7. Loved

Studies in Isaiah 54: 7. Loved

Isa 54: 10  “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

 Grace Prevailing over Justice: In the previous study we saw how the Lord was using the analogy of Noah and the Flood to explain His faithfulness, we should say, in respect of Israel. Even as Noah had moved His heart and brought a promise of grace prevailing over justice, so that same grace would prevail today so that, although He had indeed cast them away for a moment because of their disobedience, now He would come to them and restore that previous relationship. We did go into verse 10 as we mentioned the covenant of peace, but there is something even more wonderful there that we must take hold of.

In a Shaken World: The first phrase of this present verse may be skimmed over by many (me included often) but it is highly significant: “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills removed.” In other words it doesn’t matter how disastrous the world seems, God’s love is going to be there. Now don’t take this casually because very often (along with Chicken Licken) we feel the sky is falling down as things around us seem to deteriorate. At the time I write, the political landscapes of the UK and USA have been transformed and in the UK in particular (although some in the USA say they feel the same) chaos seems to ensue. For many this has created a world-weariness, almost a mental and emotional exhaustion that is only helped by turning off and ignoring the news.

But it is more than just than the political landscape. Older generations feel lost in a world that has been utterly transformed in their lifetime. The world has been shaken for them by technology. Younger generations complain that because of the self-centred carelessness of older generations they have been put into a situation where financially they are disadvantaged; their world has been shaken.  But this ‘shaking’ can be much more personal; when illness strikes or downsizing comes to your workplace and the job you have held for thirty years is suddenly gone, it comes like an earth-shattering loss. In many ways it feels like the earth is being shaken and things we have taken for granted for so long (the hills) are removed from our lives, and it makes us feel very vulnerable.

Need of Security: It is at such times that we desperately feel we need security. When the ‘ground is shaking’ and when ‘the hills are being removed’ we suddenly start thinking about these things. While everything was going along fine, we just took life for granted.  There was food on the table, the sun shone and day followed day without a worry or care in sight. And then the ground shook. We felt it but it would pass quickly. But then it continued shaking and then ‘the hills were removed’ and suddenly everything was different. It happens all the time in the Fallen World, especially this modern world where change is the name of the game every day it seems. It can be highly disconcerting but such shaking can wake us up to the realities of our life – we have taken so much for granted, we had become complacent with our relationship with the Lord, almost superficial if we are honest. Then comes the shaking – usually a loss, of a job, of health or of a loved one – and we start praying, we start crying out, “Are you there?” Of course He is but we had become things-focused instead of God-focused and so lost that sense.

The Word Comes: Then comes the word of the Lord: my unfailing love for you will not be shaken.” The psalmist says the same thing: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” (Psa 46:1,2) He doesn’t mention the word ‘love’ there but that is what it is all about and why he does not need to fear. The earth may be shaken but God’s love will not be shaken. David knew this same love: “save me because of your unfailing love.” (Psa 6:4) Whatever else might change, God’s love would not. All other resources might run out, but God’s love will never fail, will never be exhausted. Jeremiah was prophesying against the same thing when he declared, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jer 2:13) Not only had the people turned away from God who was an everlasting source of life and love, but they had tried to manufacture their own forms of provision and security and those always failed! No, God’s love is unfailing, that is why He is so often referred to as ‘faithful’ because He is unchanging.

Beware Appearances: I often teach on the fact that Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand ruling in the midst of his enemies, and will continue to reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet, and it is at such times that I sense that readers or listeners have the same query as Gideon had that we considered in the previous study. It is so common we need to repeat it here: if God is around, why are all these things happening? In another context recently I wrote the following:

Point One: we live in a Fallen World where, because of sin, things go wrong and people say and do nasty things because they have free will.

Point Two: God does not override our free will and so permits the world to proceed as it does with things going wrong and people acting badly BUT He does expect us, His children, to act as His representatives and to be salt and light in it.

Point Three: He a) expects us to change the circumstances and b) be changed by the circumstances. We are to be one of His means of bringing change in this world while being changed into Jesus’ likeness as we do it.

