8. Not Man’s Plan

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  8. Not Man’s Plan

Gal 1:11,12   I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

At the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, Satan asked, “Did God really say….” (Ex 3:1) and that question has been one he has whispered in many an ear (if not every ear) ever since. Is this Bible really inspired of God? Does it really convey the truth? Was Jesus a real historical figure? Did he really perform miracles? Did he really rise from the dead? Is there really a means of being put right with God? Is it really as simple as they say, believing by faith and not having to work to be good?  These questions all have the same origin!

When Paul wrote to the Galatians he was confronting a challenge, both to his ministry and his authority, as Jewish believers had listened to the voices saying, “You mustn’t lose your Jewishness. You ought to continue being circumcised. What this man Paul says is questionable. He is undermining our culture.” Thus he writes this letter, and in it he declares that the Gospel that he preached to them wasn’t something he had made up but that it had come directly from Jesus Christ.

There is both a challenge and an encouragement in these words. The challenge is to believe Paul’s words and his testimony and the encouragement is that we are not kidding ourselves with this Gospel. There is no doubt that the basics or foundation of the Gospel is there in the four Gospels and then in the preaching found in the Acts but it is down, largely, to Paul to spell it out in more detail in his letters. Yes Peter and John also do it and so we have this multi-facetted testimony to the truth of it.

We’ve hardly noted it so far but it is there – this Gospel has come from God. It is NOT a man-made idea; it is the revelation of God. We find the start of this gospel laid out by Paul in the beginning of his letter to the Romans: the gospel of God– the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 1:1-4) There it is; it is all about Jesus Christ, a gospel spoken about in the prophets, about Jesus who was revealed as the Son of God through his resurrection. At the beginning of this letter to the Galatians we find, “Paul, an apostle–sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father.” (Gal 1:1) Again there is this emphasis on him being what he is because of God, and (implied) not because he thought it was a good idea!

We have to go to Ephesians to see the other half of the Gospel which is about what God has achieved in us:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

(a) who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he

(b) chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he

(c) predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will– to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him

(d) we have redemption through his blood,

(e)[and also]  the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he

(f) made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” (Eph 1:3-10)

How amazing! Blessed with all we need in Christ, chosen to be special and different, called His sons, redeemed from our old lives, forgiven, and had His will for us revealed. This is all part of that revelation that Paul spoke of in our starting verses, they are all part of the Gospel that he received from Christ.

Perhaps one of the most compact passages about the gospel and about his calling comes in Paul’s letter to Titus: “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness– a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.” (Titus 1:1-3) His calling was to stir faith in those chosen from before the foundation of the world, based on the truth of the Gospel which brings about godly lives and eternal life, and this came when he encountered the Lord and received these commands from God. Thus he is a messenger of the Gospel which comes from God.

As we suggested above, we also have the same testimony from Peter who speaks about believers: “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.” (1 Pet 1:2) It’s the same message: chosen by God before the foundation of the world, so the Spirit can bring changes in us as a result of the work of Christ on the Cross. John adds his part of this same testimony: “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1,2)

No, this could not have been dreamt up by man. In one sense it is too complex for that. In another sense it is too simple for that. Salvation that comes simply through believing, through faith. If it has been from man it would have included self effort but as Paul said, “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) No this excludes human glory; it is all God’s.

51. God’s Love

Meditations in 1 John : 51 : The Proof of God’s Love

1 John  4:9,10   This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

There are people who suffer from tunnel-vision. They focus on one little thing that has come to their attention and say, “God can’t possibly be a God of love if He lets that happen,” and totally ignore the vast wealth of evidence that points to His love. John distils God’s love down to one thing when he says, “This is how God showed his love among us.” He focuses us on THE one primary thing which above all else says, “This is an act of One who must love us with all His being.”  It is, of course, the fact that “He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”

Now some of us may be so familiar with the Gospel that we’ve allowed the wonder of it to be lost to us. Others may be unclear about it and so have never seen the wonder. So, let’s see some of the basics of what John has just put before us.

We must start with a fallen human race, a world that was designed and made perfect but which turned away from God to self-centred and godless living and which, therefore, soon meant unrighteous living, living contrary to the design of the Maker.  Each and every human being is blighted, contaminated or infected by this self-centred, godless disposition and live out lives that are godless and unrighteous – and wrong! Justice (which we accept in any other context) demands that wrong doers be punished but the scale or enormity of the wrong of the human race is so great that we tend to either accept it as normal and forget issues of justice, or we just turn away from thinking about it because it is too big and too terrible to think about. Almost by definition, this self-centred and godless way of living means that God seems a million miles away (when you turn your back on someone you can make yourself believe they are not there – that’s what little children do!) Put another way, there seems a massive division between us and God. If we do think about God, it is with a sense of fear because deep down we know we are in the wrong and He seems so great, so awesome, so powerful, and so wonderful that our natural response is to scurry away or flee from Him.

