15. Forgiven

Meditations in Colossians 2: 15:  Forgiven

Col 2:13,14    He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.

Paul is listing off what has happened to us, starting with being made spiritually alive and now by us being forgiven. Perhaps the matter of our forgiveness is almost so simple that many of us take is for granted, or we don’t appreciate the wonder of it. It is foundational to the teaching of the New Testament  and it could be argued that it is the most important issue of our salvation.

When Joseph was told in a dream that his Mary was going to have a baby, he was told, She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21). Dealing with sins was clearly at the heart of the work of Jesus. Forgiveness of sins was emphasised through the ministry of John the Baptist as his father prophesied over him as a baby, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,” (Lk 1:76,77) Thus we find when he was grown up, “the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Lk 3:2,3)

Now strangely it does not feature strongly in Jesus’ ministry; he is more concerned to emphasise the coming of the kingdom. When it came to the Cross he simply majored on what was to happen, not on why: “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:18,19) it is only as he approached his death did he start to spell it out: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,” (Mt 26:28) and then after he was raised, on the road to Emmaus, we find, “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations,” (Lk 24:45-47)

That was fulfilled as on the Day of Pentecost Peter preached, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 3:38) and then later, “God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel,” (Acts 5:31) and then to the first Gentile believers, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)

Forgiveness of our sins is THE great thing that opens the way for us to have a relationship with God. From our point of view, we feel guilty and fear the wrath and judgment of God and so being told that we are forgiven gives us the hope of something more wonderful. From God’s point of view, it is possible because Jesus has taken the punishment that justice demands and so the way is open for Him to receive us.

But Paul says, “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us.”  Prior to Jesus death, the Law of Moses stood as God’s requirement of righteousness but the trouble was we could never perfectly keep all God’s laws. Paul spells that out in Romans 7: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Rom 7:15)  He explains further, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For 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 7:18,19)

Earlier he had explained this in respect of the Law: “Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.” (Rom 7:7,8) As soon as a prohibition was put before us, we found something rise up within us that wanted to do it. That was Sin.  When you focus on your guilt, it just makes it more hard to stop it – and then Jesus comes along and forgives us and the guilt is dealt with. He takes our eyes off the rules and puts them on him.

Paul concludes in respect of Jesus’ work, “he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”  It’s like Jesus took all the demands and nailed them to the Cross as if to say, ”Dealt with!  Paid!  End of story!”  Every time Satan whispers to you, “You are a guilty sinner,” point him towards the Cross and say, “Yes, that’s right but Jesus has dealt with it!”

When we came to Christ we sought his forgiveness – and received it, once and for all. Yes, it is right to confess and say sorry for individual incidents where you stumble and get it wrong, but Jesus HAS dealt with the  big issue of your guilt. Hallelujah!

17. Jesus’ Grace

Short Meditations in John 1: 17.  Jesus’ Grace

Jn 1:16  From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.

Perhaps we might expand or paraphrase this verse: “From the complete and unlimited grace that came with Christ, each one of us Christians has receiving blessing after blessing after blessing.” Let’s examine the components of this verse.

“From” – out of. What we have has come from Christ’s supply. Never take it for granted or forget that all we have has come from someone else. What we have is not self-generated.

“the fullness of his grace”. The previous verse had John the Baptist speaking of Jesus and therefore the ‘his’ here must refer to Jesus’ grace. ‘Grace’ here is all the divine resources made available through Christ. These resources are unlimited and we have been granted access to this supply, not just to a bit of it, but the fullness or completeness of it, very simply “all of it!”

“we have all received.” These resources have been made available to every Christian through Christ’s work on the Cross. It is not about how good we are, or how hard we work, the focus is on the ‘store room’, the ‘warehouse’ that is full of all good things we need in life. Some of these things just flow into our lives as God pours them into us, and others have to be taken hold of, but they are all there for the taking.

