J. Alec Motyer: House of Prayer

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J. Alec Motyer: House of Prayer

For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant — to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever. And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to Him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant — these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Isaiah 56:4-7

“To love the name of the Lord was not to join a system or identify with a people but one of personal devotion to the Lord in all that He has revealed Himself to be…They are welcome to the place where the Lord is to be found (my holy mountain), into His presence and family (my house of prayer), and to those ordinances which effect and guarantee acceptance and fellowship (my altar)…The welcome extended to foreigners and eunuchs is not a concession but a fulfillment; this is what the Lord’s house was always meant to be. By specifying it to be a house of prayer Isaiah is not in any way denigrating the fact that it was a house of sacrifice…The essential element in the house was always the enjoyment of the Lord’s presence and fellowship, with the sacrifices functioning a the basis on which the people were accepted and maintained in the divine, holy presence. It was through the ministry of the altar that Isaiah found himself enjoying a speaking relationship with the Lord…”

J. Alec Motyer in The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction Commentary (Downers Grove: IVP, 1993) 467.

It’s Holy Week Monday.

Jesus cleansed the temple and recounted this Scripture. God’s design for His house was that the nations would come enjoy His presence and find relationship and a home in community together. They had turned it into a den of robbers with merchants and moneychangers.

What does this have to do with us today as we endure this plague and approach Easter?

God wants everyone, everywhere to have a relationship with Him. We are all on the same level as we approach Him. Eunuchs tended to be prominent people in service to another authority who would not be able to have children. Foreigners were people associated with other gods.

See the picture unfolding? Read the Scripture again.

Eunuchs wanting to serve the Lord will get something better than children. Foreigners who turn to God will no longer be lost and homeless but find a home. God’s house must be the welcoming place where all can find relationship with Him. But there is a factor that can mess everything up. It’s money.

This is why Jesus cleanses the temple on Holy week Monday. Read about it in Mark 11:15-19.

While businesses offer services to generate revenue called profit, God’s house is not sustained by financial models but by faithfulness. That’s likely what this plague will shake out across the planet. Many ministries following that paradigm may close. Alternatively, God’s work is sustained by obedience. The essential element, as Motyer puts it, is “the enjoyment of the Lord’s presence and fellowship.”

Fellowship, which in Greek is koinonia, refers to “vested participation” in the gospel. The house of prayer will be sustained by faithful people who live out an authentic relationship with God together and exhibit generous sharing because they realize all they possess has come from Him.

As we approach the cross and life after Easter and COVID-19, let us ask Jesus to cleanse our lives of any dependency on money. It won’t sustain our lives or ministries. Money must be used to help the nations find relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let me drill deeper to make a point.

We are the temple in view. Our bodies are the place God wants to dwell. He wants to abundantly bless us to be a blessing. But the one opposing god we tend to hold on to is money. If that’s you, ask God to cleanse you so that your life can welcome the nations to relationship to God.

And the nations are searching, lost, and suffering. They need us now more than ever. They need you now more than ever.

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Mark J. Boda: Humble and Poor

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice is a very common word for an expression of joy, often used for the joy prompted by the transformation of one’s own circumstances by God, although also used for the joy arising from the demise of one’s enemy, or the grace extended to another.

The word shout in triumph is used for shouting affirmation for a king; often for a war cry with voices or a war alarm with trumpets; and either the cry of despair in military defeat or the shout of triumph after victory in war. It is likely that this last meaning is in view here…

The use of the feminine imagery Daughter of Zion and Daughter of Jerusalem is a common thread throughout the prophetic and liturgical material… With the fall of Jerusalem and it’s demise there is a sharp increase in the use of feminine images…Such an image would have been useful not only for expressing the pain of loss, but also for expressing the anticipation of salvation…

The emphasis on the needy character of the human royal figure continues into the next line where the king is depicted as humble. This word is used for one who is poor, that is, without adequate resources to sustain life and thus dependent upon others producing a state of humiliation in this ancient society.

At times the term is used to refer to humility as a more general inner quality…such people are contrasted with those of “haughty eyes”… Humility is a key quality for the one able to fulfill this role of submission to and reliance upon Yahweh as the High king.”

