1. Significance

Introduction to Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross  

In the series we were following we came to an appropriate point where we could pause up and come back to it in a month’s time. We are in the period referred to as Lent, and Easter Sunday is in 30 days’ time.

To quote the Internet, “For Western churches Lent begins every year on Ash Wednesday, the day after Shrove Tuesday. (This year [2018] it began on February 14. The date varies from year to year, starting in either late February or early March. Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter (excluding Sundays), and is treated as a period of reflection and, for some, a time for fasting.”

I am aware, looking down the list of subjects and themes we have covered in the past, that I have written on ‘Aspects of Easter’, another series simply called, ‘Easter’ and another on the ‘Holy Week’. However, my attention was recently drawn to the number of references in the New Testament to either the ‘cross’ or to the word ‘crucifixion’ and so I would like to attempt a series of short meditations on single verses that contain either of those words. I do this in fear and trepidation because this is really holy ground and verses standing on their own do not form a theology and therefore this attempt denies creating a neatly structured or systematic approach. Each day will thus stand on its own and may or may not follow on from the previous one.  Their only link is that somehow, and it may be tenuous, every verse refers to that terrible event that we remember on Good Friday. I will say no more at this point and simply let them speak for themselves and trust that by the end we will have seen a fresh focus on this key episode in the life of the Son of God.

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 1. Significance

1 Cor 2:2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

For many across the world, the words, ‘the Cross’ or references to the crucifixion of Christ, mean little. Others attribute a mystical sense to such words, others have a vague inkling of a mystery that just eludes them. For the apostle Paul, who we find writing here to the church in Corinth, the whole matter pertaining to the Cross, to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, is of absolutely crucial importance.

I like the Message version’s take on verses 1 & 2: “You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.”

Paraphrase versions are so helpful aren’t they. The JBP version is even more enlightening: “You may as well know now that it was my secret determination to concentrate entirely on Jesus Christ and the fact of his death upon the cross.”

Paul’s life was amazing; he was absolutely sold out to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever he went and here he makes sure we understand that the heart of that message was Jesus’ death on the Cross, the event we remember on Good Friday. I nearly wrote, “that we are looking forward to on Good Friday” but unlike perhaps a birthday party, this terrible event is not something to be relished. It is absolutely horrible, and in this series, I do not intend to visit the events of the Cross in any great detail; I’ve done that already elsewhere.

The thrust that comes punching out of this present verse is that, as far as the apostle Paul was concerned at least, whatever else we might teach about Christ (and I recently wrote a long series which I found impacted me deeply called, ‘Focus on Christ’) the most crucial part of our teaching about Christ, if we are to follow in the great apostle’s footsteps, has to be the Cross, has to be the crucifixion of Christ. I think we are going to see that crucifixion focuses more on the event, the fact that Christ was put to death on our behalf, while ‘the Cross’ refers more what Christ was achieving through that event on our behalf. So, when Paul speaks here of Christ’s crucifixion (and later on we’ll see his earlier reference to ‘the message of the Cross’ (1 Cor 1:18), he is saying the gospel is anchored in the death of Christ and without it there would be no gospel. It is that important and for that reason we will consider it slowly in the days ahead as we look at both the event (crucifixion) and its significance (the Cross). Pray for help as we do this for we tread on holy ground.

36. All about God

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 36. All about God

1 Pet 1:20,21   He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

Time to draw a close: Because the word hope come up so many times in the New Testament, we could keep on and on  with this subject, meditating on the individual verses, but instead we will draw this series to a close with the two verses above that really sum it all up for us We have considered this subject of expectation through individuals in the Old Testament and then as it pertains to Jesus. As we have just said, these two verses sum up or summarise the origins, at least, of our hope, and they are in Jesus.

The Gospel Encapsulated: The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a recent fiction of the last two thousand years, but has its origins, we are told over half a dozen times in the New Testament, right back before the creation of the world. It was then that the Godhead, with the recognition that giving mankind free will would mean that we brought Sin into the world, decided that the Son of God would step into history at a given point of time to act as one who would carry our sins and thus our guilt in his death on a cross. This Peter says, “was revealed in these last times.”  Through what happened to Jesus, we are focused on God. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection our attention has been grabbed and we focus it back on God.

It’s all about God: We realise that it had to be a work of God, as Peter himself preached, Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 2:22-24) Four is said to be the number of divine government and four times there he spoke about God’s involvement in all that had happened. Twice it was God providing the miracles Jesus did, once it was all about God’s set plan and purpose and once, it was God who raised Jesus from the dead.