“one blessing after another.”  What are these things, these resources that are now ours? First there are the declarations of ‘being’  – forgiven, adopted, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, things that occurred at the point we were born again. Then there are the resources for living – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control, the things referred to as the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22,23). Then there the outworkings that produce growth and maturity – faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. (2 Pet 1:5-7)  Then we might include gifts and ministries given to enable us to serve in extending the kingdom (See 1 Cor 12:8-10, Rom 12:6-8, Eph 4:11,12)

All of these things have been made available to us by Christ’s work on the Cross and the Holy Spirit, made available to us, through whom all these things come. They are ALL the workings of God by His Spirit in us and they all come to us through Christ.

11. A Rejoicing People

Meditations in Romans : 11:  A Rejoicing People

Rom 5:11   Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

When one hears about “world religions” we do not tend to hear about people rejoicing. Religion, for much of the time, seems to be made up of those who are focusing on performing rituals to appease their deity or deities. Even when the words appear to praise and extol the One God, the people in question appear to do little rejoicing over the wonder of their faith and appear to have little to rejoice over. Perhaps this is so obvious to us who are Christians that we ourselves have lost the wonder of it and any ‘rejoicing’ is only a formal use of words rather than an exuberant expression of the heart.

This is one of the things that the crusading atheists of our age appear to miss again and again and one wonders if it is because we Christians are not sufficiently vocal over the wonder of what has happened to us. Before I became a Christian I was lonely, insecure, unsure of myself, used abusive language most of the time, was on the edge of becoming an alcoholic, and life just drifted on with little point than coping with the day. When I came to Christ I was utterly transformed. Now I know a number who became Christians when they were children and so do not have such testimonies, but I also know many who do have similar testimonies. It is the testimony of a wonderful transformation and it only happened when we encountered God’s love and forgiveness after we had been told about Jesus.

Chastising Simon the Pharisee, Jesus concluded, he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Lk 7:47)  The man who had been delivered from demons in the land of the Gadarenes, “went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” (Lk 8:39) When Jesus healed two blind me, despite him telling them to tell no one, we find, “they went out and spread the news about him all over that region” (Mt 9:31) No one, not even Jesus could restrain their joy. Possibly the clearest case of this was the man who had been a cripple from birth who was healed by Peter and John who “went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.” (Acts 3:8)  The truth is that when God does something great for you, you can’t hold it in, you rejoice. Again my favourite testimony in the Bible is the blind man healed in John, chapter 9, who was challenged about Jesus, but he wasn’t bothered about Jesus’ credentials: “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (Jn 9:25)

The point should be very obvious – the more you are forgiven, the greater the rejoicing and thankfulness. Even as I write a young lady who has been appearing in the media has just been declared innocent of a crime she had been convicted of and given a long sentence. The new pictures in the press are of this young lady in tears of thankfulness. Perhaps some of us don’t feel thankful or feel like rejoicing because we don’t realise the enormity of our “crimes” and therefore hardly see the point of the Cross.

I spoke earlier of my own testimony and of the wonder of the transformation I experienced. Part of the wonder of the early days was, I am sure, because of the work of the Holy Spirit renewing me. At that time I am not sure that I was very much aware of the enormity of my crimes; I was more taken up with the wonder of what was happening to me. As the years have gone by, I realise more and more what I am really like, left to myself, and I thus realise more and more the wonder of God’s love and of His grace as He deals with me.

Paul’s language, if the translators have got it right, it a little strange at first sight – “we also rejoice in God….” In verses 2 and 3 Paul had said “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings.” i.e. rejoice because we have now this wonder in sharing in the wonder of God’s very presence and because of that we can also rejoice in the face of adversity because He is actually with us in it and in us in it. Perhaps this part of verse 11 could be translated, “we rejoice because we are in God.” In the same way that Scripture speaks of us being “in Christ” so we are also “in God”. Because He is in us (literally) we are linked or united with Him or ‘in Him’. So our rejoicing here flows from the experience of being one with Him.

