13. God of Purpose: Justice (3)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  13. God of Purpose: Justice (3)

Jn 1:10-13  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God

Continuation:  Let’s be honest, none of us can fully comprehend what we have been considering in the previous studies, that Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, left heaven, put aside all the glory he had there, and came and lived in human form, experiencing everything we experience (but without sinning), taught and did good in amazing ways, but was then falsely tried, condemned and crucified. There’s more to come but even that bit is hard enough to swallow – it is too good to be true. (We also struggle to face our need and so make excuses!) And the truth, as I have suggested before is that you will only accept it with God’s help.

The Process: There is a process that all Christians go through, in a variety of ways, before they become a Christian. It is important to understand this, to understand how God works in this, because it all goes back to what I just said above, it is almost impossible to believe because we have too much pride hanging in the balance. But when I look back on my own experience, when I listen to the testimonies of many other Christians and when I see what the scriptures say, I have to say there is a common process that takes place.

The changes: The first thing that happens is either that the individual starts to find they are thinking spiritual thoughts, or having spiritual questions, or finding themselves in a spiritual context (being asked to church, say). The more they think and the more they read and the more they hear, the more challenged they find themselves getting. The challenge is a) about the sort of person they are and b) who they are hearing Jesus Christ claims to be. Sometimes this process is accelerated by a personal crisis in their life and maybe it is the crisis that provokes them to reassess themselves and their personal lifestyle. And so there will be these two things running in parallel, this growth in personal dissatisfaction and this growth in knowledge of who Jesus Christ could be. And then at some point they find a challenge, a call to recognize this personal dissatisfaction as a need to call on God for forgiveness and a call to recognize Jesus Christ as the Savior he wants to be.

The surrender: Before a person becomes a Christian, there comes a surrender. It comes as a confession of failure and a call to be forgiven, combined with a declaration, “I believe in Jesus.”  Sometimes it is a crisis of a moment and sometimes it may be spread over weeks or even months. And they pray. The transaction with God is always made through prayer. What is prayed? It varies according to the individual. For me initially it was, having just been at a meeting where I heard the gospel preached, “God, I’ve heard it all. I understand you want my life. I give it to you. Please take it and lead me. I’ve heard about Jesus and thank you for him. Amen”  Now looking back over fifty years, I think that was pretty basic and I am sure I prayed more things to do with forgiveness and belief in the following days, but from that moment, there was no doubt, I was changed, I was transformed, I was in Jesus’ words ‘born again’ (Jn 3:3-8).  The Bible speaks about being converted (Acts 15:3) which simply means to be changed.

Pray: I hesitate to proscribe a prayer but if it would help you and you find you want to do this (only pray it if you are sincere) then pray, “Lord, I recognize my failures, and my weakness and my need of you in my life. Please forgive me that I have been self-centred and godless, I want you to change me. I believe Jesus is your Son and he died for me to take my punishment and I invite you to come into my life to change me and lead me from now on. Thank you that you will do that. Amen.”

The Result: The process takes us up to the point of surrender. When we come to that point something amazing happens. This is what the Bible says takes place: God forgives us and cleanses us and sets us free from our past life, declares we are now part of His family (adopted), and that He has plans to bless us as we allow Him to lead us, and that will go on and on throughout our life here on earth and then on past death into eternity, a life with Him, a life blessed by Him. To enable us to live that life He imparts His Holy Spirit who indwells us and empowers us and is the changing force, cooperating with us to lead, guide, inspire, teach, empower and change us.

