6. Helpless

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 6. Helpless

Mt 27:40 “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”

We said in an earlier meditation that ‘crucifixion’ tends to refer the event while references to ‘the Cross’ tend to refer to the significance (in theology if you like) or meaning of it, but we have to amend that for there are references that use the word ‘cross’ where it is no more and no less than that physical means of killing someone, the place or means where Christ eventually (and it was an ‘eventually’) died.

And thus it is in our verse above. Christ is now hanging on the wooden cross in agony and here, in this glimpse, this quick frame in history, we see something that is incredible, something I find that almost takes my breath away. It is Christ’s voluntary helplessness. The same thing is implied a few verses later: “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” (Mt 27:42)

Just think about this, not what we know of Jesus who is the Son of God who has left heaven and come down, but Jesus the miracle worker, Jesus the caller of men. For three years and throughout the pages of the four Gospels we see Jesus in total control. He resists Satan’s temptations (e.g. Mt 4:1-10), and when a crowd manhandle him out of the synagogue and go to throw him down a hill, he simply walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” (Lk 4:30) He walks on water (e.g. Mt 14:25), he stills a storm (Mk 4:39), he heals hundreds (Mt 4:24, 12:15, 14:14 etc.) delivered from the demonic (e.g. Mt 9:33, 17:18 etc.) and he raised the dead (e.g. Lk 7:12-, 8:49-, Jn 11). He would not be cajoled into premature action (see Jn 2:3,4, 7:1-6).

No, what we see in all these examples, and we could add even more, is the Son of God in complete control of the circumstances. He IS the Son of God with all power and authority given to him, an authority which caused men to marvel (e.g. Mk 1:27) and yet, now, we find him hanging on a cross, gradually dying, with passers by (v.40) and the religious establishment (v.41,42) deriding and mocking him – and he takes it!

It has been commented upon by others that in this we see the incredible humility of God. At his arrest he held back impetuous Peter with, Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:53) We might say all of the power and resources of heaven were at his disposal but that was not the way. Instead it was the way of total submission to the forces of evil in mankind and utter helplessness. Worship him!

38. God’s Rightness

Meditations in Romans : 38:  God’s Rightness

Rom 3:21-24 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

The point that Paul has been making again and again in a variety of ways, is that however much we try to keep the rules, we fail to be righteous. We’ve seen his arguments and we’ve thought through some of the issues, and the conclusions are clear: we are helpless and hopeless and cannot make ourselves righteous. Now if God wasn’t a God of love He would just leave us like that and condemn us to this futile way of living, leaving us to our frustrations and our guilt – but He is and He doesn’t!

This is one of those passages that starts with a ‘But’. ‘But’ here means that is not the end of it, for God has stepped in and done what we couldn’t do. We couldn’t make ourselves righteous but God can and it is a righteousness… apart from the Law.” God’s righteousness does not depend upon us having to keep that Law, for we’ve already seen that that is a lost cause! We can’t do it, so He has to do it on some other basis.

So what is it? Hold on, we need to see where we find out about this first: “to which the Law and the Prophets testify”. When a writer speaks about ‘the Law and the Prophets’, that is simply a shorthand way of meaning all of the Old Testament. Yes, says Paul, this righteousness from God is something that has been hinted at throughout the Old Testament – as we’ll see as we go on through Romans. It isn’t something that God has just dreamt up; it has been in His heart and mind from before the foundation of the world. There are at least half a dozen references in the New Testament that testify to that (look up 1 Pet 1:20,  Eph 1:4, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Titus 1:2). It is only now’, says Paul that it has been fully revealed.

So how does this righteousness from God come to us? This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Instead of the Law, God places His Son, Jesus Christ, as the focus of our attention.  Are we to become Christians by copying Jesus? No, because again, on our own that would be absolutely impossible – even more impossible than keeping the Law! On our own could we heal the sick and raise the dead? Definitely not! No, the point of Jesus’ three years of ministry was not to give us something to imitate (although there is an element of that about it) but to reveal the Father’s love to us and to show us that he was God’s Son. And that is where the focus now comes, on us simply believing that which we have just said – that Jesus revealed God’s love for us and showed us that he was God’s Son.