That is the ‘big picture’ that we need to remember. Jesus IS ruling but he doesn’t do it with a heavy hand; he uses us (yes, he does sometimes move sovereignly without us as well) and sometimes waits for us to catch on to that, but the Father’s love IS always there, it is unfailing and it does not change because we are slow to understand or slow to act. It is still there despite whatever we do. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) the apostle John declared. Hold that truth firmly, never let it go, despite the appearances of what is going on around you. He IS there for us at all times, every day. Hold that, rejoice in it and be at peace in whatever is going on.

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Snapshots: Day 6

Snapshots of the Bible Story: Day 6

The Snapshot: “In the beginning… God chose…” Having chosen to redeem what would be, He (they) saw the only path open to them to satisfy justice, for the Son to step into mankind, be part of mankind, live and die as mankind and as God take the punishment of mankind. They saw the necessity for parting, for him to leave heaven, for him to be limited on earth, for them to sense utter separation as he carried the sins of the world on the Cross, for his walk into hell to complete the punishment, before a return was possible; they saw the horror of it all for themselves, the anguish in the sense of separation and, instead of rejecting all that,  they chose it. Why? Love.

Further Consideration: Most people don’t think about justice; we just take it for granted. It isn’t something that exists as a living entity but it is a concept that we human beings have, even if we so often ignore it, pretend it is not there or simply hope it will go away. But where did it come from? Surely beings that evolved, beings who survived by being the fittest, as we’re told, surely these beings have no such concept, for surely nature is ‘red in tooth and claw’ and the biggest and toughest survive or go to the wall. And yet, we have this concept of justice. The word ‘just’ is about fairness, unbiased correct goodness, morally and ethically, putting right wrongs, balancing out unfairness with fairness. Justice is the administration of that. We see it in small children when one cries, “Daddy, you’ve given her more sweets than you’ve given me. It’s not fair” There is an appeal to an imaginary rule that we should all be treated equally well, and when that is not so, we speak of injustice.

Now why is this such a big issue in the Bible? It is because since the Fall we have a world full of sinners, people who fall short of what is good, and that means any person who opens themselves up to criticism because of their behaviour. If we were able to see and record every wrong thought, wrong word and wrong act of any individual we would probably run out of paper doing it. We try and ignore this but in any other context we would say that “getting away with that,” is unjust. Big wrongs like murder or rape are easy to categorize but where to you draw the line when you come down the scale of wrongs and, as we’ve just said, if you go by numbers we are all failures, people who fell far short of what could have been. And there in the background, justice is lurking, calling for God to deal with these things. How can He save us? Is there one ‘big enough’ to save us all? There is; he is the Son of God.

14. A Guilt-Free People

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 3 – Making of Believers

14. A Guilt-Free People

Rom 3:23-25   all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.

A tighter focus: In this third Part we are going to move on from the general ways Christians are different from non-Christians to considering just what happens when a person does actually become a Christian, in God’s eyes as declared in the New Testament, AND is some practical ways. Yes, we have observed that there is a God-difference, that Christians are first and foremost believers in Jesus Christ, that they have had a supernatural experience or encounter with God that Jesus called being ‘born again’, and this followed their conviction by the Spirit and repentance. We also noted in passing, so to speak, the basic need to be saved and meaning of becoming a faith people, but now we are going to move on to see the things that happen to the believer as part of and following this experience of being born again. I want to approach it by recognising the needs that we have as we come to God and what He does to meet those needs. The contents of this third Part will be as follows:

  1. A Guilt-Free People
  2. No Longer Orphans
  3. Growing in Sonship
  4. The Yeast of Humility
  5. Getting on a Learning Curve
  6. The Reality of Sacrifice
  7. No Add-ons
  8. Servant-hearted (1)
  9. Servant-hearted (2)

We start with the guilt that we have and how He removes that, expanding on the things we considered in Study no.11, ‘Repentance and Conviction’.