Death & Resurrection: Remember the Old Testament picture of sacrifices we considered previously, translated into the picture of Jesus dying as a sacrifice for our sins, taking our punishment? Well there are further death AND RESURRECTION pictures that are part of this whole package which we need to look at.

i) Jesus’ Resurrection: We haven’t touched on it yet but the great truth (and you can see more if this in that previous series of studies I mentioned, ‘Focus on Christ’) is that Jesus did not remain dead: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 2:23,24) The same testimony is repeated again and again in the New Testament.

ii) Us: The apostle Paul in his teaching letters in the New Testament urges us to see this picture of death and resurrection as what has happened to us when we became believers. Let’s see it in the paraphrase version of The Message: “Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.” (Rom 6:6-11) What he is saying is that when you surrendered, as we said above, it was like you died to your old life (which you gave up) and were empowered by God with a new life, like you have been resurrected, you have a new life: if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17) When Paul uses the phrase ‘in Christ’ it just means united with him, one with him.

iii) A New Approach to Life: Listen again to Paul’s teaching: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:1,2) See the language he uses: ‘your body’, i.e. the whole of your life; ‘living sacrifice’ – having an attitude of ongoing surrender for God to take you lead you, use you, change you (all things you can totally trust Him with); ‘renewing of your mind’ – no longer thinking in a self-centered, godless way, but having Christ as the central focus of all your thinking, making his will – which is ‘good, pleasing and perfect’ (it is for your blessing!) – the heart and foundation of the way you look at life from now on.

Justice? Oh yes, this is still all about how our past self-centered, godless lives that got so much wrong, can be dealt with so we can stand up in the court of universal assessment, pardoned and be set free, not just because of a whim of the judge but because Justice has been satisfied because someone else – Christ – stepped into the court and took your place and your punishment on the Cross. This is what the ‘gospel’ is all about: “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) Justice has been satisfied and a new life is offered for anyone who will accept Jesus as their Savior.  If you don’t do this, you have to ‘carry the can’ yourself and face judgment and rejection on the Last Day. What a decision to make! It’s a ‘no-brainer’ isn’t it. It can only be spiritual blindness that hold people back and the answer has got to be to pray with the blind man, “I want to see.” (see Mk 10:46-52)  My prayer is that everyone who reads these words, will respond accordingly if they have not done so already.   Amen.

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!

9. Believers

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 2 – A Different People

9. Believers

Jn 3:16   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.

Acts 2:44  All the believers were together and had everything in common.

But why? There may be some of you who look at where we are and wonder why we need to spend time considering the most obvious of things about Christianity and the Church. My answer is that a) they may not be obvious to everyone and b) what we think of as obvious may have aspects to which we have not given much thought. In the previous study I distinguished church from clubs and from other ‘spiritual’ groups and maintained that the first big difference is that those who comprise ‘the Church’ are those who have been called by God. But it is a bit more complex than that.

Sufficient Knowledge? I recently was in a service where, at the end, a man responded to what had been going on and joyfully said, “I have found God in this service,” and I couldn’t help feeling, no you’ve been pointed in the right direction, but we need to introduce you to Jesus. If I had had the opportunity to question him, I might have asked, “What is it that you believe?” I suspect he might have answered, “Well, I believe there is a God and I have sensed His love in this service and that is wonderful.” Yes indeed, it is wonderful, but it isn’t the same as coming to Christian faith and becoming a believer in the terms that we find in the New Testament. I have written elsewhere on this in other series’, that I am sure when many of us do come to real and genuine faith, the extent of our knowledge is strictly limited but God sees that what we do know has provided a sufficient foundation for us to be ‘born again’ (which we’ll consider in the next study).

What Knowledge? If you are going to become a believer, one who constitutes the Church, a Christian believer, then there surely has to be a minimum of things we can say we believe. Now this can lead us into deep waters, some of which we need to explore in the coming studies and so I am reticent to lay out that ‘minimum’. However, let us rest in the fact that to be a Christian – and the Church is made up of Christians (sorry I took that for granted before) – there has to be a body of belief which led us through the narrow gate (Mt 7:13,14) and into this new life. Although being reticent in laying out too much detail at this point, nevertheless we should perhaps be definite that believing in Jesus really should have three aspects although, as I’ve said above, they often only filter into our consciousness in stages. They are that a) he is the unique Son of God, God in the flesh, b) he has come to be Saviour of the world, and also c) he is Lord. Let’s consider each of those briefly.

