Snapshots: Day 32

Snapshots: Day 32

The Snapshot: “It is finished.”  A vision across time.  Three crosses on a hill, with humans nailing others on to them. The one in the middle started shining brightly but then from every direction darkness hurtled at the one who was light, darkness seeking to obliterate the light. From within me a cry, forgive us, Lord!  A battle for survival. But then as the last glimmer of light vanished under the darkness, there was an immense explosion and light poured forth in every direction and as it poured over me, my chains fell off, failures, disappointments, distress, anxieties, guilt, and shame, and as I looked down at myself I was full of light, transformed and clean. (1 Pet 2:24) Salvation!

Further Consideration: It was approaching Easter and I had a dream, a very vivid one, just as I woke, perhaps more of a vision. It was so clear it seemed appropriate to insert it into these Snapshots of the Bible. In one sense it doesn’t matter where we are in history, or where we are in the Bible, we constantly need reminding that history pivots on this one unique event, the crucifixion of the Son of God.

In shorthand we simply refer to all he did and achieved for us as ‘the Cross’. It is, first, an historical event, noted even in secular history. The details are there in the Gospels: three crosses and on the one in the middle hangs Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He speaks seven times: to ask forgiveness for those doing this (Lk 23:34), to reassure the thief beside him (Luke 23:43), to reassure his mother (Jn 19:26-27), to cry to his Father (Mt 27:46, Mk 15:34), to declare thirst (Jn 19:28), to declare it is finished (Jn 19:30) and to commit himself to God (Lk 23:46). These are the recorded facts.

But second, it is a prophetic event, spoken of by the prophets who gave insight into what went on in the spiritual realm (see Psa 22), the powers of darkness attacking him trying to break this ‘perfect sacrifice’ the one without blemish or failure. It was a battle of light over darkness but, the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:5)

But then, third, it is a life transforming event. It happens when we come to the end of ourselves and like a drowning man we grasp for whatever straw God offers, and He offers the death of His Son on the Cross. Religious Jews demanded signs, intellectual Greeks demanded logic and wisdom, and the apostle Paul declared, we preach Christ crucified…  the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1:23,24) and, I resolved to know nothing … except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2) When we accept the wonder of what happened on the awful day, suddenly He comes in power and we are transformed, our sins forgiven, our lives cleansed, adopted as His sons and made anew. I remind myself of this every day.

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20. No Add-ons

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

20. No Add-ons

Jn 19:28-30  Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

The Cross?  There is an aspect of being a believer that I think we should cover and this appears the appropriate place to do it. In the previous study we touched on the subject of sacrifice and inevitably that takes us to the Cross. Now when we use the words, ‘the Cross’ like that, we don’t just mean the two pieces of timber that were used to execute a criminal, but the work or effect that Jesus dying on that wooden execution piece had. It covers everything that Christ achieved.

Sacrifice: Yesterday we touched on the fact that the New Testament speaks of Christ dying as a sacrifice, and we quoted, Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; (Heb 9:28) but it comes up many times, for example, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed,” (1 Cor 5:7) and “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood,” (Rom 3:25) and “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” (Eph 5:2) and “Christ ….has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Heb 9:26) and “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” (Heb 10:10) and “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world,” (1 Jn 2:2) and “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10)

The Sin-Bearer: Isaiah had made this clear: “by knowledge of him my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities….. For he bore the sin of many” (Isa 53:11,12) In that he was summing up the work of the whole sacrificial system within the Law of Moses whereby the guilty were to offer a sacrifice of an animal and by placing their hand upon it as it was killed, the picture was that their sin was passed to it and it was dying to take the punishment of the sinner. The apostle Peter echoed this when he wrote, “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.” (1 Pet 2:24) When the word ‘atonement’ is used (see above Rom 3:25, 1 Jn 2:2, 4:10) it again reflects the Old Testament Law. It basically means ‘a making at one’ (at-one-ment), bringing us back to God by removing the one thing that separates us, our sin, our guilt, the punishment that justice demands.  In the Gospels we find, the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45 & Mt 20:28) There we find implied the same idea of a substitute that was implied in the Old testament sacrifice of atonement. Jesus stood in for us and carried all of our sins in himself on the cross at Calvary. Paul echoes this in 1 Tim 2:6 and the writer to the Hebrew in Heb 9:15.

