What’s So Good about the Good News? — “The true gospel cannot be improved upon. Theologian J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937) said, ‘In the gospel there is included all that the heart of man can wish.’ What do we wish for most? Happiness.”
According to the Jewish customs, women who gave birth were considered unclean for a period of 40 days. There was also a purification process and sacrifice that was part of the Law of Moses, and Mary and Jospeh obeyed this law following the birth of Jesus. It was at the very time when Mary and Joseph were coming into the temple that an old man was waiting in the temple. When Mary, Jospeh, and baby Jesus arrived, something unique happened.
Simeon was there waiting in the temple because he had been given a promise by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Christ of God. When Simeon saw baby Jesus, he praised God. Jesus, although a real baby, was God in human flesh. Jesus was the Christ—the Deliverer—the Messiah of Israel.
When Simeon saw Jesus, he praised God and in his praise he revealed some important truths about Jesus. Simeon called Jesus “salvation.” While Jesus was given the titled Immanuel (God with us), he was most literally the salvation of fallen humanity. He was the Messiah of Israel, and he was the hope of the Gentiles at the very same time. All of this came out in Simeon’s praise:
Luke 2:29-32 – “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
 for my eyes have seen your salvation
 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
In a dark world of sin, the light of the world came in the form of human flesh. The Christ was conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit, was born in a manger, and came for the purpose of saving his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). Simeon could die in peace because he had seen the promised Messiah of Israel as promised by the Holy Spirit.
Our promise is not like Simeon’s promise. However, the Holy Spirit has given us a promise too through the Word that he wrote—the Bible. In the Scriptures, we have a distinct set of promises that we too will see our Lord. If we are alive, we will see him when he returns the second time. Much like Simeon was waiting on the first coming of Jesus, we find ourselves between the cross and the second advent waiting on Jesus’ return.
If we die before Jesus’ second coming, we have the promise that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). We too will see the Lord of glory. What a day that will be when our eyes see Jesus. Unlike Simeon, our sight of Jesus will be different. He will not be a small infant baby wrapped in his mother’s care. When we see Jesus, he will be the enthroned King of glory—the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Consider how majestic is the name of Jesus and how powerful is his throne—and one day we will see him face to face.
As Revelation 21:3 says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” We have this promise to cling to—one day we will be with Jesus in eternity—no longer looking to the future promises from the shadows, but dwelling with God in his presence for all of eternity.
Simeon had been given a promise and he died in peace having received the fulfillment of that truth when his eyes saw his salvation. We have been given a promise too—that all who come to God by faith will one day see Christ and dwell with him forever.
Job believed this promise as he understood that when his skin was destroyed, he would see God (Job 19:25-27). David understood that he would dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Ps. 23:6). In Psalm 118:18-24—David found joy in the fact that he would one day enter through the gates of righteousness. Paul exclaimed, “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Do you have assurance that one day you will spend eternity with Christ—in the presence of his care and love? Turn to Christ today by faith and repent of your sins. Call upon the Lord today believing that he died on the cross for your sins.
Romans 10:13 – For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
As you may know, Dr. R.C. Sproul is very ill and has been hospitalized for approximately 2 weeks. Please pray for Dr. Sproul and his family during this difficult season. You can find updates on the Ligonier Website. As we pray for Dr. Sproul, take time to watch this presentation on the holiness of God.
Reformation 500, Social Justice and the Gospel (Jon D. Payne) — “This year’s Reformation 500-fest has served the church well. It has forced Reformed Christians everywhere to remember our rich Protestant and Reformed heritage, and to reflect upon the nature and centrality of the gospel– the true gospel announcing redemption for wretched sinners through the penal substitutionary death and hell-conquering resurrection of the Son of God.”
Will There be Christmas in Heaven? — “The heart of Christmas is celebration of the coming of Messiah (Luke 2:10–11). Will there be celebration in the eternal state? Yes! And it will be kicked off with the biggest party of them all, The Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:6-9).”
Put The X Back In Xmas! — “Some people seem positively determined to interpret every bit of available data as evidence that there is a vast conspiracy whose goal is to stamp out Christmas, and to especially stamp out any Christian association with Christmas. Quite frankly, I’m not buying it, and I’m annoyed, saddened and offended by much of it.”
