The Brazen Serpent

In recent months, with the pandemic of Covid 19, the world has been alerted to the vital work of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. There is a wide admiration for their work. God graciously provides help to the needy and for medical care we must give thanks, above all, to the One who has created us and is sustaining us in life.

In John 3:14 we read these words of Jesus – And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

In order to find the incident of healing that the Saviour refers to, we must turn to Numbers chapter 21. There we read of the sin of Israel. We also read of the judgment God brought upon them, and the deliverance He granted.

A provision was made in the wilderness. The Israelites had sinned against God in murmuring against God and Moses, His servant. God sent fiery serpents among the people which bit the people and a number died. Others bitten had the sentence of death in them. God graciously answered the prayer of Moses for the people and instructed His servant to fashion a serpent of brass and set it on a pole. The divine assurance was given that any who would look upon it would live. Many did so and lived.

So too, Jesus indicates, a provision is made in the gospel. We have sinned. But God has made provision of a Saviour – His own dear Son. The Lord Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection is set forth in the gospel and we are to look by faith and live. Just as the brazen serpent in the wilderness was an object of faith, appointed by God, so too Jesus Christ, is appointed by God as that One mediator between God and men. If we look, we shall live.

The promise is clear, ‘whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.’ If the sinful, stricken Israelite looked to God’s appointed means of deliverance and healing, he would live. Whether physically near to that object, or distant from it. May we get grace to look to the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, that we might live. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. (Isaiah 45:22).

G B Macdonald





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Sydney Communion – March 2020

At our recent communion here in Sydney, we had the privilege of the ministry of Rev C J Hembd from our Gisborne congregation in New Zealand. I am grateful to him for his assistance.

On Thursday morning, we looked at the notable case of Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9. He was one who was going on in great sin, persecuting the Church of Christ. We considered the journey he took and why he took it. Sadly, he thought that he did God service, even when he was actually greatly dishonouring the Lord by persecuting His people. But Jesus Christ, the risen and exalted Saviour, met with him and turned him from this ruinous course. As a result of this meeting, Saul was a profoundly changed man. So we were reminded that we all need to have personal dealings with Christ for He only can save us from our sins.

On Thursday evening, Psalm 43:2 was brought before our attention as a congregation by Rev Hembd. For thou art the God of my strength: why dost thou cast me off? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.’ The Enemy, the Question, and the Petition, were the three heads of the sermon. A world that crucified Christ, will be inclined to persecute His people, except so far as it may be restrained by God. But the great enemy of the Christian is sin. The believer may question whether God has cast him off, so great is his struggle at times against sin, ‘For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh…’ (Galatians 5:17). Surely the believer should pray for the leading and guidance of God, as David did in the text preached upon.

On Friday morning, we were encouraged in the duty of self-examination. The case of David in 2 Samuel 23:5 was cited. Firstly, his confession, that his house was not so with God as he might have wished. David was conscious of sin and fault in himself and in his family. Nevertheless, David had confidence, secondly, that in spite of this, God had made with him ‘…an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure…’. Everything necessary for his salvation was provided by God. So too with the Christian. The chain of blessings in Romans 8 was referred to as applicable to the Lord’s people, Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

On Friday evening, a fellowship meeting was held and the portion meditated upon was from Exodus 15:2 The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.’ This is part of the song of Moses and the children of Israel, which they sang at the Red Sea, when they recognised the deliverance God had given them from Pharaoh and his hosts, who had been utterly destroyed. Marks of grace were identified in those who, by God’s grace, have been saved from wrath through Christ.

On Saturday, by way of preparation, we looked at Luke 10:38-42 where we meet with Martha and her sister Mary, who were disciples of Jesus. The actions of Martha and Mary as disciples were considered and the verdict of Jesus was noted, in which he commended Mary. Application was made to the will of Christ expressed to His disciples in respect to the Lord’s Supper – “This do in remembrance of me.” It is their duty and privilege to obey.

On the Sabbath morning, the congregation was directed to Luke 24:25-27 where we read of the two on the way to Emmaus. The minister noted that this was an unusual sermon in that it was preached to but two people, on a journey, and for a time the preacher was a stranger to them. The exhortation to believe all that the prophets had spoken was stressed in the first place. We are to appreciate that the Old Testament prophets had prophesied of the sufferings of Christ. Secondly, the minister showed how very necessary these sufferings were. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement was highlighted. Then, in the third place, we were to consider the sufferings themselves.  Jesus began at Moses and all the prophets and showed them these things. Having the New Testament as well as the Old, we can see how the Old Testament prophesies were fulfilled. Jesus did suffer for the sins of His people. And he secured redemption for them as the Lamb of God.

