Sermon Manuscript, 18 February 2007

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
(ESV)

You’ve got a prisoner on death row – have to be in the States, because we don’t do capital punishment here. He’s been tried for multiple murders, and convicted; he’s been through multiple automatic appeals to make sure that justice was carried out properly. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that he’s guilty.

More important, though, he knows he’s guilty. He knows he did it. He knows that the conviction was right, that the sentence was fair. Now, waiting on death row, the prisoner awaits the electric chair. He’s resigned to his fate, because he knows he deserves it.

Suddenly, his lawyer runs into his cell. “You’re free!” he says.

“Huh?”

“I said you’re free! The governor pardoned you!”

“You mean I’m not going to the electric chair?”

“Not just that – you’re free to go! It’s a pardon! You’re out of prison!”

“But how? We didn’t apply for a pardon! Why did the governor do that?”

“I have no idea. But he did! Let’s take you home.”

The prisoner knows that the governor didn’t owe him a pardon. Even more, the prisoner reads the papers – he knows that the public will oppose the pardon. The governor would be badly hurt by this decision, in a political sense anyway. It cost the governor to set him free – but it cost the prisoner nothing.

How do you think that prisoner will feel toward that governor? Just think about that – mull it over as we go on.

So Isaiah is standing in the throne room of God. And as we saw a couple weeks ago, he was trembling with fright. He knew he was sinful and that God could not let that pass by. As he said himself, “I am lost!” He was lost. He was undone. He was ruined. All he could do was confess what he was and what he had done.

God looks for such an attitude in His people. The creation of a people to praise Him and serve Him and honour Him and give Him glory, for all eternity – this is God’s purpose in salvation. Isaiah recognized his sin because God revealed His own glory to him. And in response to this revelation, Isaiah humbled himself. He humiliated himself. He laid it all out, holding nothing back, hiding nothing.

Isaiah did not deserve to be forgiven. He did nothing to earn salvation. Even his confession of his sin, his faith in God, his repentance from his wickedness, his submission to the Lord’s judgment – all these things did not “qualify” him for forgiveness or salvation. That’s something that’s easy for us to forget. We are saved through faith, yes. God requires that we believe and repent of our sins if we are to be saved. But it is so crucial to recognize that faith does not qualify us for that salvation. Faith is not a token exchanged for mercy. Faith is not a good work to be performed so that God will accept us. Faith is not meritorious – that is, faith does not make us better in God’s eyes. It is not the 1% that must be added to the 99% of salvation that God did.

It can’t be. Salvation is God’s work. The Bible tells us that even faith and repentance themselves are not of ourselves, but are gifts from God. When we put our faith in God, we are like Isaiah, who realized that God hated his sinfulness, realized that God has to destroy sin, realized that God owed him nothing but judgment – and knew that his only chance was that God might have mercy on him and take care of his sin himself. We trust in God to save us. Faith is not an object that is offered to God – faith looks toward another object: Christ. We are saved through faith, not because of it. Faith joins us to Christ, who is the reason we are saved.

We see this truth in the throne room. God sends an angel to touch Isaiah’s lips, make them clean. God acted. God initiated. God saved, from first to last. What we should not forget is that it was this vision that made Isaiah aware of his sinfulness. Who caused the vision? Isaiah? No! God gave the vision. God made Isaiah aware of his sin. God softened Isaiah’s heart and opened his eyes to his wickedness – Isaiah did not soften his own heart or open his own eyes.

What I am saying is that salvation is by grace alone. The undeserved mercy of God. The unconditional, free gift of God. This was one of the key issues that Luther and the other reformers stood for during the Reformation. What it means when we say salvation is by grace is that salvation is a gift, not a wage. It can’t be earned or deserved or qualified for. God will not allow man to earn his way to salvation for two reasons: first, because if man does something to qualify for salvation, salvation is an accomplishment. This would be something to boast about – “I did this, and that’s why God saved me.” Second, if salvation must be qualified for, we do not appreciate it as a gift. We lessen its value. We have less to thank God for.

And that is why I am stressing God’s grace in salvation this morning. If we realize just how much God has done for us, all we can offer is thankfulness. Isaiah knew that God saved him purely out of His own will that day in the throne room. God’s mercy was due to God’s character and purpose and love, not because of any work or act or thought or attitude on Isaiah’s part. When you are given a gift you did not deserve, did nothing to earn, could never qualify for, you become grateful. Why should God love a sinner like me in the first place? What’s lovable about me? But he does anyway! How sweet it is!