Praying for his future church, Jesus said, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (Jn 17:20,21). There it is! Jesus is speaking of our oneness with the Godhead. So now today we rejoice because we are one with the Godhead and it is out of the experience of that, that we rejoice or, if you like, because of it and that is what motivates us.

And, of course, all this is because of Jesus who has done all that was needed to bring about our reconciliation to God. Jesus’ death opened the door for us to come to God and as the Holy Spirit convicted us, so we came and knelt at the Father’s feet. As we bowed before His Lordship, we accepted the salvation He offered us and He forgave us, cleansed us and united us with Himself by means of His Spirit, and thus made us His sons and daughters.  As we realise this and as we experience this, we rejoice. As we started out by saying, no where else in the world is there a body of men and women who have this same cause for rejoicing. We are indeed blessed!

18. Fathers

Meditations in 1 John : 18 : Fathers

1 John  2:13    I write to you, fathers,  because you have known him who is from the beginning.

In these three verses John addresses three groups and he addresses them each twice. We have seen already how he has addressed ‘children’ and he gave two reasons for writing:   because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name,” and “because you have known the Father,” two aspects of the same thing, our salvation. We’ve been forgiven on the basis of what Jesus did on the Cross and now we have ongoing fellowship with the Father. We’ll see later his two words to ‘young men’ are also different, but when it comes to ‘fathers’ the words are identical (v.13a,14a).

Now what is it about ‘fathers’ that makes them different, and does John mean natural fathers or spiritual fathers? Well perhaps the answers to those two questions come in the latter half of the verse: “because you have known him who is from the beginning.” May we suggest there are levels of ‘knowing God’.  There is knowing about God which is about gaining information about him. Then there is knowing God, as a little child knows its father – you have encountered him and experienced Him and almost now take Him for granted; He’s there a part of your life and it is good that He is there, and you are aware of His love and His provision in basic ways.

But then there is a knowing that comes with maturity, that understands much more of who He is and reveres Him for who He is. We come to realise that ‘daddy’ (see Mk 14:36, Rom 8:15, Gal 4:6 – Abba is really ‘daddy) is Almighty God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, the One who has always existed. This is the knowing of the father, the mature man or woman who has entered into a relationship with God at new birth and has come to realise the wonder of who and what He is in a much deeper way over the years.

But fathers, by definition, have brought children into the world. It may be physical children and it may be spiritual children, but whichever it is the father has moved into a place of responsibility. The father takes on a new heart for his children, a heart of concern, a heart that wants to provide for the children and protect the children and that is as much true for spiritual children as it is physical children. Having children brings about a new level of maturity because of all that goes with being a father. Yes, fathers get up in the middle of the night when the baby is crying and support their wives when they are having to feed the baby. Husbands take on a new level of responsibility for wife and child, a responsibility that care for, guards, protects and provides for them. All of this works to develop maturity which does not happen when there are no children. (I am aware that we live in days when some have chosen not to have children and these words are not meant to offend, but this is the reality of raising a family).

We might ask, why does John pick out these three groups and now, in this particular case, fathers, and why does he say the same thing to them twice. I would guess that if you were hearing this letter read out for the first time, and you were a father, you might suddenly prick up your ears and listen more intently, especially when you’ve been mentioned twice in a short space of time, and you might then consider how all that John is saying applies to you as a father.

John is passing on what he knows about Jesus and about the Christian faith. He is an old man and may not have much time left to him.  He is aware of the responsibility to pass on the truth. It was a responsibility that had been built intoIsraelfrom early on. Again and again when things happened, the Lord exhorted them not only to remember what happened, but to pass it on to their children and future generations. It started right back at the Exodus (Ex 10:2), and the Passover (Ex 12:26) and the Law (Deut 4:9,10, 6:6-9),  and Crossing the Jordon (Josh 4:6). Passing on the truth to future generations was inherently (and still is) the responsibility before God of fathers.