Finished: looking at our starter verses, just before he actually died, hanging on the cross, we find John observing, “knowing that everything had now been finished,” Jesus received the drink and declared, “It is finished.” There is no further commentary by John in the text but his previous comment indicates an understanding that the life of revealing the Father to the Jewish public and then his work as the atoning sacrifice to take our sins and our punishment, was completed. There was no more that he could do. As he dies he carries our sins and takes our punishment.  There was no more that anyone could do.

The Point: Why am I writing this particular study?  Because so often we find make-believe believers, or young believers who have not been taught, struggling and striving to be good to appease God, or get on God’s good side, as if there is something they can do to win his approval. No you can do nothing. I find myself so often referring to “the finished work of Christ on the cross,” and I do that because we need to be reminded of this. Listen to Paul: “What happens now to human pride of achievement? There is no more room for it. Why, because failure to keep the Law has killed it? Not at all, but because the whole matter is now on a different plane—believing instead of achieving. We see now that a man is justified before God by the fact of his faith in God’s appointed Saviour and not by what he has managed to achieve under the Law.” (Rom 3:27,28 JBP) The NIV puts it, “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded.”  None of us can boast, none of us can do anything that can cover up our sins and hide them from God, none of us can do anything sufficient to make up for them, in fact the more we do the more we express our self-centred godlessness, because we are trying to save ourselves and we are rejecting God’s provision for us.

But I want to do good! Of course you do because that is what God wants for you and what the Spirit energizes us to do. But that is just it, ‘good’ for us now is first simply believing in Jesus and utterly trusting him for our salvation, and then, once we are born again, following his word and his Spirit as he leads you. (And that takes us back to the study on being a faith people). Going to church, praying, reading the Bible, worshipping, or witnessing, none of these things make you ‘more worthy’ to be called a Christian, they are just outworkings of the faith you already have. If you try to use them to please God and ‘improve your salvation’ you fall into the trap that the Jewish Galatian Christians fell into when they went back to placing reliance on circumcision and received Paul’s very strong censure (see Gal 3). It is never ‘Christ plus’! Jesus has done everything necessary for your salvation; all you can do it receive it with thanks and praise and worship Him for His gift. Please, rest in that and stop striving.

16. A Pattern

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 16. A Pattern

Mt 10:38  Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

So far in these short meditations we have been focusing on the crucifixion, the actual events of Christ’s death on a wooden cross at the hands of the Romans at the instigation of the Jews. Now we move on to consider something of the significance of ‘the Cross’, the meaning behind the event.

We start with this somewhat enigmatic reference to a cross, being carried by any and every Christians – for that is what is implied here; this does apply to every Christian, every believer in Jesus, every follower of the Son of God. I use the word enigmatic because without quite a bit if thought it is puzzling, it is mysterious, it is unknowable.

Let’s consider the basic picture, a man carrying a cross. What does it tell us? This is a man on his way to being crucified, to being put to death. This is a man as good as dead, because although the death has not yet occurred (and none of us know when we will die) if this man is now carrying a cross, it means he has been condemned and on his way to the place of execution; yes, he is as good as dead.

So what is Jesus saying?  If you want to be worthy of Jesus, if you want to be considered one of his followers – a Christian – then (at the very least) you have to take on the attitude of one who has given up his claim to his life, one who considers they have put their future into the hands of God for His disposal if that is what He wants.

Later in Matthew we find the same thing but slightly extended: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mt 16:24) Did you see the extension? “must deny themselves”. It’s the same thing but put differently, i.e. give up their claims to their life, give up their claims to their future and put them all entirely in God’s hands so that He can work out the best for us. He, of course purposes better for each of us than we do for ourselves, and how we struggle to believe that!