Mark J. Boda in The Book of Zechariah (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016) 562-567.

It’s Palm Sunday.

Today’s reflections come from commentator, Mark J. Boda, on this beautiful text. With the prophet Zechariah, we rejoice and shout in triumph for our righteous and victorious King Jesus. There are three reasons this Scripture is most fitting as we celebrate Palm Sunday in a time of plague.

Firstly, we rejoice because the Savior we serve is a righteous and victorious king. As death covers the earth and there is much cause for real mourning for those who survive, we can rejoice because King Jesus has conquered death. He makes things right and makes a way of salvation for all who believe.

Secondly, the daughters are shouting. When war ravaged a region, men were killed and women were abused and enslaved. So, largely only daughters remain after difficulty to proclaim victory. This means those of us who survive COVID-19 should be the ones to shout and give glory to our King Jesus for temporal deliverance.

Thirdly, our king is humble and poor. His unfathomable generosity was sustained not by any level of hoarded wealth but by the faithfulness of the Father. Jesus showed us the posture to take so that our lives bring God glory for sustaining us. To be poor may appear socially unpopular but it just means, like King Jesus, you hold nothing back.

As we welcome Jesus today, rejoice for He is righteous and victorious. Let those of us who endure this plague praise King Jesus for salvation, and let us live, give, serve, and love with humility and generosity. He held nothing back, but gave everything for us on the cross.

Likewise, as He commanded, let us deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him.

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Edmund Calamy: Day of Humiliation

In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent. Acts 17:30

“To the honorable the House of Common, now assembled in Parliament. A Sermon preached before the Honorable House of Commons at their extraordinary Day of Humiliation, 22 October 1644.”

“Acts 17. Verse 30. latter part.‘But now commandeth all men every where to repent.’ The former part runs thus.‘And the times of this ignorance God winked at, but…’

Among all the texts that are in the Bible, there is no one text more suitable to these times, then this that I have read unto you; But now God commands all men every where to repent: God hath been preaching repentance to England by the Ministry of his Word almost these hundred years; but England hath turned a deaf ear to Gods preaching, and God is now preaching repen­tance, not only by his Word, but by the sword; (for the sword hath a voice as well as the Word, Micah 6:9. And the sword speaks louder then the Word).

God is riding throughout all England, upon His red and bloody horse, thundering out repentance to every city, county, town and family… Repent Oh England, repent, repent; The text is very suitable, the Lord make it as profitable as it is suitable. If any shall object and say; that the doctrine of repentance is a doctrine that we all know already. I answer, if you know this doctrine so well, the more shame you practise it so little.”

Edmund Calamy in “England’s antidote against the plague of civil war presented in a sermon before the Honorable House of Commons on their late extraordinary solemn fast, 22 October 1644” Apple Books.

As the number of COVID-19 cases grows and the death toll climbs, we can gain insight from Edmund Calamy’s “suitable” and “profitable” sermon to the House of Commons during the plague. In dark days, God has an agenda. He wants people everywhere to humble themselves in fasting, prayer, and confession of their sins.

Take time this weekend to do this. Skip a meal. Read these Scriptures and journal your response. Renounce wrongdoing (Proverbs 28:13). Change directions (Matthew 3:2). Walk in the light (1 John 1:7). Experience times of refreshing (Acts 3:19). The most generous thing we can do during a plague is to surrender our lives afresh to God.

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Henry Burton: A Most Godly Sermon

Today’s post contains excerpts from a most godly sermon with likely the longest title ever.

“A most godly sermon preached at St. Albons in Woodstreet on Sunday last being the 10 of October 1641: showing the necessity of self-denial and humiliation by prayer and fasting before the Lord in regard of the present plague we now lie under: which God in His good time remove from amongst us.”

