45. God of Salvation

Getting to Know God Meditations:  45. God of Salvation

Mt 1:21   She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Jn 3:17  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Heb 2:1-4  We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? 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 by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Towards the end:  As we come to the end of this series it is perhaps appropriate that we try to sum up some of the key things we have considered as we have walked this particular path. If you asked me why we have the Bible, why it exists even, my answer would be that God has given us a mean of seeing reality in a way that no one or no thing anywhere else in all Creation does. That ‘reality’ explains why we are like we are, how we came to be like we are – indeed, it forces us to face what we are truly like – and it lays out possibilities of what can be, and all of these things are to do with God.

Restating the Problem:  The big picture presented by the Bible reveals the following:

  1. God designed and brought this world into being – it is no accident.
  2. God designed us with free will – necessary to enable us to be human beings with all of the creative potential we have. (we are made in ‘the image of God’ and so each of us can reflect something of Him – goodness, kindness, compassion, creativity – great potential).
  3. From the outset we chose to reject God’s design instructions and as a result we have never fully functioned properly since, i.e. actually every single one of us is dysfunctional – we aren’t living as we were designed to live.
  4. The Bible calls this propensity within each of us, Sin, what I define as self-centred, godlessness that leads to self-destructive unrighteous, seen in such things as pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, sloth, and wrath (the seven so-called ‘cardinal sins’ of the heart), and the outworking of those, lies, and deceit, violence, abuse etc. etc. We may be creative, compassionate etc., but it doesn’t stop us being self-centred and godless and doesn’t stop us making a mess of life – see the life histories of famous artists, writers, composers etc.
  5. As far as God is concerned He appears at a distance (if He exists) and so we are left to struggle through life using our own limited resources which often run out or fall short (hence so much ‘mental illness’ today).

Restating the Answer: The big picture presented by the Bible reveals the following:

  1. Although mankind ‘fell’ having rejected Him, He nevertheless was still there communicating and reaching out to us.
  2. To enable the world to see this in action, He called Abraham to start a family – Isaac, Jacob – that became the nation of Israel through whom He sought to reveal Himself in the way He provided for them, blessed them, protected and led them; yet they, like their ancestors, constantly turned away from Him despite all the incredible things He did for them, simply revealing even more clearly the fact of the presence of sin in each and every one of us.
  3. Eventually, now about two thousand years ago, He sent His Son from heaven, born as a baby, seen in the life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Through the ministry that Jesus exercised we saw the incredible love of God being manifest as he “went around doing good and healing,” and “accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did … through him.”  
  4. His death by execution on a cross at the hands of the Romans, but incited by the Jewish authorities, was a travesty of justice in human terms but in divine terms was justice being satisfied in respect of every single one of us as the Son of God took our punishment, in our place.
  5. The result of this – and this is the Gospel – is that every one of us can come to God and receive forgiveness for our past dysfunctional, godless lives and receive new power to live new lives from Him, whereby we receive His guidance, His directions, His enabling to live godly, good lives, lives that no longer strive for acceptance because we are accepted by The One who counts, no longer striving for self-centred goals because He who knows best, has things on His heart for each of us so that we may have a sense of purpose, direction and fulfillment than can come from no other source.
  6. Because of these things, death is no longer to be feared for He imparts and conveys eternal life to us so that ‘death’ is simply passing on into the eternity that we have with Him where all limitations on receiving His love and goodness are removed. That is our inheritance.

And So? Dishonesty, that comes from a fearful sense of inadequacy, so often stops us facing what we are really like. Insecurity, not knowing the love of God for us, is what blinds us to the wonder of what He offers to us, and so the work of God towards each one of us is to watch over each of us, looking, watching for a chink in this self-protective deceptive armor, so that His word can penetrate our darkness and shed light which, if we respond, grows and grows and brings conviction that shows us the truth about ourselves and the truth of what He offers.

It is a battle but as we surrender, all we find is that, contrary to the lies we have been fed, He is there for us and His arms of love are open to us. When we surrender our pride, our past and our present perversity and lay it down before Him, He takes it, removes it and replaces it with the most wonderful sense of being loved, accepted, forgiven, cleansed and remade. When that happens it is but the start of an eternal future, the wonder of which will never be fully appreciated this side of death – but we will some sense of it immediately. This is what this series has been all about.