Isaiah was so thankful, so grateful, for the gift of salvation he had been granted, he did the only thing he could. He devoted himself to the Lord. A voice rang out – the King wants an ambassador. Who will go for Him? Who will serve Him and speak for Him? Who will risk his very life, even lose it, for the sake of the One who saves? Who else, than one who is saved? Isaiah, filled with overwhelming gratitude, throws himself before the Lord again. “Send me!”

Why does Isaiah do this? Not to give something to God that He somehow needed. Jesus once said that if the people had not sung for him, the rocks would have cried out. John the Baptist told the Pharisees that God could raise sons of Abraham from the stones. God doesn’t need us. God’s purpose doesn’t depend on us. If not for us, he’d do it another way. It is a further gift to us, yet another undeserved blessing, to be permitted to participate in God’s plan.

Yes – to serve God, like salvation itself, is itself a gift from God. Service is grace too! The irony is that, in offering himself to God as His prophet, Isaiah was putting himself further in debt to God, by accepting yet another gift. Every thing we do for God, in His service, puts us more deeply in debt to Him because it is our privilege to work for Him. That’s exactly where God wants us, because it is more blessed to give than to receive, and God wants to be blessed by giving to us.

So if not to give back to God, why does Isaiah do this? Sheer gratitude. Thankfulness. By offering himself, Isaiah expressed in the deepest way he could his appreciation for what God did. Isaiah knew he had been saved for a purpose, and by fulfilling this purpose he could offer thanksgiving to God.

And Isaiah didn’t thank God in words – words linger for a moment, and then are gone. Words are fleeting. Actions, however, take more effort. They mean more. Isaiah thanked God through action. His gratitude was concrete and tangible – service as a prophet.

We all have been saved by the grace of God. None of us earned or deserved or qualified for it. God saved us in spite of ourselves, out of sheer love and mercy. Are we grateful? How do we show it? Isaiah went into a hostile and unbelieving world and gave himself to proclaiming God’s message. Do we do that?

How do we thank God? Just with words? Let our actions speak louder than words. Let’s serve the Lord to thank Him. Let’s honour and glorify God as he gives us the privilege of service. Let’s bless God this week, and for the rest of our lives, going deeper and deeper into debt with him. What a privilege it is to serve the Living God! To be involved in His perfect and eternal work!

– Jeff Jones

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Bible Study – Matthew 6:11,13
February 11, 2007

11Give us this day our daily bread,
12and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
(ESV)

Prayer, as we’ve seen so far, is an offering – an act of worship. Yet it is also a close, personal expression of a family relationship between a loving Father and His adopted children.

We’ve looked at how there are two critical elements of prayer modeled in our passage that we may be prone to sometimes overlook: first, Adoration, where we offer up to God our honour and glory and praise for who He is and what He has done; and second, Confession, where we humbly admit our sinful shortcomings and inability to please God on our own, asking forgiveness for our transgressions.

Today we move on to perhaps the most well-known element of prayer: Supplication. (Yes, I’m using longer and older words, but there is a reason for it – trust me). What is supplication?

Supplication is, quite simply, to ask for something humbly and earnestly. It carries the connotation of a beggar asking for what he does not deserve. And this is the tone of Christian prayer. Remember, Jesus opened the Lord’s prayer asking that God’s will be done – thus placing God’s will as higher than our own. The apostle John said this: 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (1 John 5)

We do not claim things in prayer. We do not demand or expect things from God. This would be an act of arrogance, not humility. God is our King and Lord, and He gives all His good gifts in accordance with His will. And remember what I’ve stressed several times: God’s highest aim is to exalt himself, and part of this is our recognition that we are tiny and insignificant before him. In short, God’s glory requires we be humble. God rejoices when His people are humble, as He told Isaiah:

But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. (66:2)

How does humility, and the requirement to ask according to God’s will, affect what we ask for? That’s what we will look at today.

Small Group Discussion Questions

1. Why do we ask God for things in prayer?

God is the source of all good gifts (James 1:17). All power and strength rest in Him. Even the beating of our hearts and the breath of our lungs depends on His continued provision.

More fundamentally, we are commanded to!

2. What are we assuming, or confessing, about God when we pray? What things must be true about God in order for prayer to be possible?

We assume God has the power to grant what we ask for. This entails that God is sovereign – that He has such absolute control of all things as to be able to arrange the lives of billions in order to make answers to prayer possible.

We assume God hears us in what we ask. God is not distant, nor is He some impersonal force or principle. He is a living, personal being who is with us at every moment.