“The first lesson is the A. B. C. that Christ teacheth us in his school, is this, for a man to deny himself, and so is it also the highest task that is set to any… The next thing, is the duty we owe to our neighbor, as of charity, of equity, of mercy…

A Christian must deny himself [or herself] in pleasure and de­light, even the delights of meat and drink, and lawful recreation, which are in themselves lawful meat and drink in a continual moderation, keeping himself [or herself] from excess, and sometimes in a total abstinence for a time…

Sometime we should wholly abstain from [human contact] as for the removal of some calamity we lie under, or to prevent a calamity coming upon us, or to procure a blessing to be fitter for some good duties… Fa­sting keeps the spirit of prayer awake.”

Henry Burton (1578-1648) in A Most Godly Sermon… (London: B. Alsop, 1641).

Generosity in a time of plague comes into view as denying ourselves which positions us to serve others with charity, equity, and mercy. That means we do it with love, we don’t pick favorites, and we actually extend care to those the world has labeled as undeserving.

How are you extending charity, equity, and mercy in your giving? It may be monetary in nature, that is, financial sharing with those in need. Or it could also be interpersonal in nature, in other words, reaching out to many people by email or text, not just your family or close friends.

For those with more than enough resources, it may mean sacrificing meals to aim at moderation and to have margin for sharing. Burton also suggested to maintain distance from human contact to prevent disease from spreading within a family and to keep the spirit of prayer awake.

Social distance might be a fresh term but it’s behavior that God’s people have practiced during plagues for centuries. Deny yourself. Practice moderation. Prevent the spread of calamity. Commit to prayer with fasting. Why? “Fa­sting keeps the spirit of prayer awake.”

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William Bridge: Our Work

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-2

“Now to bring things home to ourselves by way of application. Here we may see what is our work, our great work this day. The day we are fallen into is a dark day; a day of the plague and the pestilence: it is good for us to inquire what our work is; it is good at all times, but now especially, to inquire what our work is. Oh! what is our work this day? Now the work of this day, our work is to trust in the Lord; this is the work that protection and deliverance in the time of a plague is entailed upon. Who is there that does not desire to be protected and delivered from this plague; Oh, that I and my family may be preserved! Behold here your antidote to keep you from the plague; ‘Trust in the Lord, as ever you and your family may be protected now in this evil day. Trust in the Lord, and call upon yours to trust in the Lord!'”

William Bridge in The Refuge: Containing the Righteous Man’s Habitation in the Time of Plague and Pestilence: Being a Brief Exposition of the 91st Psalm (New York: Daniel Appleton and Clinton Hall, 1832) 29.

If you have not meditated on the promises of Psalm 91, I would encourage you to do so. Additionally, act on them. Don’t just let them warm your heart. Allow them to activate your entire being. Our work is to make our dwelling place in the shelter of the Most High.

As many of are coming to a place of knowing people who are battling this plague, let us all take shelter while praying for their recovery. I don’t mean to run from the plague, but to locate ourselves in safe shelter through it. This is bigger than social distancing. It’s about trusting in God.

Why would Bridge consider this as work? And what does it have to do with generosity? In the time of plague, generosity is caring for others and pointing them to promises. It’s inviting them to locate the only safe shelter. It’s teaching them by example that there is only one place to put our trust.

This will take us out of our comfort zone. It’s work. Sure, distribute masks. Pray for health care workers, sick people, the vulnerable and the unemployed. Pray for all in authority, for family, and friends, but don’t stop there. Point them to the shelter of God. Do that work today.

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Thomas Blake: Watchful and Prayerful

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Colossians 4:2

“Note that watchfulness and prayer are the necessary mediums, the proper means, at least in part, and a great part of the proper means, to which we are directed for preservation in times of common calamity.”

Thomas Blake (c. 1596-1657) Living Truths in Dying Times: Some Meditations Occasioned by the Present Judgement of the Plague (London: Collection of Puritan Literature, 1665) 6.

In this classic Puritan devotional, we are reminded to be watchful and prayerful during a plague. The watchful part aims to help us stay focused and the prayerful part keeps us centered on God rather than distracted by circumstances.

During this COVID-19 crisis, it is easy to lose track of time. We can be swept away by the news, social media, and other stuff if we are not careful. To be watchful, is to live with increased intentionality.

Blake also urged people during the plague of London to be prayerful. This means that regardless of what was swirling around them, or how big the crisis was, the right path is to entrust our care and worries to our God who is bigger.