Son of God: So-called believers often appear unclear on their beliefs, even about Jesus, so let me ask various simple questions. First, would Jesus have been able to do the things he did if he were not the Son of God? The apostle Peter hinted at this in Acts 2:22. For Peter, in those early days, the emphasis was that Jesus was the Messiah expected by his audience (Acts 2:31,32, 3:30 accredited by the resurrection). It was only when Paul (ex-Saul) was saved that the message that Jesus was the Son of God was truly preached (see Acts 9:20) and written about (e.g. Rom 1:4,9, 5:10, 8:3,29 etc. etc.) The apostle John identifies him thus in his Gospel – written a lot later to remedy the earlier omissions (see Jn 1:49, also 3:18, 5:25, 10:36, 19:7, 20:31).  Second, if the Scripture teaches that Jesus is our substitute (and it does), dying on the Cross to take our punishment, would anyone less than God Himself be ‘big enough’ to be able to do that for every single sinner who turns to Him? Third, what are we to make of Jesus’ teaching, seen most obviously in John’s Gospel, where Jesus claims divinity for himself, if he is less that the unique Son of God, God incarnate, God in the flesh? This must be the first foundation stone of belief.

Saviour of the World: The biggest problem we have to face (and we’ll look at this in more detail in a later study) is that every one of us is a guilty sinner who is confronted by a Holy God.

Justice demands that God cannot simply shrug His shoulders and say, “Oh well, very well, I forgive you, let’s forget about it.” No, justice demands that sins be punished and with the weight of all our sins that pile up through a lifetime, that bulk of sins, demands death. The angel instructed Joseph, you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” (Mt 1:21). Another form of ‘Jesus’ is ‘Jeshua’ or ‘Joshua’ which means deliverer. It was not to save his people from the Romans but to save them from their sins, from the sword of Damocles, the judgment of God, that hangs over every sinner as demanded by justice. We may come to accept the first point, that Jesus was and is the unique Son of God but unless we go the next step and see him as our saviour, we simply make him a disinterested deity who looks on and leaves us lost and helpless. But no, God did not send His Son into our awareness to do that: “he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16)

Lord: The apostle Paul said, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:18,19) Speaking about the salvation Jesus has bought us, he shows that by his revelation we will come to know, (in the words of the Message version, “(a) exactly what it is he is calling you to do, (b) grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him— (c) endless energy, boundless strength!” (My divisions to emphasise) There the Message suggests hope is about the life Jesus is leading us into, the riches are the incredibly blessed life he has for us, and that power is what enables us – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually – to live that life. But it is all about Jesus leading the way into it and he can only do that if we let him or, to be more specific, if we follow his instructions, directions and commands, i.e. we let him be lord of our lives.

The work of God: So when Jesus says, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent,” (Jn 6:29) he lays out the will of God for believers – to believe Jesus!  The Amplified Bible builds it out to include, “This is the work of God: that you believe [adhere to, trust in, rely on, and have faith] in the One whom He has sent.”  Believing is not merely mental assent, it is having a life that is changed by that assent, that doesn’t merely believe things about a Jesus who is ‘over there’ but lives out a real and living relationship with him.  Mental assent will mean a changed life. Believers reveal they are believers by the life that ensues, a life that is not merely good and loving but is obviously endued with power from on high, which we will consider next.

1. Introduction

The Impossibilities of God in a Broken World, the story of Christmas, Meditations:

1. Introduction

Jn 6:38    I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.

Genesis of an idea: Every year Advent arrives and I think, “Well, I have written about Christmas several times before, there’s not a lot left to say. What shall I write about instead?” (A rather short-sighted approach for you can, I believe, look afresh at the same Scripture time and time again and see something new). Anyway, the same thing happened at the beginning of December this year, but then I was sitting in the worship of a Sunday morning service and had a strong sense of a different view of the events in respect of what we now call ‘Christmas’.  I don’t know what caused it but I suddenly found myself thinking about all these things that go to make up the Christmas story and saw them as simply impossible – in human terms – and yet things that happened because God was stepping down onto this broken world.