Following the fencing of the Table, the Lord’s Supper was held again in the congregation. We should be thankful as a congregation for the remembrance of the death of Christ once more in our midst.

On the evening of the Lord’s Day, our attention was drawn to the rebellious speech of Pharaoh king of Egypt. In Exodus 5:1-2 we read of his refusal to let Israel go from serving him. This rebellion against God was a ruinous one for ultimately he was drowned at the Red Sea, whilst still determined to rebel against the will of God. His example serves for a sober warning to us as gospel hearers.

On Monday evening, Rev Hembd preached from Nehemiah 10:28-29 and spoke of the revival, regression and renewal seen in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. One detects that when God grants a gracious resolution to His people this is a good sign of His quickening influence.

So we pray that the Lord may be pleased to follow the preaching of His word and the remembrance of the death of Christ with His blessing.

G B Macdonald



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Divine Protection – David’s Comfort

In Psalm 3 we have an example of a structure and layout of poetry which is common in the Psalms of David. That structure is framed by David’s experience. Here, as elsewhere, David begins the psalm in deep distress. He calls upon God in the exercise of faith. God graciously strengthens His servant, so that by the end of the psalm, David is saying, ‘Salvation belongeth unto the LORD: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.’

In this psalm we are reliably informed, by the divinely inspired title, as to the psalmist and the time it was written and the experience to which it refers. So we see from the title that it is, ‘A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.’ Thus, we date this from the latter part of David’s life. He has already experience many trials and much of God’s goodness in delivering him out of trouble.

Many years before, he felled the giant Goliath, in a great act of faith and dependence upon God. He has been delivered from the cruel hand of King Saul. But now he is in deep distress, his own son, whom he has so much indulged, has turned against him and raised many in rebellion against their lawful king.

What does David do in such a trial? He makes his complaint to the LORD. He spreads his concerns before God, as Hezekiah after him would the wicked threats of Sennacherib. This is a good example to us. Too often we make complaint to man. Or we fall into a murmuring spirit. But David, for his part, was honest before the Most High and refers his concerns to the Court on high.

One thing that especially seemed to trouble David was the fact that many were saying, “There is no help for him in God.” Matthew Henry in his commentary on this psalm, make a helpful point regarding God’s people. He writes, ‘A child of God startles at the very thought of despairing of help in God; you cannot vex him with any thing so much as if you offer to persuade him that there is no help for him in God.’

Mercifully, is enabled to exercise faith in the Most High. In verse 3 he writes, ‘But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.’ This is strong confidence in the divine care and protection of God. Doubtless he cried to God in this time of trouble in his life. Matthew Henry again notes, ‘Care and grief do us good and no hurt when they set us praying, and engage us, not only to speak to God, but to cry to him, as those that are in earnest.’

He even sleeps and wakes, and in so doing, acknowledges the hand of the LORD ‘…for the LORD sustained me.’ (v.5) He is so strengthen as to declare that he is not afraid of ten thousands of people. Indeed, at this times it seems that almost all Israel were against him and for Absalom. ‘A cheerful resignation to God is the way to obtain a cheerful satisfaction in God’ writes Matthew Henry.

In his trouble, David knew whom to turn to. He had the confidence of faith in God. When a man stands in need of warmth and goes to the fire he does so (as Thomas Watson notes) not doubting that it shall warm him. So the child of God is to go to the Father of mercy with strong assurance of being heard.

So David, in the finish, is brought to admit that salvation belongs to the LORD and His blessing is upon His people, of which David, was one. Ultimately, David was delivered, even from so sad and dreadful a trial as this.

G B Macdonald



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The Power of Prayer

There are many encouragements to pray from the examples set before us in the Bible. One leading example is that of Elijah, or Elias, as he is called in James 5:17-18. There we read the following:

‘Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.’

Here we may note two things. First, the man who prayed and second, the power of his prayer.