The closing verses of Psa 92 are pertinent here: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15) Surely this must apply to spiritual fathers, those saints who grow old. They may feel limited physically but they can still testify to the truth that years of experience have proved to them: God is good; God can be trusted for He is an unchangeable foundation for us, One who is faithful and unchanging in His love and goodness and there is nothing bad in him! He is like this and always has been like this, right back to before the beginning of time! If we have reached old age, if we can say nothing else, we can say that! And it is true! Hallelujah!

7. The Way of Return

Meditations in 1 John : 7 :  The Way of Return

1 John  1:9   If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness

The whole thing about the Christian faith is that it is about returning to God. The work of salvation on the Cross by Christ was so that we, who were hostile to God and His enemies, could be reconciled to Him: For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Rom 5:10,11) The Christian life is all about being brought near to God with our sins forgiven and dealt with on the Cross, so that He, by His Spirit, may work in us to conform us (make us like) His Son, Jesus. That was why Paul said, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness.” (2 Cor 3:18).

This reconciliation was made possible by Christ’s work on the Cross, and came into practical being when we surrendered our lives to him and became a Christian. From then on it was all about access to God and Him having access to me.

But of course we all know the experience of having blown it and feeling a million miles away from God. Yet that isn’t actually how it is, it’s just how it feels it is. We briefly mentioned this previously but from God’s side He has not turned away from us, but Christ is active on our behalf: “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1)  Yes, this is the truth: when we get it wrong, Jesus speaks up on our behalf. I imagine him turning to the Father and saying, “Father, I died for them. Please send the Spirit to draw them back to us, send Him to draw them back into that daily relationship with us, for I have done my part by dying for them, so their sins are dealt with.” This is the intent of the Godhead, to draw us back into relationship with them.

So how does He do that? The Spirit comes and convicts us of what we have done wrong. How does he do that? He simply speaks to us again and again and reminds us that it was wrong and that we will lack peace until we have dealt with it. Our conscience is that part of us that weighs ethical issues, moral issues that need facing, and the Spirit comes and speaks to us at conscience level and reminds us what, deep down, we already know: we got it wrong – and we can’t just leave it.

This latter issue is an important and significant issue. As we said, deep down we know within ourselves that we have done wrong and we know that we have hurt or offended the Father and that there is an unresolved issue between us. You see exactly the same thing when a child breaks lose against a parent. Nothing may be said but the child knows that it has offended the parent and done wrong. We see it in children and in adults; there is often a ‘making up’ behaviour that follows by the offender, an artificial brightness that tries to gloss over what happened. Yet the truth is that we know that this is not right and experience tells us that the only way to properly deal with it is to own up, face it and say sorry.

Perhaps because of this, throughout the Bible forgiveness only follows repentance, that facing up to our wrongs and saying sorry. And that, at last, brings us to our verse above which, when we have come to the place of confession, acknowledgement of our wrong and request for forgiveness, brings great reassurance. Unlike some world religions, or even misguided parts of the Christian Church, we will never get back to God by working to appease God and show Him how good we really are – because He knows the truth and knows that this side of heaven we will always need the sanctifying work of the Spirit changing us. And, of course, He has laid down the appropriate way for our sins to be dealt with.

Christ has taken every sin in his body on the Cross and so every sin has been dealt with, but that has to be applied to every individual human being and it can only be applied when they acknowledge their state and their need and accept what Christ has done for them. Then and only then does the work of Christ on the Cross apply to them.

But it is more than that because as we have noted in both this and the previous meditation, this side of heaven we will still need the sanctifying work of the Spirit changing us, because we can still get it wrong. Yet even every new failure has already been dealt with on the Cross, for Christ died for every sin ever committed, past, present, and future. But that still needs applying and the way it is applied is by us facing the sin and confessing it.

It is at that point – and the first part of the verse is down to us – that the work of Christ kicks in and we can be assured that God will remain true (faithful) to Himself and to His word, and so we can be guaranteed that when we do confess, then He WILL forgive. It is that simple but sometimes we struggle to accept that simplicity and so feel after we’ve confessed we still need to prove to God that we are good. No we’re not, but our intent is to be.

