36. The Real Need

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 36. The Real Need

Mk 2:4,5 they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Sometimes Jesus says things that are completely unexpected. This is one of those times. The four friends know what is wrong with their friend – he is paralysed. That is quite obvious. He cannot move and he’s probably been like that for a long while. The diagnosis is simple – he needs healing of this paralysis and so they are expecting simple words of command to be healed, like they had seen and heard many times before.

But what do they get? “Son, your sins are forgiven.” What? What have sins and forgiveness to do with this? It’s healing we’re looking for, not forgiveness. It’s another of those challenges: do you think that Jesus knows best?   Was this paralysis linked with sin? We don’t know for we aren’t told. Whatever is going on here?  Sometimes we aren’t told and we’re just left to speculate! I can only assume that deep in this man was a sense of guilt. Was it linked with specific things that he had done? Or was it just suddenly being in Jesus’ presence, he was aware of Jesus’ holiness (like Peter – see Lk 5:8)?  We don’t know, for we aren’t told, but I suspect that both answers could be true, for one thing I have learnt over many years of being a Christian and a good number being a Pastor, is that we all of us suffer a sense of guilt and it is that which keeps us from receiving God’s love.

Yes, even with mature Christians I have observed it. Perhaps we have sinned and then we have confessed and said sorry but the enemy plays on it and challenges it and we wonder if that thing still remains between us and God. So, thus, we need reassuring again and again that we are loved and when God says He forgives us, He really does forgive us!  Then there is a widespread sense that lurks deep down that we are not worthy of God’s love. He is holy and perfect and we are not!  Thus we feel guilty and we need God’s continual reminder that we ARE forgiven by the completed work of Jesus on the Cross.

There are those who sound very spiritual and say, “Believe it, brother,” but I have to tell you that my experience tells me that even those people, when you get behind their façade, need reassuring. We all do, it’s part of being tainted by sin and it is one of those things we need God’s help with until the moment we leave this planet!

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38. God’s Rightness

Meditations in Romans : 38:  God’s Rightness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

54. Righteous?

Meditations in Job : 54.  How can a Man be Righteous?

Job 25:4 How then can a man be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure?

Job has been protesting his righteousness and the three ‘friends’ have been struggling with that!  Bildad comes in, for the last time, with an attack on that assertion. It is in fact the last of the words from the friends. In the remainder of the book we will see Job speaking, then Elihu an outsider speaking, and then the Lord.

To start this last argument, Bildad exalts the Lord: “Dominion and awe belong to God; he establishes order in the heights of heaven. Can his forces be numbered? Upon whom does his light not rise?” (v.2,3) i.e. God is the supreme ruler who brings peace (implied)  and order to heaven. He calls upon countless angels to serve Him and His glory shines on all of creation. This is the God with whom we have to deal. So far, so good! Implied within all this is God’s perfection, perfection in His being and perfection in all He does. Before Him, Bildad continues in our verse above, how can any man stand righteous? How can any human being claim to be righteous?

He then sets up a strange comparison: “If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is but a maggot– a son of man, who is only a worm!” (v.5,6) If the moon and the stars are not bright in comparison to His glory (implied), how much less be a mere human being, who is but a maggot in God’s order of things?  I have heard the same being said in the sceptical derision of modern day atheists: If God is so great how could he possibly worry about such mundane and minute figures such as we are? And there is a great mystery – the love of God!

When we seek to examine Scripture as a whole, we come across two amazingly different pictures of mankind. The first puts us down:

  • For instance the apostle Paul wrote, “death came to all men, because all sinned.” (Rom 5:12) and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23)
  • David said, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me,” (Psa 51:5) and “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one,” (Psa 14:3) and, agreeing with Bildad, “no one living is righteous before you.” (Psa 143:2).
  • Jeremiah spoke similarly: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” (Jer 17:9)

So, this first position shows mankind as utterly sinful and in that respect, in their original state, there is nothing good about them. But there is a second view of mankind:

  • “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honour and put everything under his feet.” (Heb 2:6-8 quoting Psa 8) – this is mankind who God made to rule over the earth.
  • Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (Prov 8:30,31) i.e. God delighted in mankind when He made us!
  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:16,17) i.e. God still loved this world – the people on it – even though we are sinners.

This latter position shows that we were created to a position of authority and rule and honour and even though we are fallen, God still loved us enough to send His Son to die for us. So, can we be righteous? That is Bildad’s concern. Can we be righteous apart from Jesus, we might add?

Consider: Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Gen 6:9) and “Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it. Then he will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God.” (Deut 24;13) and “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.” (Psa 1:5) and “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God (Psa 68:3) and “Thus you will walk in the ways of good men and keep to the paths of the righteous.” (Prov 2:20) and “The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry” (Prov 10:3). ‘The righteous’ in all of these cases (and very many more in the Old Testament) are those who walk with God and follow His ways and are morally upright.