The Apostle Paul, in writing to the Colossians, urges us also to be thankful. Though he was not writing during a plague, the church was experiencing some opposition and even persecution in places.

Being thankful changes us. When we shift our focus to God, who is greater than our circumstances, we find peace, rest, hope, and joy. We find just what we and others need. And we always have something for which to be thankful.

So, pause and give thanks right now and pray for specific people. Text or email them with encouragement. A generous dose of watchfulness and prayer will sustain us through this calamity as it carried others through plagues in the past.

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John Calvin: Console

When anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought me joy. Psalm 94:19

“A good and faithful minister will rightly consider all means which it may be proper to take to console the distressed, according as he [or she] sees them affected: being guided in the whole by the Word of the Lord. Furthermore, if the minister has anything by which he [or she] can console and give bodily relief to the afflicted poor, let him [or her] not spare, but show to all a true example of charity.”

John Calvin (1509-1564) in “On the Visitation of the Sick” in John Calvin, Tracts, Vol. II, trans. Henry Beveridge (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1849) 127-128. Originally in the Catechism of the Church of Geneva.

In crisis times we get to console people. Calvin instructs us to do this with the Word of the Lord and with whatever resources we have.

Remind people to find consolation in God by asking how they are doing. From there, if they have a need, see if God has resourced you to meet it.

Do not “spare” such resources in fear but “show to all a true example of charity” in these trying times. God sees, and the world is watching too.

If you are vulnerable and unable to get out, give generously to your church or consider making a gift to the Generosity Monk fund at NCF.

These are challenging times. With the Word of God and whatever we have, we can make a difference in consoling those around us.

To be sure to equip yourself, invest more time in the Word than you spend watching the news every day. And check in on at least one person daily. Let’s do this.

 

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Martin Luther: Proportionate

They will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. Mark 16:18

“Some people are of the firm opinion that one need not and should not run away from a deadly plague. Rather, since death is God’s punishment, which he sends upon us for our sins, we must submit to God and with a true and firm faith patiently await our punishment. They look upon running away as an outright wrong and as lack of belief in God. Others take the position that one may properly flee, particularly if one holds no public office.

I cannot censure the former for their excellent decision. They uphold a good cause, namely, a strong faith in God, and deserve commendation because they desire every Christian to hold to a strong, firm faith. It takes more than a milk faith to await a death before which most of the saints themselves have been and still are in dread. Who would not acclaim these earnest people to whom death is a little thing? They willingly accept God’s chastisement, doing so without tempting God, as we shall hear later on.

Since it is generally true of Christians that few are strong and many are weak, one simply cannot place the same burden upon everyone. A person who has a strong faith can drink poison and suffer no harm, Mark 16 [:18], while one who has a weak faith would thereby drink to his death. Peter could walk upon the water because he was strong in faith. When he began to doubt and his faith weakened, he sank and almost drowned. When a strong man travels with a weak man, he must restrain himself so as not to walk at a speed proportionate to his strength lest he set a killing pace for his weak companion.”

Martin Luther (1483-1546) in “Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague” from Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 43: Devotional Writings II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 43 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 119–138.

Luther astutely notes that generosity during a plague is not expecting everyone else to respond the same way you believe God is leading you to respond. God has raised up the strong to carry huge loads. If you are among the strong, carry the cross God has asked you to carry with deep faith.

And, if you are strong, don’t expect others to keep up with you or you will kill them. So, what’s the lesson for us all? Serve proportionately. Do what you can. For my wife, it might mean encouraging stuck-at-home moms with children who are flustered with the task of doing school at home.

For me, it might be responding to a flood of emails from confused nonprofit workers around the world. With God’s help, let’s make ourselves available to serve God proportionate to the strength that He has given us, and respond to this plague in a way that fits each of us and glorifies God.

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Henry Muddiman: A Remarkable Providence

While researching the Great Plague of 1665-1666 that struck London, I dug into the UK National Archives and found this gem. It made me smile, and in times like these, we need to share things that make us smile.

