10. Supernatural

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 2 – A Different People

10. Supernatural

Jn 3:3-8   Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

And So? In the previous studies we made the point that to be a Christian, to be a member of the Church, is to be different, to be different from a sports club or a social club or even a political club, and the difference is – God! We are called by God, but calling is merely the start and so, in the days to come, we will examine in more detail how this calling comes about and where it goes. But we did also say that everything about ‘being a Christian’ is different from being an unbeliever, and that it what this series is really all about. But having said the first difference is that we have been called by God, the second difference is that God does NOT simply lay down a lifestyle and expect us to work on it and live it, He gives us the means to do it.  But in these verses in Jn 3 that we have above, Jesus uses three sets of words which are really important. This will be very basic but, for anyone who has never really thought these things through before, are really critical to this subject. The three sets of words we need to start examining are, the kingdom of God, being born again and the (Holy) Spirit.

Focus on the Kingdom: no one can see the kingdom of God unless…..”  So we start with the first ones, ‘the kingdom of God’. Put very simply it simply means the realm, or the existence, or the experience, of being under the rule of God. ‘Church’ we will go on to see later is simply an expression of the rule of God, expressed through the people He has called out as we considered previously. Now some people immediately get nervous about this because they don’t like being ‘told’ what to do and so talk of the ‘rule’ of God may conjure up pictures of a despot who has serfs who he bosses around, but what we have here could not be further from the truth. We are really in this paragraph jumping the gun because we will need to consider this in more detail in the days ahead but, if we are to understand this whole package, we need to understand what is at issue here. If I may explain in brief skeleton outline form what we will consider in detail later, the truth is twofold: first, we haven’t made a very good job of life so far, and second, God’s desire is to help us live the best possible life that a human being can live. As I say we’ll explain that more in the days to come, but for now can we just take that as read?.

When Jesus first appeared at the start of his three-year ministry we read, “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15) Perhaps we might put that latter part, “Do a complete turn around and dare to believe the wonderful news that I am here to bring all of the love and goodness of God to this world.”  That is what we struggle to believe, that everything God has for us is an expression of His love and goodness and so when Jesus ‘ruled’ it was to get rid of sickness and cast out demons to free people and bless them.

Let’s use some different analogies. Suppose you go on holiday and part of the package is to learn rock-climbing. The instructor says I need you to do everything I tell you. Or suppose it was scuba diving and the instructor says the same thing. You wouldn’t get upset with that and respond, “I’m not going to have anyone boss me around and tell me what to do!”  That would make you stupid! Why? Because the instructor knows better than you and if you ignore them you may be putting your life or the life of someone else at risk. So we think we know better that Almighty God who designed and create this world? We need to give ourselves a severe talking to!

Born Again: So when Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless….” he is saying, no one can come into the place where they can receive all of God’s love and goodness unless….. and that brings us on to the second phrase ‘born again’. “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Now good old Nicodemus tried to take this literally and so he starts chatting on about how you can’t restart life by going back into the womb. Absolutely not, Nicodemus, you’re completely right, so what does Jesus mean?

Water and Spirit: Jesus explains: “unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” Commentators get themselves in a bit of a twist over the water bit and go on about baptism, and indeed baptism does have a part to play as we’ll see in the future, but it is more likely that Jesus means ‘natural birth’ and ‘supernatural birth’. We talk about the ‘waters breaking’ as a woman goes into labour, and this understanding is reinforced when Jesus adds, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

In other words, to become a Christian and part of the Church, it requires a work of God, of the Holy Spirit, a work of the third person of the Trinity. Later when teaching his disciples about the Holy Spirit, he says, “you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (Jn 14:17). Just to pick up one or two of the many references to the Spirit indwelling believers, let’s note the apostle Paul’s words, all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) and “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (1 Cor 6:19) When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost, it meant that from that moment on every real Christian, every true believer, would be indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Thus, to use Jesus’ language, when we come to him and surrender our lives to follow him, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us. The apostle Paul was most specific about this: “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” (Rom 8:9) i.e. no Holy Spirt = no Christian. Just in case I should be addressing anyone who has been a church goer for years and has considered themselves a Christian but who has never been ‘born again’, never come to that point of surrender to God, never received the empowering of the Holy Spirit, it’s never too late. It’s not about being religious, it’s not about ‘going to church’, it’s not about keeping the rules, it’s not about trying to be good, it is about surrendering to God and receiving Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour as we spoke about earlier, so that he places his own Holy Spirit within you to empower you and provide a new channel of communication within you.

