40. Refusal

Short Meditations in John 5:  40. Refusal

Jn 5:40   yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

When we come to short verses like this, we really do need to check the context, especially when there is a link word, ‘yet’. So, see, These are the Scriptures that testify about me yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  You study the Scriptures, he has just been saying, the very Scriptures that reveal me and my Father’s purposes, but despite that you do not really see who I am and what I have come to do, and so you don’t come to me to receive the life I bring.

This, of course, has so often been the case when religion is involved, for ‘religion’, the following of rites and rituals, has always been the enemy of faith and so there are people who go along to churches – especially liturgical churches where the ritual can create a feeling of difference and specialness – and they hear a brief sermon every Sunday but they fail to be touched by it, they fail to see their need and they fail to come to God to receive the salvation He has provided through His Son Jesus Christ. They are content with the ritual and are even offended when told they are sinners who need a Saviour – just like these Jews of Jesus’ day.

It is an amazing thing that people can actually read the Bible and yet remain untouched by it – just as Jesus says was happening here. When I first became a Christian, I went looking for a local church and found one nearby, went to the Sunday Service, heard they did a mid-week Bible Study and so went along. I was bemused at the blindness that I observed in this group; even as a young believer I could see it, and in retrospect, I believe of this group of some dozen or so people, I believe only the Minister and myself were born-again believers.

But this was exactly what Jesus was experiencing with the Jews of his day, and especially in  those who should be the last offenders – the Pharisees, the guardians of the Scriptures, the priests, the guardians of the Temple. These people you would have expected to know the presence of God in the word and in the building, and thus you would expect them to also recognise the presence of God in Jesus, but instead all he found was hostility against him.

Here was God in human form walking on the earth, walking in a country that had been prepared for over a thousand years to receive Him, but instead they were wrapped up in the laws He had given them, wrapped up in the Temple, the original one of which was designed to house Him and be a focal point  for Israel to meet with Him, but instead it had become a monument, a great and spectacular building that now housed ritual and was almost a tourist attraction. Blindness of Sin means God appears to go incognito. It should not be.

39. Scripture’s Testimony

Short Meditations in John 5:  39. Scripture’s Testimony

Jn 5:39  You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me

Having just told the Jews that the word of God is not in them, he now acknowledges that they do actually study the Scriptures, what we would call the Old Testament, and they do it because they think that that will be the means they get God’s approval and receive eternal life. Now Jesus doesn’t actually say, “Not so!” but it is, I suggest, implied. But more than that Jesus almost seems to be saying, “You study the Scriptures but here’s the funny thing – you don’t see me in them although they are about me!”

Now we’ll see where he goes with that in the next study but for now we’ll stay with idea of the scriptures testifying to Jesus. The difficulty is that he doesn’t enlarge on this and simply makes the statement without explanation and so we’re left to ponder it.

Of course in Luke we have a classic illustration: “on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue…. and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor….. Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down…. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  (Lk 4:16-21) There he was saying about this classic Messianic passage in Isaiah, “That is me!”

When we look in Matthew’s Gospel we find again and again Matthew applying Scripture to things that happened in respect of Jesus. In other words the Old Testament was full of Messianic references and the Jews knew that; they were familiar with these things. It was just that they hadn’t linked them to Jesus.

Let’s see some examples.

His birth: King Herod … asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” (Mt 2:3-6)

His ministry area: Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum,… to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali.…Galilee of the Gentiles— the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Mt 4:13-16) etc. etc.

Oh yes, it was all there. If Matthew could see it, why could not the rest of the Jews?  The answer has to be prejudice blinded their eyes. May ours be open to see the wonder of the Messiah in the Scriptures.

39. Reconciled to be Holy

Meditations in Colossians: 39. Reconciled to be holy

Col 1:22    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.

I do like ‘joining words’. ‘But’ sets off the present verse against the previous one. In the previous verse Paul had reminded us what we were like before we came to Christ, but he doesn’t want to leave it there. For every negative about our past there are many positives about our present and future and so Paul turns the coin over, so to speak, to remind them and us what God did about these helpless and hopeless individuals who he had described as “alienated from God and … enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.”  Yes, that’s what we had been like, but God didn’t leave us like that.