We assume God loves us and cares about us. This means that all obstacles to fellowship between us and God have been removed. The problem of sin must have been dealt with. This is a further reminder of the need for confession of sin in prayer – and a reminder that God has entered history in Jesus Christ to deal once and for all with sin.

3. Read verses 11 and 13. What is the basic difference between the two requests?

Verse 11 speaks of bread – our physical needs. Verse 13 asks for protection form temptation and deliverance – our spiritual needs.

4. In verse 11, what is Jesus asking for? Is it just bread?

Jesus is not asking for luxuries – only necessities. We need bread – that is, food – to live. Implied here would be anything required to survive and serve God – clothing, water, shelter. Depending on one’s situation, it could mean transportation, money (for the above-mentioned needs), physical health and healing, and other things.

5. Why does he stress that the bread is “daily?”

This stresses that we cannot do it ourselves – God must constantly provide for us. This prayer recognizes that He is faithful to us. Not one day can go by where we do it on our own. Even unbelievers and animals have their needs met by God – even though He owes them nothing, he does this graciously.

It also reinforces the point that we are to ask for what we need. Jesus does not ask for a lifetime supply of bread, or for more than he can use. Only what is needed for the day.

6. The choice of words in verse 13 is interesting – to God, Jesus asks: “Lead us not into temptation.” What does this mean?

The next part of the verse helps us understand – this is part of the request for deliverance from evil. The primary meaning is that we are to ask God to lead us away from temptation – to help us avoid it. The best way to keep from sin is to stay far away from it.

7. Does God tempt us?

God does not personally tempt or entice us to sin. He is holy, and to do so would be wrong. As we saw in James, 13Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. (James 1)

That said, God is in the business of making us grow spiritually. This process includes testing. In Deuteronomy, God commands His people to test the words of prophets to see if they accord with the Bible – and if they do not, it is because the Lord is “testing you.” The book of Job proves that God will permit Satan to attack Christians as a means of helping us grow spiritually, and teaching us lessons. Even Jesus allowed himself to be tempted in the wilderness. The aim is to exalt God’s glory by displaying a triumph over evil.

So God, on occasion, chooses to remove the restraining grace of the Holy Spirit that keeps our sinful desires in check, in order to force us to remember by whose power we can withstand temptation. Such spiritual tests drive us to our knees for more of God’s strength, asking for help to fight evil.

This prayer, then, is also a humble request to be spared such testing, and an expression of reliance on God for strength to resist Satan.

8. Jesus closes this prayer asking, “Deliver us from evil.” Why ask this? Can’t we get out of it ourselves?

– Jeff Jones

Sermon Manuscript, 11 February 2007

14And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. John 5:14-15

Picture this: a dad is at home looking after the kids, and Mom’s away. She’s not getting back until late that night, because she’s out with some of her girlfriends. Certainly not in time for supper. So Dad is starting to feel a little peckish, but the real sign that supper’s going to have to happen soon is the four-year-old boy tugging on his pant leg whining, “I’m hungry.” If Dad wants to have any chance at a quiet evening, he’s better get some supper on – and fast.

So he goes to the fridge to see if there’s anything healthy for them to eat. Actually, if he’s thinking like most men, healthy’s the last thing on his mind – he’s looking for something quick and easy, like hot dogs or leftover pizza. Unfortunately, there isn’t even that in the fridge – it’s practically bare, because Dad hasn’t found the time to go to the store like he told Mom he would.

Maybe there’s something in the cupboards. Chef Boyardee or Kraft Dinner. Even soup would do – but there’s nothing. And Junior’s tugging and whining are beginning to become more heartfelt and earnest.

What else is there to do? Dad tells Junior to get his coat and Velcro shoes on, while he grabs his baby girl and gets her dressed. He gets them in the car and drives down to the grocery store.

And when they get in the doors, the war begins. Junior sees a big bag of his favorite candy, Cadbury’s Mini Eggs. So he asks, “Dad, can we get those?”

Dad knows full well, from long and bitter experience, that the last thing his four-year old son needs at 6:30 at night is chocolate. “No, son, it’s bedtime soon. We’re just going to get something good for supper.”

“But Dad! I want it!”

“No, son, you can’t.” Dad stands firm.

“That’s not fair! You don’t care about me! You hate me!” Junior screams…

So what’s happening here? The dad loves his child, right? Cares deeply about him, wants to meet his needs, help him grow. Why would he not give the boy everything he wants?

