Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Joshua 3:7-17; Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37 or Micah 3:5-12; Psalm 43; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12
Set apart for God, we rejoice in His great love.
‘Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you’ (Joshua 3:5). ‘Sanctify them in the truth; Thy Word is truth’ (John 17:17). Together with the command, there is the prayer. We are called to set ourselves apart for God. We can only do this when we look to the Lord for His strength. We receive His strength through His Word. We give ourselves to the Lord. He gives His promise to us: ‘the Lord will do wonders among you’. His promise of blessing is no guarantee of an easy time. In the promised land, there would be problems - and God: ‘as I was with Moses, so I will be with you’ (Joshua 3:7). There would be conflict - and victory: ‘the living God is among you... He will without fail drive out from before you...’ (Joshua 3:10). We look beyond Joshua to Jesus - ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23). In Him, we have the victory (1 Corinthians 15:57).
There are some things that are worth repeating! The story of God’s amazing grace is worth repeating over and over again - ‘Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress’ (Psalm 107:6, 13, 19, 28). The call to praise the Lord is also something we need to hear again and again - ‘Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for men’ (Psalm 107:8, 15, 21, 31). Let us ‘consider the great love of the Lord’. Let us ‘give thanks to the Lord’ (Psalm 107:43, 1). ‘The great love of God is revealed in the Son, who came to this earth to redeem every one. That love, like a stream flowing clear to the sea, makes clean every heart that from sin would be free... It’s yours, it is ours, O how lavishly given! The pearl of great price, and the treasure of heaven!’ (Church Hymnary, 415).
Set apart for God, we worship Him, walk with Him and witness for Him.
Micah speaks to those ‘who hate good and love evil’ (Micah 3:2). He calls upon them to change their way of living. He calls upon them to worship the Lord - ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord’- and walk with Him - ‘We will walk in the Name of the Lord our God for ever and ever’. How do we learn to ‘walk in His paths’? We come to His ‘House’. We listen to His ‘Word’. We pray that His Word will come to us ‘with power’. We ask Him to ‘teach us His ways’. We pray that we will be ‘filled with the Spirit of the Lord’ (Micah 4:2, 5; 3:8). We worship the Lord in His House. Gathered in His House for worship, we ‘receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on us’. Through His power, we are equipped for witness: ‘you will be My witnesses...’ (Acts 1:8).
In our worship, we listen to the Word of God.
Three times, the question is asked, ‘Why are you downcast, O my soul’. Three times, the answer is given, ‘Put your hope in God’. Three times, there is the response of faith: ‘I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God (Psalms 42:5, 11; 43:5). Often, we are filled with questions. We must bring our questions to God. We must learn to listen for His answers. The Lord is speaking to us. Are we listening? God speaks to us through His Word. Are we taking time to read His Word? He wants us to come to Him with the prayer, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening’ (1 Samuel 3:8-10). Listen to the Word of the Lord. Let His Word be your Guide: ‘Send forth Your light and Your truth, let them guide me...’ (Psalm 43:5). ‘Deep calls to deep’ (Psalm 42:7) - Let ‘the Spirit’show you ‘the deep things of God’ (1 Corinthians 2:10).
In our walk with God, we are strengthened with the power of the Holy Spirit.
If God is to be glorified through the preaching of His Word, there needs to be more than the ‘words’ of the preacher. There needs to be ‘the power of the Holy Spirit’ (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Good preaching is not a matter of ‘plausible words of wisdom’. We must look for ‘a demonstration of the Spirit’s power’ (1 Corinthians 2:4). When the Spirit is at work, there is effective communication, leading to a life-changing encounter with God. ‘When you received the Word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as it really is, the Word of God, which is at work in you believers’ (1 Thessalonians 13). Don’t let God’s Word ‘go in one ear and out the other’. The ‘message’ will do you no good if you don’t hear it ‘with faith’ - ‘Today, when you hear His voice, harden not your hearts’ (Hebrews 4:2; 3:15).
In our witness for the Lord, we pray that our words will be filled with His love.
As you read Jesus’ stinging words, remember this: there is a ‘Pharisee’' in every one of us! Jesus disturbs the ‘peace’ of ‘those who sit at ease in Zion’ (Amos 6:1). He invites us to see ourselves as God sees us: ‘before Him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4:13). Why does Christ speak such disturbing words? - He loves us. He longs for us to return to Him and be forgiven. Many times He comes to us - ‘How often would I have gathered you’. Many times, we refuse His appeal of love: ‘you would not’ (Matthew 23:37). You may have refused Him often, yet still He waits. Still, He perseveres in love. Still, He seeks to show you the emptiness of your life without Him - ‘forsaken and desolate’ (Matthew 23:38). Still, He waits for you to say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord’ (Matthew 23:39).