Faith & Hope: The whole of the events involving and surrounding the coming of Jesus were about God bringing about the possibility of you and me being able to have a genuine relationship with almighty God, and that immediately puts before us the thoughts about our future, our future here on the earth and our future after death. How we live out today is all about faith, because it is about how we respond to His word in the way we live now, but the fact that we are constantly looking forward to tomorrow means we are living in hope, with the expectations His word generates in our hearts and minds.

Did you see that? From our vantage point, how we respond now is about faith, but how we view tomorrow is about hope. Faith is doing now; hope is about expectations for tomorrow. When we arrive at ‘tomorrow’, whenever that is, we will be living out that day in faith, but as we continue to regard the future, we do it with hope, this confident expectation of what God will do or how He will respond in respect of us.

A Question: But, someone might ask, if hope is constantly about the future, does it really matter? If, when we get to ‘tomorrow’ we are acting in faith, isn’t that the key thing? Well, in one sense, yes, but as we’ve seen in past studies, the fact that we have this hope acts almost as a stabilizing foundation for our lives today. Without it, life and the ongoing years is really an exercise with a big question mark over it. The fact that we can say tomorrow the Lord will be with us to bless us and after death we will continue to be with Him, means that we can live today with purpose – not only to capture the blessings of today, but to ensure we keep going to capture the blessings of eternity that God has promised us.

To Summarise: In this sense, ‘hope’ is a very real factor in our lives. It encourages us in today and energizes and motivates us towards tomorrow. Remember, the origins of our hope lie in the fact that we have been, as we said in the previous meditation, justified, adopted and empowered (and all that by the work of Jesus) and the content of our hope for tomorrow is that our understanding and experience of these three things will deepen and enlarge and will continue to carry us through the years until we pass off this present existence and are carried into eternity where it will just get better and better.

I think I will draw it to a close here. We will have a final recap tomorrow, but in the meantime, I hope that these studies will have put some content to your understanding and added some strength to the foundations of your faith. Amen.

25. The Christ

Focus on Christ Meditations: 25. The Christ

Mt 1:1,16  A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham …… Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

Although this series is entitled ‘Focus on Christ’, I have left the title ‘Christ’ until now in order to see it in the light of all the other titles we have considered so far. The title ‘Messiah’ simply means ‘the anointed one’ and in Old Testament times kings and priests were anointed with oil (e.g., Ex 29:7,21; 1Sam 10:1,6; 16:13; 2Sam 1:14,16). The ‘anointed one’ carries the idea of being chosen by God, consecrated to his service, and endued with his power to accomplish a given task. By Jesus’ time, in the light of the prophecies we considered in Part One, it had taken on a special meaning, a sharper meaning of a king anointed and empowered by God to rescue his people from their enemies and establish his righteous kingdom (Dan 9:25-26). In the popular thinking of the day, the title Messiah tended to be political and national in nature, and so it is possible that for that reason Jesus rarely used the term. ‘The Christ’ (Greek) and ‘the Messiah’ (Hebrew) both have the same meaning, “the Anointed One.”

It first appears in Matthew when Herod called for help in determining where ‘the king of the Jews’ was to be born, as requested by the Magi, but Herod avoids repeating that phrase for its obvious political implications and instead resorts to the more traditional Messiah or Christ: “When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.” (Mt 2:4) Perhaps its most significant use was when Peter blurts out his declaration: “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God….. Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.” (Mt 16:16,20) Note that Jesus was reticent about then using that title, perhaps, as we’ve said, because it had political connotations and he did not want to be involved in a popular uprising.

Later the high priest used the Messiah/Christ title to make Jesus come out in to the open – which he then did: “The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” (Mt 26:63) Now note how Jesus replies: “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you, in the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming in the clouds of heaven.” (v.64) He agrees but then turns the focus away to the more spiritual and prophetic term, Son of Man.

However, before that in discussion Jesus had challenged the popular thinking that the Christ was merely the son of David and, by implication, more a political figure: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied. He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him `Lord’? For he says, ” `The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” `If then David calls him `Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.” (Mt 22:42-45) Clearly, he is saying, the Messiah is far more than the one you have previously thought he was.

In Luke we first see Simeon waiting: “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Lk 2:26) Although Jesus himself appears to have been reticent to use the term, it was, nevertheless, the popular term used. Similarly a little later, “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ,” (Lk 3:15) In John, the Baptist denied he was the expected one: “He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ,” (Jn 1:20) and in argument it was the term the Pharisees used: “Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” (Jn 1:24,25) and also others: “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.” (Jn 1:41,42).