A Basic Problem: There is a problem that is at the heart of human experience. It is the problem of guilt. Wikipedia comes up with a good definition: “Guilt is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realizes—accurately or not—that they have compromised their own standards of conduct or have violated a universal moral standard and bear significant responsibility for that violation.”  Now we may try and deny that – and modern thinking desperately tries to do away with standards in order to do that – but the truth is that deep down each of us feels that somehow we are falling short of some standard or other, and yes we may go to great efforts to cover that up but it is still there.

Cover-up Jobs: Oh how varied are the means people use to cover up this sense of guilt, a guilt that is sometimes very shallow, the guilt of not living up to one’s own expectations or even those of our parents, or it may be a deeper guilt where we know our behaviour towards another, or even against society, in the past was less than glorious! We try to cover up these feelings by appearing nice, trying to be good, trying to be respectable, aiming for achievement, fame, status, things that make us look good in the eyes of others.

Why? But why do we have these feelings. Well, the apostle Paul wrote that it was because we got it wrong (sinned) and fell short of the incredible potential that each of us have when we are in harmony with God (falling short of God’s glory). I have watched various Christians struggling with their lives, struggling to achieve and I have found myself saying, “Don’t you realize that God desires more success for you than you desire for yourself?”  Sometimes that success may be to simply make ends meet and create a great home for a family, sometimes it is to make millions to bless the world with jobs and so much more (consider Bill Gates), sometimes it is success that has nothing to do with money. I suggest Mother Teresa was a staggeringly ‘successful’ person, but that requires us to readjust our thinking about what success means.

The Answer- Justification: OK, we’ve faced the fact that so many of us in the human race struggle with guilt so now I am going to make a possibly surprising suggestion: Christians are possibly one of the only groups in the world who are not guilt laden – or at least should not be.  Now how am I able to say that? It is what I briefly referred to earlier, the doctrine of ‘justification’. If I say I was justified in taking a particular course of action it means I was actually right to take it. If I appear in a court case accused of murder and I plead a case of self-defence and am found ‘not guilty’ we might say I was justified in the eyes of the Law for accidentally killing someone while defending myself.

The use of the word ‘justified’ means I am found not-guilty, or innocent. Now the problem we have been facing when we come to such verses as our starter verse – “all have sinned,” is that I have to acknowledge that I am a sinner – and we all are – because I have fallen short in my life because I did not get God’s help, i.e. I was self-centred and godless. It appears to leave us in a hopeless state where we will be condemned by God, and with no hope of change or escape. But that is where we come to the wonder of the plan of God for salvation, ‘the Gospel’: I am guilty and I do deserve the punishment that justice demands BUT Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has died on the Cross in my place and when I accept that truth, the Bible tells me I am justified, I am put right in God’s eyes and in the eyes of justice because the punishment has been taken for my Sin.

As the apostle Paul wrote, This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” (Rom 3:22) and then he explains, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” (Rom 4:3) and applies that to us,  The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Rom 4:23-25) When we believe (and remember we’ve seen previously faith means belief in action, i.e. we respond to what we hear) that Jesus is God’s Son and that he died for our sins and was raised from the dead to prove that this was right and acceptable to God, we are justified.

In God’s eyes it is faith that He uses to measure our righteousness. He declares us righteous (right before Him) when He sees this faith in us – this belief accompanied by action, belief in Jesus. As it was in the case of Abraham in the Old Testament period, so it is with us today. That, and only that, is why I and all of us who know we are Christians, born again of His Spirit, can say we are not burdened by guilt.

Freed! This is the wonder for the true believer, we know our propensity to get it wrong but we seek with God’s help not to; we know we are less than perfect and yet we know that the basis of our relationship with God relies upon what Jesus has achieved on the Cross, him taking my punishment and satisfying justice, leaving me to simply believe that and receive all that He has to give me as we live out this new life of relationship. I am thus freed from guilt and free to live in the wonder of this relationship with God whereby He provides for me through His Spirit.

Dealing with Failure: For the believer living in relationship with God, brought about by the work of Christ on the Cross and now enabled by the indwelling Holy Spirit we are, in line with the apostle Paul’s teaching, to consider that we “have died to sin,” (Rom 6:2) and so we are to, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:11) Nevertheless, although our objective is never to sin, there will be times when we trip over our feet, if I may put it like that, and get it wrong.