So, if you are aware that you have a bad attitude towards God or against any other person, or if you are aware that you have said or done something you know you ought not to have said or done, then realize the truth and respond according to this verse. Amen? Amen!

70. Secrets Shared

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 70. Secrets Shared

Mk 4:11,12      He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “`they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’

The kingdom of God is all about the reign of Jesus bringing the will of God to earth – your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt 6:10) – I have come to do your will, O God.” (Heb 10:7)  How that will was to be brought about was a mystery. Paul used that word about the Gospel a number of times. It was not obvious. It had to come by revelation from heaven. It was a secret. The ways of the kingdom are not obvious to the natural man, they are secrets, and part of Jesus’ role on earth was to share those secrets with those who would follow.

Ah, there is the key – to followers. Jesus said to his disciples it “has been given to you.” and then he distinguished them from the rest of the people – “but to those on the outside.” Who are those people? They were everyone who came along just as a spectator, who hadn’t given their heart to Jesus and to his Father. There are those who come along Sunday by Sunday but most of what they hear remains a mystery to them, for they have never given their hearts to Jesus, they have never surrendered to his Lordship.

There is a spiritual principle here that is vital to understand. Jesus said of these  ‘outsiders’, these ones who are merely spectators, merely onlookers, those who have not surrendered to him, who do not follow him that they will see but not see, they will hear but not understand. They will see what Jesus does, but it doesn’t seem relevant to them. They will hear the words week by week, but are unmoved by them. This is a truth of the kingdom, that you enter it and THEN start to understand. You need no understanding when you surrender to Jesus beyond the terrible fact that you are a sinner and are lost without him. That is all you need to understand – your terrible need. And so you surrender and start to walk with Jesus and as you do so he shares with you and suddenly you start to see it as you had not been able to before.

And what about the “otherwise they might turn and be forgiven”? Is forgiveness the all important issue? No, it is just the way into a relationship with Jesus; THAT is the crucial issue. Jesus doesn’t want any superficial, “I am sorry”. He wants surrender. He wants to rule.

 

36. The Real Need

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 36. The Real Need

Mk 2:4,5 they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Sometimes Jesus says things that are completely unexpected. This is one of those times. The four friends know what is wrong with their friend – he is paralysed. That is quite obvious. He cannot move and he’s probably been like that for a long while. The diagnosis is simple – he needs healing of this paralysis and so they are expecting simple words of command to be healed, like they had seen and heard many times before.

But what do they get? “Son, your sins are forgiven.” What? What have sins and forgiveness to do with this? It’s healing we’re looking for, not forgiveness. It’s another of those challenges: do you think that Jesus knows best?   Was this paralysis linked with sin? We don’t know for we aren’t told. Whatever is going on here?  Sometimes we aren’t told and we’re just left to speculate! I can only assume that deep in this man was a sense of guilt. Was it linked with specific things that he had done? Or was it just suddenly being in Jesus’ presence, he was aware of Jesus’ holiness (like Peter – see Lk 5:8)?  We don’t know, for we aren’t told, but I suspect that both answers could be true, for one thing I have learnt over many years of being a Christian and a good number being a Pastor, is that we all of us suffer a sense of guilt and it is that which keeps us from receiving God’s love.

Yes, even with mature Christians I have observed it. Perhaps we have sinned and then we have confessed and said sorry but the enemy plays on it and challenges it and we wonder if that thing still remains between us and God. So, thus, we need reassuring again and again that we are loved and when God says He forgives us, He really does forgive us!  Then there is a widespread sense that lurks deep down that we are not worthy of God’s love. He is holy and perfect and we are not!  Thus we feel guilty and we need God’s continual reminder that we ARE forgiven by the completed work of Jesus on the Cross.

There are those who sound very spiritual and say, “Believe it, brother,” but I have to tell you that my experience tells me that even those people, when you get behind their façade, need reassuring. We all do, it’s part of being tainted by sin and it is one of those things we need God’s help with until the moment we leave this planet!

