1. The Throne Room of God

Christmas Threads Meditations: Thread 1: The Throne Room of God

1 Pet 1:20  He was chosen before the creation of the world

Need of a backdrop: One of our problems, I believe, is that as Christmas comes around each year, we tend to focus on just the main events and key players involved in Israel just two thousand years ago, and that’s it. Unfortunately that fails to see the biblical backdrop that puts incredible meaning to what took place. Last year I noted that the famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols held every year in King’s College Cambridge, had as their opening reading Genesis 3:8-19. I understand that the purpose was to start pondering on the reason for Advent going right back to the Fall, but I would like us to go back beyond that because unless we do we may fall into the error of believing that Advent was God’s backup plan after things had gone wrong and nothing could be further from the truth.

The Plan before Time: Our verse above, “He was chosen before the creation of the world,” is one of seven references in the New Testament to the fact that everything about Jesus was formulated by the Godhead before the Creation of the world, i.e. Jesus was loved by the Father ‘back then’ (Jn 17:24), Jesus was chosen to bring our salvation ‘back then’ (1 Pet 1:20), we were chosen because He saw ‘back then’ we would be responders today (Eph 1:4), our names were written in a book of life ‘back then’ (Rev 17:8), Jesus’ death on the cross was decreed ‘back then’ (Rev 13:8), it was agreed that this is how God’s grace would be conveyed to us ‘back then’ (2 Tim 1:9), and the end result for us would be eternal life, decreed ‘back then’ (Tit 1:2).

Do you catch the wonder of this, that the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – planned Advent even before they created the world and everything we know, there in the throne room of God? It was not a mistake; it was not a second fall-back plan; it was an integral part of God’s overall plan for this world – which had a beginning and has a planned end. In the past I have tried to envisage a conversation between the three members of the Godhead as they considered the possibilities of what would happen if they created a world of human beings with free will. As God knows everything and is all-wise, it is probable that such a conversation never happened, it was just a split second (outside time!!!) awareness that this HAD to happen, this was the only way for it to happen. The more you think into it, the more you realize this is true, it had to happen this way. I hope we can see that in what follows.

Prayer Time – Thanks: Time to pray, prayers of thanks: “Lord God, you who are sovereign Lord of all things, Creator of heaven earth, the all-knowing one, the all-wise one, thank you that you knew exactly what you were doing when you designed the world and us, and gave us free will, thank you that you understood the consequences and knew what had to be done, and when. Amen.”

Prayer Time – Requests:  Wise men know their limitations. “Lord Jesus, you have shown us that you are for us and that you understand our limitations. Lord, please deliver us from simply reading words, please impact our hearts with the wonder of the reality we have just been considering. Lord, please help us see and remember the ‘big picture’ this Christmas, that it isn’t just about a few limited events spread over a year, but this is in reality part of your big plan that began back before time and will only ‘finish’ after time and in eternity. Amen.”

54. A Time to Regain our Identity

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

54. A Time to Regain Our Identity

Mt 16:18  I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

1 Pet 2:9,10  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

I wonder? I have wondered if the average church member ‘sees’ themselves in any way different from anyone else? Very early on in this series I considered a number of ways the Christian – and subsequently the Church – is different from their non-believing neighbors. So yes, being a ‘believer’ is perhaps the starting place, but is that all you see?

Why? Now you may be thinking, why is he taking us back over this ground if we have covered it so thoroughly in the past studies? Well, it is simply because when I meet with other believers, that is the sense, and only that – that we are ‘believers’ – that ever seems to get communicated, and because I believe that is so, I think it is one of the reasons that Christians are so often backward in coming forward, or so deferential when it comes to standing up and declaring how needy the world is and how wonderful the answer that we have is. Mostly I detect we are on the defense.

A Positive Faith: One of our failures of recent decades is that of not communicating the positive aspects of Christianity – which are only found in Christianity – which can help this sick and ailing world. Of course part of that has been our ongoing failure to coherently and graciously communicate why the ways of the present world of the West are failing. It seems it is only the occasional columnist of one of the big ‘broadsheet’ newspapers who shouts, “This is not working!”