“This letter [in header photo above] was written by Henry Muddiman, a journalist who published newsletters and also wrote for the newly founded ‘London Gazette’. The letter is to Joseph Williamson, an important politician in Charles II ‘s government, who was Under Secretary to the Secretary of State.”

Here’s the text of the letter. Bracketed insertions help explain the meaning of the terms therein.

“The total of the burials this week 8252, plague 6978, increase 756, parishes infected 118. This bill [the weekly mortality bill which was a printed list of the number buried in each parish who died of the plague and of other cause] had numbered one more but for a remarkable providence which was thus. A Butcher in Newgate Market being by the Searchers [officials appointed to view dead bodies and to make reports on the cause of death] given out to be dead of the Plague and by the neglect of the Boarders not carried away the same night was laid out in an upper room wither [where] his daughter going next day the father beckoned to her and bade her bring him ale for he was cold. The daughter called up her mother who giving him clothes, the man took a pipe of tobacco eat a rabbit and on Sunday went to Church to give God thanks for his preservation.”

Why recount this letter today? Three reasons.

The first thing that struck me was the numbers. Every day we see or hear the growing numbers of the afflicted or dead around the world. That has happened with every plague in every generation because every person counts, each one matters. In this case, it was the Butcher of Newgate Market. People bought their meat from him.

The second thing I appreciated the expression “a remarkable providence.” In the UK National Archive notes, they describe this as “an intervention from God.” It’s what the Butcher needed during the Great Plague of 1665-1666 and what we need today. We need God’s intervention and deliverance to save lives.

The last thing I loved about this excerpt was the response of the Butcher. See the last three lines of the header photo. He was cold so they gave him clothes. He was thirsty and asked for ale. Then he took his pipe, ate a rabbit, and on Sunday went to church to give thanks to God. His response to “a remarkable providence” was humble gratitude to God.

Since we can’t go to church today because we are on global lockdown, let’s reflect on a similar remarkable providence in Luke 8:49-55.

While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.”

Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”

When He arrived at the house of Jairus, He did not let anyone go in with Him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.”

They laughed at Him, knowing that she was dead. But He took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat.

Jesus can show up for us, just like He did for the daughter of Jairus and the Butcher of Newgate Market. He wants us to believe. He has the world’s attention though some are laughing in disbelief. Let us watch what He can do. May the whole world see and believe and respond with humble gratitude.

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Cotton Mather: Prayer and Fasting

But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting. Matthew 17:21

“The town is become almost an hell upon earth, a city full of lies, and murders, and blasphemies, as far as witches and speeches can render it so: Satan seems to take a strange possession of it, in the epidemic rage, against that notable and powerful and successful way of saving the lives of people from the dangers of the smallpox. What can I do on this occasion, to get the miserable town dispossessed of the evil spirit which has taken such an horrible possession of it? What besides prayer with fasting for it?“

Cotton Mather in his diary entry dated 24 August 1721 as recounted in “When Cotton Mather Fought the Smallpox“.

The town for this outbreak was Boston. The disease was smallpox. The year was in 1721. Mather wanted them to try inoculation, a primitive form of vaccination and took lots of heat for it. He also want them to fast and pray.

As we find ourselves locked down around the world, fighting COVID-19, a disease we can’t see, we should be open to both medical treatments and committed to spiritual remedies.

So where does generosity come into view?

When I read this story, I could not get over the way in which the outbreak caused people to fight against each other. Prayer and fasting changes all that. It humbles us and brings is closer to God and each other.

As we face a foe we cannot see, let’s devote a generous amount of time to prayer and fasting.

Pray for the sick, health care workers, the vulnerable, the unemployed, ministry workers, family, and friends.

Fast for your neighborhood and nation, for renewal and revival. Ask God to intervene in His grace and goodness.

The more I look through church history, the more I see that every generation faced some sort of disease, outbreak, or plague. The question for this generation is what does a generous response look like?

Some facets of a generous response may vary from steward to steward, but all of us, regardless of our age, social or economic status, can commit to prayer and fasting.

Join me, my church, and Christians around the world for a day of prayer and fasting on 29 March 2020.

God, deliver us from this disease. Draw the world closer together and to You. Work by your Spirit. Hear my prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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