45. Sins Sorted

Meditations in 1 Peter : 45: Sins Sorted

1 Pet 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

There are a limited number of verses in the New Testament that stand out as encapsulating the Gospel. Obviously John 3:16 is probably the best known one: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Next to that, our verse above should perhaps be a close contender. There are three parts to this verse and each part heralds an amazing truth which, put together, comprises what we call the Gospel.

It’s starting point is outstanding but tragically we perhaps take so much of what it says for granted because maybe these truths are too familiar to us. It speaks about Christ, the Messiah, the Sent One and Anointed One, the one sent with a task from God, the Son of God who left heaven and came and lived in a human body called Jesus. This Christ came and died. But everybody dies! Yes, but this person died on purpose for a purpose. His death, it is claimed, had an eternal significance; it wasn’t an accident but a carefully planned and orchestrated strategy of God. This death had to do with dealing with sins!

How we take sins for granted!  Sin has so permeated the world that we take it for granted, just like the air we breathe, and so we take sins for granted. It is sins that create the interest in TV ‘soaps’ or mystery dramas. Without sins we wouldn’t have these things. Without sins families would be happy and content and faithful, businesses would be honest and integrity the name of the game, and life would be free from threat and fear and untruth.

And what we don’t see so often is that sin always has its consequences. That, at least, is seen graphically in the TV soaps. We also fail to remember that every sin will be answerable to God and punishment awarded. If we punish criminals in courts, why should we think that the mass of sins that we accumulate throughout our lives – all the things we thought wrong, said wrong or did wrong, things we shouldn’t have done and things we should have done but didn’t – all these thing incur a penalty or punishment, but we try to forget that.

But then this verse tells us that Christ died for sins which is another way of saying, he was and is the eternal Son of God who could die in the place of each one of us, and take the punishment for any and every sin we will commit in our lives while on this planet. His death was the absolute punishment that would cover every sin. It happened once in time-space history some two thousand years ago. It doesn’t need to happen again and we can’t add anything to what he achieved.  THAT, heaven declares, is the truth, and all we are called to do is believe it.

But then there is the second phrase, “the righteous for the unrighteous.” Just in case you hadn’t taken in the wonder of what Christ did as I just explained, we are reminded that he was righteous and we are unrighteous. Note the two things. Jesus was the only man in history who did not sin: “just as we are–yet was without sin.” (Heb 4:15). He was exactly as the Old Testament offerings required – a sacrifice without blemish. He was righteous in a negative way in that he never sinned but he was also righteous in a positive way in that he did exactly what was required of God’s will. He was an obedient Son fulfilling the Father’s will, fulfilling the plan formulated before the foundation of the world.

But we are unrighteous. Sometimes, on a good day when the sun is shining and everything seems to be going well, we think we just might be righteous, but we kid ourselves. Lurking there, just waiting for the opportunity to express itself is this thing called Sin, that tendency to be self-centred, godless and unrighteous. Wrong thoughts predominate, wrong words so easily come to our lips, and wrong actions so quickly follow. Every time we criticise, gossip or judge, we have fallen into the murky depths. We are unrighteous, but then The Righteous One comes and declares us righteous in God’s sight when we surrendered to him, sought his forgiveness and his sovereign leading. Suddenly, but only then, he declares us righteous – at least in God’s sight. (We have yet to work it out in our practical lives).

Which brings us to the last phrase: “to bring you to God.” Again, because it is so familiar we take it for granted, this sense that we are alone in the universe and if there is a God He is a million miles away.  Indeed deep down we are glad of that because deep down we know we are guilty and we fear the thought that we will be answerable to God. We were separated from God by our sins and our guilt and something had to happen – something beyond us, because we were incapable of changing – and it was Christ coming to die in our place as an expression of the Father’s love. There came a time when the Holy Spirit convicted us of the truth about our lives and like a drowning man or woman we grasped for the wonder of what was being presented to us – there IS a way for you to be forgiven, there is a way for you to be reconciled to God. Jesus has done it on the Cross and now all it requires is for you to believe it. THAT is the Gospel! Isn’t it wonderful!