On the Pope’s Desire to Change the Wording of the Lord’s Prayer — “Pope Francis has challenged the traditional wording of the Lord’s Prayer, suggesting that it be changed. The news media, as usual, has obscured the fact that the Pope is not wanting to alter the Lord’s words or the Biblical text, just saying that the familiar rendition in the various languages is not a good translation…”
The Peace We All Long For — “Jesus Christ, born of Mary, born in Bethlehem, born on Christmas morning, brings permanent and ultimate peace on earth. The peace we all long for is found in Christ.”
In Acts 6:2, Jesus’ inner circles was known as “the twelve.” They were serving as the pastors for the early church as it was growing rapidly. However, when a problem arose among the church, servants were established to wait on the tables in order to free up these men to give their full attention to the Word of God and prayer.
The pattern of ministry all throughout the New Testament is clearly established upon a plurality of elders leading and a plurality of deacons serving. Although this is not a blemish-free ministry pattern, it does provide for the most healthy scenario for discipleship in the local church.
Deacons, Elders, and Discipleship
When pastors are free to give themselves to the Word of God, the church will benefit drastically. The pastors who put more priority on pragmatics and less priority upon the study of God’s Word cannot expect their church to rise above their leaders. Interestingly enough, in Acts 6, the early church became united through the deacon ministry and this allowed the pastors to immerse themselves in God’s Word. As the Word of God increased, souls were saved in the community. Consider this pattern over against today’s church growth pragmatism that typically downplays doctrine.
Behind every great group of pastors is a great group of deacons. When deacons serve to the glory of God in the local church, the pastors can spend necessary time in prayer for their people. A church that places little emphasis upon prayer is often a direct reflection of their leaders. Such a church marches on in the power of pragmatism rather than the power of the Holy Spirit. No matter how much technology increases and how efficient we become with modern ministry tools—nothing can stand in the place of the power of prayer. Pastors who pray well often lead well. Pastors who spend time praying for disciples and teaching new disciples how to pray will go forward in the power of God. Prayer is essential.
Discipleship as an Intentional Goal of Ministry
Beyond the need for pastors to work in tandem with deacons for the work of discipleship, pastors must likewise plan and work with intentionality to disciple the church. It is the goal and responsibility of pastors to equip the church for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12). Pastors are not entertainers or leaders of ministry events—pastors are shepherds who oversee and equip believers to live the Christian life faithfully.
One single pastor who tries with all of his heart and soul to equip the entire church on his own will fail. If the church is larger than a small group, help is required to faithfully shepherd and equip the saints. This is why God designed the church to be led by a plurality of elders who would share the burden, responsibility, and work together in the effort of equipping the church to stand strong, love passionately, and reach their community with the gospel. Intentionality in the area of teaching, conversations, and being an intentional example to the church is vitally important (1 Pet. 5:3).
The greatest single pastor will not be nearly as strong as the wisdom of a collective body of pastors who put their minds together and serve as a single unit to lead the church. The weaknesses of one pastor is strengthened by the strengths of another pastor who works alongside him in the life of the church. This provides the pastors the ability to make well rounded disciples who become strong and vibrant disciple makers who multiply year after year.
Why does a football team have multiple coaches? Why does a business have multiple layers of team members who work to make the company successful? Although we never build theology on logic alone, such logic stands firm upon the foundation of God’s Word that points out the pattern of a plurality of elders who serve in each local church throughout the Scriptures. A plural group of men investing their time and energy in making disciples will always lead to a more healthy and robust church. Mark Dever writes:
The Bible clearly models a plurality of elders in each local church. Though it never suggests a specific number of elders for a particular congregation, the New Testament refers to “elders” in the plural in local churches (e.g., Acts 14:23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; Titus 1:5; James 5:14). When you read through Acts and the Epistles, there is always more than one elder being talked about. 
While a plurality of elders does not serve as a bullet proof defense against all church related errors, it does create a natural culture for disciple making. Be grateful for your pastors. Often a local church has a diverse group of men who lead, and this is a healthy pattern that often compliments the elders and strengthens the entire church. How is your church doing in the area of discipleship? How could you pray for your pastors as they lead in this upcoming year?
Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 215-216.