The apostle John recognized that when he wrote, ”I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) and he had just written, if we freely admit that we have sinned, we find God utterly reliable and straightforward—he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil.” (1 Jn 1:9) To summarize: we should not sin, but if on the occasion we do, we are to confess it to God, repent of it, and Jesus’ work on the cross applies again to us. We do not need to go on feeling guilty, but just get on living positively for Christ. This is what all true believers are called to. Do you remember the first study in this Part (no.8) was all about the fact that a Christian is different from a non-Christian? Here is the first of the things that come about when we are born again that make us different: I am justified (put right) in God’s eyes by what Jesus has done for me. I don’t have to struggle to get right with God, just believe that Jesus has made it possible, and receive it and live it! Hallelujah!

45. How Faith Justifies

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 45.  How Faith Justifies  

Rom 3:25,26    God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

The thing about the Bible, and especially the New Testament, is that it uses words that we rarely encounter anywhere else in life and so we have to spend some time defining those words and seeing how they are used. We’ve been doing that for a number of weeks with the word ‘faith’. The two verses above are laden with words that need defining and once we see what some of them mean, we will see how they are related to faith.  The first is a phrase, “a sacrifice of atonement”  When you atone for something you make up for it. In the Old Testament, in the Law of Moses, the Israelites offered offerings, animal sacrifices as a way of acknowledging their sin and their repentance. As they offered it, they placed their hand on the head of the animal being sacrificed as a way of showing they identified with it and that it would be taking their punishment. As they saw it die in front of them, the severity of sin and a life having to be given for it, made it very real.

The Living Bible says of verse 25,  For God sent Christ Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to end all God’s anger against us.”  That sums it up. The Bible says that Jesus was ‘the Lamb of God’ who was sacrificed in his death on the Cross, to be the one who stood in our place and took our sin. This is at the very heart of our belief system, the very reason why we can be saved. Did Jesus die for every single person on the planet? Yes, but they have to appropriate it for themselves. It has no effect until we, individually take it as the means of our personal salvation – and that is an act of faith.

Now in those verses above, Twice Paul says God did this to demonstrate his justice. Now ‘justice’ is all about putting things right. If a wrong has been committed, it needs putting right. Children say, “It’s not fair” appealing to (in their minds at least) a universal agreement that there is right and wrong, good and bad, fairness and unfairness. If a brother, say, has done wrong against them they look to the parent to punish the other. If a toy has been taken, they expect it to be given back. Justice brings a balance and harmony whereby onlookers afterwards say, ‘yes, that is fair.’

So the first time Paul says it, he says, He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.”  In other words, people before Christ appeared to ‘get away with it’ and so Christ’s death dealt with all those sins committed before him where people had said sorry but there was no punishment given. Justice would say, ‘that was unfair, those Old Testament people getting away with it. Someone ought to have taken their punishment. But then he adds a second instance: “he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25,26) Whenever was ‘the present time’ it should be seen that God was not letting sinners get away with it. Someone should be punished for all this wrongdoing that goes on. The only one ‘big enough’ was the Son of God. That, whether we understand it or not, is what the Bible declares and requires every ‘believer’ to accept to be a Christian. It is the only reason why God can forgive you and me. To believe this and to live according to this is faith.

But there is a word we haven’t yet considered and it is one that has very practical outworkings – ‘justify’.  When we ‘justify our actions’ we try to explain why they were the right ones.  When we justify a course of action we seek to show why it was the right one. At the end of the last world war, the Western authorities, the ‘Allies’, justified why it was right to drop two nuclear bombs on Japan to bring an end to a war that might have just dragged on and one. That argument ‘made it right’ to drop them killing so many. So when Paul says, “the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus,” he means, “Jesus, the one who puts right in God’s eyes all of those who have faith in Jesus.”

We’ve considered it before but let’s just remind ourselves, “those who have faith in Jesus,” simply means those who trust that Jesus is God’s answer to the problem of their sins, their guilt and their punishment. Now there is another side to this coin that we’ll consider in the next meditation but for the moment let’s consider how we may rest in this knowledge that we have observed so far in this particular study.