Just should you be reading these things for the first time and it is the first time you’ve heard these things, it can’t remain just passive knowledge. It is true and it requires a response from you, a response that acknowledges your Sin and your sins and your need of God’s help, a response that declares belief in all that Jesus has done for us on the Cross, a submission to him and a request for forgiveness, acceptance and help from God Himself on the basis of these truths. May it be so!

35. God Revealed

Meditations in Romans : 35:  God Revealed

Rom 3:5-8 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say–as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say–“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved.

The difficulty of meditating on a few verses is that it is so easy to forget the context, and especially what has just gone before. Paul has just said, What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?” He is, of course, referring to the Jews, and then added, “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.” i.e. God is revealed as righteous when He judges the unrighteous Jews. So now Paul envisages his Jewish readers in Rome answering, “Hold on, if our wrong doing only shows God’s righteousness more clearly, isn’t it unfair that He then judges us? If our actions make Him look better, isn’t it unfair that He then punishes us?” I know I’m arguing as a foolish human being, but that’s what you are and that’s what that sort of arguing is, Paul implies in a quick aside.

Of course He’s not being unfair. God is Judge and it is right that He judges all wrongdoing. Then he does a double take, as if hearing them continuing to think down that wrong path, Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” i.e. OK, I admit I might not be always a truth-teller but if that only goes to contrast God’s utter truthfulness and show how wonderful He is, why should I get smacked for being less than perfect? (That’s how we might say it!)

Look, Paul continues, you might as well say – as some people wrongly say we do say – that we should do wrong so that God’s grace is seen more clearly. That is probably what is behind verse 8, because when we properly preach grace, it can almost be mistaken for this wrong thinking. The worse the sinner is, when they come to Christ and are forgiven and cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, the greater the grace that is seen to operate. But that is not an argument to sin more. It simply says that God’s grace is big enough for whoever the repenting sinner is and for whatever they have done in the past. There is only one thing that proves a stumbling block to salvation: “And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Mt 12:31,32). The word blasphemy used here refers to “speaking against.” Look, said Jesus, you can speak against me and that can be forgiven but if you speak against the moving of the Spirit as He seeks to move in you and bring conviction, it is obvious that you are rejecting Him and while you do that you can never come to repentance and receive forgiveness.

So the truth to be held on to is that God’s grace is sufficiently big to forgive whatever sin you have committed when you come to God in repentance. God’s ‘good intent’ towards you will never vary. It doesn’t matter how big or serious you consider your failure; if you come to Him in repentance then His forgiveness IS there for you. It’s not a question of what you feel, but of God’s declared truth: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and WILL forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9). However behind all this there is a fundamental truth we need to hold on to: the other side of this coin is if you sin and don’t repent you will still be answerable to God and God does judge and discipline. It is right that God judges sin – all sin, yours and mine. Jesus has died on the Cross to bring us forgiveness but if we do not repent we cannot be forgiven. The Cross is only operative when we confess and repent. Remember that!

16. The Paralytic

People who met Jesus : 16 :  The Paralytic

Mt 9:1,2 Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a paralytic. I can try, but I fail. I hear of famous people who have had accidents and ended up paralysed, and I hear how they cope, but I struggle to imagine what it must be like being utterly dependent on other people. That is what it was like for the man at the heart of our meditation today. He is utterly dependent on others. Like many people who came to Jesus, we don’t know who he was, what his background was, what his name was, or even why he was paralysed. It seems those weren’t issues that concerned the Gospel writers. Perhaps sometimes they omitted names because nobody took note of it when it was happening, perhaps it was happening so often they just couldn’t keep up with everyone who was healed, or perhaps they felt that the individuals concerned deserved some privacy and so just didn’t tell us their name.

The thing that identifies this man, as against anyone else being healed, was, first of all, that he had four friends who brought him to Jesus on a mat or stretcher. Mark & Luke tell us of the perseverance of these men: Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.” (Mk 2:4) We talk of these men as his ‘friends’ but they are just described as “some men” in all the accounts. We don’t know who they are and so we assume they are obviously his friends.

