaps you also share this outlook. Each Lent to me represents a chance to build up faith and holiness — it’s a concentrated, dedicated time of focus, prayer and private contemplation whilst going about our daily lives.

Each Lent gives us a marvellous time to step back, take stock and pray for more faith, holiness and oneness. It’s a chance to ask the Holy Spirit for more fortitude or wisdom, to ask Jesus to make us more like He is, to ask God for more of His divine grace. All those together — and there are millions of more requests like these — enable us to build our path of sanctification.

That path, bearing the fruits of our faith, will never be completed in this life, but, with the help of the Holy Trinity, may it lead ever heavenward with fewer regrets on our part as we take our last breaths here on earth.

In our final moments, may we say that we, albeit imperfectly, lived for His glory.

Stained glass cross crown 3rexesblogspotcomBefore exploring John 17, what follows are my past posts on Maundy (or Holy) Thursday. They explain the events and traditions surrounding the Last Supper in which Christ instructed us to commemorate His Body and Blood through consecrated bread and wine:

‘One of you will betray Me’

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper: Jesus’s words of comfort (John 14, mentions the divine mystery which is the Holy Trinity)

John MacArthur on Passover as celebrated at the Last Supper

What is Tenebrae?

What is the Triduum?

Now on to a unique chapter in the New Testament, John 17, which reveals how Jesus prayed to His Father.

We often read that Jesus prayed to Him, but often we have only a statement that He did so or a brief prayer of a verse or two. Of course, we have His Lord’s Prayer for our use, however, John 17, the High Priestly Prayer, gives us the fullest sense of how Christ communicated with God during His time on earth.

As there is much to look at here via John MacArthur’s many sermons on this chapter through the years (1972, 1997 and 2002), it is best covered in three parts. Emphases mine below.

The first is Jesus’s prayer for Himself and a review of His earthly ministry. He said these words after a long discourse and discussion at the Last Supper (John 13 through John 16):

1When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

 6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.

Verses 1 – 5

In the first five verses Jesus prays for Himself. He knows His Crucifixion is approaching (verse 1), but instead of praying for the ability of enduring unimaginable pain through scourging, piercing and hanging on the Cross, He instead prays for the ability to glorify God on this fateful day (verse 2).

Jesus knew He would die crucified. Of this, there was no doubt or no ‘plan gone wrong’. This is what He was sent to accomplish.

Note that He is also aware that it is time for Him to shortly rejoin His Father in heaven and regain the glory they shared together ‘before the world existed’ (verse 5). John includes this in the opening verses of his Gospel (John 1:1-3):

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Also notice that in verse 2 Jesus specifically mentions the granting of eternal life to all whom God has given to Him. Therefore, not everyone will be saved, only those whom God has given to Jesus Christ. He refers to this again in the next several verses.

John 6 tells us that Jesus also talks about this in verses  37-40:

37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me,that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

John MacArthur unpacks these first five verses for us in light of the Crucifixion:

To men the cross appears as an instrument of shame, to Christ it meant glory … glory … glory. And so He says, look at it — verse 1, “The hour is come,” what’s the next statement? What’s the next word? “Glorify Thy Son.” How are You going to do that? How You going … to lift Him up and make Him king of Israel? How [are] You going to glorify the Son? How was He glorified? On a cross, wasn’t He?

Now, it seems strange because from a human viewpoint you’d think He would say — Father, exalt Me now to some great role of rule in the world. If it was real glory why you wouldn’t think it would have anything to do with suffering, but it does. Because, you see, the glory came in the purchase of eternal life and the purchase of eternal life depended upon death and so He had to die. And so, Jesus is simply saying – Father, grant that by means of this event, My death … and you must include death, resurrection, ascension and coronation all in it … that by means of this event I may be glorified.

Now, to glorify God or to glorify Christ means to render what is due because of the glory of His attributes. Because of who He is and because of the display of all of His attributes it is to render Him the honor that He is due. And so Christ is simply saying — Father, let’s get at it so I can display these attributes and receive the honor that is due. The cross was glory for Jesus.

Now some have said — Well, Jesus had an ego problem. And He was very selfish. He was saying — Glorify Me. But if you look at the verse again you’ll see that that’s not the case. It says this: “Glorify Thy Son — hina– in order that Thy Son also … what? … may glorify Thee.” See, He didn’t even have Himself in view. He had the Father’s glory in view. And what’s the key to the whole universe? The glory of God.