Because dads know better than their kids. Junior’s four years of life experience do not qualify him to be the parent. That’s dad’s job. Dad knows what Junior really needs – a good meal and then a good sleep. Dad knows that chocolate will only ruin Junior’s appetite and get him so wound up that he won’t go to bed. In other words, Dad has a plan that he’s working out, and his attitude to Junior’s requests will be shaped by that plan.

All too many Christians will parent their own kids properly, just like this dad, but fail to see the same principle underneath asking for things in prayer. God is our heavenly father, and He does know best. God has a comprehensive and perfect plan that he is working out in creation, including in our lives. This is His will – God’s program to glorify Himself in creation.

Why would we assume we know better than God? I think there are two reasons. First, we can’t see God, but we do see and feel our needs here on earth. They seem more real to us sometimes. And that tempts us to think that we really understand, while God, who’s off hanging stars somewhere, really doesn’t have a feel for what’s happening. Now, we’d never say this, but there are times when we all feel this, I think.

The second reason we assume we know better is that sometimes God gives us what we think we don’t need. Sometimes, the prayers seem pretty reasonable to us – like asking for your sick baby to get better – but it doesn’t happen. Who wouldn’t want to see a baby get well? Sometimes, things go the exact opposite to what we ask is given to us. I’m sure that Job, as he offered prayers for his children, prayed for their health and safety – but God took it all away.

Anyone who’s tried to reason with a four-year-old knows that they are absolutely convinced that they need those mini-eggs. And while the health of our kids or the safety of loved ones are hardly that trivial, when we compare them to what’s important to God – His glory, His Son, our growth in Him – they start to look a little different. Sickness and death over the course of the few dozen years of earthly life have a different meaning to a God who can raise the dead and who has promised new and perfect bodies for us to live in, free from disease and death, for all of eternity.

John tells us that our prayers are heard when they are according to His will. There’s two sides to this. First of all, again, God has a plan that He’s working out, and he works all things in service of that plan. God is a focused God. There is nothing outside of His control, not a single rogue atom flying around the universe that is not directed by His hand in service of His plan. That means that God will give us anything that fits in that plan – but that anything that does not, He will not grant. Even the answer, “No,” serves His purpose, because it reminds us of who He is and what our place is – and because it teaches us to rely more heavily on God Himself instead of just the gifts of His hand.

The other side of praying according to His will is that we must shape our prayers according to His will. Or, in other words, we pray remembering that He is God, we are not, and that His will is more important than ours. Part of this is asking only for things acceptable to God – asking for sinful things is unacceptable, and dishonouring to God. But more importantly, this speaks of humility – we must be humble in prayer. God’s own Son, the creator of the universe itself, God incarnate, said to His Father in prayer, “Not my will, but yours, be done.” Who are we to do any less? We cannot be like spoiled children, simply trying to grab what we want, like junior grabbing those mini-eggs and running away with them. We cannot assume we have a claim to God’s good gifts.

God wants us to ask us for good things in prayer. God is the great giver. He is honoured and glorified to respond to our needs and to give good things to His beloved children. Supplication is an important part of prayer. But let us never forget that our attitude in prayer matters far more to God than anything we might be asking for matters to us. And when we are humble and meek, God is overjoyed to care for us. He looks to us when we are humble, says Isaiah 66. What a beautiful thing to be looked upon with favour by God Himself! But if our attitude is right, we can ask anything! We may not get what we ask for, but we have something far better – the assurance that God is working out that plan of His, so that “all things work together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” That’s what a “No” means from God – it means, “No, I have a better way for you.” What a promise that is! Let’s honour Him as He deserves.

– Jeff Jones

Sermon Manuscript, 4 February 2007

5And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” 6Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for. (ESV)

When I was eight, my family moved into a new house in Victoria. My dad was attending law school, and was planning on working the summers only; he planned to make money by improving the house and selling it at the end of his three-year program. And as any of you who have watched one of those “Flip the House” programs on TLC or A&E, the idea is to take a house that looks kind of shabby and is kind of cheap and turn it into a really attractive, nice place. It’s a pretty good way to make money, IF you do it right and read the local market properly.

One of the things the house needed was new carpeting. So my dad bought new carpeting and placed it in the living room and dining room. It was a great idea, and would make for a good investment. It was a gorgeous carpet, let me tell you.

There were only two problems with this plan, though, which very quickly became obvious. First, my parents had four rambunctious boys all under the age of ten, with a baby girl on the way. And second, the colour of this carpet was a pure, brilliant white. Like snow. And as any parent knows, kids and white don’t go together. They don’t mix.