Now although we are focusing on the paralytic these men ought to have the spotlight shone on them, because it is “their faith” that Jesus responds to. The paralytic doesn’t seem to have the faith for healing, but his ‘friends’ do. It was because these men had heard of Jesus and saw (presumably) his power, that they had faith for their friend to be healed. Hence they are determined to get him to Jesus and are not going to be put off. That, I find, is a real challenge. How often, I wonder, do we get put off trying to bring our friends to Jesus? All they need is contact with him, but hindrances come and we give up!

But then we come to Jesus’ amazing response to the man: “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Now again this is one of those times when we wish there was further explanation given. Why did this man need forgiveness? What had he done? Were these words an acknowledgement by Jesus (who knows us completely even before we say a word) that he understood that this man saw Jesus as a ‘holy man’ and, having very low self-esteem (through his state), felt he wasn’t good enough to come to Jesus? Or had he done something silly that had brought about the paralysis? We aren’t told the cause, only that Jesus gladly and easily grants him forgiveness.

Now the thing about these accounts is that they often include quite a number of ‘players’. Some of the background cast, of this particular play, get upset: “At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” (Mt 9:3) We might be a bit slow to realise the significance of what Jesus says, but they weren’t. He’s claiming to be God because only God can forgive sins! That was the gist of their objection. Jesus’ response is delightful. He doesn’t enter into an argument about why he is God; he simply sidesteps it with a piece of indisputable action: “Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, `Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, `Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home.” (v.4-7) Wow! You can’t argue with that. OK, is what he is saying, it’s obviously easy to say words, but what if I heal him? Will you be happy that I am who my words imply I am? And he does!

Matthew and Mark simply observe that the man left of his own accord. We don’t know where Luke got his information from but as a Physician, being a people-person, he tells us that the man “went home praising God.” (Lk 5:25) This was one happy and grateful man!  Wouldn’t you be? One minute you’d been in an utterly hopeless situation and the next you are free to lead your life how you will. Forgiven and freed! One minute you have low self-esteem, feel bad about yourself, feeling guilty and a nobody, and the next you are forgiven, loved and free to be yourself.

Now there is one further thing I note here. It may just be that the ‘shorthand’ of the Gospel writers didn’t include it, but often in such accounts we find the healed person stays around with Jesus. In the previous meditation, Legion afterwards is noted to be “sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind.” (Lk 8:35), but this man just seems to disappear off home. Not for him is staying around. Again we don’t know why. Perhaps he wanted to get out of the public spotlight – it takes a while to get rid of low self-esteem! Perhaps he wanted to go home and tell his family what had happened. We just don’t know and Jesus doesn’t make any negative comment. At another time when ten lepers got healed and only one came back to give thanks, Jesus commented about the other nine, but there is none of that here.

It’s all right, Jesus understands. We all respond in different ways. There’s a lifetime ahead to be lived by this man now. That’s what counts, how he will make the most of his life from now on, not how he reacts to what has happened. I love the way some brand new Christians react to being born again. We want to hear certain words from them and see them respond in certain ways – and they don’t! They just get on with life and that is more real than any forced or implied or expected responses. No, when life flows, as it did in this situation, and the man is freed, don’t try and mould and channel that life into artificial religion. Let them LIVE in the joy of that and let the Holy Spirit lead them. I realise that these words make some people uneasy but if that is so, it is probably because of our insecurity and lack of confidence in God. Yes, we do need to teach and care for new believers but mostly we have got to let them live out the life that is now bubbling in them, and that may not always conform to our stereotypes.

Do you know anyone who you consider an ‘impossibility’?  Is their life ‘paralyzed’ and not going anywhere? The most crucial thing we can do is somehow introduce them to Jesus – and that is more than just speaking words. It is about encountering the living Son of God who has the authority to be able to make possible the impossible, and who has the love that desires to do it. Hallelujah!