In another sermon on John 17, MacArthur explains:

God planned into His master plan, the death of Jesus Christ who atoned for the sins of the world. That makes the men who did it no less responsible for their own guilt and their own hate and their own unbelief. But God had designed the death of Christ as a part of His plan. He was born to die.

Why, you read Isaiah 53 and you’ll read the details of His death. You read Psalm 22; centuries before He was ever born, and it gives explicit instruction about what He’s going to say when He’s hanging on the cross, the very words are there. It was no accident when Jesus went to the cross, no accident at all. The cross and all the events ignited by the cross, the resurrection, the ascension and the coronation of Christ and His second coming even, all of those events ignited by the cross were planned by God before the world began, it was no accident. The sovereign God of history said it would happen, prophesied throughout the entire Old Testament that it would happen and it happened. The cross was no accident. Jesus Christ was not just a self-styled martyr dying as an example of a guy who thought something was right and willing to give His life for it. He died as one foreordained before the world began to bear the sins of the world.

Verses 6 – 10

In verses 6 – 19, Jesus prays for His disciples. We’ll look at verses 11-19 tomorrow.

The message here is that Jesus has worked with the people God gave Him. Early in His ministry, Jesus prayed in isolation to make the right choice when selecting His Apostles; here, He acknowledges God gave those men to Him. In turn, Jesus taught them as His Father wished and revealed God to them through Himself.

He also tells God that the men have been faithful to His teachings. He knows — and we know through the Gospels — that they were not perfect, but they attempted to be, with the exception of Judas Iscariot. And God planned Judas’s betrayal, too.

MacArthur explains the difference between the Apostles and the disciples:

as Jesus prays for His disciples, that it is a very specific prayer, He’s praying for the eleven Apostles and for the few disciples that were also with Him. Now you know that there’s a difference between an apostle and a disciple. There are only eleven Apostles plus Matthias who made up the twelfth [later in Acts], plus whom? Paul [also later in Acts]. But then they were specific. But of all of the others who believed in Him, they are all disciples. They are all disciples. Now apostles are also disciples, but not all disciples are apostles, there were only eleven plus Matthias, plus Paul. There are a total of thirteen if you want to include Judas in there; he was by name an apostle, not in fact.

All right, so you and I are disciples but we’re not apostles. Right? So, others who followed Jesus were disciples but they weren’t in that group that belonged to the Apostles.

Now, Jesus then in this prayer, verses 6 to 19, directs His thoughts to this little group of eleven plus the others who believed in Him. How many were there? We don’t know. Maybe 500, for that’s how many saw Him after His resurrection, there were 120 in the upper room praying together, waiting for the Spirit of God and so perhaps somewhere around 500 would be a maximum. Can you imagine the Son of God in human flesh, 33 years on the earth and when it was all over with, 500 believed? But Jesus was pleased because they were the 500 the Father gave Him, see. And they were the 500 who were about to do the impossible

You say — Well, He’s just specifically praying for them? Yes, but in a general sense you will see in this the pattern of His mediating work for all believers because it’s so … it’s so much the same for us. It’s very general.

Now, the disciples, as you know including the eleven and I’ll use the word disciples collectively to refer to all of them; the disciples had really depended upon Jesus Christ. So much so that the thought of losing Him paralyzed them, didn’t it? And He knew in His own heart that even with all the promises that He’d given them in the table-talks in chapter 14, 15 and 16, with all of those wonderful promises, it was really going to be trauma when it all finally broke and when they saw what happened, they were going to scatter as sheep just to the winds … when the shepherd was smitten. And He knew that. And He knew that it would hurt. And He knew that it was going to be a shock like no shock they had ever had. And so, He comes to the Father, not only does He lay on them all these promises one after the other, but He comes to the Father and He prays — Now, Father, make it all happen, care for them. I have to give them to You.

While He was going to go to the cross and bear the sins of the world, He committed them to the care of the Father, that’s essentially what we see here. And though Jesus had promised that He would return, in the form of the Holy Spirit, and that that would even be better because He would not be just with them, He’d be in them, though He had given them all kinds of promises He knew that they were still heading to a trial that would shatter them and so He now prays that the Father would keep them. He had always been their guide, He had always been their guardian, He’d always been their all-sufficient friend, He had borne their infirmities, He had upheld their weaknesses, He had protected them from evil. And He loves them with the fullest capacity of God to love, in the gentleness that is uniquely Jesus Christ; He gives the Father the task of caring for them while He goes to the cross to die for them. You know, you’d think that Jesus Christ somewhere along the line would get a little bit preoccupied with His own problem, but He never does. All He can think about is — Father, Listen, I love them so much I’m going to go die for them, and while I’m dying for them will You watch them?