Yesterday I preached 1 John 5:13-15 in John’s epistle in our “Know” series. After looking intently at verse 13 last week, we moved on to the next two verses and examined what John said about prayer as a Christian. If John’s agenda is to bring true believers to a place of concrete assurance and faith in Christ, he demonstrated his desire for the Christian to pray with confidence as well.
John, along with the pattern of the early church, was a man of prayer. We see Peter and John going up into the temple at the very hour of prayer in Acts 3. Certainly he understood the priority and privilege of prayer, and he desired for his fellow Christians in various cities to be people of prayer as well. Knowledge that is separated from prayer and communion with God becomes nothing more than cold and lifeless doctrine.
John desired for the Christians to know that God hears the prayers of His people. John urged the Christian community to pray with confidence. The language of “toward him” in verse 14 paints a picture of a face-to-face conversation. John is picturing prayer as a face-to-face conversation with God and what a joy it is to have this privilege as a Christian. John understood the privilege and desired for others to enjoy it as well.
While God hears the prayers of all people, there is a difference between merely hearing and hearing with a desire to care for and answer the prayers of His own people. If a group of children are calling out to a man for a favor, he may hear all of them, but he will pay close attention to the voice of his own son the group of children. God cares for His own children in a unique way. As we explore the Word of God, we see a clear pattern of prayer demonstrated from Jesus to the early church.
Jesus prayed at His baptism in Luke 3:21.
Jesus sought to be alone in prayer, but was often interrupted.
Jesus would rise early in the morning for prayer as we see in Mark 1:35.
Jesus would pray all night at times as we see in Luke 6:12.
Jesus prayed for His people – John 17.
The Apostles Prayed
Paul prayed for the church and for the church’s witness – praising God for it in Romans 1.
Paul urged the Christians in Rome to be faithful in prayer – Romans 12:12.
Paul urged the church at Rome to pray for him – Romans 15.
Apostles prayed together in the upper room as they waited on the Holy Spirit to come – Acts 2.
Peter and John were seen going into the temple at the hour of prayer – Acts 3.
Peter prayed on a housetop in Acts 10:9.
Paul and Silas prayed in prison – Acts 16:25.
The apostles gave themselves to the Word of God and prayer as the deacons took charge of the practical needs of the church in Acts 6.
The Church Prayed
The early church is pictured in Acts 2:42 as gathered for the purpose of hearing the apostles’ teaching, engaging in fellowship, and praying together.
The Bible closes with a prayer of the church:
Revelation 22:17 – The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
God not only hears the prayers of His people, but He answers them in accordance with His will. John provides us the condition of prayer followed by the limitation of prayer. First, the condition of prayer is clearly revealed at the end of verse 14 as the “will of God.” We can’t pray code word language and expect that God will be bound by our words to give us the desires of our greed-filled hearts. We must learn to bend our will into conformity to God’s will. When we pray rightly, we don’t approach prayer out of superstition. We must learn to approach God in a way that far supersedes a rabbit’s foot. Christians pray in confidence that God hears and has the power to answer the prayer so long as we pray in accordance with God’s will.
The limitation of prayer is directly connected to the limitation of God. Our God is sovereign and big. He is strong and mighty. There is nothing too big for God, and we must learn to approach God with big weighty prayers that go well beyond the superficial weak prayers that we often pray. God can heal disease. God can provide jobs for the needy. The same God who never sleeps nor slumbers and the same God who controls the wind and the waves is the God who provides for His own people. Just as Jesus taught in Matthew 6:33, we must seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of the provisions for God’s people will be met. Jerry Bridges once said:
Prayer assumes the sovereignty of God. If God is not sovereign, we have no assurance that He is able to answer our prayers. Our prayers would become nothing more than wishes. But while God’s sovereignty, along with His wisdom and love, is the foundation of our trust in Him, prayer is the expression of trust.
An Update on Dr. Sproul’s Health — Dr. Sproul is hospitalized and you can keep up with his condition over at Ligonier’s website. Please take time to pray for him.
Immutability and Reformed Theology — Kevin DeYoung will challenge you to think regarding God’s immutability in this article. He writes, “This means that we should not write off all the “relenting” language as simply “anthropomorphic.” While there is “some truth in that description” as it describes things from an atemporal perspective, the anthropomorphic label is not helpful in describing God as an actor in history.”