No, He came and “reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death.” We considered the theme of reconciliation in verse 20, seeing it was the bringing together of two people at odds with each other when the conflict is dealt with and peace is restored. This reconciliation between God and us was brought about by Jesus’ death on the Cross. Now we have touched on that a number of times and so don’t need to spend time on it now. It is the result of his work on the Cross which stands out in this present verse, that having dealt with our Sin, our sins and our guilt on the Cross, we stand before God with all those three things removed – at least from sight. The power of Sin has been broken, the sins that spoke against us have been removed, and the guilt that ensued has also been removed and transferred to the body of Christ on the Cross.

I don’t know if you ever watch those dramas where they jump back in time to do recaps in a person’s life. Well, when we came to Christ, there was immediately a jumping back in time so that all of those three things in your life were taken back and put upon Christ as he hung on the Cross. We’ve used the illustration before, that C.S.Lewis came up with, of the picture of God standing outside of time, looking down from above on a line that is history, so He sees both our present and any other moment in history. When He looks at us when we bow before him confessing our sins and believing in Jesus, His eyes take those things from us and He sees them being dealt with by His Son on the Cross. When He looks back to us, they are gone.

Now that is the truth that is conveyed in the Scriptures. We have it in our verse above: to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”   When He first created us in the form of Adam and Eve, we were holy, made in His image. Christ’s work on the Cross takes us back to that original state as far as God is concerned. When He looks back to us, so to speak, from Christ on the Cross He sees us as holy people, without blemish and free from any accusation from justice or from Satan. That IS how we are in God’s sight as a result of the work of Christ on the Cross.

Now this word ‘holy’ bears some further thought because I think most of us struggle with the idea that we are now to be considered ‘holy’, especially when we look at our lives and see how imperfect they are. How can we be holy?

The big call to holiness comes through the book of Leviticus which is all about ceremonial law which relates to maintaining a right relationship with the Lord. A number of times we come across the call to be holy. The call to be a holy people though came first at Sinai: “you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex 19:6) That was reiterated in the Law that was given there: “You are to be my holy people.” (Ex 22:31)

Although there are many more references to the holy in Exodus the force of it doesn’t really come until Leviticus when we find, “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground. I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.” (Lev 11:44,45) We did in fact look quite extensively at this subject of being holy right back in the second of these studies so I won’t prolong this too much here. The next call in Leviticus is, “The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: `Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy,” (Lev 19:2) and then You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” (Lev 20:26) The apostle Peter brings this into New Testament Christianity: “just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:15,16)

Now what all these references do is link us to God’s being. When we are linked to God we are linked to the holy – because He IS holy (separate, distinct, perfect, unlike any other). Through the work of Jesus on the Cross, that has been legally established: in His sight we ARE holy. That opens the door for us to be forgiven, cleansed and adopted and having been adopted as His sons or children, He places His Holy Spirit within us.

We are now truly one with him as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.” (Jn 17:20-23)

That reflects Jesus’ teaching at the Last Supper: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (Jn 14:16-20) He starts by speaking of the Holy Spirit and ends by speaking of his own presence being in them; it is one and the same thing. We ARE holy because Jesus has made it legally so, and we ARE holy because he indwells us by his Spirit. The Father sees us as holy and has given us the resource to live out this holiness. Hallelujah!

18. Communicating God

God in the Psalms No.18

Psa 12:6 the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times

In this Psalm in our verse today, we find something that seems so obvious and yet is something that few of us really believe. God is a God of communication. The Bible is all about God communicating. Verbal communication, communication with content, is a feature of humanity because we are made in God’s image (Gen 1:26,27) and the Trinity communicates between themselves, or God communicates with Himself if you prefer that. (Even in our minds we talk to ourselves).  Even to bring the world into being the Lord spoke a word and it was (Gen 1:3,6,9,11,14,20,24,26), and then he spoke to man and gave instructions (Gen 1:28-30, 2:16,17). Even in bringing Eve into being, God spoke about it first (Gen 2:18). Thereafter we find records of God communicating with men of His choosing – after the Fall to Adam and Eve (3:9-19), subsequently to Cain (Gen 4:6-15), then in respect of the Flood and Noah (Gen 6:7 on), then to Abram (Gen 12:1 on), etc. When John refers to Jesus, he initially calls him “The Word” (Jn 1), a means of communications. The writer to the Hebrews starts his letter-book by, In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son (Heb 1:1,2). Here is a wonderful truth – God speaks to His people.