Now, my dad was aware of this problem. He made it quite clear, in very graphic terms, that our continued existence in this world depended directly upon the survival of the carpet. Our fate was now tied to the fate of the rug.

This made a deep impression on us – at least for a while. But attention spans being what they are at a young age, soon we began to horse around in dangerous ways in the living and dining rooms. My moment finally came at the supper table – my dad was away at a night class or something, and my mom and brothers were eating supper. We were goofing around with the stuff on the table, when I knocked something on the floor.

I don’t remember what it was, except that it had mustard on it – and that it soiled that carpet. What I do remember was the looks of abject horror on the faces of my little brothers – they had seen it happen, and they knew what it meant. My mom was furious, but true to pattern she left the worst to my father. See, in my family, my mom was judge and jury, but Dad was the executioner. And so, there at the table, the judge handed down my death sentence: “You wait till your father gets home!”

Anyway, it took a couple hours for Dad to arrive. The longest hours of my life – trembling and shaking. When he came home, I was already crying and hiding under the table, begging for mercy.

Have you ever had a moment like that? I know my brother Mike has – he did the same thing to the same carpet not long afterwards. We’ve probably all had a moment where we did something wrong and knew the consequences would be extremely serious.

Last week I talked about God’s glory, and how it must have felt for Isaiah to witness His Lord in that heavenly throne room. Well, that feeling of wonder and awe was only the first impression. It’s like my dad’s carpet – there’s a reason he chose white. It’s a beautiful colour – it looks so clean! So pure. Upon witnessing something so pure and perfect and beautiful, we will marvel at it, let it take our breath away – and then our thoughts will turn to ourselves. We end up comparing ourselves to what we see. We check ourselves, to see if we are clean enough to touch it, taking off our shoes so we won’t stain the carpet. Like Moses did, before a burning bush, when he realized that this same God was present and that the very ground itself had been made most holy because of it.

And that is what Isaiah did. And as he saw God in all His purity and holiness, all His power and might, Isaiah realized that compared to that, he was filthy. Dirty, stained, tainted with sin. What right did he have to stand before God in that beautiful place, as impure and sinful as he was? It was as if I had been caught standing on that carpet in my parents’ living room after a mud bath. Every aspect of Isaiah’s being, every part of his character, had been poisoned and corrupted by sin.

Isaiah knew full well that God, by His very nature, cannot tolerate sin. He cannot stand it. It is a mortal insult, a slap in the face of His character. It is the mark of a traitor, the sword in the hand of a rebel, the blood on the hands of a murderer. Sin represents everything that God opposes most, and wants to destroy. And there, before God Himself and all His limitless power and wrath against evil, stood a man stained and saturated with it.

As afraid as I was for the punishment that was coming that day, for only a tiny mustard stain on that white carpet, it was nothing compared to what Isaiah felt. I knew my dad would punish me, and that it would be severe; Isaiah knew that the wages of sin are nothing less than death. I expected a belting; Isaiah saw images of hell itself. And while I could comfort myself a little, saying things like “it’s only a carpet,” Isaiah knew that God could not overlook the sin he had tracked into the throne room. My dad might choose to forgive and forget, but Isaiah realized God would be unjust and wrong if he ignored his sin. God has to punish evil.

So Isaiah did the only thing he could – cried out, confessing his wickedness, admitting it without any excuses. He threw himself on God’s mercy – he didn’t try to bargain, or make excuses, or plead for a lesser sentence. He just wailed about how utterly helpless and undeserving he was.

And see, that’s where God wants us. This is how a person comes to Christ – not as an equal to make a deal, not even as a beloved accepting a proposal of marriage. Those images imply equality, that the honour is deserved. No, in the New Testament the constant refrain is this: Repent! And believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. A faith that does not include a frank and brutally honest recognition of how unacceptable we are, a faith that does not recoil in horror at the ugly picture we see in our own character and behaviour, and which does not lay it all out before God to have it destroyed – a faith that doesn’t do these things, and strive to always do these things, is not a saving faith. Real faith includes repentance. They are inseparable.

The first thing Isaiah did when he saw God was to cry out in confession. This attitude should characterize our worship as well. It should be central to our prayers, reminding us again and again that we do not deserve the privilege of prayer, but that it is given us out of sheer grace. We do it because of the promise – that if we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive, and he has paid for all of our sins.

The God of promise always keeps his promise. That’s why we pray.

– Jeff Jones