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The Benedictus, Part 1

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Beloved for the way in which it highlights Jesus' care for those on the margins of society and for its care in telling the story of our Savior's life and ministry, the gospel of Luke has always been treasured by the Christian church. Dr. Sproul's expositional study of this inspired account of Jesus looks at the significant events of His life and His teachings while unfolding the meaning of both for us today.

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Singing Praises to God

  2. devotional

    Giving Thanks

  3. article

    Thanks Be to God

Singing Praises to God

As soon as the Egyptians are destroyed, Moses immediately leads the people in the song of praise. He doesn’t waste any time, but turns his eyes toward heaven and lifts his voice in praise. When we have received special mercy from God, we ought to be quick in our returns of praise to Him before time and the deceitfulness of our own hearts efface the good impressions that have been made.

The song itself was a holy song, consecrated to the honor of God, and intended to exalt His name and celebrate His praise. It was not designed to magnify any man, but to focus on the Lord. Moses intended to give glory to God and to delight in Him as his Savior and King. It was God alone who saved them from their enemies, and so God, and no other, received the praise. Moses did not sing about his own actions or the actions and thoughts of the people, but of the activity of God in displaying His awesome power in their deliverance. Moses spoke of God, not in the abstract, but as a personal God, the God of their fathers. He is a covenant-keeping God, and for this Moses exalted Him.

The Hebrews sang passionately of God’s power, His sovereignty over the nations, and His incomparable perfection: “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?” This is pure praise, and a high expression of humble adoration, for the people recognized that even the greatest ruler is nothing compared to Jehovah. God is to be worshiped and adored as a being of such infinite perfection that there is none like Him, nor any to be compared with Him.

In his song, Moses also recounted the work of the Lord in Israel’s deliverance. When we praise God, we should always bring to mind the many mercies God has shown us, the many ways that He has triumphed over our enemies, and the many times He has given us the grace to overcome our sin. Our praises should not be left in the realm of generalities, but should be personal and particular.

As we consider this glorious and ancient song set before us, let us remember to go and do likewise. Let us put the Lord, not our subjective feelings, our experiences, or our insights, at the center of our praises. Let us praise Him for who He is, for His incomparable majesty and power: “The Lord shall reign forever and ever.”

Giving Thanks

Along with our failure to honor God, Romans 1:21 says our lack of gratitude to Him is the other primal sin that motivates all of the various forms of wickedness that are on display in human conduct. Like the error we commit in dishonoring God, it is also easy to see how ingratitude motivates a host of other evils. For instance, if we are not grateful to God for all of the blessings that He has given us, we will quickly begin to feel as if we have been cheated somehow. This will blossom into covetousness as we envy others whom we perceive to be more blessed than we are, and we might even go further into theft or adultery, wherein we take things that are not rightfully ours.

Biblical ethics have gratitude at their core, for it is always thankfulness to the Lord that is to motivate our obedience. This is evident from the structures of the biblical narrative itself. When God speaks to His people after the fall, He always reminds us of how much He has done for them before He delivers His laws. The Ten Commandments were not given to the ancient Israelites until after the Lord rescued them from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 20:1–17). In their epistles, Peter, Paul, and the other apostles generally lay out the great truths of redemption before they make application of those truths in practical, ethical matters. From first to last, thankfulness is one of the major animating impulses of a true Christian ethic.

According to the Word of God, gratitude is not simply something that we feel but something that we must demonstrate to others. When interpreters look at the account of the cleansing of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11–19, they often draw the distinction between one leper who was thankful and nine who were ungrateful. Yet this is not exactly what we see in the passage. We have no reason to believe that the nine who did not immediately thank Jesus for their healing felt no gratitude, for who among us would not be tempted to run home immediately and share the good news if we should be healed of some terrible ailment? This can be done even as we are feeling thankful in our hearts toward the healer. No, the real difference between the one who went back to Jesus and the nine who did not is that the one who returned displayed His gratitude while the others kept it to themselves. Christian thankfulness will always display itself in good deeds and verbal expressions of gratitude.