Tomorrow: John 17:11-19

 

window_pfcross271w St Mary the Virgin Gillingham DorsetThe Revd Walter Bright has a concise post on seven types of prayer which is a marvellous apologetic for communicating with God.

As he says:

In short, prayer is not just asking and receiving from God it is life with God, intricate, deep, living, a thing not only to enjoyed – but also understood.

In an age where many of us are reluctant to pray because it’s ‘boring’ or ‘time consuming’, Mr Bright offers good reasons to pray. Here are two (emphases in the original):

1. The Prayer of Praise. Verse 13… “you should sing praises” Somebody once said, “praise is the plow that prepares the heart for the planting of the promises of God.” In Acts 16:18-30, Paul and Silas experienced its power when they decided to life up a praise in their midnight hour of chains and pain.

6. The Prayer of Labor. Verse 16… “The fervent prayer.” Thomas B. Brooks once said that “the best prayers often have more groans than words.” 2 Corinthians 11:27; Isaiah 66:7, 8.

I would suggest an eighth — The Prayer of Thanksgiving — especially for good (or bearable!) outcomes from stressful or life-changing events. Exams, surgical procedures, financial worries, moving house and new jobs spring to mind. Supporting verses include Psalm 95:2-3, Psalm 28:7 and Psalm 106:1.

So often we wonder, ‘Why doesn’t God help me?’ Two reasons might account for that. One, we don’t talk to Him through prayer nearly enough. Two, we might be ignoring Him when He is trying to get through to us.

The more we pray, the more we appreciate God’s grace, the Holy Spirit’s guidance and Jesus as our only Mediator and Advocate.

One of my favourite Episcopal priests, the Revd Matt Kennedy of Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, NY, had another excellent post on Stand Firm.

Kennedy’s ‘The Perfect Agony’ explores the dichotomy between experiencing happiness in the Lord and the fear as well as the sorrow which accompany significant events in our lives. He uses as his text Mark 14:32-42.

Christians read and hear much about the potential pitfalls of experiencing negative emotions. As Kennedy says (emphases mine):

… this is a hard text for many American evangelical Christians who have been taught that God became incarnate to give us happy lives and therefore any lack of joy, peace, and/or happiness is the result of some kind of faith deficiency. But Jesus, the sinless lamb, experienced emotional turmoil on a level unknown to any other human being. And he wasn’t doing anything wrong.

Citing a real life example — one which is typical in every congregation — Kennedy describes how the more a cancer sufferer he knew (in another church) heard happy verses parroted from the New Testament, the worse she felt.

He explains:

The problem is ours. We read scripture emotively. Paul says: “rejoice.” We think: feel happy. James says: “Count it all joy”. We think: feel joyful. John says “love casts out fear” we think: If feel love I won’t feel fear. Jesus says: don’t worry. We think: I mustn’t feel worry.

No. God doesn’t say to the mourner, the frightened, the anxious: Don’t feel emotion. He says: Don’t let sorrow, fear, worry, rule you as if they were your gods. You have One God, And I’m greater than your emotions. Let me bear them with you. Come to me. (Matthew 11:28)

Therefore, it is perfectly normal to fear and to grieve. It is normal to experience the panoply of negative feelings, such as loneliness and the blues. However, as with so many other things, it depends on how we treat these feelings. Will we be enslaved to them or will we use those experiences as an opportunity to pray to the living God for help and guidance?

What Kennedy says has implications regarding how we minister to our fellow Christians, including those facing death. Instead of sounding glib by prooftexting, we might well advise prayers for emotional strength during difficult, seemingly impossible times.

One wonders whether reading the New Testament emotionally is a 20th and 21st century trend. I do not recall my parents or grandparents understanding it as such. My grandparents’ generation born in the 1890s would have been used to infant mortality. For my parents’ age cohorts, living to 75 and beyond was an achievement. The deaths which, today, we would consider premature were an occasion for family and friends to pray fervently (a popular word at the time) whilst feeling sorrowful.

Strangely, few of them lost their faith. Churches were full.

