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.

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!

5. Walk in the Light

Meditations in 1 John : 5 :  Walk in the Light

1 John  1:6,7   If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

In the early part of this twenty first century crusading atheists have attacked God and the Church and one of the key prongs of their attack has been based on poor examples of Christianity, people whose lives have not lived up to the call of Jesus. There is in these verses a call to a great separation and it is a call to every believer.

Now it may be that John was speaking out in these verses against those who purported to be believers in that time, yet whose lives could hardly be distinguished from the rest of the world. Some religious groups said it was all right to live how you wanted. It was the argument that Paul went against in his letter to Rome:What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? ….. Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (Rom 6:1,15)

John is a great one for calling Christians to live godly lives, lives that are pure and righteous. He does it by contrasting light and darkness. We have already touched on it in the previous verse meditation. Referring to Jesus in his Gospel, John wrote, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (Jn 1:5) and “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (Jn 1:9)

John uses light and darkness to describe right and wrong living, because the analogy is so clear – light and darkness  cannot exist in the same space at the same time. If you go into a dark room and turn on the light the darkness disappears. It is as simple as that. So, says John, Jesus is light and if you claim to be united with him in fellowship, and yet carry on sinning, that is proof that Jesus’ light is not in you, you are not in fellowship with him and all you say is a lie about being a believer.

When we talk about becoming a Christian we talk about inviting Jesus into your life. Now if you do that – genuinely – then his light will prevent you from sinning. Another way we put it is to talk about the Holy Spirit coming to live in us. He is light and if He genuinely lives in us and we fellowship with Him, then darkness cannot remain in us, sin cannot remain in us. The key word is ‘fellowship’. In his Gospel, John remembered Jesus, at the Last Supper speaking of similar things: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” (Jn 15:5) Remaining in, or, as the older versions had it, ‘abiding in’ simply means living in harmony with Jesus, fellowshipping with him.

Sanctification – that change of life to become more like Jesus – is both an instant and a gradual thing. It is instant and starts from the moment we come to Christ and he places his Holy Spirit within us. At that point the goal of our life, all of our aims, changes. From that moment living for God becomes the all-important thing; that’s what we mean when we talk about surrendering our lives to Him. From that moment on, His will is the all-important thing for us, but the trouble is that often there are things we haven’t realized God wants to change and, in fact, the change will take years and years. But whenever we recognize something that is not right, we must deal with it immediately – for it is darkness and it can no longer exist within us.

When we fellowship or commune with God, He lets us know when they are obvious things that need dealing with. He takes away our peace and we become aware that here is something that must change. How many Christians, I wonder, never commune or fellowship with God? I wonder how many just hold him at a distance in their lives? When you do this you can tolerate wrong things in your life – but be warned, that has spin-offs!

If we hold God at arms’ length, then we don’t fellowship with Him and if we don’t fellowship with Him it means we don’t fellowship with other believers. It is the Holy Spirit within us who enables us to fellowship heart to heart, spirit to spirit, with other believers. But on the positive side, when we do fellowship with Him and with one another, that is how His life in us is supposed to work and that is the outworking of His salvation that He wants in us. That is why John appears to ‘tack on’ this reference to the blood of Jesus, his Son, which purifies us from all sin. It is the outworking of our salvation is to be practical, not merely theoretical.

So often we seek to separate off references to our salvation and being cleansed from our sin, from practical living, but practical living is the outworking of what Jesus has achieved on the Cross. It wasn’t simply that our consciences can be cleared; it was also to enable us to live new lives and that newness involves interacting with other believers at a deep and meaningful level. If we sin and hold darkness in our lives, that prevents fellowship taking place – fellowship with God and fellowship with other believers. We will have an appearance of a Christian faith, but it will not be what God has for you, it will fall short of that. That is how significant these verses are!

1. Jesus’ Gospel

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 1. Jesus’ Gospel

(By way of a change from the usual style of meditations, this series will be simple and short reflections with less coverage of other pertinent Scriptures.)

Mk 1:1 The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God

How easy it is to think about the Gospel in almost mechanical terms, ‘the abc’ of the Gospel, whereas in fact it is all about a person, the Son of God.  The Gospel is all about coming into a living relationship with God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit – and that all because of what Jesus did on the Cross for us.

Yes, it is really a two part thing: what Christ did for us on the Cross (past history to be apprehended today so it becomes meaningful for me and is the means to bringing me into a new life) and then the living out of that life under Christ’s direction as he directs me from the throne room of heaven by the means of his Spirit here and now.

