62. Addendum: Christ’s work in me

Focus on Christ Meditations: 62.  Addendum: Christ’s work in me

Rom 8:29,30   For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

You might be excused for thinking we had arrived at the end of this series in yesterday’s study, for I had thought that. However, having done that I found this nagging feeling that actually we have not summed up the effects of Christ’s work on the Cross. Yesterday we sought to carry out an overview of the life and activity of Christ, but to more fully appreciate his work we need to try to lay out just what he has done and is doing in our lives, personally.

In our verses above the apostle Paul conveniently laid out an overview of the work of God in respect of our lives. As we have commented a number of times, at least seven times in the New Testament we are shown that the plan of God in respect of Christ and our salvation was mapped out by the Godhead before the foundation of the world. At that time they looked into the future and knew who would respond (that is not the same as making people respond) and in that sense they knew even then the total number of those who in time-space history would become believers, i.e.  ‘predestined’. In the fullness of time the process involved God, by His Holy Spirit, calling people and when they responded He declared them righteous on the double basis of Christ’s work and their faith response. i.e. they were justified. But then He also put His own Holy Spirit within every believer and established eternal life for them which would continue from this life into the next. i.e. they were glorified.

But let’s look at this ‘process’, as I have called it, first from a) what Christ did on the Cross and then b) what he does for each believer.

The Work of the Cross: The angel told Joseph that “he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). The sins of mankind since the Fall were the thing that not only brought down mankind and made us less than that for which God had designed us, but also kept us from God and God from us. The word ‘justice’ has come up many times in these studies because it is a strange phenomenon of the human race, this demand for ‘rightness’ (that must come from the character of God). How to ‘put right’ the human race has been the central aspect of the plan of God from the beginning. So note the following two key concepts of his work on the Cross:

i) Atonement: We noted in a previous study: “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25,26) The footnote in v.25 offers instead of ‘sacrifice of atonement’, “as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin.” But look at the reasoning: “to demonstrate his justice”. The apostle John added, He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole(1 Jn 2:2)

So here we come across a word we have not picked up on before: atonement,  which is about making amends, putting wrongs right and bringing reconciliation with God. It produces a salvation that is available for any and all, e.g. whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Rev 22:17 & also 1 Jn 2:2 above). Note my use of ‘available’. It is not automatic, it has to be asked for, it has to be received and it has to be appropriated – but it IS available for any to come down the path of repentance and faith.

ii) Redemption: This is a concept that suggests we have been bought back from slavery to sin and Satan (and indeed the Law’s curse, Gal 3:13), and the price paid was the blood of Christ. The idea conveyed in the Bible is that unbelievers ‘belong’ to Satan or are under his sway (dominion) and he has rights over them because of their sin. They can only be ‘ransomed’ from this way of life after they have repented and on the basis of Christ’s death. See 1 Pet 1:18,19 & Eph 1:7

The Work in our lives: That leads us on to what happens as a result of this work of the Cross which is available to each and every person.

i) Justified: we have already touched on this twice and it happens because of our faith and is received by our faith. Paul’s teaching in Romans 3-5 was that faith within us, the accepting of the truth of Christ put before us, and surrendering to God, is what God looks for to declare us justified. When He declares it, we have to believe and accept it and live it out. There is a sense whereby we were justified the moment we turned to Christ in faith, and are being justified as we live it out.

ii) Regeneration: This is not a word you will find in your Bible but it refers to the act of God by which a new life, His Holy Spirit, is implanted in the individual and can only happen because that individual has just been justified and made right with God, and so can now become a vessel of God or a temple of the Holy Spirit (e.g. 1 Cor 3:16). Words we associate with this are being ‘born again’ (see Jn 3:3-8) or converted (e.g. Acts 15:3)

iii) Adopted: This is God’s act of declaring us to be part of His family as a result of the above things (see Eph 1:5)

iv) Sanctified: This refers to the act and process of being set apart to God and conforming to the image of Jesus. For the act see 1 Cor 6:11 & Rom 15:16 and for the process see 1 Thess 4:3 & 5:23.

v) Glorified: In addition to what we have said about this above, we may speak about the glory given to believers because of their union with Christ. (Col 1:27), his expression (Eph 1:27) who glorify him (Eph 3:21) as we are seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6) but living out our lives here on earth. Moreover, one day we will receive gloriously transformed bodies (Rom 8:11,23, 1 Cor 15:43-53, Phil 3:21)