These days, instead of looking for wisdom in the New Testament, many of us disregard it. Again, as Kennedy says, it’s all in the way we read it. If we mistakenly read it as an emotional self-help manual — ‘if I really loved, I wouldn’t feel afraid’ — we’re bound to be disappointed, even angry.

Perhaps it is time for us to focus more on God in times of need, when we need to overcome a devastating situation. May we ask Him for help, for grace, for comfort. He will provide.

28But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.  (Luke 12:28-31)

Bible readingContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 5:12-16

Jesus Cleanses a Leper

 12While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 13And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 15 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

—————————————————————————

Before going into today’s miracle, it might be useful to recap the past few passages from Luke’s Gospel.

In Luke 4, Jesus drove the demon out of a man at the synagogue in Capernaum then adjourned to Simon’s house, where He healed the future Apostle’s ailing mother-in-law. When Sabbath ended that day, families brought their infirm relatives to Him for healing. The following day, Jesus left the city to seek solitude. The people from Capernaum begged Him to stay, but He told them He had other places to visit in order to ‘preach the good news of the kingdom of God’.

As Luke 5 opens (a Lectionary reading, incidentally), Jesus was preaching ‘the word of God’ (Luke 5:1) along the shores of the lake of Gennesaret — the Sea of Galilee. As the crowd was too great for Him to be seen and heard, He got into Simon’s fishing boat and urged him to sail a distance from the shore to better address those who had come to hear Him. Afterward, He told Simon to cast his net into the water to catch fish. Simon objected; he had already gone fishing there the night before and caught nothing. However, Simon relented and cast his net. The resulting catch was so great that it began to sink not only Simon’s boat but that of his partners, brothers James and John. Simon sensed his own sinfulness at the wonder of this miracle and told Jesus he was not worthy of being in His presence. Yet, Jesus told his new Apostle not to fear; soon he would be a fisher of men. This is Luke’s account of Jesus’s taking on three Apostles, who ‘left everything and followed him’ (Luke 5:11).

This brings us to today’s account of the leper who humbly asked Jesus to heal him. Whilst this is a creative miracle in that He made the man new again, it is also a call for us to recognise our sin and ask for spritual cleansing, particularly in light of Peter’s recognition of his own sinfulness just a few verses before. Matthew Henry describes it this way (emphases mine):

What we must do in the sense of our spiritual leprosy. (1.) We must seek Jesus, enquire after him, acquaint ourselves with him, and reckon the discoveries made to us of Christ by the gospel the most acceptable and welcome discoveries that could be made to us. (2.) We must humble ourselves before him, as this leper, seeing Jesus, fell on his face. We must be ashamed of our pollution, and, in the sense of it, blush to lift up our faces before the holy Jesus. (3.) We must earnestly desire to be cleansed from the defilement, and cured of the disease, of sin, which renders us unfit for communion with God. (4.) We must firmly believe Christ’s ability and sufficiency to cleanse us: Lord, thou canst make me clean, though I be full of leprosy. No doubt is to be made of the merit and grace of Christ. (5.) We must be importunate in prayer for pardoning mercy and renewing grace: He fell on his face and besought him; they that would be cleansed must reckon it a favour worth wrestling for. (6.) We must refer ourselves to the good-will of Christ: Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst. This is not so much the language of his diffidence, or distrust of the good-will of Christ, as of his submission and reference of himself and his case to the will, to the good-will, of Jesus Christ.

Verse 12 tells us that the leper approached Jesus in one of the Galilean cities. According to law, lepers were required to live outside the city limits in order to not spread their contagion. John MacArthur said in his sermon that leprosy was really examined only in the second half of the 19th century thanks largely to Gerhard Hansen, a Norwegian epidemiologist. It is sometimes called Hansen’s Disease because of his efforts. It still exists today in the third world, principally in parts of Africa and southeast Asia. We are familiar with stories about skin lesions and extremities falling off, but leprosy also damages the nervous system. This causes a loss of feeling which can lead to other infirmities. MacArthur tells the story of a leper who went blind because, not being able to feel pain, he habitually washed his face in scalding water which eventually damaged his eyes permanently.

Now back to the leper before Jesus. He approached Him with deep humility: ‘he fell on his face’ (verse 12). Then he ‘begged’ Jesus, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean’. This was a broken man, indeed.

Note that Jesus responded immediately with a complete cure via touch (verse 13). This post describes how Jesus healed people — thoroughly, at once, with no recovery time.