It is possible that you may have only found it near the end – well, catch the wonder and go back when you have the time to see the detail that has been here in the previous 44 studies. It is possible you have been reading as an unbeliever. That can change; it just needs honesty, acceptance of the truth and a surrender to Him, receiving His salvation through Christ, a new life, and all this will happen as you pray. Don’t worry about the words, just utter your heart. For those who have been reading and you are already believers, let the truths we have been laying out, touch your heart afresh with the wonder of it all, and worship Him. Be blessed.

13. A Most Remarkable Dream

Focus on Christ Meditations: 13.  A Most Remarkable Dream

Mt 1:20-21   an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

We have been pursuing the sense of mystery that is there in Scripture about the coming, the person, the life, and the work of Christ. This started with the apostle Paul’s use of this word mystery as applied to Christ and to the Gospel and I have suggested from the outset that familiarity in many of us means we have lost the sense or awareness of this mystery, and so I have been seeking to regain it in these studies. We started with some of the prophecies from the Old Testament which was, I suggest, what Paul was mostly referring to when he spoke of the mystery. However, as we moved into the New Testament I have suggested that when we look with fresh eyes we will catch a similar sense in respect of all of the things we find there in the early accounts of his coming.

We did this with Simeon and the Magi, who were the earliest of those who were aware of his coming, and then we considered the mystery of choosing shepherds to announce the news of his coming. From that we pondered on why God should choose Zechariah knowing he was likely to respond negatively as he did, and then finally considered the subject of why a virgin birth. It is with the same approach in mind that we now consider the nature and content of Joseph’s dream.

To do this properly we need to first note the historical context, if we may put it like that, what was going on before the dream came. Basic facts. 1. Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph.” (v.18a)  2. “Before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” (v.18b)  3. “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (v.19) That’s where we have got to and we’ve already considered bits of this as we considered the ‘virgin birth’ question.

When the angel appears to Joseph in the dream it is obviously so vivid that he sees it as the message from God that it is, and follows the instructions within it. Now a dream with an angel in isn’t particularly mysterious; it is what is in the angelic communication that we so often take for granted. He first of all reassures Joseph (v.20) that, no, she hasn’t been with another man, it truly is a miracle, the fact that she is carrying a baby, it is a sovereign work of God, enabled by the Holy Spirit. OK, end of reassurance, he could have stopped there, but he doesn’t.

See the all-important v.21: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Now in your Bible there will probably be a footnote after the word ‘Jesus’ that explains, ‘Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua, which means the LORD saves.’   Now we find a shorthand version of what we saw in the Isa 61 prophecy, fulfilled in Lk 4 that we saw in study 7 on the Anointed Servant. The purpose of the one we have referred to simply as ‘the Coming One’ is to save people, but now we stumble over yet another mystery. In the Isa 61 prophecy the ‘saving’ was in respect of the poor… the brokenhearted…. the captives and … the prisoners. The angel now says he will save his people from their sins. What does that actually mean?

How easily we hear it when we hear this story read at Christmas, but what does it actually mean? Were the descriptions in Isa 61 descriptions about sin? Are we captive to Sin, prisoners or Sin? Is the result that we are poor (spiritually) and brokenhearted (in the anguish that the life of sin brings with it)? Here is the mystery of the words of the dream and purpose of the Coming One.

In retrospect, with the whole canon of Scripture before us we can venture answers to this question, what does it mean that the Christ saves us from our sins? The starting point has to be that since the Fall every single human being (except Jesus) is tainted with this thing called Sin, this propensity to be self-centred and godless which leads to unrighteousness. This unrighteousness is expressed as sins, individual wrong thoughts, wrong words or wrong deeds. We were, before we came to Christ, a prisoner to this Sin, hence the apostle Paul’s words in Rom 7, leading to the conclusion that we were helpless (unable to change ourselves) and hopeless (there was no hope of a different future). That was our state from which Christ came to save us.