Now all of these things are what you will find in any book of theology but perhaps the biggest issue of all, in respect of who we are now, as a result of the work of Christ on the Cross, and now in our lives, is the potential of the relationship with God that is before us, summed up in Paul’s words to the Ephesians: “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) If we may expand that at the end of this series: God has done everything He has with His Son, Jesus the Christ, to bring about a new possibility in us humans, the possibility of sharing in the being that is Christ, so that we may share in the things that he is doing, things he planned from before the foundation of the world, things he wants us to share in. That is the climatic end to all of this. The Son of God came and lived and died and rose and ascended in order to reverse the works of the Fall so we could share with he and his Father in working to eventually create a new heaven and a new earth. Incredible! Hallelujah!

61. Conclusion: The Big Picture

Focus on Christ Meditations: 61.  Conclusion: The Big Picture

Isa 9:6,7   For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever

As we draw to the end of this series, how can we sum up all the things we have seen in these studies?  I’m not sure, but let’s have a go at creating a ‘painting by numbers’ big picture of the Christ. We must start as we did at the beginning, with the Old Testament and perhaps we might here expand the picture a little with wider references that are usually taken as referring to the Messiah, to help build the end picture. Then we must go on to consider his nature and his activity, and see where that leaves us.

The Expected One: The Jews expected One to come who would be: A prophet like Moses  (Deut 18:18), a ruling conqueror (Balaam’s prophecy – Num 24:17-19), a shepherd  (Ezek 34:23), a prince (Ezek 37:25), a ruler from Judah (Gen 49:10), the Seed of David with an everlasting kingdom  (2 Sam 7:12-), bringing the presence of God with him  (Isa 7:14), a ruler  (Isa 9:6-7), a Son of man coming with the clouds to rule  (Dan 7:13,14), God’s servant  (Isa 42:1-/49:1-/50:4-/52:13-). Thus they expected the coming one to be a combination of the Son of David, a great ruler, a prophetic messiah, a priestly messiah, a son of man and a suffering servant. It was a somewhat confusing picture.

His Divinity and Humanity: As the picture eventually becomes clear – and really that was not until long after he had ascended to heaven – we see a figure who is both God and man.

First, let’s remind ourselves of his divinity. As our verses above say, “He will be called….Mighty God.”  In the New Testament we see this confirmed. The word was God (Jn 1:1).  Jesus himself inferred it again and again e.g. In 5:18. The apostle Paul declared it again and again:  “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col 2:9) and “Who, being in the very nature God. ..”  (Phil 2:6). The writer to the Hebrews spoke of him being without sin (Heb 4:15) which is only possible in deity!

But then his humanity: “You seek to kill me, a man who told you…” (Jn 8: 40) “Touch me and see; a ghost does not….” (Lk 24: 39). “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity”  (Heb 2:14) “Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well.” (Jn 4:6)

 His Activity: How, if asked, would you speak of all the activity of Jesus that we have seen in these studies, and even more in the New Testament? Let’s consider past, present and future:

Past Activity:  he came from heaven, he lived on earth, he taught widely, he healed the sick & raised the dead, he cast out demons, was falsely tried & crucified, he took our sins on the Cross, he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.

Present Activity: he draws people to God, he heals & delivers, he moves in affairs of world to bring about God’s purposes, he prepares the church for his second coming.

Future Activity:  he will return to earth, being seen by every person, he will take his followers to be with him, he will vanquish the enemy, and he will judge every person.

His Position Today: We need to expand on the above: He is at God’s right hand (Rom 8:34), his is crowned with glory (Heb 2:8,9), he is reigning (1 Cor 15:25), so all things are under his feet (Eph 1:22), with all authorities in submission to him (1 Pet 3:22) and his rule is increasing (Isa 9:7).