Jesus then asked the man to observe Jewish law with regard to leprosy (verse 14). In Mosaic Law, lepers were required to fulfil certain obligations if they were healed. MacArthur describes them:

… if you have the time you might want to read through the thirteenth chapter of Leviticus and you will note there the careful way in which a person was to be diagnosed by the priests. Remember now, the priests were the officers of the theocracy. They were the senate and the congress and they were the governors and the mayors, they were the people who were the officials and at the inspections of people from the medical side to protect the society was to be done in front of the priests and prescriptions were given them in the thirteenth chapter of Leviticus as to how to conduct those kind of examinations. The worst situation, leprosy as we know it, Hansen’s Disease, caused for the person to be stamped “unclean.” In the forty-sixth verse of that chapter, Leviticus 13, this person shall remain unclean all the days in which he has the infection, he is unclean, he shall live alone, his dwelling shall be outside the camp. Immediate, permanent isolation unless in some rare conditions the disease abated and disappeared and they could be introduced back into society.

in Leviticus 14 when somebody did have the disease abated, when somebody through whatever means was cured of the disease, there was a process by which the person could enter back into society. They had to go back to the priest and it was an eight-day procedure that involved amazing rites of cleansing and sacrifice. And God through the machinations of all that ceremony that lasted eight days and all those sacrifices and all those purifications and blood was put on the right finger and the right ear of the individual, and all of that, all that was showing that as serious as the disease of leprosy was, a far more serious disease existed in the heart of man and that was sin. All that whole ceremonial system, all those sacrifices for all the various reasons that they were prescribed in Leviticus were pictures of sin and the need for the cure of the heart. So even in the Old testament leprosy was a picture of sin. And there were times when God actually gave people leprosy, Naaman the Syrian, Uzziah, the king 2 Chronicles 26, Azariah. And so, if you had leprosy not only did you have the most socially stigmatized disease possible, but you could also bear the stigma that maybe you had that disease because God had cursed you

Leviticus chapter 14 says this is what you have to do, it was the priests in chapter 13 who did the diagnosis and it is the priests in chapter 14 who have to affirm the cure. So He says, “Before you just go running off telling everybody, you need to do what’s right so that the healing can be affirmed and that you can have the certificate that was given at the end of the eight days.” It may well be that he had to go to Jerusalem for this, that would take a few days, a few days down, eight days there, a few days back. Not only would he be doing what the law of Moses prescribed and making a very important testimony to the priests about the power of Jesus, but he would be buying Jesus some time because a miracle of this massive kind would just generate more crowds, more people and become potentially debilitating for Jesus. The crowds were already so big He had to go off the shore in a boat or they would have pushed Him into the water, as you know. So He says don’t tell anybody, that’s so hard.

However, was there silence about this creative miracle afterward? No. Verse 15 relates that word went out far and wide about this miracle. Luke does not say by whom. Matthew Henry offered this analysis:

Though the leper should altogether hold his peace, yet the thing could not be hid, so much the more went there a fame abroad of him. The more he sought to conceal himself under a veil of humility, the more notice did people take of him; for honour is like a shadow, which flees from those that pursue it (for a man to seek his own glory is not glory), but follows those that decline it, and draw from it. The less good men say of themselves, the more will others say of them. But Christ reckoned it a small honour to him that his fame went abroad; it was much more so that hereby multitudes were brought to receive benefit by him. [1.] By his preaching. They came together to hear him, and to receive instruction from him concerning the kingdom of God. [2.] By his miracles. They came to be healed by him of their infirmities; that invited them to come to hear him, confirmed his doctrine, and recommended it.

MacArthur says that this leper was the same as in Mark 1:40-45. Note Mark’s statement that the man himself told others:

Jesus Cleanses a Leper

 40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44and said to him,  “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

Both accounts indicate a divine Jesus who, in His humanity, must have been drained of energy after a day of preaching and healing. We cannot imagine what that must have been like. The more we read the accounts of miracles and withdrawal, the more we can appreciate the loss of physical and spiritual energy Jesus must have felt.

It is no wonder then that Jesus needed to withdraw from time to time to pray (verse 16). He felt refreshed after time alone in prayer. So many of us are reluctant to communicate with God. Yet, our Lord found it restorative and the Gospels set His example as one for us to follow.

Henry offers us this advice:

Note, Secret prayer must be performed secretly; and those that have ever so much to do of the best business in this world must keep up constant stated times for it.

