读经：诗90:1-10 罗15:14-33 代上12:23-14:17
The Power of His Presence
The Duke of Wellington once remarked about Napoleon, ‘I used to say of him that his presenceon the field made the difference of forty thousand men.’ The presence of a strong leader has a powerful effect. How much greater is the impact of the awesome power of the presence of God.
There is a deep spiritual hunger in all of our hearts that can only be satisfied by the presence of God himself. The presence of God satisfies our deepest spiritual longings. Adam and Eve lost this sense of His presence through their sin. Thereafter, the presence of God was not known as it was before.
God is holy. He is all-powerful. We cannot take his presence for granted. It is only through the cross and resurrection of Jesus that a way into his presence and the gift of the Holy Spirit living within you is made possible. In each of the passages for today we see something of the awesome power of His presence.
1. His presence reveals our secret sins
Psalm 90:1-10I remember a man in our small group on Alpha saying that he could not understand the concept of ‘sin’, as he ‘led a good life and was not really aware of anything wrong in his life’. A few weeks later, on the Alpha weekend, he encountered Jesus and was filled with the Holy Spirit. He had tears pouring down his face. I asked him what he was sensing at that moment. He said he realised how sinful his life had been and how much he had been forgiven.
The light of God’s presence reveals the dark places in our hearts. The psalmist says, ‘Lord, you have been our dwelling-place… You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence’ (vv.1a, 8). Or as the Amplified Version puts it: ‘Our iniquities, our secret heart and its sins (which we would so like to conceal even from ourselves), You have set in the (revealing) light of your countenance’ (v.8, AMP).
The longer we spend in God’s presence the more the light shines and highlights our sin. The apostle Paul started out by describing himself as ‘the least of the apostles’ (1 Corinthians 15:9). Later on he called himself ‘less than the least of all God’s people’ (Ephesians 3:8). Finally, he described himself as ‘the worst of sinners’! (1 Timothy 1:16).
It is not that he got worse; it is simply that, through the awesome power of God’s presence, he became more and more aware of the light shining in his heart. That could seem very negative, but actually for Paul it was quite the opposite. His overwhelming feeling was gratitude and praise because no matter what he had done wrong, he knew that he was forgiven and could know relationship with God.
As Christians we can look forward to that relationship lasting forever. God is eternal, ‘From everlasting to everlasting you are God’ (Psalm 90:2b). Yet we know only too well the fragility of human life. The psalmist reminds us that we return to dust as mortals (v.3), we are like new grass that by the evening is dry and withered (vv.5–6), and our usual life span is seventy or eighty years (v.10).
God’s everlasting nature is part of who he is. For us, eternal life is not automatic or natural. It is a gift from the everlasting God. As the apostle Paul puts it, ‘The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 6:23).
Lord, thank you for the blood of Jesus, which cleanses me from all sin and unrighteousness. Thank you that through him I have access to the awesome presence of God.
2. His presence comes through the power of the Holy Spirit
Romans 15:14-33The presence of God radically changes our lives and the lives of others. He gives power to both our words and our actions. He makes possible signs and miracles. This is what characterised the early church. This is what should characterise our churches today.
As Paul begins to bring his great letter to the Romans to a conclusion, he talks about his own personal calling: ‘This highly focused assignment God gave me, this priestly and gospel work of serving the spiritual needs of the non-Jewish outsiders so they can be presented as an acceptable offering to God, made whole and holy by God’s Holy Spirit’ (v.16, MSG).
Among other things, a priest is a person who goes to God on behalf of the people and goes to the people on behalf of God. In this sense, we are all now priests. You are in priestly service whenever you are taking a message from God to the world and when you go to God – interceding, praying for those outside of the church to come to know Christ. As they do so they become ‘an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit’ (v.16).
Paul’s ambition was to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that he would not be building on anyone else’s foundation (vv.20–21). He did this by ‘leading the Gentiles to obey God’ (v.18). He ‘fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ’ (v.19).
His proclamation of the gospel was holistic. Like Jesus, his preaching with words was accompanied by a demonstration of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God. It involved three things:
The gospel is the most powerful message in the world. Paul had proclaimed the gospel: ‘by what I have said…’ (v.18).
Fully proclaiming the gospel involves not only words but actions: ‘by what I have said and done’ (v.18). For example, Paul acted on behalf of the poor as we see here. He writes, ‘Take up a collection for the poor… to relieve their poverty’ (vv.26–27, MSG).
Paul’s proclamation of the gospel involved a demonstration of the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit: ‘by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit’ (v.19).
People are more affected by what they see than by what they hear. It has been said, ‘One in the eye is worth two in the ear.’ Paul gives two (deeds and miracles) in the eye and only one in the ear (words).
The coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost brought a great outpouring of the presence of God. God is present among his people now by the Holy Spirit. He is present in his gathered community (for example, in Matthew 18:20). He is present in your heart.
Lord, I pray that you would restore to your church today the awesome power of your presence among us. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon me again. May I see lives radically changed as people come to obey you by what I say and do – by the power of signs and miracles.
3. His presence requires respect
1 Chronicles 12:23-14:17Never take God’s presence for granted. He is present with you now, all the time, by his Spirit who lives in you.
God prepared his people for this extraordinary privilege. In the Old Testament, the ark was the symbol of God’s presence. We see in this passage just how important it was.
David consulted with his leaders. ‘He then said to the whole assembly of Israel, “If it seems good to you and if it is the will of the Lord our God… let us bring the ark of our God back to us.” … The whole assembly agreed to do this… [they] went… to bring up… the ark of God the Lord… the ark that is called by the Name. They moved the ark of God… David and all the Israelites were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, cymbals and trumpets’ (13:1–8).
The ark was a gold-covered chest that contained, among other items, the stone tablets of the ten commandments (see Hebrews 9:4). The ark was the most holy object in the whole system of temple-based worship. It served primarily as the symbol of the awesome presence of God, whose glory cloud was enthroned above it (1 Chronicles 13:6, see also Exodus 25:22, 1 Samuel 4:7).
On the one hand, God’s presence brought great blessing. When the ark of God was with the family of Obed-Edom for three months, ‘the Lord blessed his household and everything he had’ (1 Chronicles 13:14). On the other hand, it required great respect and anything that verged on disrespect brought judgment (vv.9–10).
David had a great respect and reverence for God and his presence. As a result, ‘The Lord blessed his household and everything he had’ (v.13). David knew that his position of leadership came from the Lord (14:2). He regularly asked for God’s guidance about what he should do (vv.10,14). ‘And God answered him’ (v.14).
As a result, ‘David’s fame spread throughout every land, and the Lord made all the nations fear him (v.17). The word ‘fear’ means great respect. Because David respected God’s presence, God honoured him and anointed him in such a way that everyone respected David.
Thank you, Lord, that through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, I can approach your throne with boldness and confidence. Thank you that through the Holy Spirit you make your presence available to me, all the time.
‘For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. You sweep people away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning – though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.’
Nicky took a funeral at Putney Vale Cemetery. It is huge, so many graves, and it is just one of thousands of cemeteries. It struck me again how many people have gone before us and that this life we are living is very short. Every day we have on this earth is so important. I don’t want to waste any one of them.