The Big Picture: Let’s conclude with a summary of all he did, is doing and will do:

  • Jesus left his glorious position in heaven to come to earth. Jn 17:5 / Jn 6:38
  • He put aside his glory and lived in human frailty. Phil 2:7
  • He was tempted in EVERY way we are, but he DIDN’T give way to sin. Heb 4:15
  • He came in perfect obedience to his Father in heaven. Heb 10:7 / Jn 5:19
  • He allowed the Holy Spirit to minister through him to heal the sick, deliver the demonised, raise the dead, and generally counter the works of Satan on earth. Lk 4:18,19 /  Mt 11:4,5
  • He was plotted against and falsely tried. Acts 4:27 / Isa 53:3,8 / Acts 2:23
  • He was beaten, tortured and crucified by Satan’s agents and was railed against by the demons hordes but never responded wrongly. Mt 27:26-30 / Psa 22:12,16
  • He took our sin upon himself on the Cross. 2 Cor 5:21 / 1 Pet 2:24 / Isa 53:12
  • He descended into hell to complete his punishment. 1 Pet 3:18-20
  • He rose from dead as proof of who he was. Acts 2:24 / Acts 17:31
  • He ascended into heaven to rule at his Father’s right hand. 1 Pet 3:22 / 1 Cor 15:25 / Eph 1:20-22 / Psa 110:1
  • He is now IN THE PROCESS of putting everything in subjection under his feet. 1 Cor 15: 24,25 / Eph 1:19-22   /  Eph 2:6,7
  • That process will be complete when he comes as conquering king. Rev 19:11-17 / 1 Thess 4:16,17 / Mt 24:27,30,31.

A Final Comment: The Biblical Testimony that we have considered in these studies, was written by about a dozen men, inspired by God. It had to be God because in no other way could this testimony be so uniform and coherent. If anyone would study these things seriously they must come to this conclusion: it is true, it happened, and is happening. We could have written considerably more on the way this kingdom of the Christ is being worked out today, but you have to stop somewhere!

The end conclusion must be a challenge to all those (ignorant – that’s not unkind, just factual) people who unwisely put Christianity alongside any other world religion and, even worse, put Jesus Christ alongside any other world or religious leader. That isn’t an option when you look at the records. You may try to deride the records but that says more about you than it does the records, that are of the highest level of integrity and trustworthiness. Accept the records for what they are, and you are confronted with a challenge that says, if you see the Christ as revealed here, you can never be the same again. He is unique, what he has done is unique, and one day we will all stand before him – and KNOW, and then we will be on our knees in worship or pleading. At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:10,11) Start it now.

60. The Challenges of the Kingdom

Focus on Christ Meditations: 60.  The Challenges of the Kingdom

Mt 6:9,10    Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Before we come to the end of this series, we should note how all this talk of Christ’s kingdom affects us or, to be more precise, how it affects our will. So far we have sought in various overviews to see that all authority has been given to Christ to reign, and we saw how Jesus reigns and we saw the way, from our perspective at least, we might consider that reign has limitations (sometimes he saves from death, sometimes he doesn’t). But all of that is really about how our lives benefit from being in his kingdom in a fallen world, but there is another view that needs considering and that is how we exercise our will in respect of our king.

Options: We know that the Fall took place because Eve and then Adam exercised their will, contrary to the will of God and that is how every person since has expressed their will. However, we are now in his kingdom and under his rule, and so we need to remind ourselves how we came to be here and what is expected of us in his kingdom.

Our entry into the kingdom:  We are here under the rule of Christ because, at some point in time, his Holy Spirit convicted us of our sin and our need to get right with God and accept the salvation that He offered us through the finished work of Christ on the Cross. In other words, we surrendered our lives to him. We took Jesus as our Saviour but to be able to receive all of what the package of salvation means, we also had to accept him as Lord. Now this is critical to who we are and our future, both here on earth and with him in eternity.

A Partnership Formed: When we surrendered to him, we were adopted into God’s family, declared justified by Jesus and were then ‘born again’ (Jn 3) when he placed his own Holy Spirit within us to empower us for the years and eternity ahead. But the crucial point is that a partnership began at that point so there is Jesus inspiring us and encouraging and guiding us, as he directs from heaven, at the right hand of his Father where he is ruling, and we receive all that by his Spirit within us. That is one side. The other side is the fact that we still have free will, and so we have the capability of choosing to obey – or not.

Consequences: Now there are two things to be observed at this point. The first is what we have just been considering, that the Christian life is a combination of Christ blessing us and us responding to him. How we respond is what is crucial here. The second is the significance of our obedience or disobedience. Now under the Law, Moses was given this as a number of propositions seen as blessings (Deut 28:2-14) and curses (Deut 28:15-68) i.e. God’s decrees of good or for bad. With God, life would be wonderful, without Him, everything would go wrong.