I think my testimony is fairly common. I was living on my own, heard the Gospel and so before I went to bed, knelt down and prayed and surrendered my life to God and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I then got into bed and fell asleep, and that was that. Except the only thing is that next morning when I woke up I realised I was a different person and went out and shared what had happened to me with others. I started to learn to pray and read my Bible but they were merely add-on things to what had already happened IN me. I was different, I was changed. Nothing about turning over a new leaf or making a resolution, this was an act of God. And that is what is available to whoever comes to God in humility so that He can not only put them on a new course in life, but also empower them to live it. You can pray in the same way.

4. A Big Bang

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 4 :  A Big Bang

Heb 11:3    By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

If you are a Christian, at some point in your life there came a big bang. Your life was disturbed. It may have been very simply when a Sunday School teacher was teaching and you suddenly realised you had a need and you had to ask Jesus into your heart to be your friend. It may have been in your teenage years where you suddenly found yourself convicted that you were not the good person you thought you were, and even though you had made a commitment as a child you needed to make something much deeper, much more meaningful now. Both those descriptions, that are fairly common for Christians, describe my wife. Or perhaps you were in your twenties and somehow or other you heard the Gospel and realised that the speaker was describing your very inadequate life, a life that fell short in so many ways, and realised you and God were poles apart and that needed to change, and you bowed and prayed and surrendered to God and took Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. That again is fairly common for Christians, and that was me.

I remember a man I knew at work, late middle aged, a good friend but an atheist, and an out and out atheist who made fun of my beliefs. To cut a long story short he found himself sitting at the back of a half hour lunchtime Bible Study I was leading in the basement of our workplace and it just happened to be on John chapter 3, all about being ‘born again’. I don’t think I was at all persuasive but half an hour later this hardened atheist walked out a born-again Christian. What happened? A big bang! Something exploded his hardened beliefs of years, and the truth got to him and something in him said, ‘yes, this IS true,” and on the basis of that he committed his life to the Lord. Just like that.

What I have been describing is what theologians call ‘saving faith’, that inner urge that will not be satisfied until it has ‘sealed the deal’. How does it work? I believe it works first with a hungry heart. Second it works when that hungry heart is confronted with the truth of God’s word. Third it works when the Holy Spirit says to that person, “Yes, this is true. You know it is true. You know you have to respond to it. You’ll never be happy until you do.”  Well it may not be those exact words but the sense will be there. It is what we call ‘conviction’. It is a sureness about something unseen, a strong hope about the future, and as we respond to it, it is what we call faith. There has to be the response to the word, to the truth, otherwise it isn’t faith, but when you came to Christ you had saving faith and it was helped by the Holy Spirit.

Now you may guess that I’ve also been setting you up to look again at our verse above, about believing that all things were made at God’s command. We believe this because the Bible says it – God spoke and everything came into being.  We live in an interesting part of history where science has talked itself into a corner and is now feeling embarrassed. When I say ‘science’ I really mean modern scientists. A hundred years ago it was different to today. A hundred years ago I believe the general consensus was that the universe had existed for ever. That made no sense to us because our minds really can’t grasp the concept of ‘for ever’ but that’s where they left it.

Since then scientists have said, no, there are signs that the world is expanding and if you work backwards there must have been a time when there was a big bang and everything came into being. In fact we can work that out back to the second after it happened. We’re fairly sure about that. OK, supposing that is so, what was before the big bang. Well says this atheistic scientist, we don’t believe in any mythical being so it happened out of nothing. Pardon? Nothing? You mean ‘nothing nothing’ as Christian apologist Dr. Francis Schaeffer used to say?  One moment there was absolutely nothing, no energy, no vacuum, not even a single molecule, and the next moment that was matter flying in all directions getting bigger and bigger and eventually turning into life-giving organisms to produce what we today call ‘life’? You ask me to believe that? Can you explain that? Well, no, but that’s where we’ve got to.

And they are embarrassed because they know that for centuries science has taught that for there to be ANY movement there has to first be a mover. For anything to happen, there first has to be an originating ‘something’ but if there was materially nothing (and a material world includes energy) then that ‘something’ had to be something other than the material world we know today. It does not prove God’s existence but it strongly challenges the atheistic scientific viewpoint which is in limbo at the present.