The appearance – and forgive me if I am wrong – is that in the UK where there is a ‘state church’, the Church of England, it is too tied in to the establishment to be regularly prophetic and thus it fails to prepare itself and its leading bishops to be voices of hope and change in a dark world. In the USA, although there is no state church, church and politics appear entwined so often but this seems to have resulted in specific limited battles being fought – the abortion battle being the most obvious but there have been others – but without conveying, “Hey this Christian thing is the best thing going!” and so there has been a failure to collectively convey the positive nature of the Christian faith that should be life changing, and if given a chance, also community-changing and nation-changing.

My Identity: So if someone asks you who you are, do you reply, “I am a believer in Jesus Christ,” or “I am a Christian,” because as excellent as those testimonies are, they only take us a short way along the path of identifying who we are. A shorthand answer along this path is, “Well, the Bible says I am a child of Almighty God, the Creator of all things” and that opens up a whole new area of discussion. But perhaps the more important issue is not so much what I have to declare as what I feel about myself. Knowing who I am, enables me to speak or act as I do.

For example, a number of times, either in this series or other series, I have reminded us that a) Jesus is seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven, ruling in the midst of his enemies (Eph 1:20) and then, b) that we are told that we are seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6). Now this is quite remarkable if we believe it (understatement of the year!) because it means we are linked to Almighty God and because of that there is a sense where we should see ourselves as ‘above’ the world, having an overview of it that provides a more accurate view than anyone else, which means learning with Christ how to live with that.

Part of a Strategy: But this also reminds us of a verse we have considered many times in the past: “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.   For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”   (1 Cor 15:24,25) Now this requires us to realize and recognize how Christ is ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2, Heb 1:13, 10:13, Mt 22:44) – even though the world seems to be doing its own thing – but also for us to realize that we are part of his ruling, we are with him in working to bring down these enemies (which include such things as unbelief, unrighteousness, ungodliness, anger, bitterness, hostility, wars, fighting, etc. etc. as well as the more obvious evils, such as slavery, still as prevalent today as in the past). We have a privileged position, privileged power and a privileged calling within the strategy of Christ in his calling to bring in the kingdom of God.

Inferior or Special?  So let’s be honest, how do we really feel about ourselves before the onlooking world? Have we let Satan demean us, do we feel inferior?  Now if this was a church meeting and I was one of those preachers who hype up the congregation, asking those things in an ever louder voice, we might expect the temptation might be the shout back, “No, we’re superior!” but that is not Christlike, it is not what the apostle Paul taught, or any of the other apostles. The word we are looking for is ‘special’.

I have a friend who dislikes us saying to anyone, “you are special,” because, he says, you can’t say to everyone, “You are special.”  Yes you can. First of all we can say it to us as a group of people in the world. At Mount Sinai, God said to Moses to say to the people, if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” (Ex 19:5) Don’t tell me that “treasured possession” doesn’t mean special! Perhaps it was with this in mind that the apostle Peter wrote to the church (see 1 Pet 1:1,2) those words at the top of this study: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Pet 2:9,10) Here I have highlighted words that say we are special.

Uniqueness: So dare we say, “I am special to God,” or “We as a local church are special to God,” so that marks us out from the rest of the world?  We are special because we have responded to Him and we have been adopted into His family so that we can say we are children of God, even sons and daughters of God. We are special because we have open access to heaven, a voice to God and an ear to hear from God and the ability to receive all the resources of God.

If that doesn’t make us feel good, perhaps we need to pray and ask the Lord to open our eyes to see the reality of these things, rather like the apostle Paul prayed, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:18,19)  All this comes only by revelation. We need today the fresh revelation of who we are, the wonder of who we are, the wonder of what we are, the wonder of our destiny, and when we get that afresh, perhaps we will stand up in the midst of the world and cry fearlessly with the apostle Paul,  “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes,” (Rom 1:16) and then go on and demonstrate that power – which leads us on to the next studies about going into battle. Stick with me.

70. Chosen

Short Meditations in John 6:  70. Chosen

Jn 6:70 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 

Up to verse 59 we had the talk of bread. From v.60 there is a to-and-fro about belief, and within that Jesus has pointed out that real believers only believe and follow him wholeheartedly when the Father enables them. We have considered the process that involves our surrender as the Spirit convicts us and subsequently indwells us.

Peter has just replied to Jesus’ question about will they also leave him, with a strong declaration of faith that encompassed each of that committed inner circle of believers. It is in response to that, that Jesus now responds with the simple affirmation that he had chosen them, the twelve, with the implication that that is why they are still there, why they have now withdrawn as some of the other apparent followers, apparent disciples, had done.