Now although we aren’t told in that chapter ‘how’ God will do these things, an examination of the judgments of God throughout the Bible reveals that most of the time when the Lord does the negative things, it is disciplinary (with the intent of drawing the person or people back to Him, i.e. to change their behaviour) and it becomes clear from Roman 1 and the book of Judges that so often it simply means that He will lift off His hand of blessing and protection (as our disobedience indicates we want!) and we become vulnerable to the enemy in this fallen world, and things go wrong. We may attribute these things to natural causes because when you eat too much, obesity results and obesity means the body breaks down in a variety of ways.

That example may be multiplied many times and we see these ‘fruits’ throughout our Western society although perhaps because they are so familiar, the world takes them for granted or tries to ignore them. Nevertheless, they are there, and this is how God has made us to work but it isn’t only ‘natural causes’, it is also the direct working of God who always works for our benefit. The short term may appear painful, but the long-term intent is always for our good, and that works out best when we are in a genuine living daily relationship with him. THEN he may guide us, direct us, inspire us, encourage us, give wisdom to us and generally bless us. When we are pointed in the wrong direction, if we may put it like that, He cannot do that.

Our starting verse from what we tend to call ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ is fundamental, the desire for God’s will to prevail throughout the earth. Now we cannot ensure it for the rest of the world, but we can for our own lives, as we ensure we have that daily, real and genuine relationship with Him. This happens when we seek to be open to Him, to hear from Him and receive His guidance, blessing etc., and when we seek to do all we can to ensure we are living our lives in accordance with the teaching of the New Testament.

This will involve our lives gradually changing to become more and more like Jesus in both character and service, as he teaches us through his word and Spirit, the way for us to walk. That is a gradual and continuous process which will continue throughout our time on earth and which we call ‘sanctification’. The more this process continues, and we co-operate with it, the more the kingdom of God will be expressed in and through us. The more we change, the more we become open to be used by him, tends to be a truth. Then the more we are used by him, the more we will impact and change the world around us, and this is our part in bringing that prayer into fruition: “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  May it be so.

59. The Kingdom – in Revelation

Focus on Christ Meditations: 59.  The Kingdom – in Revelation

Rev 1:5   Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

Chapter 1: Any series on the person of Christ would be remiss if it did not cover Christ in the book of Revelation where again we will see him as Lord over all. Our starting verse above speaks of what he has done and is doing. “The faithful witness” refers to his ministry on earth, that we considered in an earlier study, revealing the Father and ushering in the kingdom of God. “The firstborn from the dead” reminds us that he died for our sins and was raised from the dead. “The ruler of the kings of the earth” refers to what he is doing NOW, seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling in the midst of his enemies. The verses that follow after this remind us that he “loves us” and by giving his life “has freed us from our sins” (v.5) but now, “has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father” (v.6) but sometime soon, “he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him,” (v.7) referring to his Second Coming. In those few verses John sums up his activity and future agenda.

But that is only the beginning for next he has a revelation of the risen and ascended Christ – “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!” (1:18) but it is clearly not a vision of an ordinary man even though he is described as “a son of man” (v.13). Without going into all the detail he is revealed as a wise and mature, priestly ruler (v.13-16) whose face was shining like the sun. He stands in the midst of seven lamp stands (v.12,13) revealed as seven churches (v.20).

Chapters 2 and 3 are his words to the seven churches of Asia Minor, where he is revealed as: “him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands” (2:1) the one who oversees the leaders and their churches, “the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” (2:8), the risen Lord, “him who has the sharp, double-edged sword,” (2:12) who comes with the word of God, “the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze,” (2:18), the Lord, tried and pure, who sees all, “who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars,” (3:1) the overseer of church leadership, he “who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.” (3:7) God who opens up the future, “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.” (3:15) Saviour and Lord of all.  He comes to each church, fully aware of their state and rebukes or reassures or encourages as is appropriate. He is the head of the Church (Col 1:18), the Lord of the Church. It is his, for he bought it with his life.

Chapter 5: And, indeed, that is the next picture of Jesus that is given us in chapter 5, of the Lion of Judah – the great ruler who has triumphed, (5:5) – and yet a lamb that had been slain (5:6) who alone has the right to undo the scroll of the end time history (5:5,7-10). Again note this picture that we picked up in yesterday’s study, this glorious ruler comes to rule in the form of a lamb that has been slain, a picture of ‘meekness and majesty’ as one song-writer has put it.