We plot, we plan, we organise, we scheme, we hope for the best, which sometimes comes and sometimes doesn’t, and the thought of putting it into God’s hands (really) is difficult if not impossible and yet, here it is laid out before us a number of times in the Gospels, this challenge that goes to the heart of being a Christian, this challenge that must haunt us we approach Easter. Will I opt for the imitation life that will be so fleeting (and which may even crash and burn) or will I trust it all into His hands and say, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven – in my life”?

13. Regicide

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 13. Regicide  

Jn 19:19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.

As we look at this verse, I suggest we need to consider two things: first, the use of that phrase, ‘king of the Jews’ and then, second, the significance of it being used here.

In chronological order, we see it first in the Gospels when the ‘wise men’ come asking, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? (Mt 2:1,2). Next, we see Nathaniel using it directly of Jesus when he meets him: “you are the King of Israel.” (Jn 1:49). After feeding the crowds, John comments, “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:15). On Palm Sunday the crowds welcome him into Jerusalem with “Blessed is the King of Israel!” (Jn 12:13).Then at his interrogation by Pilate, the governor asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews ?” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.” (Mt 27:11) Note Jesus acknowledging it.

More as an aside we should note that in the prophetic scriptures the Messiah would, reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isa 9:6,7) and in Psa 2, God declares of His Son, “I have installed my King on …. You are my Son;” (Psa 2:6,7) and of course there is the prophetic reference in Psa 110:1,2 echoed by the apostle Paul in 1 Cor 15:24,25.

By why is this so significant when it comes to the cross? Well, from Pilate’s point of view, especially in the light of all the turmoil caused by the religious authorities beforehand, demanding Jesus’ death, to put this notice over the head of Jesus was almost like Pilate declaring, “I am Governor from Rome and we Romans are the supreme power and so don’t you Jews dare allow any upstart to come forward as a rebel leader to challenge my authority! If this is your king, see what we do to such pretenders”. Of course, that was a double insult to the actual religious authorities because they were the ones who had insisted on Jesus being executed. Nevertheless, for the ordinary people it was still a real put down.  Thus, Pilate was using Jesus as a poster-board – Rome rules OK!

But there is also another possibility. We have indicated above that the Messiah was to be a ruler and it was clearly there in the prophecies. So, was this action by Pilate prompted by Satan who, not foreseeing what would follow, also used it as a put-down of the Son of God as if to say, “See, all your plans have been foiled by me. I win, you lose!” Short sighted folly!

10. Mistaken?

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 10. Mistaken?

1 Cor 2:8   None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

So we have just had two studies considering how the life, ministry, death and resurrection were preplanned by the Godhead before the Creation, and spoken about through the prophets in the Old Testament period, and we concluded the last one by noting that God never forced men to crucify His Son, but simply set up circumstances in which their sinfulness would come to the fore and they would then do it.

What we have here, we might say in this present verse, is the greatest sense of mistaken identity in the history of the world. Consider, here is Jesus, who comes down from heaven (see Jesus’ references to this in Jn 6:35,33, 41,48,51), the all-glorious Son (see Jesus’ description of himself in Jn 17:5,22,24), and “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:5), fulfilling His Father’s mandate, “to proclaim good news to the poor ….to proclaim freedom for the prisoners    and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,” (Lk 4:18,19)

However, all they can see is a potential cause of upset and upheaval that would cause a Roman backlash: “We have found this man subverting our nation,“ (Lk 23:2) and “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him and then the Romans will come and take way both our place and our nation.” (Jn 11:48), and blasphemy (Mt 26:65). It may seem incredible to us looking back on history, that they ignored all that Jesus was doing and rejected him yet, as Paul says in our starter verse, any person in their right mind, watching what Jesus was doing, could not help applauding the wonder of what was going on.

