Monday, June 12, 2017

What Is Greatness?

Pastor Jack Maxwell and I were on our way to our Thursday morning Bible study when our conversation turned toward the subject of baptism. He said that he had been baptized in the Jordan River and went on to note that this stream - saturated with Biblical significance - was really not much more than a rivulet.

That immediately started me thinking for our discussion topic that morning was the calling of the Twelve as recounted in Mark’s Gospel. Men of whom it would be said “they have turned the world upside down.” Yet at their calling not one of them was of any particular significance - actually quite the opposite. 

Many are the appellations of the Jordan River as a mighty torrent on par with the River Nile. Yet in reality it is only a meandering stream. The reason we regard it in overflowing terms is that it serves the purpose of God. “And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.” Joshua 3:17  It was the door - opened by the Lord -  into the covenanted promised land. 

Another geographical feature replete with Biblical import is Mount Zion. What makes Zion great? “Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, Is Mount Zion in the far north, The city of the great King.” Psalm 48:2  Geographically speaking Zion is no great lofty mountain - but only a small hill within the confines of Jerusalem. What makes it great is the purpose of God - elect and chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. 

The Die of God

So it is with the called people of God. Great men of God or men of a Great God?  It is when a man or woman is struck by the sovereign die of God that they become great for the indelible image that is now impressed on them is that of the person of the Firstborn of many brethren. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of His power.” Hebrews 1:3 

The chosen of God are perpetually upheld by the word of His power! As Charles Spurgeon writes: “He bought us, sought us, brought us in, and has so far wrought us to His image that we shall be fought for by Him with all of His might.”

Returning to our discussion passage for the morning: “And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.” Mark 3:13.  There was no hesitation for the call was irresistible - even on the one who “is a devil.” 

Notice the efficacy of the call . . .   “not according to their will, works and merits, but according to the sovereign will and grace of Christ, who chose them, and not they him:” John Gill.  From John’s Gospel: “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:13 KJV  It is the sovereign will of God that does prevail against all of the tests of time - an immutable rock: “For their rock is not as our Rock,...” 

I Chose You!

Looking again to John: "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” John 15:16  Relationship with God the Father is initiated by the Son - it is sustained by Him - and it culminates in Him. No other foundation exists for lasting fruitfulness. 

He doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.  For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Romans 11:29  From Paul’s bequeathment to his young disciple: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,...” 2 Timothy 1:9 (12)  

The Reformed Evangelical theologian D. A. Carson writes: We are not chosen because we are choice - we become choice once we have been chosen.  “For we are his workmanship (God's masterpiece), created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 Once this revelation dawns in our hearts, purpose becomes birthed in us.

Toby Mack has written in his testimony song: 

When love broke through
You found me in the darkness...
My chains are broken 
And it all began with You 

The Son prays to His Father: “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” John 17:12 In making sure that all of His elect were secure His intercession continues: “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word;” 17:20 

Soli Deo Gloria

As we draw to a summation, we see that the object of all of this is Soli Deo Gloria - To the Glory of God Alone. For the sound of the will of man - the hammer, chisel or any other iron tool - cannot be heard at the site of the building of the Temple of God: “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:5 ESV 

Paul dashes all possibility of pretense with these words: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.”  1 Corinthians 1:26-29 KJV

It has been said of Paul that he “descended into greatness.” From the dust of the Damascus road God would lift Him up as His herald: ‘But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.”’ Acts 9:15 

For a postscript: 

Even the lowly ass (donkey) becomes mighty when the Lord chooses to speak through it. “But (Balaam) was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet.” 2 Peter 2:16 KJV  “And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam,...” Numbers 22:28