If you will read these verses you will see that the community before God fall down before the lamb (5:8) as they acclaim him: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (5:9.10) This risen and ascended Christ is worthy to now preside over the coming centuries or even millennia because he fulfilled the plan of God and has created a new people on earth.

And then the entire hosts of heaven join in: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (5:12) It may not be on earth, but in heaven at least the Christ is worshipped by all for what he has achieved. And then, as if to do away with any doubt, praise and worship for him is linked with that for the Father: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (5:13) This Christ is the Son of God who is to be given worship alongside his Father.

Chapter 6 on: The Lamb then starts opening the seals of the scroll (6:1,3,5,7,9,12, 8:1). This is followed by seven angels blowing trumpets and when the last one is blown there is a great acclamation: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (11:15) Wherever this fits in the human time frame, it is a declaration that the kingdom of God is supreme over all and “The time has come for judging the dead.” (v.18)

Chapter 12: There then appears to be an overview of the life of ‘the child’ and his people and it may be that the following chapters are more detailed accounts of things that took place while the judgments of the previous chapter were taking place. However, there in the midst of chapter 12, perhaps culminating in the overthrow of Satan with the second coming of Christ, comes the declaration, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.” (v.10)

Chapters 13-19: The Lamb has clearly overcome and triumphed. Yes, after chapter 12 there some strange goings-on with a dragon and beasts in chapter 13, but chapter 14 returns to the Lamb and his followers and then later in the chapter we see “a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one “like a son of man” with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand.” (v.14) who has clearly come to bring judgment which follows in the subsequent chapters.

Chapters 19-22: These bring us the coming of the conquering king “called Faithful and True,” (19:11) and “is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.” (19:13) and “On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (19:16) Without doubt this is the Second Coming of the Christ who defeats all his enemies. He reigns with his people for a thousand years (20:4,6 literal or figurative is unknown). When John is shown a new Jerusalem – a symbol of the future community of God communing with God (?) the lamb is there is in still playing a part (21:22,23, 22:1,3) and in the closing words of the Revelation he reminds us that he will be returning ‘soon’ (22:12,20).

We should note that everything significant about the future, about an accounting before God and about the eternal future, is wrapped up in Jesus Christ. He is at the heart of the Revelation from start to finish. He is both Saviour and Lord. Hallelujah!

58. The Ways of the Kingdom

Focus on Christ Meditations: 58.  The Ways of the Kingdom

Ex 33:13   If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.

I think Christians are often confused about the way the Lord actually works into the world – our world – today and therefore, as part of these studies, we need to look at what we might call the practicalities of these things, the way Jesus rules from heaven or, as I put it in an earlier study, the balance of the glory and the grace.

It is important that we face realistically the way life is as a Christian whose Lord is expressing the rule of God on the earth. In our verse above Moses asked the Lord to teach him the way He worked, and we need to do the same. What I simply intend to do is cover various aspects of life as we experience it, particularly as it is not always easy, to realistically face how the Lord works into these lives with both glory and grace.