Firstly, it was Elias who prayed. An Old Testament saint. A prophet of God. As we may see from his life, in the matters recorded in Scripture, he was one whom God cared for. In time of famine the LORD provided for him, be it by the brook Cherith or via the hospitality of the poor widow woman. We may be ready to say, no wonder the prayers of so godly a man, so singular a figure, were heard. But how is he set forth in the passage above? ‘Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are…’ he was a man, subject to becoming discouraged and at times afraid. Thomas Manton comments: “Well then, God’s children, that travail under the burden of infirmities, may take comfort; such conflicts are not inconsistent with faith and piety: other believers are thus exercised, none ever went to heaven but there was some work for his ‘faith and patience’ (Manton on The General Epistle of James p.467 Banner of Truth Trust)

Secondly, note the power of his prayer. He prayed earnestly. He prayed from the heart. His petitions were sincere. Here, he is an example to us. By God’s grace he prayed earnestly and such prayers were heard. Prayer closed and opened heaven to rain in his case. What a mighty power! Matthew Henry writes, “This instance of the extraordinary efficacy of prayer is recorded for encouragement even to ordinary Christians to be instant and earnest in prayer. God never says to any of the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain.”

So, in regard to the devastating bush fires in Australia, may we be strengthened in faith to pray for rain, which is so badly needed. In verse 16 we read, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” And Manton makes a good point in writing, “Prayer is a good remedy in the most desperate cases, and when you are lost to all other hopes, you are not lost to the hopes of prayer.” (Manton on The General Epistle of James p.471).

So too, in the New Year, and New Decade, may we be given grace to pray to the Hearer of prayer, through the Mediator Jesus Christ, having confidence of being heard in the matters we bring before Him, through Christ.

As the Saviour said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)

G B Macdonald




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Paul’s Prayer for Believers in Ephesus

A number of Paul’s epistles are to Christians living in cities. Believers in Ephesus were surrounded by those who worshiped idols and persons of various cultures and religions. These Christians had need to be prayed for, and Paul was not unmindful of them. In chapter 1 of Ephesians the apostle includes a prayer for these believers in Christ.

Interestingly, in verses 15 and 16 we read of some graces they had which drew out a spirit of prayer in the heart of the apostle for them. “Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints. Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers…” He had heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love to all the saints. Matthew Henry writes, ‘One inducement to pray for them was the good account he had of them, of their faith in the Lord Jesus and love to all the saints. Faith in Christ and love to the saints, will be attended with all other graces.’ When we hear of those who have faith in the Lord Jesus we should give thanks, for it is the Holy Spirit who grants this grace. When we hear of those who bear a good witness by way of their love to all the saints this should encourage us to pray for such.

But what did he pray for? Surely they had already attained much in having faith and love, what more could be needed? Matthew Henry observes, ‘Now what is it that Paul prays for in behalf of the Ephesians? Not that they might be freed from persecution; nor that they might possess the riches, honours, or pleasures of the world; but the great thing he prays for is the illumination of their understandings, and that their knowledge might increase and abound: he means it of a practical and experimental knowledge.’

This increase in knowledge is most needful, even among the most sanctified of the Lord’s people here on earth. John Calvin notes, ‘The knowledge of the godly is never so pure but that some bleariness troubles their eyes and obscurity hinders them.’ (J Calvin – Commentary on Ephesians). Much of the comfort of the gospel is in our understanding being enlightened, to embrace the promises and doctrines of the gospel of Christ as revealed in Holy Scripture. As Matthew Henry comments, ‘The graces and comforts of the Spirit are communicated to the soul by the enlightening of the understanding.’

May we be among those that have faith in the Lord Jesus, and love to all the saints and who are granted that enlightening of our understanding to be further blessed, through the working of the Spirit of God.

G B Macdonald


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“Is any thing too hard for the LORD?”

“Is any thing too hard for the LORD?” this was the question posed to Abraham and, in virtue of her questioning, surely to Sarah too, in Genesis 18:14.

The LORD had promised repeatedly that Abraham should have a son. He had just before promised again that the child of promise would be by Sarah. The LORD was going to show that He was faithful to His promise – Sarah would have a son, and did – Isaac.

But before Sarah conceived, her faith in the divine promise must needs be strengthened. She had, through long and painful experience of childlessness, come to see that, without the divine blessing, there could be no son. She was now, according to the flesh, past childbearing age. She recognised this, as did Abraham. However, God purposed that Isaac would be the child of this marriage union. His word was clear, “Sarah thy wife shall have a son.” (Genesis 18:10). As Sarah heard this she was amazed. How could this be? The answer to that question was given, “Is any thing too hard for the LORD?”

This question should encourage the Lord’s people in every generation. The world, the flesh and the devil, are all set against the advance of the gospel, within the soul of the individual believer and also the advance of the gospel in the world. But, in spite of all opposition, well might the people of God reflect, “Is any thing too hard for the LORD?”