But there is also a third thing that he did which is vital: he died on the Cross for our sins, so that we might be forgiven; that is the third element of belief. This is how this righteousness from God comes: it comes by us simply believing these three things: a) that Jesus revealed God’s love for us (He does love us!), b) that Jesus was and is God’s Son, and c) being God’s Son he was able to step in for us and take the punishment for our sins. When we come to a place of being able to say “I believe” and it is real, so real that it causes us to respond to it and surrender to God and ask for it to apply to our lives, then He declares us righteous. This is what the Gospel is all about.  An act of faith? Yes, of course, because the Bible tells us that faith is responding to what God has said. We hear it, we believe it, and we respond to it. That is faith.

Now is this purely for Jews or purely for Gentiles? Who is this for, Paul now considers. No, he says, it is for everyone. Everyone? Yes everyone, because, There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Oh yes, we’ve seen it already,  every single one of us, Jew and Gentile are hopeless and helpless. All of us are in the same boat. We all need God to come and do what we cannot do on our own. Every one of us does wrong and every one of us fails to reach the standard of God’s perfection. There’s not one of us who could stand before God as an equal in holiness. No, we’re all doomed unless we receive the salvation that God offers through His Son.

Look at Paul’s final description of this salvation: are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. We don’t have to work for it; it is something that comes freely from God. It is an act of His grace that He doesn’t demand we keep on struggling to be better and gives us a way out by simple belief. No, we have been redeemed, bought by the blood of Jesus, snatched from the jaws of death and hell and from Satan. Jesus has paid the price and we can do no more than believe it and live it! Jesus HAS done it. Receive it, live it!

16. Saved by Grace

Ephesians Meditations No.16

16.  Saved by Grace

Eph  2:8,9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.

These are possibly some of the most famous ‘grace verses’ in the New Testament. We’ve been saying a lot about grace in the previous meditations but, because of misunderstandings about the Christian faith, perhaps we can’t say enough about it. Despite education we still hear of many misunderstandings about the Christian faith in today’s world.

At one end of the scale there is the public perception. Here in the West, drawing closer to the end of the first decade of the twenty first century, public perception has been honed by the constant scraping of an unbelieving media and unbelieving government, to believe that ‘being a Christian’ is rather like being a member of the Women’s Institute, a member of a minority grouping that is fun to laugh at but which has little relevance to everyday living. Of course the truth is that nothing could be further from the truth. At the other end of the scale is the person who ‘goes to church’, who is nice and respectable, middle class, and sees their once a week attendance at a Sunday morning performance as their entry ticket to heaven. Again very far from the truth!

Yet again we would do well to pick up on the ‘link word’ at the beginning of these two verses – “For”. Verses 1 to 3 were full of human pronouns – you, we, us, but at verse 4 it turned to what God has done: God… made us alive with Christ ….And God raised us up with Christ …in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace … to us.” The first three verses emphasise our foolish activity before we were saved; the next four verses emphasise God’s activity in saving us.

Thus it is when we come to verse 8 we find, “For” where Paul could have written “And so” or “And thus it is” summarising all that has gone before in these crucial words. Some of us may have blanched as I referred to us being saved in the paragraph above, because people don’t like using that expression today, perhaps because it reveals the need that we had that verses 1-3 showed up, but Paul is unapologetic in using it here: “For it is by grace you have been saved.” ‘Rescued’ is a word with a similar meaning that Paul uses elsewhere: For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:13) As we commented previously, we were hopeless and helpless and the only way for getting us out of that darkness in which we lived, was by God moving and saving us.

The old analogy of a lifeboat is a good one. You were on a sinking ship and the lifeboat came to rescue you. Once you were winched off the sinking ship you were saved. As the boat took you back to shore you were being saved. When you stepped on to the shore you were well and truly saved. No one objects to that sort of language in that situation and we should not here. When you were converted or ‘born again’ you were saved. Between now and the time when you die and go to heaven you are being saved. When you arrive in heaven you are well and truly saved. That is al the work of Christ and the work of his Spirit.