Next time: Luke 5:17-26

window_pfcross271w St Mary the Virgin Gillingham DorsetSome readers may be awaiting an operation in hospital.

Others might be suffering from depression or a downturn in fortune with regard to employment.

It is easy to allow these physical, mental and material factors to overshadow the big picture, especially with regard to faith.

The Revd Timothy Shockley Sr recently offered good advice about what we see in ourselves and the larger spiritual plane of faith:

We focus on our illnesses or the depressed thoughts that are weighing us down and neglect to mention the many blessings God has promised us. These promises have a much greater impact on our lives than our physical diseases and our emotional struggles. If someone asks you how you are doing, tell them that you’re blessed. You might not look like it, but God’s blessings are in you somewhere. And each time that you say you are blessed, the blessings within you grow. Eventually what you say and what you see will match …

“Faith is being sure of what [you] hope for and certain of what [you] do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

Too many of us are preoccupied by what we know to be tangible. When the tangible is negative, we often respond by neglecting prayer — our hotline to God and His Son. Instead, we navel gaze and put our faith in someone or something which can never match the blessings that grace and faith bring.

However, we cannot ‘feel better’ without asking for that increased grace and faith — God’s blessings.

Look at your blessings right now: living independently, a roof over your head, your family and friends — even the ability to surf the Net and communicate with others around the world.

We are blessed. Why don’t we believe it? Let’s not allow our temporal shadow to shade spiritual light.

As Pastor Shockley says, if we say (and believe) that we are blessed (instead of moaning), what we say and what we see will match.

Pray for faith. Pray for grace. Pray for blessings.

Believe and they will be yours.

Are some of us navel-gazing instead of helping to proclaim the Gospel?

No, we were not among the original eleven Apostles (Judas was out of the picture) to whom Jesus spoke these words (Matthew 28:16-20, emphases mine):

The Great Commission

 16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

No, not all of us are meant to be ordained. However, that does not absolve us from showing more of the Christian example in our speech and deeds.

Yesterday, I excerpted a sermon from the Revd P G Mathew, a former scientist turned Reformed clergyman. This is what he had to say about putting our own preoccupations aside more often and asking the Holy Spirit for guidance and fortitude as Christians:

What if you are already a Christian, but you have only been speaking about your cars, about your children, about your back pain–about everything else but the gospel of Jesus Christ? Would you this day determine and purpose to be filled with the Spirit so that you may proclaim Jesus Christ to a sinful person? Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to come upon you with such power and might that you may be filled and speak forth the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world. If you pray like this, God will help you. Amen.

That doesn’t mean we cannot talk about our personal lives or secular reflections, only that sometimes they can monopolise too much of our thoughts. And what we think about, we talk about.

What are people mainly hearing from or seeing in us? Our personal aches and pains, our materialism or the comforting life we live in Jesus Christ? One to ponder, especially during this lengthy season of Pentecost (‘Ordinary Time’, sadly, for post-Vatican II Catholics).

We live in a fallen world.

No matter how unbelievers try to paint things, we will not know a temporal utopia, either corporately or personally.

The academic year is drawing to a close for American students, some of whom are preparing for university in the autumn or for graduates looking for a job.

Anyone who has been through those experiences, no matter how long ago, remembers the associated vulnerability and anxiety.

Those going to university might well have received rejection letters from some institutions before getting the prized acceptance envelope. Some might wonder how it was they were not accepted at their first choice. Sometimes, no matter how well we do on tests or interviews, there are certain kinds of student a university looks for. (Sorry about the preposition there.) Some young people will fit in better than others — ideologically, especially.

The same is true of companies interviewing candidates on the ‘milk run’. By all means, prepare to the n-th degree for an interview, but be aware that no matter how well you do, there is always the possibility that — through no fault of yours — someone else might get that prized job.

I was struck by a graphic from Inspiration Boost which enumerated the failures of one of America’s most famous presidents — Abraham Lincoln:

Lincoln's famous failures Inspiration Boost 122-Lincolns-Famous-Failures

One of my readers — Pastor Ashcraft of Mustard Seed Budget — featured the graphic on his site in a post called ‘Pray, pray, pray again’.  He writes:

My heart goes out to atheists, agnostics and struggling Christians whose experience with prayer has been negative. Typically, they gave it a try, and nothing happened. No answer. Just silence.

I wish to gently suggest that in many cases, nothing went wrong. You just need to keep praying. The Bible talks directly and indirectly about persevering in prayer.