  1. Death: Starting with the ultimate concern of so many, what do we observe? Sometimes Jesus, as he rules from heaven, saves people from death – Peter (Acts 12:5-11). At other times he clearly allows death – Stephen (Acts 7:60), James (Acts 12:2) to come. At the end of the day, we may pray for someone’s life to be preserved and when we do we MUST simply trust, when the end outcome is obvious (they die or are preserved), that he knows what is best for this situation and remain at peace in him. I have watched, over the years, and know people who were at death’s door but who are still alive, and also know of cases where the church has prayed with apparently great faith and yet the person died. There are no easy answers except, ‘He knows best’ and we must trust his decision.
  2. Health: When it comes to praying against illness, sickness etc., as I have struggled with this over the years (often in a very personal way that would be too long to explain here), my end conclusions are that I absolutely believe that Jesus heals today, even as he did in the Gospels, but I also absolutely believe he also uses the National Health Service that we have in the UK. I have been the recipient of both more than once. One also has to recognise, and I think this should be seen as only in more rare cases, that it is his will for no healing to come. This was clearly true for Paul (2 Cor 12:7-10).
  3. Strength: Now sometimes it is clear that the Lord provides great strength and stamina which may involve more than mere physical strength. We see it in the boldness of the early apostles. Having said that there are also times when he allows us to have a great sense of weakness so that we will rely upon him even more. The apostle Paul testified to this, in the things he experienced and in his ‘thorn in the flesh’.
  4. Under Attack: Because we are part of a spiritual war (see Eph 6) there are times when we are aware of enemy activity. Now as I have watched this over the years, I know there are times when the grace of the Lord comes to enable us to resist and so the Lord sometimes gives a word of authority for us to speak which brings an end to the current opposition. However, there do seem to be other times when he simply says turn other cheek and his grace will enable us to cope with what is going on.
  5. Testing: There are times where sometimes life is easy – no problem! However there are also times where circumstances get difficult – times of testing – and these are times of learning, learning how to receive the grace of God in whatever form it is needed.
  6. Satan: We have already referred to spiritual warfare and so there are times when we triumph and he has to flee (Jas 4:7) but there are also other times when it seems he is allowed to hinder our activities (e.g. 1 Thess 2:18) and at those times we just need to get the Lord’s grace to handle it.
  7. Faith: It would be nice to believe that ‘faith’ comes as a fixed portion of God’s grace but it isn’t like that. Sometimes we are full of faith and sometimes we lack faith, and that can be observed in the disciples in the Gospels.  Faith is about starting to be God-aware and we can have ‘little faith’ or we can allow faith to grow and develop.

Addendum – Satan: Now there is another big area of understanding we need to get hold of as we look out and ponder on the workings of the Christian life and the way Jesus works as he rules from heaven, and it is to do with Satan. Here is what sometimes shocks Christians: God USES Satan. Scriptures seem to indicate that he uses him to reveal men’s hearts  (1 Chron 21:1), to bring judgement on unbelievers  (Rev 9:11), to bring discipline to believers  (1 Cor 5:5), to subjugate unbelievers  (1 Jn 5:19b), to maintain humility in our lives  (2 Cor 12:7), to develop faith & righteousness in our lives  (1 Pet 1:7), to bring about trials whereby we can be rewarded  (Jas 1:12), to teach us how to fight  (Jud 3:2) and to demonstrate God’s power over the enemy  (Eph 3:10).

Having said all that, we need always to remember that God IS working in ALL things for our good (Rom 8:28). But what is the ‘good’? We also need to learn that he may be teaching us to persevere (1 Pet 1:6), to pray (Mt 6:5-13), to take authority (Mt 16:19, 18:18), to mature (Eph 4:12,13) and to remain faithful (Lk 18:8). Faithful in this context means a) in attitudes, not becoming angry or cynical in test situations, or b)  remaining pure in face of temptation and rest of world and c)  remaining loving when others get hostile.

This has been a fairly information-packed study and if you are unsure about it, then may the above act as a learning resource to be slowly worked through in more depth. To complete this section, looking at Jesus’ work from heaven, we would be remiss if we ignored what the book of Revelation tells us, and so we will look there in the next study.

57. The Humble Kingdom

Focus on Christ Meditations: 57.  The Humble Kingdom

Jn 15:19,20   I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: `No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.

There is always a temptation, when we start talking about the kingdom and about Jesus reigning, to fall into triumphalism. We have been considering his power and authority and how he was and is in complete control and how he rules in the midst of his enemies. Now this should leave us feeling good about him and about our place ‘in him’, and that is right and proper, for indeed we are the children of God and we have got everything going for us.

Having said that, there is this thing that we are now focusing on which I can only describe as the humility of Christ in the way he came (his humble birth), the way he grew up (hidden from the eyes of the world for the first thirty years) and then, as we are about to see, the way he ministered. The temptation for the Jews when they read the Isaiah prophecies at least, would be to expect a conquering king as their Messiah, who was coming to usher in a new world order, one where the Roman overlords would be thrown out of Israel and Israel would be seen as a world-leading nation. Indeed, that is what many of them did expect. However, the reality was different and in three particular respects.

A ‘played-down’ ministry: And then Jesus came and we see some strange acts, for example, after healing the leper who he touched, Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone.” (Mt 8:4) What, we’ve just seen a miracle of healing and you want to keep it quiet? But then we find, “Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was.” (Mt 12:15,16) Large crowds healed and he tells them to keep quiet about the many miracles that occurred???? But it gets worse. Shortly after Peter has made his famous declaration of who Jesus was, a conversation ensues and, “he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.” (Mt 16:20) They have just been given revelation and now he tells them to keep quiet about it????