How did he do that? Let’s be as simple as possible and for the sake of space forgive me if I don’t justify these three declarations with lots of verses; they are there. First because of our state (in Sin) and our actions (sins) we inherently feel guilty. There is a question of our guilt and shame needing to be dealt with. Second, there is the fact of our guilt; we don’t only feel guilty deep down, we are guilty. That needs dealing with. Third, we are powerless to change; we are as we said, helpless and hopeless, and that needs dealing with. So how does Jesus death on the Cross deal with these three things?

The divine plan was that his death was to be seen as punishment satisfying justice for each and every sin we have ever and will ever commit. All God asks of us initially is to believe that. It is the means of dealing with the second of those three issues – our guilt. As far as justice is now concerned everything we have ever done or will ever do wrong, has been resolved, the punishment has been taken. When we come to God in repentance we are instantly ‘justified’, declared right in the eyes of heaven. As part of the whole process we are also adopted by God into His family, we have a new status, children of God, and as such all our shame and guilt, the first issue, are gone. As part of the whole process God puts His Holy Spirit into our lives, we become indwelt by the Spirit and He within us is the new power source (see end of Rom 7 and beginning of Rom 8), so together the new identity that we have and the new power source within, release us to live new God-directed and God-blessed lives, with an eternal future. We ARE saved! Hallelujah!

THIS is what was wrapped up in those few simple but utterly dramatic words of mystery that Joseph received in his dream – he will save his people from their sins. That was why he came, this is what he has done and this is what we are now experiencing. Hallelujah! How wonderful this mystery now revealed! Is there any point in continuing this series? Oh yes, now we will start seeing how it was all worked out in time-space history, now we will go on to see more of who this Coming One really is, and what he came to do.  Yes!!!!

2. Genesis (2)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights:   2.  Genesis (2)

Gen 50:20  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

In the first meditation of this new series I said I hoped to take one or two verses from each book of the Bible, sometimes perhaps two sets of verses, depending on the book.  Well here above we have a second verse from Genesis that stands out like the light from a lighthouse. As with all such verses we need to understand the context, the story from which it flows, to understand the significance of it, and once we see that then we can chew on the truths there.

These are the words spoken by the Joseph of the Old Testament (there is, of course, a Joseph in the New Testament – Jesus’ human father). Joseph had been the spoilt brat, youngest-but-one son of a big family and so, as a result, his brothers had despised him. Then he had started getting prophetic pictures which seemed to suggest that the rest of the family would end up bowing down to him. That really annoyed them and so when, a little while later, the opportunity arose, the brothers sold him off to passing slave traders without, of course, telling his father what they had done.

To cut a long story short, after about fourteen years, we find Joseph in a prison in Egypt, where God is still giving him prophetic pictures for some of the other inmates. One of them is released and when the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, starts having strange dreams, this man eventually suggests seeing if Joseph can help. When Joseph is brought before Pharaoh and hears the dreams, he explains that God will be bringing seven years of plenty in the land but that will be followed by seven years of famine, and the obvious thing to do, therefore, is put food aside during those first seven years to see them through the years of famine. Pharaoh is so impressed by Joseph that he makes him second-in-command in his nation and gives him the job of bringing it about.

When the seven years of famine strike, they seem to affect all the lands of what we might call the Middle East, including Canaan, where his family still live. The word gets out that Egypt has food and so eventually Joseph’s father, old man Jacob (or Israel), sends the brothers to buy food in Egypt. Again, to cut a long story short, the family eventually settle in Egypt under Joseph’s protection but years later when the old man dies, the brothers fear that Joseph will now wreak vengeance on them for what they had done all those years before. This is the context for the words above.

This insight of Joseph’s is amazing. First of all it shows revelation. The spoilt brat has grown into a man of wisdom and insight, and that insight means understanding the purposes of God. Put most simply, it was that God intervenes in the affairs of mankind and speaks to us when we need it, and He has a plan.  There it is again, what we saw in the first meditation. He has a plan!  Second, this shows that the Lord has managed to work grace, mercy and forgiveness into Joseph for he has no desire to harm his brothers. To the contrary, he wants them to understand that this was the working of God.

Now those two things were in respect of Joseph but there are two breathtaking things about God here. First, as we’ve already noted, God has a plan and it is a plan to save His chosen family, but when we trek on four hundred years we see that this plan involves setting the scene for what will become one of the two biggest events in the history of Israel, the Exodus. (the other is the Exile). That is going to be monumental and God had already spoken of it to Abram (Gen 15:13,14).