Writing to Timothy, Paul refers to “holding on to faith and a good conscience.” (1 Tim 1:19) and later on when speaking about deacons he says “They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.” (1 Tim 3:9) Similarly the writer to the Hebrews said, “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess.” (Heb 10:22,23). Now the idea that is being conveyed through all these verses is that as we hold on to the truths that we have been considering, we hold to them by faith and when we “hold unswervingly” to them they will ensure we maintain a clear conscience before God.

Now I say all this because so often Christians lack assurance and that lack means they worry about their relationship with God, worry about whether they are truly accepted by God and worry about the sins they have committed and worry about that Sin thing that still lurks in the background. You will lack assurance if you do not hold firmly to those verses and the truths we have been considering here. You ARE forgiven and your guilt HAS been fully dealt with because of Jesus’ work on the Cross. Every single sin you ever committed or are likely to commit is covered by his death on the Cross. The Judge has made the final declaration over you when you turned to Christ and put your trust in him – not guilty! Your guilt has been removed. This justification thing is about completely clearing you of all guilt, NOT because somehow you have made up for your past wrongs but simply because the Son of God has been punished for them and as far as justice is concerned, they have been adequately dealt with in the eyes of the law.

If we hadn’t decided to start considering faith by working through Hebrews 11, then this perhaps should have been the starting point of everything to do with faith – how faith in what Jesus has done on the Cross is applied to your life and that opens up the way for you to live a life of faith. And that is a good place to stop and pick up again tomorrow.

15. Justice, signpost to God

Meditations in Meaning & Values  15:  Justice, a Signpost to God

Eccles 3:16,17    And I saw something else under the sun: In the place of judgment–wickedness was there, in the place of justice–wickedness was there. I thought in my heart, “God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked,

In the previous meditation we imagined a man who woke from a lifetime of sleep with no knowledge of this world but a capable mind, and pondered on the clue of his own rational mind in a search for meaning.  As we have said a number of times, we simply take these things for granted and the closed-mind evolutionist refuses to think about them because they are uncomfortable for his cause.

But here Solomon comes up with another concept that we take so much for granted and yet is something that distinguishes us and separates us off from all other known living creatures, and it is the concept of justice. It emerges early in life when one child complains to their parent about the way they are being treated and says, “It’s not fair; Mary has got more sweets than me,” or “Chris has got a bigger portion of pudding that me, it’s not fair!” In both situations there is an appeal to an imaginary ‘fairness’. One dictionary defines fairness as “the ​quality of ​treating ​people ​equally or in a way that is ​right or ​reasonable.” When it comes to ‘justice’, dictionaries tend to speak about “just behaviour or treatment” which dodges the issue, but sometimes go on to add, “being fair and reasonable” (back to our children again!) So we look up ‘just’ and find, “behaving according to what is morally right and fair.”

So going round in circles, why do we have this almost innate sense of things needing to be ‘right and fair’? Why should animals (if that is all we are) have this sense? People like Richard Dawkins try to explain it away by talk of needing to survive, but people fight for justice at the risk of their own lives, and some have even given their lives for the sake of justice. That is a hollow argument that just doesn’t ring true.

The concept of justice was built into the Law of Moses, for example,Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit.” (Ex 23:2,3) and Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.” (Ex 23:6,7) and Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” (Lev 19:15) and Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Deut 16:19,20) It was there in the basic law given on Sinai recorded in Exodus, it was there in the added law in Leviticus, and it was there as Moses taught Israel just before they went to enter the Promised Land, in Deuteronomy. It was, positively, an appeal to fairness, an appeal to rightness and, negatively, a cry against showing favouritism or partiality, or bringing false charges or taking bribes to hide the truth.

Solomon had seen injustice – “In the place of judgment–wickedness was there, in the place of justice–wickedness was there,” – and it offended him and, as we have previously noted, still holding an awareness of God (even though not following Him) he declares, “God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked.”  He still had this sense that God will judge between justice and injustice, between right and wrong, between righteousness and sin. See? We know the distinctions, don’t we! We observe some things and say, “That is wrong!”

