In Zechariah 3:1-3, Satan, the accuser, is standing beside Joshua, the very human high priest who is sinful and clothed in filthy robes. He is ready to accuse Joshua for his sins, when the Lord intervenes and says,
“The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick SNATCHED from the FIRE?”
God planned to save and redeem Joshua--ultimately by sending Jesus (Jesus is the Greek version of the name Joshua) to be a perfect high priest and king. Satan was only there to hurl insults, shame, and accusations. He saw no value in Joshua. But God did. He deserved death, but God saved him by his grace, as a "burning stick snatched from the fire."
There is a great sermon illustration for this passage (or any other passage on God's grace and redemption) from in this story - JOHN WESLEY - A BRAND PLUCKED FROM THE FIRE! Like Joshua the high priest, God would redeem Josh Wesley, not discard him, and use him for something incredible and powerful.
"At the age of five the Wesleys’ home caught on fire in the night. All the children were removed safely from the house, but when they were counted, John was missing. A farmer from nearby spotted little John looking out of an upstairs window amid the leaping flames. Several neighbors climbed on each other’s shoulders, ‘till the man on top was able to put his arms around the boy and pull him out of the flames to safety. Only moments after he was rescued, the entire house exploded in flames. Ever after, for the rest of his life, John Wesley referred to himself 'as a brand plucked from the burning,' quoting Zechariah 3:2. . .
As a young man, John and his brother Charles went to Oxford University. Influenced by the home schooling he received from his mother Susanna Wesley, John was a very serious young man. At Oxford he became the leader of a small group of serious Christian young men called the “Holy Club.” George Whitefield was also a member.
But it was not until several years later that he came under the influence of Luther’s writings and experienced a true conversion.
John and his brother Charles were sent by the Church of England as missionaries to Georgia, in the American colony. On board ship, while sailing to America, he saw a group of German Moravians who were unafraid of a great storm that nearly destroyed the ship. John himself was terrified by the storm. But those German Christians sang songs and had no fear. This impressed him greatly.
John failed as a missionary in Georgia. During this time he realized that he had never been truly converted. As he left Georgia for a return trip to England he knew he had failed. He wrote in his Journal, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but O! who shall convert me? Who shall deliver me from this heart of unbelief? O, who will deliver me from the fear of death?”
When he got back to London John Wesley met Peter Bohler, a member of the group of German Moravians who had impressed him with their braveness during that storm at sea. Peter Bohler instructed him in how to experience conversion. The counselling of Bohler and his readings from Luther’s commentary on Galatians, which emphasized justification by faith in Christ alone, prepared him for true conversion.
“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society [Bible study group] in Aldersgate, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while [Luther] was describing the change which God works in the heart though faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and had saved me from the law of sin and death.”
His brother Charles Wesley had been converted a few days earlier. Now they were ready to join together to lead the First Great Awakening in England, along with the great preacher George Whitefield, a friend of theirs from school days at Oxford.
John Wesley began preaching the new birth in various Anglican [Episcopal] churches around the London area. Again and again, he was shut out of those churches for his strong preaching on the need of the new birth. The ministers were afraid of strong preaching on this subject, as most are today. At last there was no church that would let him preach. It was then that his long-time friend George Whitefield persuaded him to speak outdoors in the open fields. He began preaching in the fields near Bristol in 1739. The First Great Awakening in England had begun. The fire of revival would sweep across the world during his long lifetime, due to the preaching of John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Howell Harris and other Methodists.
During the following fifty years John Wesley rode 250,000 miles on the roads of England, Scotland and Ireland. He gave over 42,000 sermons, always preaching twice each day, and often three or four times daily, for fifty years. His tireless work changed British society and made evangelistic Christianity a life-giving force throughout the English-speaking world . . . .
At the age of 86 he was still preaching to huge gatherings of people two and three times a day, seven days a week. On October 7, 1790 he preached his last outdoor sermon in a churchyard in Kent. His last sermon was given in a house in the country village of Leatherhead on February 23, 1791. His last sermon text was,
“Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6).
What do you think of this story?
This Christianity Today article tells how a Sudanese pastor who is in prison for preaching the gospel, is not afraid.
"Speaking to CBN News from his cell in Khartoum prison, pastor David Yein said: 'I am NOT AFRAID of anything... I am never afraid of anything because it is my love... because I believe. God chose me to SUFFER.'"
Wow. What an incredible faith this pastor has. Not only is he not afraid, but he believes and is accepting that God might chose him to suffer.
Does this not seem countercultural to the extreme? As American Christians, we tend to have little theology of suffering. We are sold the commercial that this life all about fulfilling the American Dream, which is about everything getting bigger and better. Suffering? Well, that sounds profoundly unAmerican!
And yet, there are numerous Scriptures that tell us that we should expect persecution and suffering for our faith. Here are a few Scriptures on the subject:
As our culture changes around us, are we willing to suffer for our faith and continue to boldly preach the gospel of Jesus Christ? Is that not what we are called to?
More Muslims Have Converted to Christianity in Last 14 Years than All of 14 Centuries of Islamic History!
Sometimes as Christians, we can get down and defeated. It seems that everywhere, Satan is winning. Fear. Terrorism. ISIS.
But what we see on the news is not the full story.
Note the following quote from a Christianity Today article on ISIS Undermining Islamic Faith.
"Muslims frightened by the inhumane acts by the ISIS, which the militants claim they are doing in the name of their god Allah, are now questioning their very own faith, and presumably considering to leave it, CBS News reported on Friday.
This is backed by testimonies from missionaries working in the Islamic world who noted that more Muslims have converted to Christianity in the last 14 years since the devastating Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. The number of converts in the recent period, they said, is greater than during the entire 14 centuries of Islamic history."
So do not despair! God is at work in the world, and he has already won the victory through Jesus Christ. Could it be God's plan to use the horrors of ISIS to bring Muslims into the fold of Christ? That is the essence of the gospel--God taking the worst that sin has to offer in death and the cross, and creating resurrection and new life from it. Praise God for what he is doing in the Muslim world!
How do you see God at work in the Muslim world?
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Dr. James Nored is a preacher, evangelist, writer, and missional leader. He currently preaches and helps lead the church into mission at the Fairfax Church of Christ in Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C.