With the woman at the well we find her saying, “The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming.” (Jn 4:25) and later Martha makes a similar declaration to that of Peter: “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (Jn 11:27). John himself, responding to this popular belief writes near the end, “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:31) but note that he also includes the bigger term, ‘Son of God’ as well.

The actual term “Jesus Christ” was rarely used, perhaps in situations where the emphasis was on the man who was the Messiah, e.g. “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about” (Mt 1:18) and “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mk 1:10) Note that Peter, who is believed to be the author dictating to Mark, insists on the term ‘Son of God’ to be used alongside. John uses it rarely: “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (Jn 1:17) and “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (Jn 17:3)

To summarize: although when we speak about Jesus we so often speak of “Jesus Christ”, it was rarely used in the Gospels and Jesus himself seems to have avoided using the term ‘Christ’ because although it was the term the people used of the expected one, he himself preferred the more prophetic term ‘Son of Man’ and the term ‘Son of God’ came to be used almost only by revelation or when Jesus himself near the end used it, possibly to challenge the beliefs of the authorities. So yes, it may be that it was because of the political implications of the term – which perhaps God used to create anticipation in His people – that Jesus steered clear of the term. For us today, surely the greater emphasis must be on the term ‘Son of God’ although to link him into Scriptures we speak of Jesus Christ.

To reflect upon: ponder on the wonder of all you know of the coming of the Lord’s Messiah, prophesied of old as the Son of Man, located in geography and history as Jesus of Nazareth, the anointed one or Christ, the unique Son of God – and worship him.

19. Son of Man

Focus on Christ Meditations: 19.  Son of Man

Mt 8:20  Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head

We have just gone from considering Jesus Christ being the Logos, the Word, the reason behind all things, to Jesus of Nazareth, the human being, apparently with human origins. Now we come to a description of Jesus – Son of Man – that he uses a number of times of himself. This is worth noting, that this is a description that others don’t use of him but only he uses of himself.

The phrase comes first, I believe, in the psalms: what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psa 8:4 also Psa 80:17, 144:3) but its greatest use in the Old Testament is in Ezekiel where 93 times God uses this term to speak to Ezekiel, a term emphasizing the prophet’s humanity as he was addressed by the transcendent God. It also appears twice in Daniel in 7:13 and 8:17. It is interesting to note that whereas in the psalms it is a phrase that refers generally to human beings and comes with small-case ‘son’, in Ezekiel you will find its many uses are as a title with capital-letter ‘Son’ and this is also true of Jesus’ use of the phrase.

The words, “son of” are used literally hundreds of times in the Bible and invariably they show the relational link of son to father (highlighting background or origin) and so when we come to ‘son of man’ we see the emphasis on the relation of the individual to the human race at large. It is a constant reminder that we are frail and limited human beings and distinct from God. It is a little like the use of ‘Israel’ and ‘Jacob’; they are both the same person but the use of Jacob is a constant reminder of his origins – a conniving, scheming, cheating, twister. Israel reminds us of the one who has had dealings with and affirmation by God. When capital letters are employed – Son of Man – it is clearly a title that still makes that emphasis but even more strongly.

But why does Jesus use this term? In Matthew’s Gospel which emphasises the Jewish aspect of the Messiah and of his kingdom, it appears 27 times. (NB. In what follows, I have managed to pick up 78 uses of the term in the gospels, but my Bible dictionary says there are in fact 81 uses. Take my figures as ‘at least’). In Mark it appears 14 times and in Luke 24 times, and even in John whose big emphasis is on Jesus as the universal Son of God and who emphasises the relational aspect of divine Son to divine Father, the words appear 13 times, and so even John remembers its use and therefore its significance. Yet, why was it significant?

For that we have to go back to Dan 7:13,14 – “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Now there we have lower case indicating just one who looked like an ordinary human being. But notice what we are told about this one.

First of all this is a vision of heaven and this one comes before God – “there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.” Second, he is divinely appointed – “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power.”  Third, as a result of this, “all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him.” (You only worship divinity). Fourth, he is made a ruler with an eternal and indestructible kingdom: “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” That is incredible, a person in human form, who can stand before Almighty God, and who is equipped to be an eternal ruler and who receives the worship of all mankind. No wonder the scribes and the teachers and the religious leaders scratched their heads over this – and no wonder Jesus takes and uses this simple little phrase so many times of himself.

When Jesus eventually stands on trial before the high priest, we see, “the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”  “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mk 14:61,62) where Jesus purposely affirms he is the Christ and then goes on to link it with the prophetic Son of Man clearly linking it to the Daniel prophecy which the high priest understands as a claim to divinity and thus, in his eyes at least, to blasphemy.