Previously Jesus (v.39) had spoken of the ones his Father had given him, and later on he will emphasise the closeness of the work of the Father and Son and its effects: “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” We also see thus more fully in 17:2,7,9,24.

That is all about how the Father and Son work together but from our side what we need to understand is that our coming to Christ is because of his choosing. The apostle Paul was to catch something of this wonder when he wrote of the Father and Son’s work: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” (Eph 1:4)

Does this mean that the Godhead randomly chose those who would become followers? No, it is a case of them seeing into the future and knowing who would respond to Jesus when he came, and it was on the basis of that response that we would be redeemed. It was in that sense that we were ‘chosen’ before the creation of the world, and that then seen in practice when we lived on the earth, when the Spirit of God starts working in our lives, we respond, and are then born again – chosen by Him, chosen by Jesus, chosen by the Father.

The meaning of church – ekklesia in the Greek original – means the called-out ones, ones called by God. Jesus told a parable at the end of which he declared, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Mt 22:14 NKJV)  The implication from the parable (see Mt 22:1-13) is that God calls (or ‘invites’ as the NIV has it) many people – everyone in fact, I believe, will hear God’s voice calling but many will choose not to respond to it. They were not, thus, the ones the Godhead saw before the foundation of the world who would respond to Jesus and thus they are not “the chosen” in the sense we have explained.

5. Long-term Plan

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  5. God’s Long-Term Plan

1 Pet 1:18-20   you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.

Every now and then as I am reading the Bible a word or phrase stops me in my tracks. Reading the other day, in the verses above, it was that phrase, “chosen before the foundation of the world.” I marvel every time I come across this idea, that God’s plan of salvation was not something dreamt up along the way when mankind seemed to be going off track, but was something He worked out BEFORE He made anything. But it is not just one odd verse, it comes up again and again:

Jn 17:24  you loved me before the creation of the world – Jesus with Father in loving relationship.

Eph 1:4   For he chose us in him before the creation of the world – agreed how we would come, who would come

Rev 17:8  The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world – saw who would not come

Rev 13:8  the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world  – agreed Jesus would die

2 Tim 1:9  This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time – agreed God’s grace would be given us

Tit 1:2  eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time – agreed he would give us eternal life

There it is; including our verse above, seven times in the New Testament, references to the fact that the Godhead planned this before anything about Creation happened. But the more you think about this the more amazing it becomes. God planned for Jesus to come as a sacrifice. This means that God knew that we would fall and that sin would enter the world.  And still He went ahead and created this world as we know it. He made us in His image and yet He knew from the outset that we would turn our backs on Him.

Now in a previous series of these meditations I have pondered on the will of God and one thing we do know about it is that it is perfect. In other words you cannot improve upon it. So although God did not invent sin, He knew that it would soon exist in any human being He made with free will. Sin is simply self-centred godlessness, and He knew that if He gave us free will, we would be free to turn away from Him, become self-centred and godless and therefore our thinking, speech, and behaviour would become unrighteous (deviating from Gods perfect design for us).

Now there is something else about the Lord that appears in Scripture: He appears to know everything before it happens and yet He also seems to live in the present. He knows long term history before it happens yet when sin starts to abound on the earth He is grieved. Perhaps an answer to this quandary comes from the thinking of C.S.Lewis who imagined history as a line like a road down below with God looking down on it from about, outside of time. Thus from above He can see the whole scope of material time-space history and knows everything that is coming and everything that has been. But the truth is that He is God and the Bible shows us Him interacting with His world and so He is not only above it looking down on it but He is also ‘down here’ being part of it, and in that sense He experiences it ‘as it happens’.

Thus (because He is God) He both knows it all AND experiences it in a moment by moment experience. Thus one part of ‘Him’ knew that the Cross of Calvary would have to happen at a given point of history but the other part of Him (that lives in the here and now)  experiences it as the here and now. Thus for Jesus the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, he came down from heaven (see John’s Gospel, chapter 6) and knew in his mind what would have to come when he reached the age of (about) thirty or thirty three, but the actual experience of it was a real to him as it would have been to you or me.

Was the crowning work of salvation the fact that God comes and dwells in all believers, and is able to do that because of the work of the Cross, and thus is able to share intimately with us as we experience the day by day living out of the time-space experience? Perhaps that was stage one, stage two being us going to be with Him in eternity (heaven) and be one with Him there.