Today God speaks to us through His word, the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16,17) and directly by His Holy Spirit (e.g. Jn 14:26, 16:13). Why is it therefore that some of us are surprised at this thought and fear the thought of God speaking to us? Is it perhaps that we’re not sure about His nature?  Have you ever read C.S.Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”? If you have, you may remember the talk about Aslan the Lion, who Lewis uses to portray Jesus. One of the children, Lucy, asks, “Is he safe?” to which the reply is given, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”  Some of us have the same fears as Lucy. We fear the Lord in the same way she feared Aslan – but, of course, that was before she knew him. She had yet to meet him and know that he was ‘good’. Everything about the Lord is good. You can be safe with Him. You can trust Him. Indeed when it comes to all that he says, you can trust it, because it is good and right – it is flawless!

When we talk about a diamond that is ‘flawless’ we mean it is completely without defect of any kind, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Now do we realize that the same is true of all that the Lord says?  He makes no mistakes. He is totally truthful and therefore never lies. He never distorts the truth.  In fact, says David, God’s words are like the most purified metals. Imagine the purifying process, taking out all the impurities from silver. Imagine the process being repeated and repeated until eventually there is absolutely nothing more of impurity to be removed, and it is now totally pure silver. That is what God’s words are liked. There is nothing, but nothing, that is impure about them. They are perfect and they can be utterly trusted. So, if the Lord says He will protect the weak, He will!  God never says anything that He will not do.  If He’s said it, He will do it! You can utterly rely on what he’s said. Now this is vitally important to understand as we read God’s word. We can believe it, we can trust it, and we can rely upon it. Remember, what God says, He will do. If it’s conditional, remember, we may have a part to play.

21. If God says

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.21

21. If that’s what God says….


Luke 2:21,22 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord

“Well, what I think…” How many times have you heard those words? Somehow we try to assert our individuality or create our uniqueness by opinions, as if what we think is THE all-important thing in life. Anyone who has any public role in life – whether it be a politician, TV pundit, newspaper writer, or even simple manager – constantly faces the great temptation to believe that their view is the right one. Politicians probably hold the most extreme position in this respect, when they have to follow a ‘party line’, but we all do it in a lesser measure; we all hold a particular line. I once heard a group of about fifteen men discussing a particular contentious subject with an amazing degree of unity. It was only after about ten minutes that I realized that they had all watched the same documentary on TV the night before and were now all holding the same view. The only problem with all this is when a contradictory view appears in another ‘documentary’ some months later.

With this in mind it is refreshing to observe the simplicity of Mary and Joseph. They don’t go on their own ideas; they, quite clearly, follow God’s views. God has said, through the two angels, that the child is to be named Jesus – so they name him Jesus. Next, being part of the Jewish race, having the Law of Moses, the Law given by God to Israel through Moses, they go to do what the Law required. The Law required the couple to go to the temple after a prescribed period after the birth and present an offering to the Lord. Now this is not the place (with insufficient space) to explain the sacrificial system for the Jews, simply to reiterate that it had been given to Israel to follow. Mary and Joseph therefore followed the dictum, if that’s what God says then we’ll do it.

As we look back over the story so far, we can see that this couple received their guidance from God through direct heavenly communication (the angels), through circumstances (the emperor), through other people (the shepherds), and now through the written word of God (the Law). Similarly today we receive our guidance through heavenly communication (the Holy Spirit – see Gal 5:25), through circumstances, through other people (see esp. Eph 4:11 for ministries and 2 Pet 5:1,2 – shepherds!) and through the Scriptures (see 2 Tim 3:16,17). What a wealth of guidance available to us! I wonder if we avail ourselves of it, or do we only go by what we think, our opinion, our ideas? Such people frequently go astray.

So here is this beautiful couple being led of God. The truth is that it is probably Joseph taking the lead and his capability for following dreams, as we’ll yet see before the story finishes, suggests that he is particularly good at following God’s guidance. Mary, we suggest, simply follows – she’s probably a bit younger than him as well, and following your man was the teaching of the day – and because he’s won the right to call her to follow his headship by first having laid down his life for her. See Paul’s teaching on this (Eph 5:22 -25) which is beautifully epitomized in this couple. So for Mary, she has the additional form of guidance, so alien a concept in the modern Western world, of a life-giving husband, winning her love and submission by his attentiveness to God’s voice and God’s will. Amazing! Is that not beautiful?