In Matthew, Jesus’ use of the term shows us him showing the human side of the term: 8:20 having no home, 11:18,19 eating and drinking with sinners, 12:32 one who can be spoken against, 13:37 one who is a sower of the word of God, 16:13 one over whom questions can be asked, 20:18  & 26:24,45 and one who will be betrayed. Yet equally, if not more strongly, the divine side of the term: 9:5,6 one who has authority to forgive sins and heal, 12:8 one who is Lord of the Sabbath, 12:40 one who will die and rise from the dead after three days, 13:41 one who will judge all sin, 10:23, 16:28, 24:27 one who will return in power, 17:9 one having been raised from the dead, 17:12 after having suffered unjustly, 20:27,28 having given his life as a ransom for many, 19:28 and one who will rule eternally in heaven.

This prophetic term is thus one of the strongest used of Jesus revealing his incredible claims that accord perfectly with the prophetic scriptures. The term emphasizes the humanity of the Messiah on one hand – Son of Man – but at the same time brings to the fore the prophetic being seen in Daniel in heaven. Perhaps we should also add that the use of the term so many times in Ezekiel also implies by Jesus use of the same term, that he was emphasizing his role as God’s prophetic servant. As Jesus uses it so many times, it seems there is a multi-faceted message being conveyed – the prophetic messiah in human form, coming as a prophetic servant, coming to draw alongside us in our humanity while at the same time establishing God’s eternal kingdom on earth. Wow!

To reflect upon: scroll back to the Daniel verses and marvel again at the wonder of this being who is revealed there. Worship him.

6. The Mystery – of the broken servant

Focus on Christ Meditations: 6.  The Mystery – of the broken servant

Isa 52:13-15      See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him – his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness – so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.

We pursue our quest to see Jesus Christ revealed throughout the word of God, and specifically here to consider ‘the mystery of Christ’, as we see it through the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come… to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.” (1 Pet 1:10,11) In the previous study we considered the almost unbelievable words of Isa 9. Now imagine a scribe of the day before Christ, reading what we now call Isaiah 52 and 53. “The servant” of the Lord had been the subject of a number of prophecies earlier in Isaiah, again clearly referring to the Coming One.

In verse 13 of chapter 52 he reads, “See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.”  OK, that seems to fit with the glory that was there in the Isa 9 prophecy. He reads on: “Just as there were many who were appalled at him– his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.” (v.14) What? How can he one minute be exalted and the next moment be described as one who is so ‘disfigured’ and ‘marred’ that there were many who were appalled at him?

Verse 15 seems more confusing, so quickly run on into the next chapter to see if it makes more sense: “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” (53:1) This seems to have a sense of “Who could have believed it would be like this, that God’s means of coming in power would appear in this way?”  Dead right! What are you saying Isaiah? How does this fit with your glorious words of the earlier chapter 9? We need to read on.

“He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.” (v.2a) This must refer to that child again. Ok. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (v.2b) What? This doesn’t sound like a great leader, a mighty ruler like David who, when younger, had been described as “a boy, ruddy and handsome.” (1 Sam 17:42) or as the king that Solomon portrayed in his epic poem: “My lover is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand.” (Song 5:10) This one would be characterized by his ordinariness; he is not going to get a following because he looks good, like King Saul had done and been described as, “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites–a head taller than any of the others.” (1 Sam 9:2) So how is this one going to be that mighty ruler?

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (v.3) What is this all about? Despised, rejected, one we did not esteem, one whose life seems associated with sorrows and suffering? What sort of great ruler is this? Clearly not like any ‘great ruler’ the world has known previously! Read on.

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.” (v.4) Hang on! We, the onlookers, thought that what we saw was God striking him, dealing harshly with him and yet he was taking OUR weaknesses, our sorrows? How could that be? How can this servant do such a thing? Read on verses 5 to 7 and it is equally bad. This is seriously confusing, this is indeed a mystery!

And the teachers tell us that this is Jesus? Well, the apostle John wrote, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (Jn 1:10,11) That fits. When Matthew records Jesus’ healing ministry, he writes by way of commentary, “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.” (Mt 8:17) The apostle Peter, speaking of all that happened to Jesus summarized it, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Pet 2:23,24)

But what about the mighty ruler prophecy of Isa 9? It was only as the incredible account of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ was rolled out that the apostles and prophets saw the mystery, saw how apparently irreconcilable prophecies were in fact true, opposites – ruler and wreck – fulfilled in the same person: “being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:8-11 – Paul writing) and “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.” (Acts 5:30,31 Peter preaching) and “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb 1:3 the unknown writer)

It will be as Isaiah said it in those verses we jumped over at the end of chapter 52:  Yet many shall be amazed when they see him—yes, even far-off foreign nations and their kings; they shall stand dumbfounded, speechless in his presence. For they shall see and understand what they had not been told before. They shall see my Servant beaten and bloodied, so disfigured one would scarcely know it was a person standing there. So shall he cleanse many nations. (v.14,15 Living Bible) When the mystery is revealed to those with eyes to see, their first reaction is to stand dumbfounded that such a thing could be. Amazing! Incredible! Wonderful!  Thank you Lord!