Let’s move on a step: Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6) and “to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” (Rom 4:5). Here we see ‘righteousness’ clarified as that which God declares over a person when they simply believe Him! Where there is faith, there is righteousness.  Can we be righteous? Yes, by walking with God – by receiving His salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, and being led by His Holy Spirit. This IS righteousness. We could say so much more on this subject but space forbids for the moment. Bildad, you’ll  need to see the wider testimony of Scripture and realise that although we are fallen, we are loved and, being loved, we can enter into a living relationship with God whereby He declares us righteous for believing what He has done for us and then for what He is doing in us.

28. Created-Condemned

Meditations in Job : 28 :  Created and Condemned

Job 10:8,14 Your hands shaped me and made me. Will you now turn and destroy me? …… If I sinned, you would be watching me and would not let my offense go unpunished.

Understanding your ‘world view’ is very important. It is the overall picture of how the world is and, for believers, how God is. I suspect that if you asked many Christians about some of the main characteristics of God they might say He is Creator, all-powerful and holy, all of which are true, but actually there are other characteristics of God that are even more significant when it comes to a personal relationship. Listen to how Moses described God and ask yourself if this is how you think of the Lord: Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.” (Deut 7:9).

When we speak of the ‘old covenant’, do we speak of it as his covenant of love”? That was what the old covenant was, an agreement between God and Israel whereby the Lord could show His love to His people Israel; it was all about love and blessing. But maybe you are a person who focuses more on verse 10 of Deut 7: “But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction.” There are some of us who focus more on what happens when we get it wrong than when we get it right. That is one part of the truth – that those who hate God will find that He steps back and leaves them to their own devices so that their sin comes down on them and destroys them (see Rom 1). When He sees that they will never heed Him He may, on occasion, remove them from the earth. Yes, this is the fruit of ungodliness and unrighteousness and indeed “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:3a), but why focus on that, why not focus on what follows, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:3b). It was somewhat understandable that Job focused on the negative side of the coin, feeling as he was, rather than remember all the positive things, but some of us make an art form out of being negative!

Job continues, first of all considering that God had made him. Verses 8 to 12 could be summed up, “I am of your making.” Consider those poetic sounding verses: “Your hands shaped me and made me….. Remember that you molded me like clay…. Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese, clothe me with skin and flesh and knit me together with bones and sinews? You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit.” (v.8a,9a,10-12) There, that is fairly straight forward: you made me and you blessed me with provision and protection. Why does he say it? Is it a psalm of praise? Well, no. because in it he inserts two questions: “Will you now turn and destroy me? ….Will you now turn me to dust again?” (v.8b,9b). He’s reminding the Lord that He made him so what was the point of doing that if He was now going to destroy him.

This is rather like Moses’ appeal to God when the Lord has threatened to destroy Israel for their idolatry at Sinai: “O LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, `It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.” (Ex 32:11,12). It is a good appeal to the Lord. It says, Lord, don’t let your previous activity be wasted so that people will question your name.

In verses 13 to 17 Job reveals his legalistic mentality which is more concerned with law and justice than love and forgiveness in a relationship with the Lord. He’s looked at what has happened to him and wrongly concluded that all along God has a judgmental attitude towards him: “But this is what you concealed in your heart, and I know that this was in your mind: If I sinned, you would be watching me and would not let my offense go unpunished.” (v.13,14) i.e. you were constantly watching me to find fault with me! Actually Job, no, that’s not how it was. The Lord is looking to encourage us, build us and help us overcome, but perhaps you need the revelation of the rest of Scripture to see this.

He continues with a sense of condemnation: “If I am guilty–woe to me! Even if I am innocent, I cannot lift my head, for I am full of shame and drowned in my affliction. If I hold my head high, you stalk me like a lion and again display your awesome power against me. You bring new witnesses against me and increase your anger toward me; your forces come against me wave upon wave.(v.15-17) i.e. with all that has happened to me, I feel I haven’t a leg to stand on, I can say nothing, for I’m obviously guilty otherwise you wouldn’t have done all this to me, and these ‘friends’ only confirm all this. Well, you’re not guilty Job but yes, you cannot escape from God’s power and, yes, these friends are out to condemn you, but that is only a part of the picture. You are going to become a byword in the world for one who suffered and learnt the wonder of God. This is far bigger than your sin – which isn’t the issue here!

Sadly Job can’t see that at the moment and so in the remaining verses of the chapter, verses 18 to 22, he asks, “Wouldn’t it have been better if I had not been born, why can’t I just die?” See: Why then did you bring me out of the womb? I wish I had died before any eye saw me. If only I had never come into being, or had been carried straight from the womb to the grave!” (v.18,19) There was that earlier lament repeated, why was I born? It continues, “Are not my few days almost over? Turn away from me so I can have a moment’s joy before I go to the place of no return, to the land of gloom and deep shadow, to the land of deepest night, of deep shadow and disorder, where even the light is like darkness.” (v.20-22). i.e. leave me alone so I can quietly die and go to wherever it is I’m to go to! When we allow the pain and the anguish to overwhelm us it is only the negative we are left with. Do you remember what Paul taught: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6) Two key words to help us are “with thanksgiving” i.e. remember the good as well as presenting the bad, get a truer perspective. Yes, it may be bad, but look for the good and give thanks in it all.  Don’t let the dark side overwhelm you and skew your perspective!