Yet the marvel of all of this is that the Lord didn’t merely plan it as an academic exercise before He uttered a creative word, but planned a material history in which He would come and express Himself and live out and share in the experiences of each of us. That is what love does; it wants to become united with the object of love. It an only be that love that energises the Godhead to share in and experience our lives which are always (even after conversion) so far short of perfection. But He is here, sharing with us in our trials and tribulations and our struggles and strivings to help and bless us, for that is what love does. How incredible! Hallelujah!

20. The Living Stone

Meditations in 1 Peter : 20 :  The Living Stone

1 Pet 2:4     As you come to him, the living Stone–rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him

Stone is an amazing building material; it is a natural material. In one of the earlier phases of my life I had a lot to do with the construction industry and I have had cause to look at various sorts of stone that is used for both structural and aesthetic uses. I have seen stone cleaned so that the original wonder has been restored and brought out from under decades of grime. I have seen marbles and granites polished up like glass. I have seen stone shaped into beautiful patterns or pictures. Stone is perhaps one of our oldest building materials (after wood) and certainly one that lasts. Stone has been used to build castles and cathedrals as well as lowly homes and not so lowly homes.

Peter is now going to use the analogy of stone for both Jesus and for us. Why does he do that? He does it because as we shall soon see there are a number of prophetic Scriptures that refer to Jesus, using the analogy of stone. But this analogy of stone isn’t really about stone as such, but about a specific stone or a stone that has been chosen for a specific use – a cornerstone or capstone. Now both of those uses are very specific uses with very specific meanings.

A cornerstone was the first stone that may even have been a foundation stone, but was the stone from which the rest of the building was set out. Because of its shape and position, the line of the walls and the verticality of the walls were judged or set out in line with this one first stone. Jesus is thus the baseline from which the rest of the church is designed. He is its starting point and he is the one against whom everything about us is checked. We are to be exactly in line with him. We are not to go off doing our own thing with our own nature or own characteristics but we are to do everything in line with him and take on his nature and his characteristics. Everything in the church should flow from him. I wonder how real that is?

But then there was a capstone which tended to be the final stone used in an arch that fitted at the top of the arch which held it in position. Jesus is thus our security, the one who holds us in position in the building called the church. It is also the topmost stone of a structure, and so Jesus is to be the one to whom the rest of us look up to, exalted above the rest – the Lord.

The apostle Paul wrote, Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph 2:19-22)  We’ll no doubt come back to that again in the future but for the moment let’s simply note that here Paul refers to the church as God’s household, a building, a temple and a dwelling in which God lives, with Jesus being its chief cornerstone.

But Peter refers to Jesus as a “living stone” and so this isn’t a static or inanimate role that Jesus has, he is conveying life to the building, he is interacting with the building and he ensures that we, the other stones (as we shall see in the next meditation) also have and convey life. This stone, as we shall see was “rejected by men”. The cause of his death was the rejection by the Jewish authorities and the Jewish people, and the Roman authorities (representing the Gentile world). They didn’t like who he was, what he was and what he said and so they rejected him and killed him. Yet he was the Anointed One, the One “chosen by God”. We may not have been able to see it but that is the truth. The Father chose the Son to perform the task of revealing Him and redeeming the world.

But there is yet a further description: “precious to him.” J.R.R.Tolkien stamped this word in our consciousness with his character Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, who spoke of the ring as ‘his precious’. Precious means ‘of great value, held very dearly, very special to us’.  Jesus is very dear to the Father and that awareness should make us wonder even more at the Father’s love for us that He should give the Son for us: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. (Jn 3:16)  How incredible that God should feel so strongly for His Son and yet be willing to sacrifice him at the hands of foolish and sinful mankind, to save that same mankind!!!

Thus from this verse we see that Jesus is the one from whom the whole building of the church is built, and the one who holds it together, the one who is Lord over it. We rejected him when God had chosen him. He was and is very precious to the Father which makes the wonder of their love for us even more incredible. Hold on to these things. Think on them, meditate on them, and rejoice in them.