A Micro Thought: A little while back I started writing what I called ‘Micro thoughts’, short writings on my Facebook pages that were short, sharp and to the point, making a single point each time, written every three or four days, and when we came to December I focused them as ‘Advent Micro Thoughts’.  Here is the first one I wrote then: “Why, before all else (1 Pet 1:20), should the Godhead have planned for one of them to leave the wonder, the beauty, the glory, the peace and the harmony of heaven to come to the war-torn earth where human beings abused and enslaved one another, fought one another, argued with one another, allowed their minds to be distorted and twisted and warped in self-centred godlessness? Why would he come down (Jn 6:38) into all this in total vulnerability, almost hidden from view, utterly reliant on a teenage mother and questioning father? Why? Love.”

Silent Night? There is a Christmas carol that starts, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright,” and it conveys this beautiful picture of what was taking place two thousand years ago, as if everything was wonderfully peaceful, but the truth is very far from that. It is a beautiful romantic picture conjured up by that carol and the first verse goes on to speak of the crib scene: “Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child. Holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.” It’s a beautiful carol and I have lost count of how many times I have sung it over the years, but really and truly, when you start thinking of the circumstances that make up the Christmas story, peace is the last thing than comes to mind! We’ll see that as we go along.

Context – Ben Hur: Perhaps to understand something more of what I have just been saying, it might be appropriate to think about the film ‘Ben Hur’. I realize I haven’t seen the 2016 version and so you must put up with my comments about the 1959 film starring Charlton Heston. When people speak about that film the thing that usually comes up first in conversation is the deadly chariot race, but the images that always stay with me are those of Judah Ben Hur as a slave on a galley, chained in position with absolutely no hope whatsoever of his life as a slave ever changing. That is the world of two thousand years ago under the domination of the Roman empire with possibly one of the most disciplined armies of the world, disciplined by fear (because punishment for disobedience was either death or worse, slavery) and triumph (being part of a totally successful army).

Life in General: But life in general – although we may view it through the lenses of life today – was nothing like life today. When sickness struck, the odds were against you. If there was a bad harvest, you would know the pangs of hunger and fear of food running out. If you travelled it was either by foot or possibly by donkey, horse or camel, depending on how rich you were. There were no social security benefits so you took whatever job was available and if your father was a carpenter, you probably followed in his footsteps. Money came from work – your work. If your family didn’t have a trade or business, you worked as a servant, or even slave, for someone else.  If you were a woman, you cared for the home and had children.  Life for most was entirely parochial, you just didn’t travel. The word ‘holiday’ was probably unknown for most. If you had a disability and could not work, you begged and relied upon charity of passers-by or of your family. Because of the Roman presence, sometimes you worked for these overlords, perhaps collecting taxes for them and as they were not too concerned, just that you collected sufficient, it gave you space to be less than scrupulous in your dealings with the ordinary people. Yes, they may have disliked you but who cares, you are in the place of power and power means wealth and wealth means comfort in this often-uncomfortable world.

Why this world? Perhaps most people were too busy surviving to bother thinking about such issues but for us today we have space to ask the big questions, why is this world like this, why did you allow it to be like this God, why don’t you do something to change it? Security comes from an ordered life, and for a Jew living in the land we call Israel, order came through following the Law of Moses, hoping for a Messiah to come one day to bring us freedom as the prophets hinted, attending Synagogue on Saturday and entering into the life of our local community. As long as you kept the rules you were acceptable. Those who collaborated with the Romans were despised, and some had jobs that put them outside the ambit of community life, like those who were shepherds and who had to live out on the hills looking after their master’s sheep. Why was life so tough?  Why did God make it like this? Why didn’t He do something to change it? Those are some of the questions we’ll pick up along the way in these days ahead.