But then there is the episode on the mount of Transfiguration and “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Mt 17:9) They have just seen the glory of God on Jesus and he says don’t let anyone know what you just seen – well not yet anyway.  Mark also records the same thing happening when he cast out evil spirits (Mk 3:12) and also with the deaf semi-mute he healed (Mk 7:36).

So why did Jesus act like this? It appears that many if not most of these instances happened earlier in the three years of his ministry and we are left with the sense that Jesus didn’t want his following to grow so quickly that his time of ministry, revealing the Father and teaching his disciples, would be cut short. There appears a specific time frame in which he was working towards the Cross and so the will of God in that respect had to prevail. Thus he played down so much of his power and authority until near the end, when in fact he played it up to provoke the religious authorities to rise against him (the raising of Lazarus as we saw previously).

A life of persecution/opposition: Yes. the second of these two things that go against the ‘greatness and glory’ image that the Jews might have expected of their Messiah is the fact of the rejection he found among the religious leaders at least in his people – and he did nothing to ease it! That is the strange thing about Jesus’ rule. In the previous study we suggested various ways in which he was in absolute control and, from a human standpoint at least, we might have expected that power and authority to be used to convince the religious leaders that he was their Messiah – but he didn’t. In fact he seemed to do quite the opposite; he confronted them with their intransigence, self-aggrandizement, and hardness of heart. It is little wonder that this, in the face of human sin, provoked hostility as it still does today. But instead of trying to play it down, at the appropriate time he played it up to bring about his Father’s will, his death on the Cross. We have already noted in earlier studies the hostility that was there opposing him from early on, and which became the primary motivating force to bring about his death.

The Cross itself: Yes, the fact of the Cross was not foreseen, as we have previously noted, until Jesus himself started warning his disciples about it. If the prophetic pictures of the Messiah had largely been of a conquering king, the thought of death on the cursed Cross is the ultimate picture of weakness and humility, especially when we find out it was at the heart of the divine strategy to bring salvation to the world. Now wonder Paul could write, “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:23)

Yes, we preach the glory and wonder of the Christ, the king ruling over God’s kingdom, the one seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven, ruling in the midst of his enemies – and it is essential that we do – but we must always balance it with the grace and humility of Christ if we are to be true to the record. And that will be true of our lives as well. Yes, on the one hand, we can rejoice at the wonder of being God’s children with all His resources available to us and with Him on our side, but on the other we must remember that He looks for grace and humility in us as we seek to be Christ-like, living out the will of God for our lives. Ours is not to demand, but to ask. Ours is not to be hostile but peace-loving. Ours is not to be arrogant but gracious. This is the kingdom of earth expressed through our lives and when we approach life like that, He will always be there for us, providing for us and revealing us for what we are – His children.

Knowing that we have a tendency to over-emphasise things, we will not leave these studies about the Christ on the ‘meek and mild’ note for that would not be an accurate representation. To hold the balance we will move on in the next studies to consider the varieties of ways the Lord moves in our lives today, and then see Christ as revealed in the book of Revelation.

56. Christ’s Kingdom Expressed

Focus on Christ Meditations: 56.  Christ’s Kingdom Expressed

Mt 12:28   I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

We now move to the heart of the will of God in respect of the Kingdom of God. How did Jesus express the kingdom?  We finished Study No. 54 with a quote from Daniel about the coming of the Son of Man and picked up on two words in that were in those verses and we said, “Dominion” speak of dominance, domination, and the power to rule. “Kingdom” speaks of the realm or territory or area where his reign exists, where we start thinking about the expression of the reign of the king, how he shows he is king as he reigns. ‘Reign’ is about exercising sovereignty, about being in control.  I want us to now zoom in on that last definition, the fact of ‘reign’ being all about being in control, not merely coping, not merely surviving, but being in control.