13. Origins

Meditations in 1 Peter : 13 :  Origins

1 Pet 1:20   He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.

The Bible sometimes says big things or, if you like, big things are revealed. For example many people think that Jesus came into being when Mary conceived, but Jesus himself made it very clear that he had existed previously in heaven with his Father. You only have to read John’s Gospel to see this again and again as he refers to himself as the one who came down from heaven: For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (6:33) and “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me,” (6:38), and “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” (6:51) and I know him because I am from him and he sent me.” (7:29), and “I know where I came from and where I am going.” (8:14), and “You are from below; I am from above.” (8:23) and “I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence.” (8:38). Oh yes, the record is quite clear; Jesus came from heaven where he had existed previously. But Peter expands our understanding of Jesus even more.

He was chosen before the creation of the world,” speaks of Jesus being the agreed means of salvation from before Creation. The rest of the New Testament testifies similarly. Jesus praying said, you loved me before the creation of the world,” (Jn 17:24) indicating a loving relationships with the Father existing from before Creation. Paul confirmed that our salvation goes right back before Creation: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” (Eph 1:4) i.e. the Father knew back then, as He looked into the future, who would respond to Jesus when he came. It was then that all the resources of salvation were determined for us, to come through Christ: This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,” (2 Tim 1:9) and the outworking of that planned salvation would be eternal life: eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.” (Tit 1:2).

In the end revelation Jesus is revealed as the Lamb of God: the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev 13:8) and the result of his work is that many would be written in God’s record of who would eventually be saved – and who would not woud be obvious by their omission: The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world.” (Rev 17:8).

The crucial thing that is being displayed in all these verses is that the salvation that Jesus Christ brought, was not something thought up at the last minute, in a moment of crisis, but was carefully thought out by the Godhead before they made anything at all in the material realm. God knew that Adam and Eve would fall, He knew that sin would enter the world and have devastating effects, but having designed mankind with free will, He HAD to allow it to happen and if it was going to happen He had to have a plan to redeem whoever would come.

Someone recently asked, “Why did Jesus comes at exactly the time he came?” Michael Green in his book Evangelism in the Early Church, puts forward a number of reasons why at that particular point in history it was the best time for the Gospel to spread across the world and why the international conditions were just right for Jesus to come down to Israel. The apostle Paul wrote, when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law.” (Gal 4:4,5) and at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom 5:6). When Jesus stood up to preach he declared, The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15) and the sense is that it was ‘the awaited time’ had come. The Jews had been awaiting their messiah for centuries. For four hundred years heaven appeared to have been silent and nothing was added to the sacred record – and then he came! As Peter now said, revealed in these last times for your sake.”

But see there is more than we’ve said. He came but he was also ‘revealed’. Initially at first very few recognised him. Shepherds were sent to see him (Lk 2:8-20), and wise men similarly (Mt 2:1-12). An old man, Simeon, and an old woman, Anna, heralded him in the Temple (Lk 2:25-38) but most didn’t realise who had arrived. The Gospels are accounts of the revealing of the Son of God but it was down to Peter on the day of Pentecost to have the privilege of first publicly proclaiming Jesus as “Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36).  From then on, the door of revelation from heaven was open and the truth became clearer and clearer. He is the Son of God. Hallelujah!

3. Chosen

Ephesians Meditations No.3


3.
Chosen & Predestined

Eph 1:4,5 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.

There is a simple word at the beginning of these verses that tells us something significant: “For”. A longer way of putting it would have been, “Because of this…”. ‘For’ takes us back to the previous verse that we saw in the previous meditation: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (v.3). We saw then that Paul praised God because God had blessed us. Now he expands on that blessing. He goes right back to fundamentals. Let’s look at these fundamentals.


First of all, “he chose us”. We are what we are as Christians because God chose us. It wasn’t the other way round, as we so often think it is. But it isn’t that He just chose us a week before we turned to Him. Oh no, He chose us “before the creation of the world.” This is amazing. This is God who Created this world and before He created it He looked into the future, saw what would happen, saw sin, saw the need for the Cross, saw us coming into the world and (I suggest) saw that we would be those who would respond to the good news of Jesus Christ and at that point said, “Yes, they will be my children.” We see this sense of God’s planning before the world came into being, a number of times in Scripture – Jn 17:24, 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2.


But there are two crucial words that we have missed, “in him” – “he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” Jesus is the way God chooses who will be His. As we noted above, it is those who will respond to the good news of Jesus who are saved. Therefore in the planning before God made the world, He looked into the future and saw that when you heard about Jesus, you would respond. THAT was the crucial means of assessment. Right back then, God had it in mind that you would become His child at this point in history and your response to Jesus was the way that would happen.