So there we were alienated from God, guilty and stuck with it, helpless to make ourselves any different. Even when we tried to ‘be good’ it was still self-centred and it was still godless because He still seemed a million miles away. We were doomed to this for the rest of our existence. We needed help, we needed rescuing, and the only one who could rescue us was God Himself. But there is the problem, He is Spirit and He is in heaven.

It is at this point that we come to the beginning of the Gospels and Jesus being born inBethlehem. This was the Son of God who had existed from before the beginning of time in heaven with the Father: see John 6 about coming down from heaven and John 17:5 for Jesus’ reference to the glory he had before the foundation of the world. This is where we struggle in our minds, coping with the thought that Jesus the Son existed in heaven before he lived on the earth for thirty three years, two thousand years ago, but it is so. This is the plan originated in the godhead before even creating the world, knowing that if they gave us free will, we would turn away and Sin would become endemic in the world. Thus John reminds us that the Father sent the Son for us so that, through his death on the Cross, our sins could be dealt with, our guilt removed and our punishment taken so that, if we will be receive it, we can now receive forgiveness and a new Spirit-empowered life, a life that continues on this earth with the Father’s blessing and then on into eternity in His presence.

If you want to start debating love, and particularly the possibility of our loving God, give up! The truth that “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”   Whatever we may feel towards God will come either out of ignorance or from the knowledge that He has sent Jesus for us. Ignorance allows silly people to say silly things about God, but once the truth has come to us we realise that it’s all from His side – He loves us and has sent Jesus so that he could take all our punishment and sin and guilt and shame so that, now, we can be turned into children of God. How incredible! Hallelujah!

11. Jesus the Righteous One

Meditations in 1 John : 11 :  Jesus the Righteous One

1 John  2:1,2   My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

We have considered the first two sentences of these verses so that only leaves the last sentence, which is one which has received a variety of interpretations, so significant is its content. The crucial words for theologians are ‘atoning sacrifice’. Older versions of the Bible used the word ‘propitiation’ and at least one version used the word ‘expiation’. Unfortunately none of these words are words we use commonly each day and so we need to explain them to see what theologians have been struggling with.

‘Propitiation’ refers to appeasing an offended or angry person. ‘Expiation’ refers to paying the penalty and making amends for. To ‘atone’ means to make amends for and bring reconciliation.

Now the Bible does speak about the anger or wrath of God. Why does God get angry when, it is clear, before the foundation of the world, He knew before He created the world, that Adam and Eve would fall, and sin would enter the world. When we look up instances of God specifically being seen to be angry, we find He focuses His anger on wrong behaviour (see Num 11:10 with the Israelites’ grumbling about manna, and Num 22:22 when Balaam’s actions of going with the Princes of Moab, and Deut 1:34 at Israel’s unbelief about entering the Land.).

Now anger is displeasure expressed strongly. To consider the opposite, how would we think of someone who was utterly calm and indifferent in the face of, say, a gross injustice? Suppose you heard of a gang rape in a street, say, and that there had been a policeman standing by watching, completely indifferent to what he was seeing? I think you would be horrified. Anger is a legitimate and even righteous reaction to gross wrong.

Now of course God knows the wonder of the perfect world that He made and He sees the awfulness of sin and its effects. When Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus and saw Mary and the others weeping, the text says that he was deeply moved (Jn 11:33,34). The verb there suggests an element of anger was part of that feeling, as well as love and compassion. Jesus was angry with the effect of sin. Put it in its simplest form and we can say that God has strong negative feelings about the presence of Sin, feelings that prompted Him to do something about it. That started right back before the foundation of the world when the Godhead planned for salvation following sin. To see this in its various forms look up Jn 17:24 , 1 Pet 1:20, Eph 1:4, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2. God, knowing that with free will, mankind would turn from Him, was moved to plan for Jesus to come and do what He did on the Cross.

There is, of course, another way of putting this and it is to refer to justice. Justice is all about bringing right to remedy wrong. A child knows all about justice when they cry out, “Mummy, that’s not fair, he’s got more sweets than me.” The child is referring to an innate sense of right and wrong and calls on the mother to correct a wrong situation. This is what justice does, and we all have this sense in some measure. When a serious wrong is committed, we demand that the police take action to catch the culprit and deal with him or her. Of course when it comes to our own wrongs, we excuse them or make little of them, but they are still wrongs. Count them over a lifetime and there will be a lot of them, and there is justice demanding you be dealt with!