In the UK we have a Queen but these days she is mostly just a figurehead, the authority rests with Parliament, but when a king truly reigns, it means that have absolute control, absolute power and absolute authority. When we see this in respect of sinful human beings, they are usually despots who abuse their power and abuse their subjects. When we come to the ruler over the Kingdom of God, the ruler is a benign controller who controls for the benefit of his subjects. That is the big difference between the kingdoms of the earth and the Kingdom of Heaven.  So let’s see ‘Christ in Control’. It is so obvious we have probably never thought about it.

Control over the material world: This is the most obvious thing in Jesus’ earthly ministry, and many of us struggle to believe that this is still true of his body today when we allow him to lead. In the pages of the Gospels we see Jesus in control of the elements – calming a storm, walking on water, turning water into wine, expanding bread and fishes to feed thousands; these are all examples of Jesus being in absolute control of material elements.

Control over health and life itself: When we see Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons and even raising the dead, we see this power and authority over the material world being applied into flesh and blood human bodies. This is Jesus reigning in the most obvious ways. If we believe Scripture, the very scriptures we have been looking at earlier in this series, where we have seen that Jesus was involved in creation (Jn 1) and now upholds this world by his powerful word (Heb 1), the fact of him controlling nature and the state of human bodies should not surprise us.

Control over himself: Now here is an area we don’t tend to think about but when it is paralleled into our lives as part of his body today it becomes very pertinent. Let’s consider various ways we see this.

i) In respect of Satan: The Gospels record Satan coming with three temptations before Jesus starts his ministry, seeking to bring him down, but in each case he remains firmly in control of his mind and his behaviour and gives right responses. This is significant because Satan questioned his very identity, but Jesus remained firmly in control of his own thinking about himself and so did not succumb to the enemy’s negatives; he knew who he was and what he was to do, right up to an including the Cross and never deviated from that, even in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was confronted with the awfulness of what was just about to happen

ii) In respect of human prejudices: Jesus not succumb to prejudices or false religious expectations which we see in the way he met with and spoke to the Samaritan woman, the adulterous woman, the Greek woman, a leper who he touched, tax collectors etc. who he dined with, all of whom we have considered previously, and all of whom would have been rejected by respectable Judaism.

iii) In respect of his speech: But it goes beyond meeting with the unclean, the sinners and so on; it includes how he encountered and responded to the leaders and religious elite; he did not speak out of turn, he was in complete control of his tongue. He did not waver before ‘great people’; he knew who he was and therefore never felt defensive, as we so often do. He never felt uncomfortable in any situation because he knew who he was and knew the power and authority that he had.

iv) In respect of his emotions: This is an area where we are so often stunted and so our emotions are oppressed by expectations or hardened and calloused by the hard knocks of life or the hard words of parents or teachers or other people of influence that shut us down. No, he was clearly saddened by the fact of his disciples’ little belief sometimes, he was saddened by the grief that he saw in those he loved (at Lazarus’s tomb) and he anguished over the thought of being separated from his Father on the Cross.

In each of these ways Jesus was in complete control. He knew people (Mt 12:25, 27:18, Jn 2:24) and was not fazed by them, whether they were the great and good and influential or whether they were prostitutes, demon possessed, sinner and crooks. In one sense we might say he was above them all and was therefore not controlled by what they thought, either of themselves or about him. (There is another aspect of his reign that appears to run completely contrary to this, but we will leave than until the next study.)

For the time being can we remind ourselves that we Christians are ‘the body of Christ’ and therefore with his Holy Spirit within us we are called to reflect him and portray him to the world around us. We fail to do that when we don’t reject the lies from the past we have been told about ourselves, or we fail to let him heal us up over our hurts from the past, and we thus allow the enemy to demean us in our own thinking about ourselves, and so we feel inadequate in the presence of ‘big’ people, or ‘trying’ circumstances.

And then we forget what Paul tells us, that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” and, even more, we forget that this was, “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 6,7) This is our place – next to him. And why? So that we can catch his heart and purpose and receive from him everything we need to stand with heads held high as God’s children.

The apostle Peter said the same thing: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him.” (2 Pet 1:3) Putting that into our own words, “The power that Jesus has as the Son of God ruling at his Father’s right hand, has also been given to us to help us meet the needs of every day and be godly (knowing and responding to God in every circumstance) as we share in his life, share in that experience of him, the ruler of all things seated on high.”

As the apostle Paul put it, “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Eph 1:22,23)  Sometimes the Message version puts it very well. Here is Eph 1:20-23: All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the centre of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” This is what this is all about! Hallelujah!