But there is a further explanation. We were called with a purpose: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” That is the end product of the work of Jesus and you responding to the wonderful news that he has died for your sins, guilt and punishment, means that God may declare you holy and blameless in His sight! Because you have surrendered your will to God, declared your belief that Jesus has died for your sins, and sought His forgiveness and lordship, He has declared you forgiven
AND cleansed so you ARE holy and blameless in His sight. Yes, we know there is a practical day by day righteousness to be worked out and that will be a process of change that goes on until we die and go to heaven, but as far as God and justice is concerned, you ARE holy and blameless NOW . That is the wonder of this salvation of ours. Yes, we know there is an ongoing work of change to be continued throughout our lives but we are not having to focus on getting right in God’s sight, we are not having to earn His approval, because He has declared it already. That is why the Gospel is GOOD news! How wonderful”


But Paul isn’t content with saying it once; now he repeats it: “ In love he predestined us.” Now because the original didn’t have punctuation, you will find a note in your Bible that the words “in love” may come at the end of the previous sentence. It doesn’t really matter where they come because both sentences say the same thing, but it is important to note that this work of God is a love work, something He does because He is love (1 Jn 4:8,16). This is all about God’s love being expressed to whoever will receive it.


But now he uses the word ‘predestined’. Some of us get very caught up in the sovereignty of God with the use of this word. Yes, the Lord is sovereign but, I suggest, the Bible does include our free will in this. There’s no room for boasting in this. I have no idea why I responded to the Gospel and a friend didn’t, but free will is suggested when Peter uses the expressions about God knowing beforehand: “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.” (Acts
2:23) and “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God.” (1 Pet 1:2). Predestination, we suggest, therefore is more about God choosing the ‘method’ of choice and knowing who would respond, rather than making people believe or not believe, which would lead us into a cruel God scenario.


The things we have been starting to consider (and they will come up again) are seen widely in the New Testament, e.g. “we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.” (1 Thess 1:4), “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose . For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom
8:28 ,29) and, “from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 2:13). So there we are, chosen by God, for a purpose and it’s all about blessing and love. How wonderful!

3. Childless

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.3

3. Goodness doesn’t mean freedom from pain

Luke 1:6,7 Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.

Much of a Christian leader’s life is spent, not simply in teaching, but in correcting wrong ideas about Christianity. One idea, that is often around in people’s minds, is that if you are good, godly and/or a Christian, life will always be good. Not entirely true!

There is a truth in the teaching that if you are a Christian you are in line for God’s blessing, because that’s what Jesus came to do. The only problem is that we live in a Fallen World where Sin is the name of the game and because of that, things don’t always work out right. Sometimes we get it wrong, sometimes other people get it wrong, sometimes it’s just that’s how a Fallen World works.

Elizabeth and Zechariah, as recorded in Luke, chapter 1, are good examples of good people. Luke doesn’t give us any grounds to think badly of them in his description. They were upright in the sight of God; in other words that was God’s view of them, so that must be right! Moreover they observed all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. Now that says something. There aren’t too many of us who could make that claim, so these are good people, but life isn’t truly wonderful for them. Why? Because they had no children and, to make it worse, they were both well along in years, so they weren’t likely to have children.

Anyone who has struggled to have children and been unable to, knows the anguish that this couple would have felt. Even more in their culture, for having children was a high priority. Solomon had written, Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Psa 127:4,5). That was the thinking of the culture. It was bad news not to have children. So here is this elderly couple who have struggled through life without any children – but they are good!

Doesn’t God reward goodness, someone might ask. Isn’t there a link between being good and God blessing you? Well if you look at most world religions you might be led to believe that, because striving to be good is so often equated with encounters with God, in their claims. However, that’s where Christianity veers away from the rest because it acknowledges ‘goodness’ is something that evades us. Chief letter-writer in the New Testament, the apostle Paul, knew this to his detriment. He wrote, what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:19)

No, even our best efforts at doing good are tainted with self-centredness or self-effort. As we come to this ‘Christmas Story’ we need to realise from the outset that this is all about people, but none of them are perfect. This is all about God doing amazing things (including with Zechariah and Elizabeth) but not because they are good, but simply because He’s chosen them and they’re available. This is a story of God doing great things, not people doing them. Put aside your self-righteousness and you’re ready for this story!