To reflect upon: Conquering king and beaten servant. Majesty and meekness. Strength and weakness. Power and powerlessness. Honor and shame. Do we see that our faith is a combination of all these things?

16. Multiple Witness

Meditations in Hebrews 2: 16.  Multiple Witness

Heb 2:3,4   This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

We did briefly mention something of these verses in the previous meditation but there we were focusing on the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, noting how it was good news that came with both words and power but, as we said, the emphasis was on the message itself. Now we want to focus on how the message came and open up even more what we have previously seen. There are, as the heading above suggests, multiple witnesses to the truths we have been recently considering about the coming of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God.

The first of these witnesses was Jesus himself: This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord.  The apostle John picked up on this when he reflected on Jesus ministry: Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (Jn 5:17,18)  Jesus brought this very oblique testimony and yet the Jews clearly recognized what he was saying – I am God.  When they objected, Jesus spoke of another witness: “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid. You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth.” (Jn 5:31-33)

Yes, the Law required two witnesses for a testimony to be valid, so Jesus pointed out that John had testified to Him. But Jesus wasn’t satisfied with that: “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me.” (Jn 5:36,37) i.e. the very things Jesus was doing testified to who he was. Consider the lists of what we saw Jesus doing in the previous meditation and you realise this is no mere man. In that sense the Father testified to Jesus, empowering him, but the Father had also testified to His Son at his baptism. (see Lk 3:22) That same voice testified to him on the Mount of Transfiguration (see Lk 9:35) and a third time on Psalm Sunday (Jn 12:28)

But then the second witness were the disciples: “confirmed to us by those who heard him.” The Gospel writers, first of all, collected the testimonies of those who had been with Jesus.  Luke, for example, wrote, “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” (Lk 1:1,2) John would eventually write at the end of his Gospel, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down,” (Jn 21:24) and who write in his first letter, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard.” (1 Jn 1:1-3) Yes, this is language of witnesses.

But then there was the third witness: “God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (v.4) We have already briefly referred to the Father’s testimony in the work of Jesus but this is familiar language used by the early disciples, for example Peter on the Day of Pentecost: “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) Again the Easy to Read version says it most simply:My fellow Israelites, listen to these words: Jesus from Nazareth was a very special man. God clearly showed this to you. He proved it by the miracles, wonders, and miraculous signs he did through Jesus. You all saw these things, so you know this is true.”  ‘A very special man’ accurately records it but understates it. ‘Proved it’ – the language of evidence.

Now remember this is all about ‘the salvation’ conveyed through these witnesses. Out salvation is the key end issue here. How can we believe what we are told? Because Jesus said it, his disciples confirmed it and God the Father backed it up by signs and wonders and gifts of the Spirit manifested through the Son and then through the disciples and the early church and the church down through the centuries. We can believe because the evidence is so strong. More than that, we must believe otherwise we will fall away and that’s what the writer to the Hebrews wants to avoid.  Thus the warning not to drift away comes with a reminder that we have so much supporting evidence as to the truth about Jesus and our salvation, that no one really has any excuse if they reject these things.

14. The Eternal Son

Meditations in Hebrews 1: 14.  The Eternal Son

Heb 1:10-12   He also says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,…. like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

It is important at this point to remember the writer is enveloped in a single goal – to exalt Jesus and show him to be the glorious Son of God who is greater than anyone else, angels or who knows who else. It is also important to see these verses in context. Now why do I say these things? Because in verses 10 to 12 there is no mention of the Son and no indication of his presence in the thinking – but the thinking is all about Jesus. Hold on to what we read in the ‘prologue’, that Jesus is the Son of God and it was through him that God created the world, the world which the Son now upholds with his word as he rules over it, seated at his Father’s right hand. All of that has been laid out before us in those earliest verses. To that prologue he had added the emphasis that this is the Son (v.5) before whom the angels worship (v.6), angels who are mere servants of God (v.7), but this is the Son (v.8) who from old was destined to reign at his Father’s side over all things (v.9). Thus, when he comes to verse 10, it is important to realise that this is simply an extension of those thoughts, a continuation of the logic, if you like.

