Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Bruised Reed...

Let’s take a walk together through the Judean countryside.  The time is around 33AD.  It has been a long arduous journey and we are anxious to get home.  You know what I mean, “There is no place like home!”  We have only to pass through customs on the road ahead and we will almost be there.  Oh no!  What is this?  Look at the line backed up at the collection booth!  We will never make it home in time for dinner!  What could the problem possibly be?  Word begins to pass down the line - one of the travelers who doesn’t really seem to have much to declare has held up the whole process.  He doesn’t have anything more than the sandals on his feet and a staff in his hand.  

He must be one of those people who doesn’t have the right change!  If I strain my eyes, I can just about see the toll booth - even though the line has stretched out so far.  Oh, I can see the tax collector getting up out of his booth.  This stranger is going to be in trouble now - I bet he doesn’t have the money at all and the “revenuer” is going to turn him over to the Roman authorities.  They will know what to do with such a deadbeat!  How dare he inconvenience all of us.

No, wait a minute!?  What is this?  The agent is going with him!  He is leaving his business behind and he is following this strange man.  What can this mean - I have never seen anything like this!?  There is no one left in the booth.  The whole line is surging ahead without paying a single coin.  Well, I don’t know what I just witnessed - but at least I will be home in time for dinner.


I am sure that by now you have figured out that the tax collector in the narrative is the Gospel writer and disciple Matthew.

As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. Matthew 9:9

Matthew stood up - meeting Christ’s gaze eye to eye - and they walked off together.

The Pharisees of His day or the religious legalist of our day (and we all have some of this in us): “Would first make him a penitent, and then bid him welcome to God; Christ first welcomes him to God, and so makes him a penitent.  The one demands, the other imparts life.”

Jesus didn’t call Matthew to repentance (9:13 KJV), but to Himself.  Repentance will follow.  Matthew arose and turned to face Christ and then walked away from his business–a true change of heart.

“But when (the call) came, and Jesus fixed on him that look of love which searched the inmost deep of the soul, and made Him the true Fisher of men, it needed not a moment’s thought or consideration.”

“That was a gain that day, not of Matthew alone, but of all the poor and needy in Israel–nay, of all sinners from among men, to whom the door of heaven was opened.”

View Point

Now let’s look at this scenario from another view point - the other end of the line. This account of Matthew’s calling is also recorded in Mark and Luke, but they refer to him as Levi - his Hebrew name.  Matthew will not call himself that - he only goes by his more common name.  He was known as other things by his fellow Jews - thief, traitor, sellout, blasphemer...

If he did not hear them say these words, he saw it in their eyes–one by one and day after day.  But he needed this job, he had no other way to make a living - no other choices. He was a slave. But when his eyes met the eyes of the Savior he saw something he had never seen before - unconditional love.  He simply records: “He saw a man called Matthew,...”  Levi-Matthew was so compelled that he could only get up and follow - the love was irresistible.   “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul - my life - my all!  Isaac Watts 1707 

And Matthew is the only Gospel writer that includes these words of Isaiah in his account - for he was a bruised reed.  He had been bruised by condemnation, accusation, self-righteousness and judgement - stones hurled against his very soul.  Yes, words can hurt - very deeply.

A bruised reed he will not break, 
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, 
till he leads justice to victory. 
In his name the nations will put their hope.” 
Matthew 12:20-21 NIV

I love the way this is expressed here: “He will not crush those who are weak, or quench the smallest hope, until he brings full justice with his final victory.” NLT


This speaks of his mission - and to those that he invited into his home to meet the Messiah. That night Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to be his dinner guests, along with his fellow tax collectors and many other notorious sinners.  The Pharisees were indignant. “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” they asked his disciples.  Matthew 9:10-11

‘Expecting a Messiah who would crush the sinful and support the righteous, they had little place for one who accepted and transformed the sinner and dismissed the righteous as hypocrites.’

When he heard this, Jesus replied, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices.’ For I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.”  Matthew 9:12-13 NLT

Matthew had become a fisher of men.  "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."  Although Matthew and the rest would face many struggles in the days ahead, the call of Christ was compelling - irrevocable.  David Platt writes, “These men decidedly do not warrant Jesus’ pursuit. (They) become disciples of Jesus solely because of the initiative–and invitation–of Christ. No one has ever been saved from their sins because they have pursued Jesus. Everyone who has ever been saved from their sins knows that they have been pursued by Jesus–and their lives haven’t been the same since.”


For this account to have even a greater grip on our being we need to appreciate the analogy that is being drawn first by the Prophet and then in the life of Matthew Levi.

The piper walked down to the edge of the stream to examine a stand of reeds.  He was in need of a new instrument as his old one was worn out and would not produce a melodious sound.  “Ah, here is a healthy looking one,” he says to himself as he plucks the stem from among the others. Yet on closer examination he sees that it is bruised–it has been injured.  With disgust he fractures it even further and discards it into the stream - being sure that no one else would have any use for it.