With the relativist mind-set so often prevalent in the West in the twenty first century, we fudge things and say you should not judge but it only takes the media to catch a picture of a child on fire or a child dead on a beach and an outcry (rightly) follows. Sometimes it takes something close to us to wake us up and get us shouting for justice. Maybe it is burglars breaking and vandalizing our home while we were away, or maybe it was being mugged in the street. These are the sort of things that have us on the doorstep of the police demanding action. We want justice, we want the perpetrators caught, locked up and punished. It’s not fair that they should do this to me and get away with it.

This is justice which hovers in the background of our consciousness, something that goes beyond mere survival. Something has been built into us that distinguishes between right and wrong. There is no logical reason for a pure animal to react in this way. This is more than a survival instinct as we’ve already noted above, this is something that marks us out in the universe as those who are concerned for our welfare and the welfare of one another, not merely at a survival level but at an even more basic level, of simply wanting “what is right for one another”. This surely is the sign of civilization, this is something that is not just in one or two for in some measure it is in every single one of us from the child demanding more sweets to the holocaust survivor wanting war crimes to be punished.

There can be only one reason we are like this: we are made in the image of God. A number of times in the Bible, God is referred to as a judge and in our verses Solomon says God will bring judgment, meaning a final time of accounting when everyone will have to give account. God knows what is right and what is wrong. In its simplest, right is living according to God’s design. Wrong is going against the design. Each one of us inherently knows when we do wrong and have feelings of guilt. Guilt is simply one of the consequences of wrong doing and justice is bringing balance to the equation to put right a wrong in some way. At that final judgment, our final hope is in Jesus and his work on the Cross. That is the ultimate symbol of justice and will be sole reason we ‘get off’ and are acquitted of our sins – because Jesus has already paid the sentence for our ‘crimes’ against God, our failures, our shortcomings, our sins! Justice has been satisfied. Thank goodness! Thank Jesus!

27. Redeemed

Meditations in Colossians: 27. Redeemed

Col 1:13,14   For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption (through his blood) the forgiveness of sins.

In the previous meditation I commented on how in this series I have felt the need to pick up on specific words or phrases to stop and pause afresh over their meaning. We come now to that highly important and significant word ‘redemption’.  I ended that previous meditation commenting that Jesus came on a rescue mission, to establish legal grounds that satisfy justice, to enable all these other things to happen to release us and set us free to live entirely new lives. That was in the context of the great rescue but in the midst of that sentence I draw your attention again to the words, ‘to establish legal grounds to satisfy justice.’ That, in as few words as possible, sums up Jesus’ work on the Cross.

Few of us think deeply enough to realise and acknowledge the existence of this concept of ‘justice’ in the human experience and then vocabulary. Justice starts out in childhood when one child wails, “It’s not fair; you gave more to him than to me!” The child appeals to an idea of fairness. Nobody taught it to him or her but they knew its absence and cried out for a remedy.  A dictionary might define it as “behaving according to what is morally right and fair.”  Every tribe, people group or nation in history has exhibited this concept. They may exercise it differently but they all have exercised it.

In our modern age foolish philosophers and moral thinkers have sought in various ways to do away with guilt and blame, or rather the blame is passed on to others. For example, he stole because he was poor and never had a chance in life to better himself.  Or, she gave her body to him because she needed to feel she was loved because throughout her childhood she had lacked love and her father had abandoned her. The terrorists exploded a bomb because they were a repressed people. Or, he shot fifteen people in the shopping mall because he was unloved, and had been abandoned to a solitary life of playing violent computer games.

We may go along with the philosophy that excuses people their sins until it affects me personally. When a pair of burglars break into my house and violate my family, I want the police to do something about them – and not just scold them. Justice says in some way they should pay for the wrongs they have done; there needs to be a balancing up; that’s what justice demands – that they be stopped but, even more, they be made to suffer as I have suffered. This was essentially what was behind the ear for an ear, or eye for an eye law (Ex 21:24) in the Old Testament primitive Law given through Moses.