Do we need to squabble over how God did it? Seven days of revelation, seven periods of twenty four hours or seven eras?  Don’t divide yourself from your brothers and sisters over something that cannot be proven, but rejoice in the fact that GOD made everything. For myself, the theory of evolution has so many holes in it that I am happy to leave people who do believe in unguided evolution in the same way I would leave flat-earth people – hang around long enough folks and one day you’ll stand before the Creator of all things and then you will KNOW – but of course that is a statement of faith!

15. Is this too impossible?

Meditations on “God of Transformation: 15:  Is this too impossible?

John 3:4   How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

There is a form of religious life that is content with a religion that reveals itself through ritual “in church” and in “being nice”. These people, when asked, say they are Christians for, after all, they go to church regularly don’t they and they ARE by many standards, nice people. The apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé, Timothy, about such people – having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:5) These are people who take on a form niceness or religiosity but who have not been impacted by the power of God.

We have now seen two week’s worth of these studies (assuming you read one a day) and so what we have seen again and again is God changing people or situations by His power. Again the apostle Paul wrote, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Cor 4:20) Mere words do not take a person into God’s kingdom, the place where God’s presence is, where God’s reign is expressed. It is power – God’s power. This is the truth that many do not like, that we can only enter God’s kingdom, we can only be truly changed on the inside, by HIS power working in us and transforming us.

And this brings us to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus and the use by Jesus of the phrase being ‘born again’. Oh, say some defensively, this is just those people who try and be super-spiritual, trying to make it all sound something more complex that it is. Well actually you cannot be more simple that to accept Jesus’ very simple analogy: “Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (Jn 3:3)  Make that more simple and you might say, “No one can enter into a living relationship with God unless he or she receives a completely new life.”

Now note the words “new life”. This is not “a new set of rules to follow” which is what we put on and try to work on, but it is an absolute change of life, which starts on the inside and works outwards. It means the things you start saying or doing come  about because of the change that is taking place on the inside. There is a transformation here that goes beyond mere superficial behaviour; this is heart change, attitude change, belief change, life transformation.

Oh this is too complicated, says the nice religious person, you don’t need to make it that complicated! No, precisely, it is not complicated it is ultra simple. I don’t normally try and distil things down to ‘three point sermons’  but let’s try and do that for simplicity sake here.

First there is a change in belief. In fact there are two beliefs that change and they may come in different orders with different people. The first change in belief is about me. I come to realise that I am lost, I am not the good person I kidded myself I was, as much as I put on a good front. I try to be nice but every now and then I get a flash of insight and realise that I am actually not nice and this comes when I say or do things less than are worthy of a nice person. Most of the time I used to cover it up and pretend that’s not how things were but it didn’t matter how much I tried, when I was being honest with myself, I knew I was still just a self-centred individual and God seems miles away. I could go to church but it was mere ritual and the thought of God being close or even speaking to me was completely foreign.

It was my recognition that I needed help that turned me in God’s direction and I found that I was confronted by a God of love who wanted to come and bring change to me. This God was revealed through the person of Jesus Christ, God’s unique Son, who came and expressed the love of God in a most wonderful way but then, allowed himself to be crucified, put to death in the most horrendous way possible. Why? I was told it was to take the punishment that was due to me for all the sins of my life. So how does that affect me, I asked. It means the way is open for you to come close to God and receive His love and forgiveness. How can that happen?

Thus we come to the second thing which is a simple action by me. I bow before Him and surrender my life to Him and ask Him to forgive me. It IS that simple.

Then the third thing is what God does for me. First there is His declarations – I am forgiven, I am cleansed and I am adopted as His child. Second, there is His action, which is to put His own Holy Spirit within my life, within me, inside me – yes, that’s it. His Spirit is His power and so He doesn’t just call us children, He gives us power or the ability to live as His children. We have this new power source on the inside and it is that which transforms us.  His very presence within me, picks up the change of attitude that I offered to Him – for Him to take and lead and transform my life – and He does just that. He communicates with my by His Spirit within, as well as by His word, the Bible, and He guides me, teaches me and leads me on. I am a new person, from the inside out, but it is not just me, it is Him in me.  Again the apostle Paul put it, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17)

I could not do this because it is not merely a wish to change – I had had that before but couldn’t do it when I strived to. No, this only happens when I invite Him in and He comes in the power that is His Spirit, and He changes me from the inside out and empowers me to walk or live it out every day until I die and go to be with Him in heaven. Yes, it IS impossible humanly speaking, but this isn’t humanly speaking, this is the God of transformation being invited in and He comes and transforms.

