Surface Praise

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives , the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” Lk 19:37,38    
   
Consider:
   
It is what we call Palm Sunday. Jesus is being hailed as a conquering king as he enters the city of Jerusalem.   The other three Gospels report the crowd crying “Hosanna” which means “Save Lord!”   They see Jesus as their Messiah who has come to deliver them from the might of Rome.   Instead he has come to deliver them (and us) from the might of sin, but they aren’t bothered with that.   They see him as one who comes with supernatural ability to perform miracles and they hail him as king.   Both Luke and John pick up the fact that the crowd are as excited as they are because of the miracles that Jesus had performed (see also Jn 12:18).   
   
It was particularly the miracle of the raising of Lazarus from the dead at Bethany, just before coming down to Jerusalem, that had excited them. It was rather akin to the excitement after the feeding of the five thousand when they had wanted to make Jesus their king (Jn 6:15).   It was an excitement born out of self-interest – what this man could do for us!   And so, as he enters Jerusalem, they herald him as their king hoping that he will go up to the fortress and deal with the Roman garrison, but instead he turns the opposite way and turns and goes up to the Temple and proceeds to cleanse it of the tradesmen.   Jesus has come to restore communion with God (which is what the temple had originally been for), not deal with national institutions – they will be dealt with after men’s hearts had been dealt with.
  
So, here on this glorious day, the Son of God enters the Holy City in such a manner that will yet further provoke the authorities to rise up against him and bring about his death.  Without realising it, they will be the ones who will sacrifice the Lamb of God, an offering for sin.  Of course we now know what followed, which makes the events of this day, at least by the people, seem so shallow.  There IS going to come a time of great glory and great rejoicing at the achievement of the Son of God, but not because of some miracles, as wonderful as they were, but because of the incredible thing he does at the end of this week.
   
Throughout this coming week, we will examine Jesus’ last words on the Cross. Technically this is the end of the fasting period of Lent but, being the beginning of Holy Week, we will continue to meditate on these things through to their terrible but glorious conclusion.
   
Prayer:
  
Lord, in this week ahead, help me even more to understand the incredible nature of these things that were happening, that brought about the basis for my salvation.
    

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Right with God

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Rom 3:27 ,28
  
We…. know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. Gal 2:16
   
Consider:
   
Justification is a key doctrine for the Christian which is the outworking of the work of Christ on the Cross as it is received by us. Why have we left it this late? Because we’ve been focussing on the work of Christ on the Cross, and strictly speaking we were not justified by the Cross, we are justified by God after faith, on the basis of the Cross.
   
At various times in these meditations we have been seeking to show that what Christ achieved on the Cross was sufficient for the salvation of any and every person who would respond in repentance to him. There was nothing any one of us could have added to it. It was complete as an act by God to establish the basis for our salvation, but it was not our salvation. That only came when we responded in faith to this good news. Then and only were we ‘justified’.
   
So what is ‘justification’? It is the instantaneous legal act of God whereby He declares our sins forgiven and taken by Christ, and Christ’s righteousness declared as now belonging to us, so that we are now righteous in His sight. Why ‘instantaneous’? Because it happens the very moment when we believe and surrender to God, seeking His forgiveness and newness of life, i.e. at the moment when we exercise faith.  Hence faith is the key that brings the already complete work of Christ to bear on our lives.
   
There is no merit in our faith; we have not earned this justification, we have simply received it as an act of grace by God. When we believed what He has done and said, then by an act of grace on God’s part, He declared that that work of Christ on the Cross, that dealt with our sins, now applied to us and we were justified. In normal usage, a dictionary definition of ‘to justify’ means ‘to show the justice or rightness of a person or act’. Note the closeness of the words ‘justify’ and ‘justice’. Thus, to justify means that justice has been done, and we have been put right with the Law, and the basis of that is Christ’s work on the Cross.
   
Prayer:
    
Lord, thank you that you provided the completed work of Christ for me to believe in, and when I did you declared me free from my sin and guilt, and now righteous in your sight. 
   