It is important to remember that even successful people fail. Some might fail a lot before becoming successful.

Failure’s best mates are Loss, Betrayal and Rejection. Excessive Introspection is also in Failure’s circle of acquaintances.

We can prepare only so much for universities, jobs and — later on — promotions. Some are meant to be ours and some are not.

Some years ago I found the rejection letter I received from a famous American university a few decades before. They were my first choice. I was heartbroken.

When I reread the letter more recently, it turned out to be an occasion of thanksgiving for me. Had they not rejected me, I would not be leading the life I do today — including writing this blog.

I did pray at that moment and thanked God for that failure. It might have made all the difference to me, including finding my treasured and beloved SpouseMouse.

In closing, whilst I would advise every young person to humbly be the best he can be — a ‘world beater’, as the phrase was a few decades ago — we need to be cognisant that not everyone will find our qualities and characteristics useful or admirable.

It doesn’t matter. Something better always lies just around the corner.

So, to borrow Pastor Ashcraft’s phrase –

pray, pray, pray again.

window_pfcross271w St Mary the Virgin Gillingham DorsetIn reading any Telegraph article about the Church which is open to comments, invariably one finds militant atheists astroturfing it.

Among the astroturf comments are those which condemn prayer as being ‘stupid’, ‘useless’ and worse.

Yet, Catholics and Protestants alike see the power of prayer at work in their daily lives. Prayer for some is a sincere and short plea for help. For others, it might be a 15-minute conversation with the Lord, petitioning, thanking and praising Him. A good clergyperson tries to spend at least a half-hour, if not more, of the day in prayer. The Lord’s Prayer often comprises part of these prayers.

The more one prays the more comfortable one feels in opening up  oneself to the Trinity — our real worries, sincerest hopes and grievous faults.

We pray to God, to Christ and to the Holy Spirit — depending on the context.

We recall past prayers unanswered — to our minds — which God in His infinite wisdom often answered in a dramatically different and better way than we had envisaged at the time we made our heartfelt petitions.

Prayer does change believers. Even in adversity, many Christians believe that God will not fail them and trust in Him to help them.

Sometimes people fall away from regular prayer. We assume that, because God is omniscient, He knows our situation in life. True, He does.

However, the greater question is — do we know our real situation in life? By articulating our prayers silently, we begin to refine our requests and our gratitude. We see the adversity He has saved us from and the many blessings He has bestowed on us. Keeping that in mind helps us fine-tune what we pray for and how we pray for it.

In 2000, an American film Pay It Forward made the rounds. Its message was to pass on good things — a kind word, a bit of help — onto the next person. As I recall — and I only saw it once — it started in a school between teacher and student. The teacher (Kevin Spacey) asked his class to think of practical, simple ways to improve the world. The student (Haley Osment) came up with the idea of doing three favours for three different people. After each good deed, Osment said, ‘Pay it [the favour] forward’, which the recipients duly did by helping someone else. They, too, said, ‘Pass it forward’. And, so, this rather gentle yet pleasing chain of events involving different deeds, circumstances and people took off from school into the wider community, including the family home.

Although it was secular, that film illustrates common grace at work. The Holy Spirit’s common grace doesn’t discriminate between believer and non-believer; it is for all humanity.

The thing that struck me, however, was that every character in the film who ‘passed it forward’ felt a real desire to do something considerate for someone else, often someone they did not know well.

This idea, which isn’t new but was nicely portrayed on screen, evolved into ‘Pass It On’, the name of a number of different networking programs involving churches, private charities (9/11-related) and socio-political causes.

The point here is that the more frequently Christians pray, the more God’s grace works through them to accomplish the same ‘pass it on’ effect.

If all Christians took prayer seriously, what a difference it would make in our fallen world.

If negativity is contagious — if we put someone in a bad mood because of our own demeanour — then, surely, feeling the urge to do a good deed must also be contagious. I emphasised ‘urge’ there to demonstrate that I am not talking about works-based ‘merit’, rather fruits of faith. Perform good deeds because you feel driven to do them, not because someone says so. That is a sign that God’s grace is working through you.

Prayer is one of the Christian’s greatest assets. The further one is moved towards prayer, the better one’s life will be. A good spiritual outlook can help to mitigate much adversity and evil in this world.

An intense, private prayer life can make our immediate circle much happier and balanced. This goes against the worldly, postmodern grain, but so be it. In other words, amen.

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