Now all of these things may contribute to the person’s behaviour, but as individual’s made in the image of God, they have the ability to choose exactly how they will behave, and God thus holds them accountable. In fact He holds every single one of us accountable for every wrong thought, word or deed. He doesn’t look on us as a bunch of children who don’t have a clue about life, but He respects us as those who know exactly what we are doing and who thus can be held accountable for what we did.

Imagine, if you will, you suffer from amnesia and you can remember nothing about how the human race works. You travel around the world and observe human behaviour through completely new eyes with no preconceived ideas. I am sure that again and again you would see things that would stir a response in you of, “Why doesn’t somebody stop that? Why doesn’t somebody do something about that?” as you observe a man abusing his daughter, a wife violently beating her husband, men holding up a bank, a man stealing from work, a tribe wiping out another tribe, one religious group warring against others who don’t hold the same beliefs. As a human being, even though you have lost everything else, you will still have this sense of ‘justice’ that says, this is wrong, someone should stop it  and deal with the perpetrators.

Now imagine you are outside of time and you confront God at the end of time, as all things are being wound up. You cannot help but ask Him, “God, there is this inherent sense of justice and yet as it has come to an end, all these people, groups and nations have got away with behaviour that is wrong; they should not be allowed to get away with it! Why don’t you do something?”  He asks gently, “What would you have me to do?” You pause and think and eventually say, “Well all those wrong doers should be punished, justice demands it.”  He asks again, “Which wrong doers? Where do you want me to draw the line?” I reply, “I don’t know I need help. Can you somehow show the severity of the wrongs up on a big screen so we can get an idea of the magnitude of what they have done?”  A big screen appears and it is covered with small red dots, so many as to almost cover the screen. I ask, “Which criminal does this represent?”  Instead of giving a direct answer He says, “Well each dot represents every wrong thought, wrong word, or wrong act throughout this person’s life. What would you have me do about them as they stand here now before my throne?” I respond boldly, “Well justice demands you punish them. There is so much red altogether it has to be the ultimate punishment, death I presume, exclusion from your presence!”  Very quietly He says, “That is your screen.”

I am condemned by my own words. I believe in justice. I believe wrong doers should be punished, and yet I find I am a wrong doer and the court of my own  mind has condemned me. I pronounced  my own sentence as I stood before the throne in heaven. As I stand before God with my head hung down, He makes me an offer. “You may remember the stories of how Richard the lion heart was ransomed from prison. You may have come across pawnbrokers who require money to redeem the articles sold into hock. In each case there was a person or an article that was lost to the world. The only way it could be redeemed was by the giving of money. One of your famous writers, Charles Dickens, wrote a book called a Tale of Two Cities and in it, one man gave his life to ransom or redeem the life of another man. He swapped places. If you will believe it, my Son, Jesus, when he as the eternal Son of God died on that Cross at Calvary, gave his life so that your life could be spared. If you will receive it, I will spare you and adopt you into my family.”  I nod dumbly and then whisper, “Yes, please.”  And I am redeemed.

Of course I pictured this as occurring at the end of the world and there perhaps will be re-enacted what took place, in my case, over forty years ago, for that is essentially what happens before we are born again. Jesus’ death earned my redemption. I was lost, guilty, condemned by justice/ I was helpless and hopeless and then this offer was presented to me and I took it and was redeemed. The work was done by Jesus two thousand years ago but it has to be appropriated by each person as an individual. We either accept it, or are left in the hands of justice.  What a choice!

13. Divine & Human Interaction

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  13. Divine and Human Interaction

Acts 2:23   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.

I was reviewing what I had written earlier in this series and at the end of the first meditation I note I had written the following: “If we have known the Lord any length of time … we can reflect on our testimony and see His hand that has been on us, and we can marvel and wonder and feel great pleasure and we can bow and worship as we delight in Him.”  Getting on in years a little these days, I do what older people do and reflect back on the years that have been and I do marvel at the wonder of God’s blessings that have come to us as a family (as I wrote in that first meditation).