Meanwhile, back in heaven: Some have the view that Jesus first came into existence when he was conceived in Mary but such people clearly have never read John’s gospel. Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, certainly did appear in human form for the first time two thousand years ago, but the Son of God had existed with the Father from before time began and was there with the Father bringing the material world into being (Jn 1:3, Heb 1:2, Prov 8:27-31) and there he existed as the glorious second person of the Trinity (Jn 17:5,24). From there the Son ‘came down’, “I have come down from heaven.” (Jn 6:38)

And to Christmas? Unfortunately so often, in our thinking, we have relegated the Christmas story to nativity plays in schools where the baby Jesus gets accompanied by angels, sheep, penguins, lions and anything else that takes the school’s fancy, just helping the reality of what really happened drift further and further away from our understanding today. It is actually a harsh and difficult story, with occasional bursts of glory, but it is the story of God coming to do things which most people consider impossible – the first being that Almighty God, who sits on clouds in many people’s imaginations, comes to earth in the form of a baby. How ridiculous – but true!

The reality: Perfect God coming to a very imperfect world, perfect God coming to very imperfect people: that is what brings hope for you and me, and that must be one of the primary messages of Christmas, that God acted on their plan to leave the wonder, the beauty, the glory, the peace and the harmony of heaven to come to the war-torn earth where human beings abused and enslaved one another, fought one another, argued with one another, allowed their minds to be distorted and twisted and warped in self-centred godlessness. That is the wonder of Christmas and if you’ve never seen it like that, perhaps you’ve missed the reality of this story.  But it’s not just a story, it is history, facts of time-space history, and it is, together with the story of Good Friday and Easter Day, the most incredible and wonderful story ever to be declared on the earth.   It is only, I suggest, when we see the impossibilities confronting these people and the harshness and difficulties that they went through, will we truly see the wonder of these events.

16. Little Things

Short Meditations in John 6:  16. Little things

Jn 6:16   When evening came his disciples went down to the lake

How can you meditate on something so simple and mundane as these ten words? But isn’t life made up of the simple and mundane? I wonder if we despise the ordinary and uninspiring, and yet isn’t so much of life made up of that? The disciples have just been part of an amazing revelation, of Jesus who could feed thousands from virtually nothing, and although they don’t know it at this moment, they are shortly going to get another staggering revelation of the Son of God.

But at the moment they are just walking down from the hills to the coast of the Sea of Galilee and are, no doubt, still full of what they have just witnessed. The present is mundane – walking – and they are so taken up with the recent past that they don’t suspect that they are about to get an even more mind-blowing experience of Jesus shortly.

But isn’t this just like you and me? As my wife says, you have to walk on the plain to get to the hills, again the mundane before the revelation. But of course life is such a mixture, she also added, you have to walk on the plain before you enter a valley. Mundane before difficult times!

And that is the thing about life, it is such a mixture of experiences, the ordinary, dramatic revelation, and unexpected crisis, and we just never know what is coming next. For us, the lovely truth is that Jesus is always with us (I will never leave you or forsake you – Heb 13:5) and yet, if we are honest, there are times when we don’t sense his presence, when it feels like we are on our own – just like the disciples at the moment, for as we will see in the next meditation, Jesus has sent them on, on their own, and that raises some questions we’ll look at tomorrow.

But in the mundane we don’t worry that we cannot sense Jesus’ presence, and that is a danger, that we just plug on in life, content with that state, until we find ourselves in a valley and are crying out for his help. Wisdom suggests that even in the mundane, even in the ordinary days of life, when nothing seems to be happening and our level of expectation of anything of import cropping up is zero, we still make the time and the effort to seek him, wait on him, call out to him.

So here we identify an area of potential danger in life – when all is going well, when we are just plodding along to the next appointment, the next thing on our calendar, with little or no expectation of anything of excitement, the danger is that we drift in our focus. Perhaps like the disciples here, we will be reliving the glories of yesterday, the great things that happened a while back, without realizing that our need of knowing Jesus in reality now, is just as important as any other time.