To take out of context a beautiful little word from Jesus, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20) How that encapsulates what happens. He comes knocking on our lives. We probably don’t realise that it is Him but when we start questioning who we are, that is Him knocking. He brings us to a point of surrender where we open the door of our lives – our will – and we invite Him in. Then look at the promise – He will come in and sit and share most intimately with us, that is what eating together is all about. That is the most beautiful picture possible perhaps that distinguishes the new life from that old self-centred and (in truth) godless life that we had previously. What an incredible transformation! Hallelujah!

10. The Word of Truth

Meditations in Colossians: 10. The Word of Truth

Col 1:4-6   we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints– the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.

We are familiar with understanding the word ‘Gospel’ to mean Good News but here Paul also calls it “the word of truth” and it is worth pondering on the meaning of that. In prophetic circles we speak of someone receiving “a word”. We don’t mean that they have received a single word but that they have received a collection of words – from  a sentence to a whole collection of say ten paragraphs – that form a message from God. But note also that when Paul describes this word he calls it “the word”. It is not just a word which would make it just one among many but it is a single unique message from God and there is no other message like it. But more than that, it is the message of truth which implies that it is a unique message that somehow encapsulates all that is vital in and for life.

Truth? That which conforms to reality, which is exactly true and does not in any way deviate from that which is. So here, says Paul, we have this unique message from God that conveys or sums up the will of God, the reality of the plans and purposes of God. You want to know if there is a God? Ponder on the Gospel message, Could this just be the planning of human beings or has it got an origin that goes beyond us?  What sort of God is there if there is one?  Ponder on the Gospel and see a God of infinite compassion, a God of love and mercy who plans from before the beginning of time to redeem mankind that has abused its free will and got into slavery to this thing called Sin, this inescapable propensity of godless self-centredness.  You wonder if there is any escape from this self-centred godlessness that seems to lead to unrighteousness and self-destructive thinking and behaviour?  After you realise that our state is helpless and thus hopeless, we hear the Gospel and grasp for it like a drowning person.

This word tells the truth? Listen to Paul elsewhere: Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved……  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:1-4) There was the Gospel encapsulated.

It is all about Christ who the Gospels reveal is the unique Son of God who came to earth from heaven. Here he lived, growing from a baby to an adult and then at about the age of thirty started three years of the most remarkable ministry that the word has ever seen. The apostle Peter described him in his first sermon to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, first in human terms: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) Later he said the same thing to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38).

That is all implied in Paul’s summary and is a prerequisite to the fundamentals of why Christ came: “Christ died for our sins.” Peter spelled it out again and again: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him,” (Acts 2:23,24 to the Jews at Pentecost) and “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead….. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10,12 before the religious leaders) and “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen….. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:39,40,43 to the Gentiles)

But the outworking brought so much more. We have seen the facts (the truth) of what happened – Jesus came, revealed the Father, was crucified and rose from the dead, all, we are told, the means to bring about the forgiveness of our sins. That is what HE did but then there is OUR response and then what HE does as a response to us! Our response, to the conviction by His Holy Spirit, is to surrender to Him, believe in Jesus (an early act of faith) and receive what he then imparts – forgiveness, cleansing, adoption and the impartation of what becomes the indwelling Holy Spirit in our lives. Thus we are ‘born again’, made new, and He reveals a plan and purpose for our lives that we live out in our remaining years here on earth.  But it doesn’t stop there. We have received eternal life and the guarantee of a glorious future with Him in heaven after life on this earth. This is the package that we call the Gospel. This is what has happened to Jesus (it is true!) and this is what has happened to us (it is true!)  This is the word of truth.. Hallelujah!

3. Entry to the Kingdom

Short Meditations in John 3:  3. Entry to the kingdom

Jn 3:3    In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again

Nicodemus has just mentioned miraculous ‘signs’. Such signs, for those with open hearts, point to God, such signs are an indication of the presence of the kingdom or reign of God and yet, says Jesus, no one can see this kingdom without being born again.

Now this is the first mention of this little phrase, about being “born again.” In some quarters this phrase is almost used derogatorily as if it is some weird Christian experience that those who might wish to be middle of the road should avoid, but that is as far from the truth as you could hope to be! It is a primary requirement of being a real Christian according to Jesus.

Moreover, this experience that Jesus is about to speak about, is key to seeing, understanding, or experiencing what Jesus refers to as ‘the kingdom of God’ which we suggested is another way of saying ‘the rule of God’. When Jesus performed miracles it was always God expressing His rule on His earth. Normally speaking, God has made this world to work by what we call materialistic scientific rules, or rules of nature, and we can do nothing to change them, but the One who made the world can! God can speed up healing processes, bring new life back to dead bodies, change water into wine, walk on water or do anything else He likes with His world, for He has the power to do that.