So what is it that blinded these men, blinded this people, both Jews and gentiles, from seeing the wonder of who he was? The answer is given by John: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they would not believe in him. This was to fulfil the word of Isaiah the prophet: “….. he has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts and so they can neither see… nor understand…. Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.” (Jn 12:37-41)

How are eyes ‘blinded’? By people being godless and self-centred so that their vision is filled with things they want, things they feel, making assessments based on what appeals to them. Focusing on self, shuts out God and this is what these people – the crowds, the temple authorities, the scribes and the Pharisees – were all doing, and thus they failed to see Jesus’ glory. How terrible.

6. Pondering on God’s Love

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  6. Pondering on God’s Love

Psa 48:9   Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.

I have spent quite a lot of the recent years pondering on God’s love and so perhaps I should not be surprised at finding myself anchored by the above verse. I am going to overcome the temptation to simply repeat again my many writings of the last few years about the meaning of love and key places it is found in the Bible.  Suffice it to say I am convinced that “God is love” and all else follows.  The other day I wondered how one might summarise the whole Bible in a single tweet with its limited number of characters. I came up with one offering: “God has come to us to give us better lives than we have at present,” and I realise that behind that over-brief summary of the Gospel is the love of God. The reason He has come down to earth in human form is because He loves us. The reason Jesus died on the Cross is that His love knew this was the only way to deal with our guilt problem and that had to be dealt with first if He was going to be able to come to us and lead us into new and better lives, which His love wanted for us.

But the psalmist found that when he went into the Temple and was confronted with the Lord’s presence or, at the very least, reminders of God, he found himself thinking back to all he knew of the Lord, and that all came through Israel’s history which had been passed down initially by word of mouth and then in written documentary records. And then, as he pondered on what he knew of God’s dealings with Israel throughout their history with Him, he was aware that that history revealed the loving nature of God. Yes, God had disciplined them and chastised them sometimes, but overall it was more a record of the good things God had done for Israel. Again and again when you read the records of the Old Testament you find God’s love or goodness is revealed through His actions and the psalmists and others realised that love through what He had done.

So he comes into the Temple and when he is not overwhelmed by the building (as Jesus disciples were – Matt 24:1), he simply reflects on the One before whom he stands and all this knowledge passes before him (how else would he have known about the Lord). He meditates on God’s love; he ponders on it perhaps marvelling at how wonderful it was, perhaps questioning why it was. We do this sort of thing when we meditate. We think on what we know and we chew it over in our minds and think about what we know and what we can conclude from what we know. We question and wonder and seek answers for our questions. There is no way of verifying this wondering, but I wonder how many Christians regularly (or even occasionally) sit before the Lord and meditate on His love, pondering over the wonder of it, chewing it over until it permeates their very being as the Holy Spirit within them brings them greater understanding and revelation.

But, says the psalmist, I ponder on God’s ‘unfailing’ love. He is so convinced about this love that he is sure that it will always be there for him. It will never run out or be held back from him while he seeks the Lord. (We lose our sense of being loved by God when we turn away from him and turn to our own ways – it is still there but we just don’t feel it. Perhaps this is what the apostle Paul had in his mind when he wrote that amazing passage about God’s love: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?….. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:35,38,39)

For the psalmist the place of this meditation was the stone temple in Jerusalem. It is just possible that it referred to the tabernacle than came before the stone temple built by Solomon because that was previously referred to as the Lord’s temple (see 1 Sam 1:9, 3:3) but it is more likely to refer to the stone building. Today there is no such building. Solomon’s temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in the destruction of Jerusalem prior to the Exile and the temple that followed the Exile was enlarged by Herod but destroyed by the Romans in AD70, and has never been rebuilt.

But in the New Testament teaching, our bodies are referred to as the temple of the Holy Spirit who now indwells us (see 1 Cor 3:16,17, 6:19, 2 Cor 6:16, Eph 2:21). Thus we do not have to go to a specific building to be reminded of the Lord. We have His word (the Bible) and we have Him with us every minute of every day. Persecuted Christians in prison for their faith have been sustained by the word of God that they have memorized before imprisonment, and by the Holy Spirit’s presence reminding them, teaching them and even bringing further revelation for them within the cell. Truly, as Paul said, today nothing can separate us from God’s love. Wherever we are, He is there and as we meditate on Him so He feeds us and we are strengthened and encouraged. Hallelujah!   We will never run out of reflections as we ponder on this wonder – the love of God that has come for us and is with us and will always be with us.

