Grasping the Wonder of Grace

mccheyne“For every one look you take at your sin, take ten looks at Jesus.”
Robert Murray M’Cheyne spoke these words to his congregation
in Scotland in the early 1800s.
We do well to heed M’Cheyne’s counsel
as we regularly confess our sins to the Lord
and experience anew the assurance of forgiveness.

The regular discipline of confession (1 John 1:9)
enables us to grasp more fully
the beauty and wonder of grace
as we are made continually aware of the depth
of our need of the Gospel.

We often include a written prayer of confession in our worship service
as a tool to facilitate an honest and thorough confession
of our personal sins to the Lord.

Our time of confession should never lead to despair,
but always to joy, since our God
is one who pardons iniquity, delights in mercy,
and casts our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18-19).

One of the high moments of a worship service
occurs when we hear the words of the assurance of our pardon:
“If your faith is in Jesus Christ,
then I can assure you, based on the sure promise of the Word,
that your sins are forgiven.”

Oh what a blessing it is to know
that we are completely forgiven, totally accepted,
and deeply loved by our Lord!

A Prayer of Confession for Good Friday

Merciful Father, we meet each other today at the foot of the cross.
We wait with each other as those who inflict wounds on one another:
Have mercy on us.

As those who spurn Your love for other loves:
Be merciful to us.

As those who put our trust in power and prestige:
Be merciful to us.

As those who pursue only our own personal interests:
Be merciful to us.

As those who put others on trial:
Be merciful to us.

As those who refuse to forgive:
Be merciful to us.

As those who are afraid of the world’s frown and displeasure:
Be merciful to us. Amen.

Barabbas and Jesus – A Prayer of Confession of Sin

Luke 23:18 – But they all cried out together,
“Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas
(whose name means ‘son of the father’).”

23:22 – A third time he [Pilate] said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?
I have found in him no guilt deserving death.

God, our heavenly Father,
we adore You for the sweet,
beautiful exchange of the Gospel.
A guilty son of the father is released
because the innocent son of the Father is condemned.
Overwhelm us with gratitude
knowing that we were that guilty son.
Forgive us the times that we allow
the fear of man to compromise our convictions,
to violate our consciences,
and to lead us into many snares.
Grant us a firm resolve to follow Jesus
no matter what the costs
because He is the true King of heaven.
We make our prayer in His name, Amen.

Putting on Airs vs. Putting on Armor

A Prayer of Confession

Gracious heavenly Father,
we confess that we put on airs
more often than we put on Your armor.
Forgive us for our self-promotion,
self-protection and self-reliance.
Pardon us for not cherishing and trusting in Your gifts
of righteousness, faith, and salvation
during times of temptation and spiritual conflict.
Transform us by Your Spirit
so that we live as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
For we pray in His strong name,
Who is our strength and our defender. Amen.

In the Presence of a Holy God – Isaiah 6

It was a devastating blow.  Like all devoted citizens, Isaiah had venerated King Uzziah. For fifty-two years, King Uzziah had led Judah in an administration of peace and prosperity. It was an era of expansion and achievement. Now he was dead.  The throne sat empty.  It was unfortunate that the king had rebelled against the Word of God and died a leper (2 Kings 15:1–7; 2 Chron. 26). Isaiah realized that though the nation had prospered materially, it was in terrible condition spiritually.

In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord. Isaiah 6:1.  Think of a time when one of your heroes passed on.   God’s purpose… Over and over again the Lord sometimes removes our friends and family in order to put Himself in their place, and that is where we faint and fail and get discouraged. Take it personally: In the year that the one who stood to me for all that God was, died—I gave up everything? I became ill? I got disheartened? or—I saw the Lord?

I. The Upward Gaze – In the presence of a holy God, we see the Lord for who He really is…the living, authoritative, omnipotent, resplendent, revered, holy, and glorious King whom all of heaven tirelessly serves and worships. The Christ we must perceive.  The one who is worthy of all worship.  To the discouraged prophet, as he knelt in prayer at the Temple at Jerusalem, the Lord granted a transforming vision of His glory.

He thus assured Isaiah that despite the apparent triumph of evil in the world,

The Lord still reigned omnipotent upon his heavenly throne (Isaiah 52:13 – same terms used for the servant of Lord).  On the throne – Sovereign Ruler.

 

See the sovereignty of the Eternal Monarch: he sits upon a thronea throne of glory, before which we must worship,—a throne of government, under which we must be subject, God’s dominion is total: he wills as he chooses and carries out all that he wills, and none can stay his hand or thwart his plans.[1]

—and a throne of grace, to which we may come boldly. This throne is high, and lifted up above all competition and contradiction.[2]

The heavenly attendants – adored by the mighty angels of heaven (symbolically represented by the six-winged seraphim). Even the foundations of the earthly Temple trembled at the thunder of the angelic choir, and the sanctuary was filled with the incense smoke of adoring prayer.  Serephs – “burning ones.”

Covering their eyes…In the presence of a holy God, even the dazzling and sinless are overwhelmed. They are fit neither to see him or be seen by him

Covering their feet – they disavowed any intention to choose their own path.

They flew – They are swift to serve (v.2) and tireless to praise (v.3).  Calling to one another.. the antiphonal song of God’s holiness.

God lifted Isaiah’s eyes from himself and his people to the throne of heaven. There might be confusion and unrest on earth, but there was perfect peace in heaven: God was seated in majestic power and glory.

John 12:38–41 informs us that Isaiah saw Jesus Christ in His glory. “These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.”