As the current carries the bruised reed toward the sea of death it bumps into the bare leg of another who is standing in the stream.  He is in the midst of the stream with the reed.  As a hand gently lifts it from the waters a miracle occurs - it is healed.  This One saw a worth in the reed that the piper could not.  He then draws the reed to his mouth filling it with the breath of life–a beautiful melody is produced.  This melody is a call - a call to others who are bruised - to come and be restored.

The innkeeper goes to prepare the room for his guest.  As he enters, he sees that the lamp on the table is barely flickering.  It is low on oil and as a result it is producing more black smoke than it is producing light. The innkeeper quickly moves toward it to snuff it out so that its soot will not dirty the room.

But the guest has arrived and he pushes past the innkeeper to lift up the lamp in his hands.  As he draws it toward his gaze something miraculous happens!  The well of its being is suddenly filled with fresh oil. No longer is it a smoldering wick–now it is a brilliant light filling every corner of the room with its luminescence. It beckons others to come to the light.


 Melodious harmony bringing understanding (brings order) to their confusion and a brilliant light dispelling the darkness.  

“the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." Matthew 4:16 NIV

Levi Matthew uses these analogies for he was a bruised reed and a smoldering wick. Early in 1982 as the Father began to call together a community of believers gathering in our living room, this was the message He gave to us: “The bruised reed He will not break and the smoldering wick He will not extinguish.”  It was and is a message of healing for the wounded spirit: “UNTIL HE LEADS JUSTICE TO VICTORY.”

Let our minds think on these objects of creation - a reed and a flax - as harbingers of the age that now is and is yet to come.  This is so well expressed in the words of this modern hymn by Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend

Creation longs for His return, 
When Christ shall reign upon the earth; 
The bitter wars that rage 
Are birth pains of a coming age. 
When He renews the land and sky, 
All heav'n will sing and earth reply 
With one resplendent theme: The glories of our God and King! 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

“Don’t Waste Your Sorrows!”
(The Lady in Red)

“Oh Lord, I want to trust only You.”  I cannot recall the exact words - nor even whether I said this prayer out loud or only breathed it.  Yet I vividly remember the ensuing events!  Anything that I could have been trusting in other than God was removed - it was His mercy that this particular episode was spread out over a period of six months.  My singular “I” was also changed to the plural “we” by virtue of our marriage covenant.


I tell people that if they pray a prayer anything similar to this and they do not really mean it - then they had better duck.  This will be one of the most quickly answered prayers you have ever uttered - and you will probably not appreciate the immediate results. Although I now have the advantage of thirty years of hindsight, it did not take that long to realize what our Faithful Father was accomplishing in our lives.  While “blowing bubbles in the mud” both literally and figuratively - through a prophetic utterance God reminded us that He was Sovereign.  I like to say that at that point I became a Presbyterian - again.  Actually it was another step on the pathway of the Reformers.

If such a prayer has as its motive vain personal piety - then it is the most foolish thing possible; akin to shooting oneself in the foot.  However, if it is inspired according to the will of the Father by the Holy Spirit - then its results will be of incalculable value. This is referred to in the Scriptures as glory. There were choices made by me during this period that definitely resulted in untoward circumstances - yet they only served as part of the Father’s plan for our lives.

One of the favorite refrigerator magnet scriptures must surely be Romans 8:28 - usually only quoted in part: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God,...” This misapplication of this partial passage can result in extreme injury.  For us it meant the loss of the support of a community of believers that we had helped grow. They saw the things that were happening to us as not being “good” therefore we must be out of the favor of God - certainly we were not experiencing His blessings.  The glibness by which this passage is quoted and the violation of its contextualization is tragic. Let’s end this paragraph with the rest of the verse: “to them who are the called according to his purpose.” KJV


At the very minimum of proper exegesis we must get the eternal implications of this verse by looking at it within the paragraph of which it is a part - Romans 8:26-30. As I mentioned before I prayed a prayer - but where did that prayer originate and how did it get into me? The unequivocal answer is in the first two verses of this paragraph: “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

Did I know how to pray correctly - do any of us know how to pray correctly?  The answer from these verses is a resounding “No!”  Thankfully we are not consigned to aimless meanderings or vain repetition for the Father has sent His Spirit to aid us in our infirmities. He intercedes on our behalf in such a majestic way it is beyond our comprehension - thus “too deep for words.” The revelation that He brings is totally in accord with the will of God.  Mike Bickle has said something like this concerning the heart of prayer: “Tell God what He has told you to tell Him.”  The Holy Spirit draws us into the eternal symphony of heaven where the Father’s will is being accomplished explicitly and works it out through us - the people of God - on the earth: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10 NASB

These two verses then could be considered as the preamble to that which follows in this paragraph.  Without this divine initiative on the part of the Father through the agency of the Holy Spirit what follows would be meaningless - indeed it would ring with the hollowness of narcissism. The idolatry of the admiration of our image must totally and completely be eclipsed by the One who has brought to us the express image of God the Father - “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being,...” Hebrews 1:3a NIV


