Prison, Providence, And The Lesson Of John The Baptist

Our understanding of God’s Providence, His divine guidance and care to fulfill His purposes, often comes into question when we find ourselves in a dilemma where we can’t understand our circumstances. Said another way, there may be times where we find ourselves in senseless situations that are completely out of our control. Our need is dire, and we have no choice, but to throw ourselves at the mercy of a Sovereign God. (Which is where we all must get to eventually, some get there sooner than others.)

We often think of providence in a lighthearted, purely positive sense, where God’s supernatural care gets us out of jams. For instance, we’re late for work, but every redlight turns green, or in terms of near misses, such as the lightning strike was eight feet from my house, or that out of control car missed my bumper by inches. 

Looking at scripture, one recurring theme where we see God’s providence, turns out to be far from lighthearted. It’s found repeatedly in prison stories where His people are unjustly thrown, facing death, enduring awful conditions, and their faith is stretched in ways we can’t imagine. It’s exactly where God wants them, they’re in His hands. The outcome uncertain, but God… It’s through the furnace of affliction where we must learn to trust Him, and where He receives the most glory. 

By the way, prison can take many forms. We don’t have to be behind bars or facing execution to be trapped in a desperate place. Whatever form prison may take in our lives, it’s precisely where God’s people must learn to trust, wait, and depend on Him. It’s where we cast our burdens upon Him for He cares for us. And we have an Advocate interceding, the Man of Sorrows, who has been there. 

When we think of the many prison situations in the Bible, we often remember the positive outcomes. For example, Joseph (falsely accused and jailed, but God…), Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (framed to a fiery furnace, but God…), Daniel (in the lion’s den, but God…), Paul in chains…

But what about the negative outcomes? What about all those martyred for their faith, like Stephen? What about John the Baptist – losing his head? 

God’s plans and purposes are not always positive from the standpoint of our desired outcome. God ultimately provides deliverance for His people through Christ and the cross, where the ultimate injustice, the ultimate mishandling of a trial, the ultimate wrongful death, brings total forgiveness and healing to prisoners of sin. Through his death and resurrection, Christ our Substitute, saves us from the eternal punishment and death we all deserve (mercy), while at the same time providing eternal life that we don’t deserve (grace). 

We may live through difficult and senseless times, we may be rescued from whatever prison we’re in, or we may die like John the Baptist, but God…through Christ, has provided eternal life to those who put their faith and trust in Him. Though we may die, yet shall we live in eternal joy. Life in the presence of the One we can worship and enjoy forever. That, my friends, is the ultimate providential care and guidance that He uses to accomplish His purpose. Christ is worth dying for. And on our journey to the Celestial City, we too must learn, to live is Christ, but all praise be to God, to die is gain. 

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Pain

Please take it away
Lord, give me Your novocaine
Let me not be numb

Behind the lines

I am feeble and crushed;
I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
O Lord, all my longing is before you;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
and the light of my eyes – it also has gone from me.
Psalm 38:8-10

New Every Morning

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

“Lamentations” is a book of sorrow, pain, anguish, and judgment. But Jeremiah, despite his depression and being brought very low (v. 18), still exults in Jehovah’s faithful love and mercy. Are these contradictions? They seem to be, but of course are not. When we “recall to mind” (v. 21) the great faithfulness of our God, we see clearly that his mercies are “new every morning.” How encouraging this is! The Lord’s daily love and compassion call for daily praise and daily worship!

“Great is your faithfulness.” We must often repeat these four great words to ourselves and to others. Yes, men wrong us, and there is much evil in the world. But we must not allow sin and wrong to overcome us with such anxiety that we forget how indebted we are to the “rich mercy” of God in our Lord Jesus Christ. Note verse 26:“It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.” This holy “salvation” is all wrapped up in the one, precious Savior of sinners, “Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Those who know and love Christ are the recipients of abounding grace and measureless mercy. Believers can truly say with much rejoicing, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

God’s love is steadfast, and his love never ceases; Yahweh’s great mercies will never come to an end; every single morning we can be assured that God will be faithful to us. Is not this great cause for praise to Christ Jesus? Yes, and we are glad to read this: “It shall be well with them that fear God” (Ecclesiastes 8:12). “Well” means no wrath, no judgment, no rejection, but acceptance, love, favor, and mercy through the finished work of Calvary’s bloody cross. When we camp around Calvary our personal depression seems so small and insignificant compared to the Lord of life dying as our Substitute. His death and resurrection assure us of real victory over all sin, all depression, and all the fretting of this life. Let’s praise our Savior anew every morning! “To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever” (Romans 16:27).

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A Scripture Meditation by W. F. Bell (1948-2018)

The Throne Of Grace

This encouraging hymn by Samuel Medley (1738-1799) is based on Hebrews 4:16 and can be found in Gadsby’s Hymns (#382).

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Dear Lord! to us assembled here
Reveal thy smiling face,
While we, by faith, with love and fear,
Approach the throne of grace.

Thy house is called the house of prayer,
A solemn sacred place;
O let us now thy presence share,
While at the throne of grace.

With holy boldness may we come,
Though of a sinful race,
Thankful to find there yet is room
Before the throne of grace.

Our earnest, fervent cry attend,
And all our faith increase,
While we address our heavenly Friend
Upon the throne of grace.

His tender pity and his love
Our every fear will chase;
And all our help, we then shall prove,
Comes from the throne of grace.

Dear Lord, our many wants supply;
Attend to every case;
While humbled in the dust we lie,
Low at the throne of grace.

We bless thee for thy word and laws;
We bless thee for thy peace;
And we do bless thee, Lord, because
There is a throne of grace.

