Purity and Power
Purity and Power
At our Christmas services, I sit right by our orchestra and choir. There are usually around fifty musicians in the orchestra and ninety in the choir – all members of the congregation volunteering their time and gifts. I’m not at all musical. In fact, I’m virtually tone deaf. However, I am always stunned by the beauty of the marvellous music and singing. It is a foretaste of heaven.
The apostle John writes, ‘And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne’ (Revelation 14:2–3). The heavenly orchestra and choir will sing a new song before a heavenly audience.
John goes on to describe the completed church in heaven – their purity and their power. The two are connected. As Pastor Rick Warren has tweeted, ‘In ministry, private purity is the source of public power.’
Purity and the powerlessProverbs 31:1–9
‘Leaders can’t afford to make fools of themselves’ (v.4, MSG). King Lemuel was a leader who had been given wise teaching by his mother. She had warned him against impurity (v.3) and intoxication (vv.4–7).
These can ruin (v.3) your life. They can leave you forgetting what you should be doing (v.5a) and deprive the powerless of their rights (v.5b).
Instead of using your power to indulge in self-gratification, use it for good: ‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy’ (vv.8–9).
Who are the voiceless in our society who ‘cannot speak for themselves’? Who are the people that you and I should be speaking up for? They will surely include the following:
About 10% of the world’s population go to bed hungry every night. Every few seconds, poverty takes a child’s life. Today, and every day until we act, thousands of children die of avoidable diseases or because they live in poverty. Millions under the age of five die every year. Over half of these early child deaths are due to conditions that could be prevented or treated with access to simple, affordable interventions. They are the ‘poor and destitute’ (v.9, MSG).
There are probably now more slaves globally than at the height of the transatlantic slave trade. Human trafficking enslaves millions of people around the globe, many of them under the age of eighteen. Slavery is a terrible injustice. ‘Speak up for justice’ (v.9a, MSG).
Those in the womb have no voice of their own. The journalist, Nigella Lawson, who describes herself as ‘pro-abortion’, has written, ‘If anecdotal evidence is anything to go by (and I suspect it is), [abortion] is becoming more and more a value-free, post-facto alternative to contraception.’ Yet few people have the courage to speak up for the unborn today – who have ‘no voice’ (v.8a, MSG).
Many around the world are in prison unjustly and even those who are in prison justly are often treated inhumanely. But the vast majority are in no position to ‘speak for themselves’ (v.8a).
Lord, help me to speak up for the voiceless, judge fairly and defend the rights of the destitute, the poor and the needy.
Purity and proclamationRevelation 14:1–13
‘It took my breath away!’ (v.1, MSG). Jesus (the Lamb of God) stands on Mount Zion with his 144,000 followers ‘with him, his Name and the Name of his Father inscribed on their foreheads’ (v.1, MSG). They represent the completed church worshipping together. The five-fold description is one of complete purity. They:
are redeemed from the earth by the blood of the Lamb (v.3)
have kept themselves pure and undefiled – ‘lived without compromise’ (v.4a, MSG)
follow Jesus wherever he goes (v.4b)
are purchased and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb (v.4c). As St Paul writes, ‘We were bought at a price’ (1 Corinthians 6:20)
are people of integrity: ‘No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless’ (Revelation 14:5)
It is not coincidental that the vision of the pure church is followed by a vision of the proclamation of the eternal gospel: ‘to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people’ (v.6). This is the calling of the church – to proclaim the good news of Jesus. This is represented by the first angel.
The second and third angels show what humanity needs to be rescued from. Everyone needs to be rescued from the corrupting influence of ‘Babylon the Great’, ‘which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries’ (v.8). They also need to be rescued from ‘the beast’, who wants to put his mark on the forehead (v.11) and see them tormented.
The good news is that no one needs to have this mark on their forehead. We, the people of God, need to proclaim the good news that every person can have the name of Jesus and the Father’s name written on their forehead (v.1). You are called to patient endurance, obedience to God’s commandments and faithfulness to Jesus (v.12).
Get the message out. So many people lack peace. There is ‘no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image’ (v.11). On the other hand, there is no greater blessing than following the Lamb: ‘Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them”’ (v.13).
Lord Jesus, help us to be pure and undefiled followers of you, people of integrity, who know that we have been redeemed and bought at a price. Help us to proclaim the eternal gospel to every nation, tribe, language and people.
Purity and prayerEzra 8:15–9:15
Are you facing challenges ahead in your life? Ezra was facing the huge challenge of leading the return journey to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple.
He had to lead a company of 5,000 people, including women and children, on a four-month hazardous trek through uninhabited regions – while carrying vast quantities of money and precious objects (8:15–27).
Ezra wisely began with the leaders: ‘So I summoned... leaders and... men of learning’ (v.16). Leadership was a key to the fulfilment of Ezra’s vision for return and rebuilding.
The fulfilment of almost every God-given vision requires these three things:
Ezra was a man of prayer. Before he set out on the journey he proclaimed a fast. They all humbled themselves and asked God for a safe journey (v.21). God heard their prayer: ‘So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer’ (v.23).
‘I weighed out to them the offering of silver and gold and the articles that the king, his advisers, his officials and all Israel present there had donated for the house of our God’ (v.25).
‘Then the exiles who had returned from captivity sacrificed... They also delivered the king’s orders to the royal satraps and to the governors of Trans-Euphrates who then gave assistance to the people and to the house of God’ (vv.35–36).
God blessed them in every way in the rebuilding of the house of God. But in spite of God’s faithfulness to them, the people were not faithful to God. They did not keep themselves pure. It was not so much the fact that they had intermarried, but the fact that they had ‘polluted’ themselves (9:11) with the ‘detestable practices’ (v.1) of the nations around. The leaders and officials had led the way in their unfaithfulness (v.2).
Ezra, by contrast, gives us a great example of not taking sin lightly. He is absolutely devastated: ‘When I heard all this, I ripped my clothes and my cape... I slumped to the ground, appalled’ (v.3, MSG).
He fell on his knees with his hands spread out to the Lord and prayed a prayer, which it may be good to pray for ourselves and for the church today: ‘O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we… have been subjected to… humiliation’ (vv.6–7).
Yet, as with the people in Ezra’s time, so it is for the church today: ‘… our God has not deserted us’ (v.9).
Lord, help us to be pure, cleansed by the blood of Jesus, to speak up for the voiceless, proclaim the eternal gospel to the nations, and rebuilds the church in our cities and nations.
This seems quite a strong reaction to marrying people from other countries! It can’t be only because they are foreigners, as Ruth was a Moabite. She is an example of faithfulness. And King David was one eighth Moabite. It must be because of their ‘detestable practices’ (v.1). As Solomon was corrupted by his wives, Ezra must have seen that the influence of these women would destroy the faith of God’s people completely.
Verse of the Day
‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves…’ (Proverbs 31:8).
Nigella Lawson, The Times, 28 May 1997
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
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