A Lamb without Blemish

Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household…. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect Ex 12:3,5
  
he must bring to the LORD a young bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed. Lev 4:3
   
God made him who had no sin to be a sin offering for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor 5:21
  
Consider:
  
We have already thought about Christ coming as a sacrifice, as the Lamb of God, but we now focus on one aspect of that so that we may wonder even more at God’s goodness to us.    There are a variety of pictures in the Old Testament history of Israel‘s life with God that say things about sacrifice.   We have already considered the Passover lamb but let’s remind ourselves that the requirement for the lamb was that it was ‘without defect’.   Similarly in the Law of Moses, in Leviticus, in chapter 4, wherever an animal was to be a substitute for sin,  i.e. a ‘sin offering’, whether it was a bull (v.3,14), a goat (v.23,28) or a lamb (v.32), each creature was to be ‘without defect’.
  
Why ‘without defect’? Well possibly for various reasons. The first reason would be so that the giving of this lamb for God’s purposes would not be done casually.  The owner would have to take care in choosing.
    
The second reason is that having taken care, he now has to commit his very best to the Lord. (Cain was chided for being casual with his offering – Gen 4:3-5).
     
The third reason is that this sacrifice has no need to be put to death – there is nothing defective about it that should warrant its death.
  
Fourthly, there is a sense whereby we might say that it had no sin to deserve its death and so its perfection highlights the awfulness of what is happening to it – a totally blameless creature is taking the sin of completely guilty people.
    
Now, if you look at these reasons and apply them to Jesus, you see something wonderful. His coming as The Lamb was carefully decided in heaven, the very best that heaven could commit to the task, and there was nothing about him that was defective, nothing that warranted his death.   Heb 7:26 tells us that Jesus was ‘holy, blameless, pure.’   Peter tells us that he came as this lamb, ‘without blemish or defect’ (1 Pet 1:19 ).   What point are we making?   That you and I were redeemed by a perfect being.   He didn’t deserve it, but we did.    The one who stepped into your ‘condemned cell’ was utterly perfect.   If you imagined him as a cup, he was empty of sin, so would take all your sin, every single drop of it.   There was no element of your sin that he didn’t die for.
   
Prayer
  
Lord, I am beginning to realise the completeness of what Jesus did. There is no sin of mine that hasn’t been taken by him. I am utterly cleansed. Thank you so much!
    

Reconciled to God

while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, Rom 5:10
   
God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Cor 5:18,19
   
Consider:
   
Before we actually look at just what Jesus did on the Cross, let’s consider the outcome of what we have been saying.    If Jesus acted as a means of satisfying God’s anger against our Sin, it means that the one thing that kept God from us, and us from God, has been dealt with and so, as Paul says (Eph 2:13), “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Jesus.” Put another way, we have been reconciled to God.   Reconciliation is thus the result of the work of Christ on the Cross.
  
Imagine the throne room in heaven.  It is the place of utmost purity and nothing unrighteous or impure may enter.  Imagine that sin and guilt is like a visible stain on the skin and no one with such a stain can enter.  Outside are myriads of sinners, all stained with sin, but they cannot enter because anyone with such a stain who tries to enter is instantly cast into hell.  
  
See the young Prince on the throne next to the King, get up and leave the throne room. See him leave the courts of heaven and there stand in the dock alongside the sinners.   See him taken away in chains and cast into hell.  See him come back after a while, having fully borne the sentence of the guilty in hell.   He stands at the doors of the throne room and bids the sinners to come.   Some come to him, acknowledging their guilt and ready to die, but as he shakes their hand, the stain of sin and guilt disappear from their skin and they walk into the throne room to be greeted warmly by the King.
      
The Prince took their punishment so their sin was truly dealt with. Thus they can enter the throne room with their stain removed.  Before they were exiled, but now they have been reconciled to the King.   And why?  Because the young Prince stood in their place and paid the price so that the one thing that stood between them and the king was removed.    An imperfect picture that conveys something of the truth of the perfect picture – of what Jesus actually did.  It’s an absolutely staggering picture, almost beyond our comprehension, but it is true nevertheless.   He has done it!
   
Prayer:
    
Lord, I was estranged from you.  You could not have me near you so contaminated was I, yet you sent Jesus to deal with my contamination, so that it would be possible for me to be cleansed.  He has done it.   I have received it and now I am your child, reconciled to my Father in heaven.   Thank you so much.
   

Preplanned

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Jn 17:24
   
He was chosen before the creation of the world , but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 1 Pet 1:20  
   
the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. ( Or written from the creation of the world in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain). Rev 13:8
 
Consider:
   
Our three verses today all have a common element – they refer back to the beginning of the world, or even to before it!   There are a number of these verses in the New Testament, coming from a variety of writers who all understood the same thing.
   