Heaven A World of Love

“For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” 1 Corinthians 13:9-10

No writer, in my estimation, exudes the fragrance of Christ more than Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). Anyone who reads him will attest to this fact. It was Martyn Lloyd-Jones who said of Edwards, “He was a mighty theologian and a great evangelist at the same time.” This cannot be refuted. It is sad, however, that Edwards has been neglected among the “lesser lights” in the church. May we all be stirred to read him anew! The blessings will be inestimable! Nothing ever written on 1 Corinthians 13 could possibly exceed what Edwards wrote in Charity and Its Fruits, from which these extracts are taken:

The apostle speaks, in the text, of a state of the church when it is perfect in heaven, and therefore a state in which the Holy Spirit shall be more perfectly and abundantly given to the church than it is now on earth. And it is also a state in which this holy love or charity shall be, as it were, the only gift or fruit of the Spirit, as being the most perfect and glorious of all, and which, being brought to perfection, renders all other gifts that God was wont to bestow on his church on earth, needless.

I would consider, first, the great cause and fountain of love that is in heaven. Here I remark that the God of love himself dwells in heaven. Heaven is the palace or presence-chamber of the high and holy One, whose name is love, and who is both the cause and source of all holy love. And this renders heaven a world of love; for God is the fountain of love, as the sun is the fountain of light. The apostle tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and therefore, seeing he is an infinite being, it follows that he is an infinite fountain of love.

There dwells Christ, the Lamb of God, the prince of peace and of love, who so loved the world that he shed his blood, and poured out his soul unto death for men. There dwells the great Mediator, through whom all the divine love is expressed toward men. There dwells Christ in both his natures, the human and the divine, sitting on the same throne with the Father. And there this glorious fountain forever flows forth in streams, yea, in rivers of love and delight, and these rivers swell, as it were, to an ocean of love, in which the souls of the ransomed may bathe with the sweetest enjoyment, and their hearts, as it were, be deluged with love!

Second, I would consider the objects of love that heaven contains. There are none but lovely objects in heaven. No odious, or unlovely, or polluted person or thing is to be seen there. There is nothing that is wicked or unholy. “There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defiles, neither whatsoever works abomination” (Revelation 21:27).  There are many things in this world that in the general are lovely, but yet are not perfectly free from that which is the contrary. But it is not so in heaven. That blessed world shall be perfectly bright, without any darkness; perfectly fair, without any spot; perfectly clear, without any cloud. No moral or natural defect shall ever enter there; and there nothing will be seen that is sinful or weak or foolish.

The Son of God, who is the brightness of the Father’s glory, appears there in the fullness of his glory, without that garb of outward meanness in which he appeared in this world. The whole church, ransomed and purified, shall there be presented to Christ, as a bride, clothed in fine linen, clean and white, “without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing”(Ephesians 5:27). Wherever the inhabitants of that blessed world shall turn their eyes, they shall see nothing but dignity, and beauty, and glory. “And the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations were of all kinds of precious stones. The twelve gates were twelve pearls”(Revelation 21:18-21). And all these are but faint emblems of the purity and perfectness of those that dwell therein. And there, above all, we shall enjoy and dwell with Jesus Christ, our beloved Savior, who has always been to us “the chief among ten thousands, and altogether lovely” (Song of Solomon 5:10,16).

~Adapted from Jonathan Edwards, “Heaven a World of Love,” Charity and Its Fruits, pages 325-332

Note: Surely we cannot read the above precious lines from Edwards without tears of joy! And let us all sing anew very loudly, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!”

wfb (October 24, 2016)
A Scripture Meditation by W. F. Bell (1948-2018)

The Prayer of Jehoshaphat

As we approach the National Day of Prayer, below are six principles on what to do when we don’t know what to do, as found in 2 Chronicles 20. This is not a six-step prayer formula with guaranteed success. Instead, it’s six-steps for praying through tears with hope and dependence as we wait on the Sovereign.

In the passage, Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, was completely overwhelmed as a great army was approaching prepared for war. So, what do we do when we’re overwhelmed with the battles of this life and the way forward seems impossible?

1. Seek the LORD
The first thing Jehoshaphat does is seek the LORD through prayer and fasting:

Jehoshaphat was alarmed and set his face to seek the LORD. And he proclaimed a fast throughout Judah. So the people of Judah gathered to seek the LORD, and indeed, they came from all the cities of Judah to seek Him (2 Chronicles 20:3-4).

2. Acknowledge His Power
Next, he acknowledges where his Hope comes from:

Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem in the house of the LORD, in front of the new courtyard and said, “O LORD, God of our fathers, are You not the God who is in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand, and no one can stand against You (2 Chronicles 20:5-6).

3. Acknowledge Our Weakness
He admits weakness, but not without hope:

Our God, will You not judge them? For we are powerless before this vast army that comes against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You (2 Chronicles 20:12).

4. Eyes On Him!
This brings other verses to mind:

My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net (Psalm 25:15).

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2).

…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

5. Wait On Him
The people stood waiting (their wait was short, but the wait could be long) and then God spoke through Jahaziel:

Meanwhile all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. And the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel…

And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you” (2 Chronicles 20:13-17).

6. Worship While Waiting
Even before victory, they believed, worshipped, and sang. The good news is we know that Christ has won the ultimate victory, but we often have to fight for the right perspective during our darkest hours:

Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the LORD, worshiping the LORD (2 Chronicles 20:18).

….And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the LORD and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say,

“Give thanks to the LORD,
for his steadfast love endures forever.”

And when they began to sing and praise, the LORD set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed (2 Chronicles 20:20-22).

Engage
Comment with a praise story of how God answered your prayer as you trusted Him through a difficult situation.

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