These words, quoted from Psa 102:35-37, although originally seen to apply to the LORD, now also, in the light of all we have said above, apply to the Son. Yes, that is what is in the writer’s mind; these words apply to the Son. He starts with the recognition, already laid down previously, that the Son was there in the beginning in the work of Creation: He also says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.” (v.10) In that there is nothing new being added but it is in verse 11 that he brings a new amazing thought which might not yet have crossed our minds: “They will perish, but you remain.” (v.11a)

But of course! The Creation is created material matter and as such will wear out. We know that, we see it and experience it every single day of our lives. Matter – whether it be say a house, or a human body – deteriorates with age and eventually decays. Now here’s the big point: matter may decay but God doesn’t, the Son doesn’t; he has no ending this Son for he is the unique Son of God.  There is no one or no thing in all of existence that this can be said of – except God, except the Son.

Now, as a good teacher, he repeats this to push it home in case we hadn’t taken it in first time. In respect of this Creation he says, “they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” (v.11b,12) There it is, the Creation will come to an end, but the Son never will; he is eternal, that is what marks him out from anyone else in all of existence, they will die and decay, but he never will.

And then, just to make sure we haven’t forgotten who he is talking about, he uses that Psa 110 quote that we have already noted: “To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? (v.13 quoting Psa 110:1) He put the quote alongside the thought of the angels to whom God has never said this. This is the unique and eternal Son who is so, so, so much superiors to the angels as he sits at his Father’s right hand ruling over all of existence. And then, just to knock the final nail in the coffin of angelic heresy he adds, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (v.14)  i.e.  JUST servants!

And that brings us to the end of Chapter 1, a chapter of the most incredible claims, but claims that are justified and vindicated by the rest of the New Testament and, indeed, the prophecies of the Old Testament. The message is loud and clear:  Jesus Christ is the unique, everlasting Son of God.

Ah! Perhaps there is something you might not have noticed but the critic may throw at us – the name of Jesus is not mentioned in this chapter. Is this who the writer is referring to or is there someone else?  Well, first of all, there was no one else in that period (or since) who has stood out with that claim. Second, there is no one else who fits the description of verse 2 – “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” Third, there is no one else who fits the rest of the descriptions of both Testaments that are confirmed in this chapter or which confirm the things of this chapter. Without question, although his name is not mentioned here, this all refers to Jesus Christ.

Now why, therefore, might this be? We can only make a suggestion and it is this: the person, the being that the writer wants us to focus on is no mere man with a name, Jesus, or even a title given by the scriptures, the Christ or the Messiah.  No, the whole emphasis is that the One he wants us to focus on is God, an expression of God, revealed for our understanding as those with finite minds, as the eternal Son.  It is all about relationship of Son to Father. It is only because he is the begotten Son that he was involved in Creation, it is only because he is the begotten Son that he now upholds the world by his word of power, it is only because he is the begotten Son that he is ‘big enough’ to be the redeemer of the world, and it is only because he is the begotten Son that he now sits at his Father’s right hand ruling over all of existence.

I do not want to detract from any of this in our minds but I sense the cry of so many, ‘How can Jesus be ruling over this world when Sin prevails, Satan is at work and human beings are in rebellion. Ah! Remember the verse we’ve now quoted at least twice – he rules “in the midst of his enemies” (Psa 110:2) The fact that he gives us free will, allows us to exercise it as expressions of Sin, and allows Satan a measure of freedom as well, does not detract from the fact that a) he is the Lord over all, and can bring it to an end the moment he wants to, and b) he is working in the midst of all this to bring about his purposes for his Father, God. So, in respect of human beings, he watches and when the time is right he convicts of sin and draws them to himself and they are saved. In respect of Satan, as the book of Job shows us, his instruction to Satan is “thus far and no further,” and Satan has to obey and the “thus far” is always a limit that fits in with his own plans and purposes.

So, as we said, not to detract from what this chapter has been saying, let’s repeat the thrust from above to finish: It is only because he is the begotten Son that he was involved in Creation, it is only because he is the begotten Son that he now upholds the world by his word of power, it is only because he is the begotten Son that he is ‘big enough’ to be the Redeemer of the world, and it is only because he is the begotten Son that he now sits at his Father’s right hand ruling over all of existence. We might now add, that it is only because he is the begotten Son that he will one day come back as conquering king (Rev 19) and wind all things up and then make all things new. Hallelujah!