The challenge that Jesus now brings to Nicodemus is about transferring from a kingdom that uses words (where he is presently a ruler) to one where power is the currency, power to change and transform lives. One is man-inspired, the other is God-empowered, we shall go on to see. The big emphasis, we should see in this verse, is not so much about being born again, but on the reign or rule of God in and through us.

It is here that is the sticking point for many nice people who like traditional religion, who like to be in control of their lives. Talk about God ruling, God being the arbiter of all we do as ‘church’, God’s power transforming us, all this challenges the man-based life. Nicodemus is a human ruler who operates with human power and authority – what other people give to him. Jesus, on the other hand, deals with power to change the physical world, because he is the Son of God who has come to restore people to what God intended them to be originally, and that involves life-changing power, as we will go on to see as we follow this conversation along. The big issue that Jesus wants to bring before Nicodemus is God’s rule in our lives and that only fully comes about when the Holy Spirit enters a person and they are ‘born again’. That is why this is so important.

6. New Birth Bringer

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   6. The New Birth Bringer


John 3:3  In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again


The object of these particular meditations we have said is to catch the big themes that come through in John’s Gospel. In chapter 1 we had a quick glimpse of Jesus changing Simon’s name to Peter, an indication of the change that was going to come to his life. In the first half of chapter 2 we saw Jesus change water into wine, a picture of what he has come to do with each of our lives. In the second half of chapter 2 we saw him speaking of his capability of bringing life to even a dead body, thus bringing us hope for eternity and hope that our spiritually dead lives can be brought alive by Jesus.


An now we come to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Here we will not focus on who Nicodemus was or even why he came at night time to speak with Jesus. In this context all we want to note is the area of thinking that Jesus led him into – which is more about new life, more about being transformed.


The conversation again starts with reference to the ‘miraculous signs’ that Jesus is performing (v.2). Jesus’ response is challenging: I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (v.3)  Now why does he say that? He says it, I suggest, because he sees into Nicodemus and sees a longing and a frustration. The fact that Nicodemus has risked coming to Jesus says he is a seeker. Yes, he wants to know but even more, he wants to experience. It like he was saying, “Jesus, you have obviously got it all worked out. You are a teacher but unlike any of our other teachers, you operate with God’s power. What is that all about?”


Jesus’ response infers, “Well yes, these miracles are clearly signs of God on the move, God ruling, God’s kingdom in operation, but if you want to operate in this realm you need to start life all over again on a completely different basis.”


“Hold on,” says Nicodemus, “how can that happen? The picture language you are using says I need to start life all over again. How can that possibly be?”. Well, says Jesus, you need the work of both water and the Spirit. (v.5). Many have speculated on that double suggestion because it is not spelt out. Yes, it is a mystery, like where the wind blows (v.8) but water in the Bible, apart from being a source of life, is usually associated with getting washed, and the Spirit is associated with power. So Jesus’ indirect references suggest this ‘new birth’ comes with a washing away the old and being renewed or rather brought to life from death by the Spirit.

That’s incredible, suggests Nicodemus, how can that come about? These are spiritual things discerned by spiritual people, people who have encountered heaven, is what Jesus implies and turns the conversation towards himself: “I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” (v.11,12) In other words, look, you are struggling when I try to convey these things in human terms, how will you do if I try to convey the secrets of heaven?

The answer, of course, in the light of what went before, is that you won’t, you’ve got to be born again first. It will only be when the Spirit enters your life and empowers you that you will plug into God’s wavelength and He will be able to teach you these things. But that still leaves Nicodemus and any other seeker feeling helpless. So what help is there to bring all this about?

It will be, says Jesus, when I am lifted up (v.14). Do you remember how Moses had a bronze snake that was lifted up on a pole so anyone who came and looked on it was healed from their snake bites? Well that is how it’s going to be with me. When I am lifted up – first on the Cross, then by resurrection, and then in the ascension – then you will have something to focus your belief on, and when you believe I am who I am, then my Father will grant you eternal life. It is that simple.

Wow! There is the personal life transformation spelled out. The name changing gave an indication of what was coming. The wine showed the power that was available to bring the change, the talk of resurrection pushed it to include spiritually died lives, and now the talk of new birth pushes it to its conclusion. It will come as a work of cleansing from the past, and power for the future, and it will bring a total life transformation. It all comes about when we are confronted with and come to believe in the thrice ‘raised up’ Son of God. When we see him as he is, and see ourselves as we are, we fall on our knees before him in surrender and in worship and he puts his own Spirit in us and we are reborn. Transformation! Hallelujah!  He does in us what we cannot do ourselves. How wonderful!