7. The Way of Return

Meditations in 1 John : 7 :  The Way of Return

1 John  1:9   If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness

The whole thing about the Christian faith is that it is about returning to God. The work of salvation on the Cross by Christ was so that we, who were hostile to God and His enemies, could be reconciled to Him: For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Rom 5:10,11) The Christian life is all about being brought near to God with our sins forgiven and dealt with on the Cross, so that He, by His Spirit, may work in us to conform us (make us like) His Son, Jesus. That was why Paul said, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness.” (2 Cor 3:18).

This reconciliation was made possible by Christ’s work on the Cross, and came into practical being when we surrendered our lives to him and became a Christian. From then on it was all about access to God and Him having access to me.

But of course we all know the experience of having blown it and feeling a million miles away from God. Yet that isn’t actually how it is, it’s just how it feels it is. We briefly mentioned this previously but from God’s side He has not turned away from us, but Christ is active on our behalf: “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1)  Yes, this is the truth: when we get it wrong, Jesus speaks up on our behalf. I imagine him turning to the Father and saying, “Father, I died for them. Please send the Spirit to draw them back to us, send Him to draw them back into that daily relationship with us, for I have done my part by dying for them, so their sins are dealt with.” This is the intent of the Godhead, to draw us back into relationship with them.

So how does He do that? The Spirit comes and convicts us of what we have done wrong. How does he do that? He simply speaks to us again and again and reminds us that it was wrong and that we will lack peace until we have dealt with it. Our conscience is that part of us that weighs ethical issues, moral issues that need facing, and the Spirit comes and speaks to us at conscience level and reminds us what, deep down, we already know: we got it wrong – and we can’t just leave it.

This latter issue is an important and significant issue. As we said, deep down we know within ourselves that we have done wrong and we know that we have hurt or offended the Father and that there is an unresolved issue between us. You see exactly the same thing when a child breaks lose against a parent. Nothing may be said but the child knows that it has offended the parent and done wrong. We see it in children and in adults; there is often a ‘making up’ behaviour that follows by the offender, an artificial brightness that tries to gloss over what happened. Yet the truth is that we know that this is not right and experience tells us that the only way to properly deal with it is to own up, face it and say sorry.

Perhaps because of this, throughout the Bible forgiveness only follows repentance, that facing up to our wrongs and saying sorry. And that, at last, brings us to our verse above which, when we have come to the place of confession, acknowledgement of our wrong and request for forgiveness, brings great reassurance. Unlike some world religions, or even misguided parts of the Christian Church, we will never get back to God by working to appease God and show Him how good we really are – because He knows the truth and knows that this side of heaven we will always need the sanctifying work of the Spirit changing us. And, of course, He has laid down the appropriate way for our sins to be dealt with.

Christ has taken every sin in his body on the Cross and so every sin has been dealt with, but that has to be applied to every individual human being and it can only be applied when they acknowledge their state and their need and accept what Christ has done for them. Then and only then does the work of Christ on the Cross apply to them.

But it is more than that because as we have noted in both this and the previous meditation, this side of heaven we will still need the sanctifying work of the Spirit changing us, because we can still get it wrong. Yet even every new failure has already been dealt with on the Cross, for Christ died for every sin ever committed, past, present, and future. But that still needs applying and the way it is applied is by us facing the sin and confessing it.

It is at that point – and the first part of the verse is down to us – that the work of Christ kicks in and we can be assured that God will remain true (faithful) to Himself and to His word, and so we can be guaranteed that when we do confess, then He WILL forgive. It is that simple but sometimes we struggle to accept that simplicity and so feel after we’ve confessed we still need to prove to God that we are good. No we’re not, but our intent is to be.

So, if you are aware that you have a bad attitude towards God or against any other person, or if you are aware that you have said or done something you know you ought not to have said or done, then realize the truth and respond according to this verse. Amen? Amen!