9. Sin Purifier

Meditations in Hebrews 1: 9.  Sin Purifier

Heb 1:3b  After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

We will only consider the first half of this sentence here and leave the second part until the next study. It is a slightly strange description of Jesus’ work on the Cross, because that is what it is, the only reference to his work of redemption in this short-hand or potted description of Jesus. It is strange because it has a completely different emphasis to it. Let’s see its usual use in presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The angel speaking to Joseph in a dream said of his future son, you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21) At the Last Supper Jesus himself said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Mt 26:28). Speaking of John the Baptist, Mark records, “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mk 1:4) His father, Zechariah in his prophetic prayer, spoke of his son, “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) On the road to Emmaus, Jesus taught the two disciples that, “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 24:46,47) On the Day of Pentecost at the end of his first sermon, Peter declared, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:38)

And so we could carry on. The big emphasis in every single one of those verses about the work of Jesus, is on forgiveness. That is the main New Testament thrust, which is slightly different from the Old Testament thrust. Speaking of the work of the high priest Moses writes, “on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins,” (Lev 16:30) which accords with what we now have here in Hebrews, After he had provided purification for sins……”

Let’s see how some other versions put it:After he finished the sacrifice for sins.” (Message version). “He is the one who died to cleanse us and clear our record of all sin” (Living Bible). Understandably the Easy to Read version of the Bible puts it most simply: “The Son made people clean from their sins.” Yes they each place this emphasis rightly on us being ‘cleansed’ from our sins. So why did I suggest that this is an Old Testament emphasis. I suggest there are three things to say.

Well, first, because the Old Testament Law was all about behaviour, how to live righteously as the people of God and so when it came to the Day of Atonement it was all about having sins washed away so that the individual could continue to carry on being one of God’s people free from their past sin so they could walk anew and free from its guilt and, even more, its practice, tomorrow. It was all about behaviour.

Second, by contrast, the New Testament salvation is all about relationship with God. It is all about now being free from guilt and shame to live Spirit-empowered and Spirit-directed lives, as adopted children of God, that are pleasing to our Father in heaven. To be able to do that, we must first know that we are FORGIVEN.  That is why all those verses above put the emphasis on forgiveness.

But there is a third thing. The writer to the Hebrews is writing to Jews and Jews would know their history and that included about the Day of Atonement and would know the thrust there was on cleansing. Moreover, as he goes through his ‘book’ he is going to explain the work of Jesus in terms of the High Priest. It will all be Old Testament language and concepts and the big thrust there, as we have said several times, is on being cleansed from our sins.

Now interestingly the apostle John in his first letter brings these two things together: 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) or as the old RSV that I grew up with put it, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  To emphasis it, let’s check a couple of the other versions: “He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing.” (Message) and “he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil.” (JBP)

So there it is. Today we have this double emphasis of the work of Christ on the Cross. When we receive his work, we are forgiven (so we can live at peace with God) AND we are cleansed (so that we can live new righteous lives). Do you see the fruit from that work?  First it is peace with God and second, it is newness of life.  Hallelujah!

41. The Ever-spreading Gospel

Meditations in Colossians: 41. The ever-spreading Gospel

Col 1:23b    This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

This is one of those verses that you have to point out to those who say we have to take the Bible literally throughout and say, no, the apostle Paul was not meaning for every word to be taken literally; he was using hyperbole, which is overstatement to make a strong point. He does that here when he speaks of “every creature under heaven” in the same way as in verse 6 he used the expression “all over the world” referring to the spread of the Gospel, Perhaps we might say, in his shoes, this Gospel has been shared far and wide all over the known world. In the eleventh study in this series we tracked the spread of the Gospel.

I suspect we take for granted the concept of this particular body or piece of knowledge that Paul shared that we call ‘the Gospel’, but there is specific content although that was not always completely shared when Paul referred to it. In an earlier study we summarised it as, ‘Jesus came, revealed the Father, was crucified and rose from the dead, all, we are told, the means to bring about the forgiveness of our sins.’ The other side of the verse about conditions that we previously just studied, Paul had outlined the Gospel: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” (v.21,22) These are the words he refers to when he now says, “This Gospel….”

It is interesting that although the word Gospel is used nine times in the four Gospels, it is rarely given content. Mark refers to it as, “the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” (Mk 1:1) and a few verses later says, “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near.” (Mk 1:14,15) At its most basic it was that Jesus , the Son of God had come and was revealing the kingdom of God, but of course at that point he had not died for our sins. That was remedied by the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost where he spelled out who Jesus was and what he had done when he had died on the Cross (Acts 2:22-24, 36-39) where he also speaks of the required repentance which will bring forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

When he shared with Cornelius and his Gentile family and friends, he began by speaking of, “the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” (Acts 10:36) He then spoke of, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him,” (Acts 10:38) explaining Jesus’ earthly ministry, and then added, “They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen,” (v.39,40 explaining the Cross and resurrection. He concluded with, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (v.43) When he got that far the Lord poured out His Holy Spirit on them as if to say, “That is enough Peter, and because they believe what you are sharing, here is my Spirit for them too.” So there is was: Son of God incarnate doing wonderful things, crucified and resurrected for the forgiveness of sins.