Now if that isn’t big enough, the second thing is even greater. The clear implication of these words of Joseph now, is that God took the wrong motives and wrong actions of the brothers and used them for His own purposes which was to get Joseph, as His mouthpiece, to Egypt so he could save Egypt and consequently his own family. This is God who uses sinful men for His own purposes. We see it in the Old Testament in the way, centuries later, He would take and use Nebuchadnezzar to discipline Israel and destroy Jerusalem and bring about the Exile. We see it in the New Testament in what happened to Jesus. The apostle Peter explains it under the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost: 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.” (Acts 2:23) This doesn’t say that God made the Jews act like they did to crucify Jesus, but He knew given a certain set of circumstances, that is how sinful men would react.

Now if I try and apply these two things to my life today, it becomes mind-blowing. Not only does God have a plan for my life, but He will take and use the things of this Fallen World for my ultimate blessing. Those ‘things’ may include my own foolishness, they may include Satan’s activities and they may include the sinful intention and words and deeds of others. Yes, the incredible truth is that God will use all these things for my good. The apostle Paul caught this when he wrote, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) Some modern versions change that to take the emphasis off God: we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” (EST) or “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” (NKJV) but the implication is the same, God is bringing good into our lives, using WHATEVER is happening and whoever is involved. That brings an immense sense of reassurance to my life, a new confidence in which to live out today. World, you can do what you will, but my God is working in your mess for my good!

That, ultimately was what Joseph got to. Yes, he had been sold into slavery (Gen 37:26-28) where he was sold on in Egypt (Gen 37:36), where he was falsely accused and imprisoned (Gen 39:14-20), yet wherever he was the Lord gave him favour with his captors (Gen 39:2-6, 20-23). In the midst of his trials God blessed him. Can we expect that today? Surely with Jesus seated at his Father’s right hand, ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2), and with his Holy Spirit within us, the answer must be, yes! Still the Lord has a plan, still He uses the affairs of this broken world to bring His blessing to His children. Hallelujah!

16. Not for Condemnation

Short Meditations in John 3:  16. Not for Condemnation

 

Jn 3:17   For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Guilt and shame do terrible things in us. They make us defensive and they pull us down. They demean us and strip us of power to live. They make us want to hide away – and especially from God. And the terrible thing is that deep down every one of us knows we are a sinner. We may adopt strategies to cover ourselves up but essentially we feel naked. We struggle to achieve. We see it all the time in society. It goes from the young woman with low self esteem who has a baby as the only means of creating a sense of meaning, purpose and fulfilment, to the small man who was mocked when he was young, who now drives himself to create a business empire where he is a ‘somebody’. “All have sinned.” (Rom 3:23a) we know it.

Inadequacy, not being what we would love to be, what we envy in others, what we sense we could be, if only… We wish we came from a better background, we wish we had been better educated, we wish learning came more easily, we wish we could be successful, we wish we were more handsome or pretty.  Incapable, struggling to overcome bad habits, bad attitudes, finding our mouths blurt out things which we immediately regret. Not being what we wish we could be. “And fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23b) or “and fall short of what we know we could be in God’s design.”

And so we have these mixes of guilt, shame, inadequacy, incapability and they pull us down and make us little people, unrighteous people, unholy people, sinners – and we wish it could be different, but God is big, God is holy, God looks for spiritual giants, God is there to condemn us, surely.

But that is not what Jesus or John think: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world.”  The world is us. God knew what we were like, He knew all the things above and He still sent Jesus. But that isn’t strictly accurate, the way I have just put it. He sent Jesus BECAUSE we are like that. He’s come to rescue us not condemn us, he’s come to save us not slay us.

That’s the ultimate for God: “to save the world through him.” Salvation comes only through Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died for our sins and for our salvation. It is “through him”, through Christ; there is no other way, no other method, no other strategy that you can find in the whole world that does this, that forgives sin because the punishment for sin has been taken, that forgives sinners, cleanses sinners, adopts redeemed sinners as children of God and empowers them with the very presence of God – all because of what Jesus has done!