58. Love Flow

Meditations in 1 John : 58 : The Love Flow

1 John  5:1-2    Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.

Verses 1 to 5 start and finish with belief in Jesus, that he is the Christ and that he is the Son of God. ‘Belief’ for John is not merely acknowledging some truth but committing your life to it, so someone who gives casual assent to the truth about Jesus hasn’t actually believed it because when you do genuinely believe that Jesus is the Christ, the One sent by God to die for our sins, we will bow before God and be born again.

But it may be that there are people who say, “Oh, I believe in Jesus but I haven’t been born again.”  Well belief and being born again are the two sides of the equation and you don’t have one without the other. If you genuinely belief and have been convicted by this truth, you will come to a place of acknowledgement that you need Jesus as your saviour and will confess it and surrender to God. When you genuinely do that you will have an encounter with God and God will place His Holy Spirit within you and you will be in Jesus’ words (Jn 3:3-8) ‘born again’, you will be given a new Spirit-empowered life. This is the clear teaching of the New Testament and it doesn’t matter what anyone claims about their life, unless they have surrendered to God and trusted in the finished work of Christ on the Cross, and received His Holy Spirit, you are not what the New Testament calls a Christian.

Now earlier (4:7) John had written, Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God,” and we considered similar things then: when you have genuine love as we have defined it previously, an unrestrained, self-sacrificial desire for the well-being of others, that can only come by encounter with God and being born again so it is the Spirit of love, the Holy Spirit, who lives that love in us. That in itself is a sign of being born again. Subtly John is again and again pointing out the characteristics or marks of true believers, true Christians, because he lived in a time, we saw previously, where there were those who “went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.” (2:19) Then, as now, and as there has always been, were those who purported to be believers but the marks of a true believer were missing. John is concerned, and has already expressed it a number of times, that we be discerning and recognize who is and who isn’t a true believer, and to do that we look for the marks of a person having been born again. Some parts of the church today may play this down but it is as important now as it was in John’s day.

But of course, as we saw in the previous meditation, John is still talking about love and so now he adds, “everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.”   He has appealed to us to love one another (and because we saw that again in the previous study we won’t repeat the verses here) and so really all he is doing here is to give us yet another reason why we WILL love one another if we are true believers. If we do truly love God our heavenly Father, then we must love the other members of His family as well – because He does. We won’t simply do it because we’re told to, but if we are truly submitted to Him and allowing His Spirit to flow in and through us, then we will do it naturally, as His Spirit loves through us for, as we’ve seen, God is love.

John is utterly persistent in this and so he hammers it home: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.” He turns it right round. You’re not quite sure how to love other believers? Right, you start by loving God. You do that? Very well an expression of that love is obeying what the Father says.  John covered that early on in the letter: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.” (1 Jn 2:3) and then “Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them.” (1 Jn 3:24) Obedience is an expression of love. Now if you are obedient to God then a) you will obey His commands to love one another and b) you will obey the prompting of His Holy Spirit within you as He seeks to reach out to others and love them through you. When you do thee two things you will be loving other believers.

However, as we’ve commented before, when you look and listen to what goes on in the Christian world, it does make you doubt the state of people when you hear criticisms and judgmental talk of other believers, when there is acrimonious disharmony in church meetings and when there are acrimonious splits and divisions. These things should not be and John has hammered in the nails of the coffin of this sort of thing. Don’t ever be a part of such things.

24. Reality Revealer

Jesus in John’s Gospel : 24 : Jesus, Revealer of Realities

Jn 3:1-12, esp. v.5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.

Philosophers from the earliest years of civilization have discussed what is real in the world. Is life an illusion? Just what is real? Such questions actually go to the heart of religion. All round the world millions and millions of human beings perform religious acts as an expression of religious beliefs in some form of deity, yet how many of them know a reality or encounter with that deity?

In Jesus’ day the Pharisees were a group of conservative religious believers who had made ‘keeping the Law’ an art form. One night one of their leaders, a man named Nicodemus, comes to Jesus. He acknowledges that Jesus must have come from God to be able to perform the miracles that he does. The way he says this suggests that he has a question to follow and perhaps, being a law-keeping Pharisee, it might have been about why Jesus didn’t seem to pay enough attention to the minutiae of the Law. Jesus, however, doesn’t give him the opportunity to go down that path. He knows where he’s going so short-circuits it by telling Nicodemus that to really experience and please God you need to be born again. Now that was a bit sneaky of Jesus because that was really the end answer to a series of questions that hadn’t been asked.