The first one speaks of the love the Father had for the Son before they created this world.  Jesus himself spoke a number of times about having come from heaven.  His life didn’t start when he was conceived in Mary; he had existed from before time. The Father and Son existed in loving communion before anything else was.
   
The second verse speaks about how the Godhead chose Jesus to come down and go through the thirty three years of human existence.  Seen in context, we see that Peter had just been writing about Jesus dying like a sacrificial lamb so the implication is that this role was assigned him before they made the world.
     
The third verse, from Revelation, indicates that this plan for Jesus to die for our sins and thus create a book of the saved, was established before they created the world, thus confirming Peter’s revelation of the truth.
 
Again and again, the message is that God planned the Cross even before He created the world. Because He is God, He could look into the future and see that His perfect creation would soon be marred by sin, as Adam and Eve used their free will to choose to disregard God.
   
Before He created the world, He knew what the consequences of free will and of sin, and knew the separation from Him that would occur.   Right back then, He knew the only way to deal with this would be the Cross, and right back then they agreed that the Son would be the one who would leave heaven and come in human form to bring about eternal justice. The activities in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago were no last-ditch, desperate measure by God. No, they were part of the plan and purpose of heaven that was decided upon even before He spoke and said, “Let there light”! (Gen 1:3).  We need to get this firmly in  our mind: The Cross of Easter was planned by God before anything else came into being.   It is the pivot of history.  God knew that once He gave us free will, the Cross became essential, for all the reasons we’ve considered previously
    
Prayer:
   
Lord, thank you that you looked into the future and saw our plight and planned accordingly, even before you brought anything into being.  Thank you that even before time began you planned this, Jesus coming and dying (Easter) for us.
   

Walking by Sight

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Heb 11:6
    
Consider:
  
Hebrews 11 is a wonderful chapter all about faith, but this verse can be rather disconcerting if you are trusting in your own strength, making our own provisions, being superstitious, or trusting in your own ability to keep the rules  (as covered in the last four meditations).   The trouble is that it’s like someone once said, faith is spelt R-I-S-K and a risky lifestyle can be uncomfortable, because we like to be in control of our lives, in control of what is happening.
  
We can do the religious thing, going to church once or twice a week.  We can try to be nice.   We can try to pray once (or five times) a day.  We can read and even memorise Scriptures.  All these things we can do quite easily – quite easily without God!   And that’s where it falls apart, because the one thing God wants for us is a relationship with Him, because the moment that happens He’s able to express His love toward us and bring change and blessing.  
     
A relationship means interaction. If you have a ‘relationship’ with another person you communicate with them, do things with them, and enjoy them.  Because He is love (1 Jn 4:8,16), everything about God wants to express goodness in our direction.  That’s what He wants to do because that is natural to Him, and when He’s able to do that, He is pleased and our lives get transformed.    And why should that all be?   Because of the Cross of Christ at Calvary.  That opened the door to a possible relationship with the living God.   Isn’t that incredible!
    
But let’s get back to our verse for today.  The old sin-thing in us struggles with the concept of not being able to see – we like being able to see, it helps our feeling of being in control!  All the Bible’s various descriptions of sin – e.g. lawlessness, rebellion etc. – these are all expressions of us being in control and doing our own thing. In our insecurity we feel we have to hold the reins of our lives.
   
Yet the writer to the Hebrews says we must have faith if we are to please God.  Why is that?  Because He is unseen and if you come to Him desiring a relationship with Him (as He wants and as we considered above), then you have to believe there is someone there you are talking to when you pray.  But even more than that, you need to believe that He responds to us when we seek Him, and that response is twofold: He speaks to us and He does things.  He forgives us, cleanses us, puts His Spirit in us, makes us His children, provides for us, guides us, protects us – and all these things are invisible, so it takes faith to believe they have happened or are happening. 
    
Faith needs a focus, and that is one of the things that we need and which is satisfied in the Cross of Jesus Christ.  We have to believe that God is there, and we have to believe that Jesus is God’s Son who came and lived and died and rose from the dead – all for us. The Cross is the pivotal point of Jesus’ activity which challenges our faith. It actually says he was in control and is in control and has done all we need to open the door for us to enjoy God. To believe that is an act of faith.   If you can’t believe it, you don’t have faith and you won’t enjoy the outworking of the Cross that brings God’s salvation to your life.
   