So Mark is going to open up the story so that we can see what to believe and why we can believe it. It is a unique story; there is none other like it in all the earth or in all of history, for it is the story of God coming to the earth in human form. That is a staggering claim but that is what this Gospel is all about. This book is ALL about Jesus. What is frustrating about it sometimes, is that it seems to come over as the notebook of a college student who sat on the sidelines (sometimes getting totally involved!) making notes. There is so much more that could have been written – but wasn’t!

Notes are easy to read but frustratingly limited and so the intelligent reader may have many questions but you’ll have to hold on to them until you get to heaven. In the meantime there is plenty to keep you absorbed. There is sufficient here upon which to build your faith in this God-man, Jesus Christ.

The challenge comes, will I take this in and devour it like a starving man or will I treat it with familiarity and thus with contempt?  I am about to read the most incredible story that has ever been written. I am about to read historical accounts which should blow my mind away. This is the unique story of the Son of God. There never has been and never will be anyone else like him because he is God in the flesh – and that blows my mind to start with.

Lord, I’m going to need help with this. I’ve read this simple Gospel many times. Please deliver me from the curse of familiarity and make it come alive like it is the first time I’ve ever read it. Help to realise afresh the wonder of what is here. Amen.

35. Christ’s Work

Meditations in 1 Peter : 35:  Christ’s Work

1 Pet 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

Some think this verse is Peter diverting to the atonement as another subject that comes to mind when he thinks of Christ’s example, but when we look at in detail we will see that it is because of Christ’s work on the Cross that we can now live new lives, lives that will reveal God to the world. This verse is thus an extension of Peter’s ongoing theme here about testimony and witness. Let’s consider it in detail.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” This is without question a reference to Christ dying on the Cross. In the New Testament accounts, the Cross is often referred to as ‘a tree’, e.g. “whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.” (Acts 5:30) and “They killed him by hanging him on a tree.” (Acts 10:39) and Paul specifically links it to the Old Testament reference and curse: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Gal 3:13 quoting Deut 21:23). So yes, this is a clear reference to him dying on the Cross, but what about the reference to “bore our sins in his body”?

Think about the Old Testament sacrificial system. Within that, when a man sinned, he had to take an animal to the Temple to be sacrificed. He placed his hands on its head, as means of identification, and the animal was then killed. It was a picture of the sins of the man being passed to the animal who then took the punishment (death) for those sins. So the New Testament teaching is that in the same way, when Christ died on the Cross he was dying in our place and took our sins. For it to apply to us, we have to come to God in repentance, believing in Jesus as our substitute and God then declares us forgiven and cleansed. Because he is the eternal Son of God, he acts as our substitute wherever we are in history, even though he died in time-space history two thousand years ago.

Now that is what Jesus did so that two things could then happen to us: “so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.” We have already explained when and how it takes place (at our conversion) but that is only the start. When we came to Christ, we rejected our old self-centred life of failure and guilt and turned away from that old sin-focused life. Peter uses the same language as the apostle Paul when he refers to this for he speaks about us dying to the old life, dying to sins. The apostle Paul taught, “We died to sin… count yourselves dead to sin.” (Rom 6:2,11)  This teaching says the old life has gone; we no longer live like we used to. Sin no longer dominates us and no longer has power over us.

We have been freed FROM that so that we may now ‘live for righteousness’. Righteousness – living rightly according to God’s design for us, is now the basis for our lives.  Paul’s counterpart teaching is, “we too may live a new life… count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God… offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” (Rom 6:4,11,13).

Do you see the link now between what Peter has been saying previously? He was saying, live out lives of witness and testimony, responding differently to everyone else when you suffer unjustly, so that you glorify God, but you also do it and live like that because of what Christ has achieved for you on the Cross and the nature of the life you now live because of that.  You cope with suffering unjustly because you are a new person, a Spirit-energised person, a Cross-redeemed person, a person with the nature of Christ being formed in you.

He closes the sentence with, “by his wounds you have been healed.” In that short phrase he uses two shorthand words, words used to summarise a lot more. When he speaks of Christ’s ‘wounds’ he means all that was done to him before and on the Cross. He is in fact quoting Isa 53:5 exactly: But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Pierced, crushed and wounded are words that do have specific applications but they also apply generally in a spiritual sense. You might like to meditate on how Christ was pierced in his spirit, crushed in spirit and wounded in the spirit. These are all part of what he went through, and the result is that we are ‘healed’. This is usually taken to mean in spirit. Previously we had been sin-sick, our lives deformed by sin, damaged by sin, and by his work on the Cross Christ made it possible for sin to be removed from our bodies, our twisted lives straightened out and the effects or damage done by sin to be removed. Those are the possibilities that we have to claim and take hold of, part of the salvation that is ours through the work of Christ on the Cross, which now enables us to live as people different from the rest of the world. May it be so!