Writing to the Corinthians, Paul said, “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. ….. that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:1-3) That is perhaps the briefest version of the Gospel. There is more that can be added, as we’ll see when Paul continues, but these are the basics. This is the basic body of information that has been conveyed down through history to tell us what God has done.

This body of information, we saw earlier had gone with new believers from Jerusalem out to many other parts of the world. Philip preached it in Samaria and then Gaza (Acts 8:5,40) as did Peter and John in Samaria. The word spread and spread. In his book, Evangelism in the Early Church, Michael Green  highlights various factors that made it possible for the Gospel to be spread more easily: Roman peace and rule and their excellent road system opening up travel, the common use of the Greek language making communication easier across a big area and the widespread Jews who made the early link for such Jewish evangelists such as Paul. But it was the power of the Gospel that transformed lives together with Jesus’ instruction to go and tell the good news, and the power and direction of the Holy Spirit, that really catapulted the good news across the world.

11. Fruit Bearing Gospel

Meditations in Colossians: 11. Fruit-Bearing Gospel

Col 1:4-6   the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it

The things we have been considering in recent meditations have been in respect of, or related to the Gospel. We saw that it conveys hope  out of which spring faith and love and that it conveys the truth of God’s will expressed through the life and work of His Son, Jesus Christ. Now Paul speaks of the effect of the Gospel, “all over the world.” should not be taken to infer that the Gospel had travelled all over the earth for it is clear from history that it hadn’t yet, but is more likely to mean ‘wherever it had gone’. Wherever the Gospel had gone it had had effect.

That the Gospel had spread far and wide, there can be no doubt. The mighty Gospel ingathering of some three thousand souls on the Day of Pentecost  would have included those who witnessed the Spirit’s outpouring who we are told included, Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome  (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs.” (Acts 2:9-11) We tend to forget that when many of these returned home they went as believers and took the Gospel with them.

The disciples seem to have forgotten Jesus’ words, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) and initially it was only persecution that drove some away from Jerusalem: “all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria….. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8:1,4)  The accounts then follow Philip in Samaria conducting an amazing signs and wonders ‘crusade’ (Acts 8:5,6). Peter and John joined him and the Spirit was poured out on the Samaritans.  Eventually the Lord told Philip to leave and go south where he encountered the Ethiopian official who left as a believer (see Acts 8:26-39), who, it is believed, took the gospel back with him to Africa. The church clearly grew and flourished throughout Israel (Acts 9:31).

It is interesting to note that although Philip ended up in Caesarea (see Acts 8:40) the Lord called in an apostle, Peter, to preach the Gospel and pour out His Spirit on the first Gentiles, Cornelius, his family and friends (Acts 10).

The next big move of God appears to have been in the north: “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” (Acts 11:19-21) Then we find, “News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” (Acts 11:22-24) Thus the church in Antioch (Antioch was considered the third major city of the Roman empire after Rome and Alexandria) was established (see also v.25,26). It was from Antioch that the Lord sent Barnabas and Saul (Paul) on what became Paul’s first missionary journey.

The remainder of Acts follows Paul in his travels. Initially they went to Jews only, starting at local synagogues but when they were rejected we find,  “Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us:  ” `I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'” When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.” (Acts 13:46-49) This took place in Pisidian Antioch.

Thus we find in the early chapters of Acts the church largely focusing on Jews and Jerusalem until persecution drove the Gospel to Samaria and then to the north. From there the Lord propelled the Gospel out across Asia Minor, largely through the ministry of the apostle Paul, although others were clearly involved doing the same thing.

The Gospel was clearly bearing fruit and growing.  The fruit was clearly people responding and turning to Christ and being saved. First Jews and then Samaritans and then Gentiles. The Holy Spirit took men who shared the Gospel and then He did His work of conviction and bringing people to salvation. One of the places where that had had happened was Colosse. (Several hundred years before Paul’s day, Colosse had been a leading city in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey).but by Paul’s day Colosse was just a second-rate market town, As we will see as we continue, the church there came about by the preaching of Epaphras (v.7) who eventually reported back to Paul in Rome who then wrote the letter we have before us. The church in Colosse was just one example of the Gospel bearing fruit and growing.