42. Areas of Rule

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 42. Areas of Rule 

Dan 7:13,14 “there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power;

In a previous series, “Focus on Christ” in Study No.56, we noted the following about Christ and because it is so pertinent to our present series, we repeat it here. It flowed out of the prophetic picture that Daniel had about the Son of God referred to in our starting verses above, of Christ the ruler, and we will see the areas of his rule:

Reign’ is about exercising sovereignty, about being in control, not merely coping, not merely surviving, but being in control. When we come to the ruler over the Kingdom of God, the ruler is a benign controller who controls for the benefit of his subjects. That is the big difference between the kingdoms of the earth and the Kingdom of Heaven.  So, let’s see ‘Christ in Control’. It is so obvious we have probably never thought about it

Control over the material world: This is the most obvious thing in Jesus’ earthly ministry, and many of us struggle to believe that this is still true of his body today when we allow him to lead. In the pages of the Gospels we see Jesus in control of the elements – calming a storm, walking on water, turning water into wine, expanding bread and fishes to feed thousands; these are all examples of Jesus being in absolute control of material elements. If I had more space I could give modern day examples of the same sorts of thing.

Control over health and life itself: When we see Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons and even raising the dead, we see this power and authority over the material world being applied into flesh and blood human bodies. This is Jesus reigning in the most obvious ways. Again we could give many testimonies of the same things happening today.

Control over himself: Now here is an area we don’t tend to think about but when it is paralleled into our lives as part of his body today it becomes very pertinent. Let’s consider various ways we see this.

 i) In respect of Satan: The Gospels record Satan coming with three temptations before Jesus starts his ministry, seeking to bring him down, but in each case, Jesus remains firmly in control of his mind and his behaviour and gives right responses. This is significant because Satan questioned his very identity, but Jesus remained firmly in control of his own thinking about himself and so did not succumb to the enemy’s negatives; he knew who he was and what he was to do, right up to and including the Cross and never deviated from that, even in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was confronted with the awfulness of what was just about to happen

 ii) In respect of human prejudices: Jesus not succumb to prejudices or false religious expectations which we see in the way he met with and spoke to the Samaritan woman, the adulterous woman, the Greek woman, a leper who he touched, tax collectors etc. who he dined with, all of whom would have been rejected by respectable Judaism.

iii) In respect of his speech: But it goes beyond meeting with the unclean, the sinners and so on; it includes how he encountered and responded to the leaders and religious elite; he did not speak out of turn, he was in complete control of his tongue. He did not waver before ‘great people’; he knew who he was and therefore never felt defensive, as we so often do. He never felt uncomfortable in any situation because he knew who he was and knew the power and authority that he had.

 iv) In respect of his emotions: This is an area where we are so often stunted and so our emotions are oppressed by expectations or hardened and calloused by the hard knocks of life or the hard words of parents or teachers or other people of influence that shut us down. No, he was clearly saddened by the fact of his disciples’ little belief sometimes, he was saddened by the grief that he saw in those he loved (at Lazarus’s tomb), and he anguished over the thought of being separated from his Father on the Cross.

In each of these ways Jesus was in complete control. He knew people (Mt 12:25, 27:18, Jn 2:24) and was not fazed by them, whether they were the great and good and influential or whether they were prostitutes, demon possessed, sinners and crooks. In one sense we might say he was above them all and was therefore not controlled by what they thought, either of themselves or about him.

Application: Now that was what I wrote in that series about Christ, but now we have to take and apply this to all we have been saying about being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, ruling with him. He, we said, is the head of the body and so if that is how he exercised his rule, seen in the Gospels in one single body, it must also be how he reigns through us, his body today. So, let’s apply those things.

When we are led and empowered by his Holy Spirit, in the light of these things, we should expect the body to, at times:

  • have control over the elements, the material world,
  • have control over health and life itself, bringing healing
  • have control over ourselves with His enabling, so that
    • we do not let Satan put us down
    • we do not tolerate prejudice
    • we control our speech
    • we are not fazed by ‘big people’, the good, the bad, anyone.

Now our tendency may be to duck and dive and make excuses and say well, these things will only happen through ‘big ministries’, apostles etc., but Jesus did say, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12). Admittedly the miraculous, whether in respect of the elements or in respect of human sickness, will only occur when needed, i.e. when we make ourselves available to Christ on the frontline, but why should that not include you and me?  This IS the way Christ ruled and still rules, so if we are seated with him exercising this rule……? Some areas for serious thought and prayer, and maybe reassessing of our ‘belief’.   “Whoever believes”?