John Calvin, in his comments on this chapter writes:

‘But if we thoroughly investigate the source of distrust, we shall find that the reason why we doubt of God’s promises is because we sinfully detract from his power. For as soon as any extraordinary difficulty occurs, then, whatever God has promised, seems to us fabulous; yea, the moment he speaks, the perverse thought insinuates itself, How will he fulfil his promises? Being bound down, and pre-occupied by such narrow thoughts, we exclude his power, the knowledge of which is better to us than a thousand worlds. In short, he who does not expect more from God than he is able to comprehend in the scanty measure of his own reason, does him a grievous wrong. Meanwhile, the word of the Lord ought to be inseparably joined with his power; for nothing is more preposterous, than to inquire what God can do, to the setting aside of his declared will.’ (J. Calvin, Commentary on Genesis Banner of Truth Trust 1965 p.476)

Note that immediately after this question, which begs its own most positive answer, the LORD affirmed again His promise to Abraham. “At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.” There is a time appointed for every blessing that God purposes to bestow upon His own people and His own Church. But, like Sarah, we need our faith in the divine promise to be strengthened. The question, “Is any thing too hard for the LORD?” when applied with comfort by the Holy Spirit, can do this. May we think upon it, and the fact that God did give a son, even Isaac, so fulfilling His promise. In this way, we may be strengthened and encouraged to pray in faith and wait with patience.

G B Macdonald


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Sydney Communion August/September 2019

At our recent communion, we were privileged to have the assistance of Rev J D Smith of our Auckland congregation.

On Thursday morning we looked at the solemn subject of the danger of following the sins of others. The example was from 2 Kings 13:1-2 in relation to Jehoahaz, one of the kings of Israel. Sadly, as with so many of the kings of Israel, before and after him, he ‘followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin’. The particularly solemn matter of those who lead others into sin by founding false religion was noted. Sadly, we read that Jehoahaz, ‘departed not therefrom.’ Repentance unto life is a saving grace, which only God can grant.

At the evening service on Thursday, we considered The Song of Solomon 1:5-6. Rev Smith had three heads of sermon. 1. The Condition of the Believer. 2. The Confession of the Believer. 3. The Comeliness of the Believer. The sinner saved by grace is black but comely. Black with sin, but, as found in Christ – most comely.

On the day of self examination, Rev Smith preached again from the Song of Songs. This time in chapter 7 and verse 4, Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bathrabbim: thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus.’ Marks of grace were identified. Fundamentally, there is a sweet relationship between Christ and the believer, which the Song of Solomon brings out in such exalted language.

On Saturday, a great question was placed before us, as it had been before others during the ministry of Jesus. In Matthew 22:41-46 we find Him interacting with the Pharisees. They and others have been seeking to entangle him in His talk. They failed. Jesus, finishes the matter by posing a question to them, “What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?” Here precious doctrine of the divinity of Christ is brought out from Scripture. The One who asked them was the Son of God and the true Christ. He still is, and this should be considered when He commands His people, “This do in remembrance of Me.”

The Communion Sabbath morning is a special occasion. The truth before us was solemn and profound, the words of Pilate concerning Jesus – “Behold the man!” The Appointment of Christ, The Humanity of Christ and the Beholding of Christ were the three divisions in the sermon. The suffering Saviour was preached, the One who is God and man, Emmanuel, God with us. The necessity of the true humanity of Jesus was pointed out. He could only suffer in His human nature, but suffer He must, being the substitute and sacrifice for His people’s sin.

On the evening of the Lord’s Day, we looked at the subject of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. The builders were manifesting great pride in their disobedience to the will of God, which was for them to spread abroad in the earth. They much preferred to make them a name in the earth by building a city and a tower the top of which was to rise to heaven. This spirit is still found among men. So, by way of gospel application, we need to be brought out of the way of seeking heaven by our works and closed in to Christ who declared, “…I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)

The Monday evening service marked the close of the communion and again the love of Christ to the Church was highlighted. The text was chapter 4:8 from the Song of Solomon, Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions’ dens, from the mountains of the leopards.” The believer is traversing the dangerous mountains of life and has much need of obedience to the voice of the Beloved. Christ says, “Come with Me…” and the child of God is to do so. His or her comfort and security lies much in cleaving to Christ.

The communion having ended it becomes us to pray for a blessing to follow the Word and Sacrament, desiring the glory of God in the salvation of sinners and the strengthening of His people.

G B Macdonald

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