Thanks Be to God

Knox Chamblin

In December 2008, I turned seventy-three. Invited by Tabletalk to address younger generations “on matters pertinent to the faith,” I thought of Psalm 71, the prayer of an elderly man. Says verse 18: “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” I seek to do so now.

Wisdom: “O God, from my youth you have taught me” (Ps. 71:17a). “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (90:12). For an ancient Hebrew, heart had rational, emotional, and volitional dimensions. So one way to love God with all one’s heart was to love him with all one’s mind (Matt. 22:37). I urge you, whatever your calling, to commit yourself to the serious study of the Holy Scriptures. When I taught at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS), reading an assigned exposition sometimes left me wondering: “If this student believes the Bible is God’s infallible Word, why has he expended so little effort to mine its treasures?” While writing a commentary on the gospel of Matthew in recent years, I was acutely aware of the need for both utter dependence on God and unrelenting discipline: these are like the two wings of an aircraft, both essential for flight (Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace, chap. 8).

The crucial dimension of the heart is the will. Failure to do the truth shows that I have not grasped the truth (James 1:22; 1 John 3:18). Colossians 1:9–10 teaches that believers are given “spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord”; and that by “bearing fruit in every good work” they will be “increasing in the knowledge of God.” “All right knowledge of God is born of obedience” (John Calvin, Institutes, 1.6.2).

Warfare: “O God, be not far from me; O my God, make haste to help me!” (Ps. 71:12). Galatians 5:16–26 describes conflict between “the flesh” and “the Spirit.” “Flesh” here is not a part of the person, but the whole person viewed in a certain way — in rebellion against God. “The Spirit” is not the human spirit (which itself produces “works of the flesh”) but the Holy Spirit of God.

By means of the fifteen “works of the flesh” (vv. 19–21), sin (the power behind the flesh) assaults God’s people. The eight traits at the heart of the list — “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy” — all spring from competitive pride, the foremost of the seven deadly sins (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 3, chap. 8). Pride and its offspring rob me of love, joy, and peace (Gal. 5:22). I can now see that pride assailed me throughout my teaching career. At Belhaven College and at RTS, I always taught with people who were better at doing what I did best! In face of their superior gifts and attainments there was always the threat of jealousy, rivalry, and envy.

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (v. 16). Over the years I have come to see that the nine qualities of 5:22–23 are weapons from the Spirit to combat the flesh. Especially potent against pride is love (Greek agapē) — love that “does not envy or boast” (1 Cor. 13:4), that esteems others more highly than oneself (Phil. 2:1–3). In the face of pride, the Spirit also granted me joy — in praying with colleagues, in valuing all that they taught me, in knowing them to be skilled comrades-in-arms against a common foe (Eph. 6:10–20), in recalling how they discouraged me from taking myself too seriously.

Worship: “My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day” (Ps. 71:8). I give thanks to God the Father. He fashioned me in His own image, and surrounded me with the wonders of His creation. He has granted me seventy-three years of life. He disclosed the glory of His Son to me. He drew me out of darkness into light, out of death into life. When I willfully disobey, He disciplines me — as gently as possible, as sternly as necessary! I shudder to think what course my life would have taken had it not been for the heavenly Father’s patience, mercy, and love to His stubborn and wayward child.

I give thanks to God the Son. He loved me, and He went to the cross to save me from the sins that enslaved me, to crucify the record of guilt that the demonic powers used against me (Col. 2:13–15). He is my wisdom, my righteousness, my holiness and my redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). I now have a far more radical view of human wickedness and personal sin than before. For this very reason, I have a far more radical view of grace: what was long an important concept is now a preeminent reality

I give thanks to God the Holy Spirit. He has enlightened me to understand the Bible and has enabled me to teach. He has armed me for battle against the flesh; and He has slowly been cultivating in my life such qualities as love, joy, peace, and patience. I well know my natural bent to selfishness, gloom, anxiety, and impatience; so when my heart is moved to love God or another person, I know the Holy Spirit has been at work.

For your own worship, I recommend a 30-day notebook. For each day, include (besides names of persons for whom to pray) a biblical psalm and a hymn of praise. You have a Bible. You may need a hymnbook: buy one, don’t take it from the church pew!

“My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed” (Ps. 71:23).

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