The conversation could have gone like this: Jesus, why aren’t you worried about all the details of the Lord. Because that clearly doesn’t help you get to know God. What do you mean? Well, law-keeping simply makes you conscious of personal failure. So how can we encounter God? By having a life led by the Holy Spirit. How can we have that? By being born again, of the Spirit, having a new encounter with God by His Spirit because only spirit can communicate with Spirit.

But Jesus didn’t let that conversation flow; he wanted Nicodemus to think it out himself, but sadly Nicodemus is set in his thinking and needs help, so Jesus explains it in terms of a new spirit birth. He doesn’t bother with the rest; he knows that Nicodemus is aware of his own failures trying to keep the Law, trying to have a relationship with God. Jesus knows all of us and he knows we struggle if we try to base relationship with God on trying to be good. That is reality: all round the world there are millions of people wanting to be good, trying to keep the religious rules and only feeling bad about it, because they fail. The result? Hypocrisy! People pretending to be ‘all right’ but deep down unhappy and dissatisfied.

No, the reality is that if you want a real, living relationship with God who is a Spirit, you need to have it in the spirit realm, and that means you need to have a spirit encounter, spirit help, spirit enabling. Put another way you need part of God’s spirit in you so that you can communicate with Him and he can communicate with you – by spirit. This is what Nicodemus and every seeker must realize. This is not something you can do. All you can do is come to God in humility and contrition and seek His forgiveness, seek His cleansing, seek His guidance, seek a new life – and leave the rest up to Him. It’s not a case of being sufficiently good, it’s a case of coming to the end of yourself where you see that it’s only God who can change you. This is reality, this is what this ‘born again’ is all about so we become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (Jn 1:12,13)

18. Outworkings

Meditations in 1 Peter : 18 :  Practical Outworkings

1 Pet 2:1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.

In the previous meditation I wrote about appreciation of words, and particularly link words. Well, here we have another important link-word: “Therefore”. Therefore simply means, so or because of what has gone before, this is what should now follow. It is a word that implies logic. What does this “therefore” link to? Surely it must be, you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again… therefore….” Peter is saying because you have been born again, because you have received this new Holy Spirit empowered life from God, because you are to have love for one another, it means that there are a number of things that you can no longer have in your life; they just don’t go together.

Check out this list of things that Peter speaks of here.  First of all malice. Malice is a desire or intent to harm physically or verbally another person. It is ill-will towards others. If you love others, how can you possibly hold malice in your heart toward them? Perhaps another way of putting it is to say how can you hold on to the malice you used to have in your life before you were born again, now that your life has been empowered by and filled with love for others?

Then there is deceit. Deceit is deceiving or lying to others, creating false or wrong impressions and seeking to lead others astray. How can you possibly seek to lead others astray if you love them?

Then comes hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is pretence, pretending to be what you are not. It is putting yourself forward as one thing but in reality being something else. Normally it is someone pretending to be greater than they are. It may be pretending to be a friend when in fact you are not. Where there is a loving relationship, truthfulness and honesty are required ingredients and there is, therefore no room for hypocrisy.

Next envy is mentioned. Envy is discontent and dislike because someone else has got something you haven’t, and very often it can be in respect of a personal position or standing. If we love others deeply, we can never feel envy about them for we will always want the best of them and we will not begrudge them what they have.

Finally there is slander. Slander is simply speaking badly and wrongly about others, saying things about them which are untrue. If we love others deeply, how can we possibly speak ill of others?

Each of these things is something that is directly contrary to love. They are ‘bad relationship’ issues and as such have no place in the life of the person who has been born again and who is indwelt by the loving Holy Spirit. Yet how easy it is to allow negative feelings to grow within us about other people! There is, I believe, only one way to make sure that these things do not get sown in our lives by the enemy and that is to have a positive strategy for good towards everyone else you know. If we pray for them and seek God’s blessing on them, we will counter these things and stop them growing in us like weeds that eventually fill the garden if left unattended. No, we have to be proactive and look for their good, look to bless them in prayer, in word and in deed. Where there is hostility towards us from others we need to be loving and understanding and forgiving so that their words or actions cannot be taken and used by the enemy to sow these things in us that Peter has been speaking about.