Recently I attended a national convention of evangelicals when one the leaders expounded on Romans 8:28. As he concluded, he said these words: “To those who are called according to His purposes.”  I was aghast!  I could not believe what I had just heard from the lips of one of our main spokesmen. His purpose is not plural. Our God is singular - He is One!  "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” Deuteronomy 6:4 NASB As He is One so also His purpose is one - to defuse His purpose into purposes is to cause it to lose the grandeur of the Son of His love. This singular purpose is the focus of the intercessory groaning of the Holy Spirit. It seems that if we do not neglect this part of the verse then we contort it to mean something that was never intended.

For those who are the elect of God in Jesus Christ - "You did not choose Me but I chose you,...” John 15:16a NASB - there is nothing that comes our way that is outside the bounds of His predetermined purpose.  And that brings us to: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;...” Romans 8:29 NASB.  We also see the reinforcement of this great truth here: “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:4b-6 NASB 


Returning to our personal story - did God in His sovereignty allow me to make choices - yes.  Did my “bad” choices impede His purpose for my life - “No!” Was the experience pleasant - not in the least.  Nancy reminded me that at that time I was teaching in our home fellowship group from “Don’t Waste Your Sorrows” by Paul Billheimer and reading devotionally from “The Calvary Road” by Roy Hession.  I can distinctly remember taking both of those books and shoving them to the back of my desk drawer.  

Yet, all that was happening was working together for our good.  Craig Keener comments: “The ‘good’ that God seeks for those who love him, then, is above all their ultimate glory.”  And that glory is being transformed into the image of His Son. Indeed this also is part of the High Priestly prayer offered to the Father on our behalf: "The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;” John 17:22 (The singularity of Christ’s prayer is inescapable.) The glory of God is at the heart of the evangel.  It is that which no man can co-opt. The Father bestowed it on the Son and he causes all things to serve this purpose in those whom He has elected - “to become conformed to the image of His Son,...”

This leads us directly to the last verse of our paragraph: “and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”  Romans 8:30 NASB Once again we see this purpose in John’s Gospel: "I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.”  John 17:9-10 NASB John Gill comments: “Christ is speaking not of things but of persons;...and these the elect of God,...”


Twenty years after these particular events that I have been referring to I found myself on the other side of the world - Entebbe, Uganda - speaking to a group of pastors.  I do not remember what my subject was, but I began to relate this story.  I shared of the dealings of God in our lives through difficult circumstances - but how the local community of believers was not able to comprehend.  This resulted in misunderstanding, confusion and even accusation.

I looked to the back of the congregation and saw two women that had not been there before - we were teaching a seminar for pastors over a period of days.  One of them was dressed in red - and she was beginning to cry.  I continued to explain how all of these events only served our Father’s predetermined purpose to get us where He wanted us.  The lady in red began to cry even more.  The Presence of the Holy Spirit was so real that we entered into a period of spontaneous worship.  As we came out of this I motioned to one of our team to go back and minister to her.  But when she saw me do this, she came forward.  This set the scene for a protracted period of ministry not only to her, but to others as well.

A few days later while we were at the airport preparing to return home, the other lady - who worked there - approached us with bottles of water as gifts.  “You don’t understand,” she said to us.  She told us that the lady in red was her pastor and in her desire to follow God she had encountered misunderstanding, confusion and criticism.  She had just told God that if she did not receive a word from Him, she could not go on.  God in His sovereignty - twenty years before - had prepared a West Virginia boy to be the word of God to her - the image of Christ.  My friends, this is the glory of God - not my glory, not your glory - but the glory of God.  Mankind cannot usurp this: “That no flesh should glory in his presence.” 1 Corinthians 1:29 Webster’s Translation All we can do is worship such a One - and do it for all eternity.


Is there anything that can happen to the believer - whether by our choice or not - that is outside of the bounds of Romans 8:26-30?  The anser again is No!  Are you living in the midst of difficult circumstances?  Is our Faithful Father frustrated in His ultimate purpose for you? No! He takes all of these things to fit, fashion and conform us to the image of His Son.

Recently I was speaking with a younger pastor and we were relating the wonder of the adventure of the Christian life.  I mentioned to him, “The older I get the more Reformed I become.”  He looked at me with astonishment, “You are the third person that has said that to me recently.”  One of those was his father, also a pastor. We serve a sovereign God whose purpose - that His Son would be the First among many - is beyond frustration.

From the timeless truth of the hymn writer:

O to grace how great a debtor 
daily I'm constrained to be! 
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, 
bind my wandering heart to thee. 
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, 
prone to leave the God I love; 
here's my heart, O take and seal it, 
seal it for thy courts above. 

“Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.”  The Revelation of Jesus Christ 19:6

Soli Deo Gloria!