Until we took our eyes off God as a nation, we believed in capital punishment for especially serious crimes. Supposing the truth is that THE most serious crime is to turn your back on God – because all other ‘lesser’ crimes follow and flow out of that one? Most of us are blind to the awfulness of that one most serious of crimes and its effect and so we probably need to pray for revelation to understand it, but that is at the heart of the call of the Bible for sin to be punished by death – because in the face of a perfect God and a perfect world that he made, what we have done and become is horrific. How can justice be satisfied?

This is where John comes in. Jesus, the Son of God has died as a sacrifice (a sacrifice is something that didn’t need to die, that had no cause to die, but was put to death for a purpose.) The purpose of the Old Testament sacrifices for sin was to point to what Jesus, the Lamb of God, would do on the Cross.

We were slightly inaccurate earlier on because we hadn’t fully finished with the previous sentence because there Jesus as referred to as the Righteous One. There has been no one in all of history apart from him to whom that description could be applied. It means that in everything he thought, said or did, he was righteous (did what was exactly right!)  He had no sins of his own to pay for and so his death was totally unwarranted; he was a perfect sacrifice.  Yet he did it because as God, only he was “big enough” to die for every sin in the world, both of the Jews and now of the Gentiles (that’s John’s reference to not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.)

This is why we can approach God today without fear, because Jesus has stepped into our place and taken every single thought, word or deed of ours that has been wrong and he has taken whatever punishment ‘justice’ could dream up for them. We are free and, even more, when we still blow it today and get it wrong, he is there by the Father interceding for us on the basis of all he did on the Cross. Hallelujah!

God who Judges

God in the Psalms No.12 

Psa 7:6-8 Awake, my God; decree justice. Let the assembled peoples gather around you. Rule over them from on high; let the LORD judge the peoples. Judge me, O LORD

These verses introduce us quite clearly to a new description of the Lord: the Lord who is a Judge. What does a Judge do? He (or she) assesses a case in the light of the Law and pronounces a verdict based on that Law. For the Lord this is a circular thing for the Lord designed the world in accordance with His character (perfection) and decreed the Law to ensure people lived in accordance with that design.  Now He judges according to that Law, according to that design, according to His character.  Justice is weighing actions in the light of that Law and bringing appropriate action to bear on the miscreant to make right the situation.

Now with the Lord, nothing can be hidden.  The writer to the Hebrews was able to write: Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb 4:13).  So, when the Lord assesses the situation He does so with full and complete knowledge. But there is more. Paul described the Lord as, the only wise God (Rom 16:27).  The Lord is the only one who not only knows all things but knows that is right to do in every situation.  (Wisdom is knowing what to do). Therefore the Lord looks, the Lord knows, and the Lord knows how to respond.  The one thing we will never be able to do when we get to heaven, if the Lord should allow us full vision of all that has happened, is criticize anything the Lord has said or done.  His ways are perfect (Deut 32:4).  Thus in heaven they cry, Just and true are your ways” (Rev 15:3).

So it is, that when we come before the Lord we may never fear injustice. But do we want justice?  Do we want to be judged by the One who sees all things, every wrong thought, every wrong word, every wrong deed? If every such thing throughout our lives were brought out for accounting, it would truly be a terrible thing.  There would be no doubt; we are guilty!   Piled up before, us all these things condemn us.  It’s all right for David in this one situation to say, Judge me according to my righteousness. Oh, yes on specific occasions we can say, well, yes, I was righteous then, I did respond well then. But what about all the other times when we were not so careful, the times when we do not quite come up to the mark, or even fell well short of it?

Yes, this is why we need an advocate, one who will step in and speak up for us. But what could he plead?  Extenuating circumstances?   No, there were none.  We were guilty, it was our fault!   No, there is only one ground on which he can plead – that he himself has already stood in for us and taken our punishment and the penalty for every sin has been paid.  That’s what John had in mind when he wrote: if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 Jn 2:1,2)

Here is the advocate speaking for our defence and here is the one who has paid for our sins – and they are one and the same person, Jesus Christ. Thus when God stands as Judge before the whole of Creation, He CAN bring justice, He can decree rightly in respect of our sins. There is no ‘letting us off’, there is no turning a blind eye. The judgment is given, justice is done, the sins are paid for.  It has been done!  The Judge does give a right judgment – and we are released!   How wonderful!