He was on the throne of heaven being praised by the seraphim. His royal robe filled the heavenly temple, and the house was filled with the smoke of His anger against sin (Ps. 80:4). His angelic creatures, the seraphim (“fiery ones”), praised Him for His holiness and His glory. “The whole earth is full of His glory.” Isaiah did not see much glory that day, nor do we see it today. Rather, it seems that the whole earth is “filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11).

Holy – the word signifies everything about God that sets him apart from us and makes him an object of awe, adoration, and dread to us. It covers all aspects of his transcendent greatness and moral perfection and thus is an attribute of all his attributes, pointing to the “Godness” of God at every point.[3]

II. The Inward Gaze – In the presence of a holy God, we see ourselves for who we really are…sinners in need of cleansing. The Cleansing we must possess.

From where did the coal come?  Came from the place of sacrifice and spoke the language of atonement.  “The penalty of sin was paid for by a substitute offered in the sinners place.  The symbol applied to Isaiah’s lips (the point of most pressing need) assures him of personal forgiveness.

What was it that King Uzziah had to say after his sin and consequent affliction of leprosy?  Unclean, unclean…

A true vision of God and His holiness always makes us realize our own sinfulness and failure. Job saw God and repented (Job 42:6); Peter cried out, “I am a sinful man” when he saw Christ’s power (Luke 5:8). Self-righteous rabbi Saul saw that his own righteousness was but “garbage” next to the glory of Christ (Acts 9 and Phil. 3), and he believed and became the Apostle Paul. When believers have a true experience with the Lord, it does not make them proud; rather, it humbles and breaks them.

When Isaiah confessed his sins, he mentioned especially his unclean lips. Of course, unclean lips are the products of an unclean heart. The prophet knew that he could not faithfully preach for the Lord unless he was prepared and cleansed. How different from some Christians who rush out to serve Christ before taking time to meet the Lord and be cleansed. God met the prophet’s need: He sent a seraph to cleanse him with a coal from the altar.

How tragic it would be to have the throne without the altar! There would be conviction of sin, but no cleansing.

III. The Outward Gaze –  In the presence of a holy God, we see the need and receive our commission – our marching orders.  The commission we must pursue.  Note well that we are not called to serve until we are cleansed.  “Here I am, send me!” is truly a remarkable statement considering Isaiah’s previous despair in chapter 5.  Secondly, that a human voice is allowed to speak in the heavenly court.

The Call – “Here I am, all of me to go anywhere at any time at any cost.”  Total availability and accessibility.

The Cause – “Go and tell…”  Two verbs of Jesus Christ… “come and go.”  “Go and tell!” This is God’s commission to us today. “You shall be witnesses to me…to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, nkjv). It was not an easy commission God gave to the prophet, for the nation was in no mood to hear his messages of sin and judgment.

The Crown – (v.13c) A holy seed, a remnant, fruit from our efforts.

The cost – rejection and persecution

Conclusion:

Every time we gather for worship, we should experience the same thing that Isaiah did.

When Isaiah walked out of the temple that day, he was no longer a mourner—he was a missionary. He was not merely a spectator; he was a participant. God had equipped him to do the job: Isaiah had seen the Lord, he had seen himself, and he had seen the need. Knowing that God was on the throne, and that God had called and commissioned him, he was ready to fulfill his commission even unto death.

 

 

 

 

[1]Packer, J. I. (1995, c1993). Concise theology : A guide to historic Christian beliefs. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House.

[2]Henry, M. (1996, c1991). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible : Complete and unabridged in one volume (Is 6:1). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[3]Packer, J. I. (1995, c1993). Concise theology : A guide to historic Christian beliefs. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House.

Prayer of Confession by Martin Luther

Behold, Lord, I am an empty vessel
that needs to be filled.
My Lord, fill it.
I am weak in faith; Strengthen me.
I am cold in love; Warm me and make me fervent
that my love may go out to my neighbor.

I do not have a strong and firm faith;
at times I doubt and am unable to trust You altogether.
O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in Thee.

In You I have sealed the treasures of all I have.
I am poor; You are rich and came to be merciful to the poor.
I am a sinner; You are upright.
With me there is an abundance of sin;
In You is the fullness of righteousness.
Help and forgive me, O Lord,
for my only hope is in You. Amen.

Word-Saturated Worship

Scripture suffuses every part of our worship services.

  • We call one another to our awesome task of worshipping God with Scripture.
  • We sing God’s praise with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in order to make God’s Word memorable and vivid.
  • The Spirit uses God’s Word to convict us of sin and to show us our fresh need of His forgiveness and grace.
  • We use the precious promises of God’s Word to assure us of His pardon.
  • We give attention to reading His sacred Scriptures because faith comes by hearing the Word of God.
  • We preach His Word because, through it, God chooses to save and cause some to be spiritually reborn (1 Corinthians 1:21, 1 Peter 1:25).
  • Also, His Word equips us to live for Christ and to make an impact His kingdom during the perilous times in which we live (2 Timothy 3).
  • Lastly, God sends us out with His blessing to serve a needy world. This benediction comes from His Word!

Why do we make such a big deal about the Word saturating all of our worship? Because… “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Peter 1:24).

Through the eternal, profitable, inerrant, and living Word of God, we hear and receive “the good news” by which we experience eternal salvation. Therefore, it is imperative that we carefully prepare our hearts to give our undivided attention to His Word when we gather with God’s people to worship Him!