So did you have a part to play in all this? Yes, of course but it was a minor part: you have been saved, through faith.” The “through faith” part refers to you. It was simply you responding to what God said. He drew you and when, like Moses at the burning bush, you responded and went to see what it was all about, He spoke (even though you were probably not aware that it was Him) and He convicted you of your need. In your desperation you cried out to be saved, to be forgiven, to be given a new life. That was you responding to Him; that was faith, but it was a pretty lowly level of faith wasn’t it! When you put it like that you can see that it was 99% Him and 1% us. As Paul explains it, “and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Oh yes, the person who ‘goes to church’ once a week’ or does the flowers or whatever else it is that makes them feel they are doing good, ‘helping the church’ completely misses the point. It’s nothing to do with their activities.  It is “not by works” because nothing we do can be good enough to make up for all the other times when we sin by thought, word or deed. Because we were godless and self-centred THAT was our sin and it only changes when we surrender our life to God and accept Jesus as our Saviour (to save us from our sins) and Lord (to lead our lives from now on).

Oh yes, when we have been through this process of being drawn, of being convicted to bring us to a point of surrender, and then of receiving His Spirit so we are ‘born again’ (see Jn 3), only then do we start to fully realise the wonder of all this. Until we do, we remain defensive and seek to justify ourselves and try to convince ourselves why Paul and these notes are wrong! No, “this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God and so if you are still ‘trying’, it’s time to give up and surrender to God and receive the salvation that Jesus earned for you at the Cross. Give up – now!

Rescued

EFFECTS OF THE CROSS 7 of 7

Gal 1:3,4 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father

We considered yesterday the apostle Paul saying that before we came to Christ we had been stuck in a spiritually dead life, a life that was self-centred, godless and unrighteous, and there was nothing we could do to get ourselves out of it. We thought about iron filings and a magnet and saw how it was impossible without an opposing, opposite, stronger force for those iron filings to be set free from the attraction of the magnet. The picture that we have in today’s verses comes with the same idea but, perhaps, expands on it.

Paul, here, says we were trapped in “the present evil age” and we needed rescuing from it. Again the implication is that we were incapable of getting out of it on our own. But what was he saying when he said we were trapped in the present evil age? He was actually saying that we were trapped as part of this age that is godless and unrighteous. Paul is referring to the fallen world when he speaks about this “age”. Since the Fall (see Gen 3) every human being has been born with this tendency to be self-centred and godless, and so subsequently live unrighteous lives; it’s in our genes!

So there we were, one hundred per cent part of the fallen world, unable to escape the tendency to sin – and guilty! Deep down we knew we were guilty. We may have tried to deal with our guilt in a variety of ways. Perhaps we justified why it was all right to do what we did, perhaps we said, well everyone does it (as if that makes it all right!), or perhaps we did what many people do and denied there is any right or wrong and say anything goes (but we didn’t actually believe that either!). So there we were struggling with our guilt, caught up in this self-centred, godless lifestyle that we couldn’t break free from. Helpless and hopeless!

And then Jesus stepped in and dealt with our guilt by paying the punishment for all our wrongs by his death on the Cross. If you accept this, said God, I will not hold your sin against you. Jesus will have taken it. It seemed too good to be true, but we accepted it for we were desperate. But that wasn’t enough! It was wonderful that we were told we were forgiven and cleansed but we were still the old, powerless people we’d been before. So, at the moment of true repentance, God put His own power, part of Himself, His own Holy Spirit, into you and suddenly you felt different, suddenly you were different! There was a channel within you flowing with goodness from heaven. You were still in this world but now different. You had a different motivation and a new power that enabled you to live out that new motivation. You had been rescued from the old evil world that you were part of. The past has been dealt with. The present is empowered. The future is in God’s hands. How wonderful!

(This will be the last of this brief series for the time being. We may continue it in the future)