Now the marvel is not just that God has poured out blessing upon blessing upon us over the years, but He has done that despite the people we are – failures, inadequate, with tendencies of getting it wrong. Yes this is the fuller truth. I know what I am and I look back at what I was and I cringe at the memories of what I said or did, at my immaturity, my lack of grace, my confusions, and I marvel that despite all of this – and it is very real, I am not just trying to sound humble, this is how it was and is – yes, despite all this God blessed me and used me.

And then I come to this gem of a verse in the middle of Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost. For a guy who had been an uneducated (probably) fisherman, he did OK in that sermon. He has understanding, he quotes the Old Testament and he is full of passion. That’s what the Holy Spirit does for you! But there in the midst of it, is this gem of understanding. When Jesus went to the Cross it was a combination of two things.

First it was the plan of God worked out before the foundation of the world. Moreover I dare to believe that my life also fits that category, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world,” (Eph 1:4) so that now I am, “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10). There was no mistake back there two thousand years ago when they arrested Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was not the world getting out of control; it was the plan of God reaching a climax.

Second, it was the work of sinful men. God didn’t make us band together against Christ and crucify him, but God knew we would given the circumstances. I use the pronoun ‘we’ because I dare not exclude myself from what went on. I would hope that I would not have been part of the crowd baying for Jesus’ death, and I certainly hope I would not have been part of the religious or civic establishment that brought about his death (but even there I may delude myself) and the best I could hope for was that I would have been one of those disciples who hid themselves away and left him to his fate on his own.

Am I being too hard on myself (or you)? I don’t think so. As I said earlier on, when you have a lot of years to play with, you have more examples of life to put under the microscope and although God’s grace has genuinely been there in some good measure, if I am honest if the Lord in heaven took me back through my life and we reviewed it together, I would have to agree that there were times where I would like to change how I spoke or acted in the years gone by.

We are all of us less than perfect this side of heaven and the wonder and marvel of God’s love and grace is that those imperfections didn’t put Him off from being with us there and prompting and using us, despite our inadequacies and, on rare occasions, because of them. Sometimes He can only use us when we have lost all sense of self-confidence and the ensuing words and actions come out of weakness or even failure but He still uses them to His purposes.

It is not good, this down side of humanity. It was not good that the religious and civic authorities schemed together to bring Jesus down, or in Pilate’s case just abandoned him to injustice.  It was not good that the crowd allowed themselves to be manipulated into crying out for Jesus’ death. It was not good that  most of the disciples ran away and hid. No, none of these things were good but nevertheless God used them to sacrifice the Lamb of God.

I come across people who preach a hard form of holiness and present a God who is hard and holy and demanding, but when I examine Scripture and I examine human experience I find that this preaching is false and untrue  and unkind and fails to see the wonder of who God is. Here is the paradox: yes, He is holy and He does call us to be holy and after the apparent debacle of the events in the Garden of Eden you might have expected God to abandon this planet and go and find another one in some other galaxy, but He didn’t. Before he released His power in Creation He knew that giving us free will would mean the very early arrival of Sin in mankind. He knew that justice (and Satan, the accuser)  would cry out for justice and demand that Sin be punished and so the Godhead planned how justice might be met and mankind (or at least those who would receive it) could be saved.

And so He took the sinfulness of mankind and used it to bring about the means for justice to be satisfied, by the death of His own eternal Son. No one less than God Himself could take punishment for so many sinful beings, and so we find the awful events of Calvary appearing like a blot on history. Yet out of that blot comes redemption, salvation available to you and me if we will bow and receive it. When we do, it is the direction of our life that is all important. Yes, I will stumble and on occasion fall, but He will be there to get me back on my feet and help me take further tottering steps in the direction of heaven. My desire is to do His will and that, it seems, is enough now. I may miss it or get it wrong but as I keep directed towards Him, His grace will be there again and again to turn my fumbling efforts into something glorious that will bless Him and others. How amazing!  This verse is indeed a gem and it genuinely releases a sense of wonder and awe and worship. Hallelujah!