There is a general point that we should pick up in passing, and it is that when a person is born again and becomes a Christian there are practical changes that we should expect to see coming about in their lives if this has been a genuine conversion. I am always very unhappy if there is an apparent profession of faith but no change in the life style. It simply says that the Holy Spirit has not done the life-changing work that is referred to in the phrase “being born again”. Whenever it does genuinely happen there will immediately be big changes in the person. They start on the inside and work outwards. For a friend of mine it was the conviction that he should stop smoking. It took him a little while but it happened. For me, one of the things was the desire to stop swearing once I became a Christian. However, so engrained was it in my life that it took six months before I knew the Lord had totally set me free from swearing. For others it may be the knowledge that they have to deal with anger, or even the things in Peter’s list today. The things vary according to the person – but there will be change. A heart change always brings a behaviour change, a life change. Check it out.

17. Word of the Lord

Meditations in 1 Peter : 17 :  The word of the Lord

1 Pet 1:24,25   For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.

As I have studied Scripture over the years, one of the secondary benefits of it, I have come to see, is that I have learned to appreciate words, For example these two verses above start out with that simple word, “For. But then I notice that the previous verse also started out with the same word: For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (v.23). “For” is a link word that ties together sentences or verses. This particular little string started in verse 22 which concluded with: “love one another deeply, from the heart.”

So the meaning becomes, “love one another (v.22) because you have been born again by God’s word (v.23) and because God’s word is always the same and so applies just as much today as when He first spoke it. (v.24)” There you are, we’ve given away the meaning without looking at it deeply, so we’d better go back and examine it and see why we have concluded that.

The end result (loving one another) comes about because we are new creations, who have been born again, and we’ve been born again because of the impact of God’s word, applied to us by the Holy Spirit. In this Peter described God’s word as “living and enduring.” It is alive and it remains or goes on. When God speaks a word, it always has impact. The world came into being by God’s word. He spoke and things happened. When God spoke prophetically in the Old Testament the word was ALWAYS fulfilled. There was often a fulfilment in the immediate future, but often the fulfilment was centuries later. God never wastes words, He never speaks meaningless words. Often we may not understand what He says or we may misinterpret what He says, but when He speaks of future events they will always come about.

To emphasise this Peter quotes Scripture. He does this a number of times in this letter. Bearing in mind that originally he had been a simple fisherman, this suggests that he probably had the traditional Jewish upbringing with learning at the local synagogue. If not, he has certainly learnt something along the way in life. His master had justified all that had happened by use of the Scriptures (e.g. Luke 24:25-27) and so he had come to understand the foundational purposes of the Old Testament.

So we find him now quoting Isaiah 40 verses 6 to 8. It is a word that contrasts human beings with God’s word.  Human beings are frail and last only for a time on this earth: All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall.” That is the clear message of these words. We are compared to the grass or to the flowers in a field. There one minute, but gone the next. That is the way of human life. We look into the possible future and think eighty years or so is such a long time – we’ve got all the time in the world, we think – or we look back over a ‘long’ life and think how much has happened, but in comparison with eternity it is less than a drop in the ocean. The older you get the more you tend to find timing rushing by. Where did that year go, we exclaim?  Or maybe we find ourselves declaring, “How fast the children have grown up!” This is nearer the truth. Time seems to fly by and suddenly we are counting days that must be left to us. The grass is withering and the petals on the flower are falling. That is what human life is like. But God’s word is completely different.

Human words are spoken – and forgotten! Human words can create or destroy but they are so limited and so easily forgotten, but when God speaks His words are embedded in the very existence of life and reality, and will remain there for the rest of time.  When God speaks His words become part of the world and they will remain there as a living reality, becoming part of the energising force of life, waiting for their time of fulfilment and even perhaps becoming part of the energising that brings about the fulfilment, and once fulfilment has occurred, they remain there as a testimony to the One who planned it and brought it about. The words change from their energising power to create or bring about the fulfilment, to words that confirm, ratify and testify to the fulfilment.

So, when God speaks about His coming Son and all that he will achieve through his work on the Cross – that WILL come about and the fulfilment will be an ongoing thing so that when the Gospel is spoken in the first century it brought forth a fruit – the fruit of salvation of many, and when it is spoken in the twenty first century it STILL brings forth fruit – the fruit of salvation of many. It was originally declared by God before the foundation of the world and was then spoken by Him again and again through His prophets in the Old Testament period, and then His apostles in the New Testament period, and then His saints through the Church period. Thus it remains and continues and continues to have effect – the salvation of souls. How wonderful!