(NB. Afer the prayer, check the ‘Recap’ below to review where we have been so far in these meditations)
   
Prayer: 
   
Lord, you call me to a life of faith, yet if I am honest I prefer to be in control, I prefer to see. I realise that is the sin element still working and I purpose, with your help, to be a believer, focusing on the Cross, focusing on the resurrection, receiving all your goodness and love today because of those incredible events.
  
A RECAP
   
Before we go any further, it is perhaps wise that we recap where we have been and note the things we have considered:

   
We should realise that:


– Moral failure leaves us unclean and in need of cleansing and forgiveness
– Our heart is deceitful and cannot be trusted.
– Outside of Jesus, we can do nothing of any real virtue.
– We are inherently sinners, who need God’s transformation.
– We are tainted with sin though and through and it is ready to rise up in us unless we get God’s help
– Left to ourselves we are prone to fall to temptation.
– We will often turn to our own resources and reject the Lord’s provision.
– We will so often turn to superstition to create hope for ourselves.
– So often we try to make ourselves acceptable in God’s sight by ‘keeping the rules’
– We’re called to a life of faith, but prefer a life of sight where we are in control.
   
We should realise these things but so often we don’t. Perhaps we’ve never thought about them, or perhaps we simply forget them.
    
Why have we been saying these things? Because until we see them, understand them and accept them, we will not see the need for Easter, we will not understand why Jesus went to the Cross, we won’t see our plight, either in eternity or on a daily basis, and we won’t be thankful.
   
Why did Jesus go to the Cross?

  • because of my sin and your sin,
  • because of that self-centred, godless inner nature that deserves condemnation
  • because without his work we are helpless and hopeless, prone to getting it wrong, prone to creating a self-centred, self-seeking religion as a substitute for a relationship with the living God.

    

 THIS is why Jesus went to the Cross!

Rule-keeping

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? ….. are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?….Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” Gal 3:2,11
   
Consider:
  
Yesterday we thought about how people try to use various means to ‘appease’ God – which is really just superstition.  When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Galatia he was writing to a people who had gloriously and simply received the Gospel.  Paul had told them about Jesus dying on the Cross for their sin and they had gladly received that.   Salvation had come simply as they believed and received what they had heard.  They had been well and truly saved at that point. There had been no question about it!
    
Part of that package was receiving the Holy Spirit as the new power source in their lives(v.2), but subsequent to that there came those who said that wasn’t enough, they needed to obey Moses’ Law as well.  So, now they started trying to keep the rules in order to obtain or keep their salvation. The church at Colossae got into the same bind and Paul had to chide them as well for now relying upon rule-keeping, in the way they worried about what to eat, or what special days to keep (Col 2:16-23).
   
What is rule keeping?  It is a form of belief that puts its trust in keeping man-made rules to win God’s approval, and you find it in every religion.   The only thing such religion guarantees, is failure and guilt.   If you live by rules, the one thing you can be sure of is that you will break some of them!   We then feel guilty or we start justifying why this rule broken is all right, but deep down we still worry. 
 
The thing about rule-keeping is that it is self-centred and if we do well on a good day, pride says, aren’t you doing well, all without God, and so in fact it makes us feel we can do without Him!   Rule-keeping is humanistic religion.  It is promoting a form of spirituality that doesn’t need God – it’s godless and self-centred!
    
Are you saying we should break the rules then, somebody asks.  Of course not, but the rules don’t become the way to achieve God’s approval, they are simply an expression of our love for God, after we have received His love.  So, for example, will not getting drunk get God’s approval? No, rule keeping doesn’t win his approval, simply believing in Jesus and his work on the Cross (see later) does. 
   
When we realise what he has done for us, and we accept this truth and his love, we find we are suddenly on the receiving end of this love in a big way.  As this love impacts us, we find we no longer want to do those harmful and foolish things we did before and so, as in this example, we no longer get drunk.  We come to see that God’s ‘rules’ are to protect and bless us and lead us into a good lifestyle, once to we know his love.  ‘Following the rules’ is a result or outworking of our faith and love, not a means to get to it!
    
Prayer:
     
Lord, please forgive me for that tendency that I have to try to earn your love.  I realise when I think about it, that you give it to me freely.  I realise that even my best efforts are so often self-centred, and I know you want to take my eyes off me and on to you.  Please help me.  Please open my eyes to see the wonder of your love for me as shown through Jesus.