Awe

Shadows? (Colossians 2:16-19)

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Shadows point to something, represent something but aren’t the thing themselves. More than this, shadows are ethereal with no substance of their own, empty without that thing that’s having light shone onto it.

The Colossian believers were at risk from people making more of the shadows than the Saviour! This is still a challenge that can assault believers in Jesus.

Paul is adamant;

So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. 18 Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, 19 and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it.” (Colossians 2:16-19 in NLT)

Don’t let anyone look down on you or condemn you as less than them because of what you do or don’t eat or drink. Food is just that – food. It is not something that can earn you ‘spiritual-brownie-points’! The old covenant food laws were about purity and holiness (set-apartness), but they are a shadow. They existed prior to Jesus’ coming but now that He the bridegroom has come everything changed. True holiness is found through faith in Jesus, not in ritualistic, moralistic righteousness. True holiness (set-apartness) and is going to be found finally when we are glorified by Jesus at the return of Jesus for eternity with Jesus.

More than this Paul says, don’t let anyone be condescending towards you for not observing certain traditional days/celebrations in the calendar, or fasts either. 

God instituted the old covenant festivals as a rhythm of rejoicing, thanksgiving, consecration, repentance and worship to God, a constant reminder of God’s covenant with His people and their specialness to Him. They were a grace to God’s people prior to Christ in the old covenant, but now that the Covenant Maker had appeared, He reinterpreted them and showed that they were all pointing to a life-giving relationship with Him made possible by His once for all sacrifice. They are shadows of an eternity of rejoicing, thanks, consecration and worship to God in eternity. The big idea here is that Jesus is the focus, not the festival! The festivals pointed to Him, and now He is here, He has come and revolutionised what following God looks like.

And finally don’t let anyone trick you, saying that they have visions of angels or special revelations as if these shadows were more important than the ONE TRUE REALITY – JESUS CHRIST. The people troubling the Colossian believers claimed ‘special knowledge’. Paul counters that praying that the Colossians would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and that they would have all spiritual wisdom and understanding because Paul had prayed for them not because they had some special angelic visitation or revelation (Colossians 1:9-11)!

People wrongfully often get off track so that they end up majoring in the minor and minoring in the momentous! People let the shadows (vs17) fascinate them when the ONE TRUE REALITY – JESUS CHRIST (vs17) is right there in front of them and available to them.

Friends, Jesus is our head. The most vital organ in the whole body, the organ that all other body parts are connected to vitally so that they all work together. Hold on to Jesus, who He is and what He has done for you and for me. Find your life-source in Him and Him alone, be more amazed by Jesus Christ, more in awe with Him than anything else. Jesus is all you need, 

16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent (Colossians 1:16-18)

So make much of Jesus – our SAVIOUR not the shadows.

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Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Magnificient! (Colossians 2:11-15)

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How do you express or explain the wonders of the miracle of our salvation? Paul, in these verses, draws on five distinct word pictures in an attempt to make real to us the wonder of our salvation.

1. Circumcision (vs11)

Male circumcision was the mark of the covenant God had established between Himself and His people (see Genesis 17:10-14). It was the physical sign that this person was set apart for God, was part of God’s people.

Paul takes that whole concept of circumcision and applies it to believers in Jesus. Having believed we are spiritually circumcised, ‘cut off’ from the body of sin (Romans 6:6) that was ‘in-Adam’, and are now correctly described as being ‘in-Christ’ and free from the dominion of sin.

The moment of salvation cuts us off from our old life, our old habits, our old slavery to sin and so we are now free from sin and able to walk in obedience and love for Jesus. We don’t have to try to cut ourselves off from the old life of sin, we have been cut off from it by the finished work of Jesus. His victory is our victory and freedom. We now ought to consider that freedom and victory to be ours and live accordingly (Romans 6:9-11).

We who believe in Jesus and worship Jesus by the Spirit are God’s chosen people now, God’s circumcised ones (Philippians 3:3).

2. Baptism (vs12)

Colossians 2:12 and Romans 6:3-6 both teach that when we believe in Jesus and are baptised as believers, we are united with Jesus in his death and resurrection!

The symbol of baptism in water isn’t just a symbol, but somehow spiritually we are united with Jesus through baptism.

Our going under the water represents our unification with Jesus and His death, and our dying to sin and our old self so that the ‘body of sin might be brought to nothing’ (Romans 6:6).

Our coming up from the water represents our unification with Jesus in His resurrection and our being raised to new life through faith in Jesus (Colossians 2:12-13 & Romans 6:8-11).

Jesus’ death & resurrection remind us of our death to the old life of sin, satan’s control and fear of death and our new life (Colossians 2:13) and hope and freedom that was obtained for us by Jesus on the cross.

[Application point]: If you have not yet been baptised in water as a believer, note how the Apostle Paul has a high view of baptism as having not just symbolic but spiritual significance. I urge you to speak to your pastor about getting baptised in water if you have believed in Jesus.

3. A Record of Debt Notice (vs14)

The third word picture Paul uses is what was known as a ‘cheirographon’ in the Greco-Roman world of the day. This was a legal written note of indebtedness that someone would be given if they had a debt that was as yet unpaid.

Paul uses this metaphor to make clear that when we put our faith in Jesus the legal and moral debt that we owed to God, the debt we carried around with us as a ‘cheirographon’ – that debt was set aside in full.

We were duty-bound to pay that debt, but God set it aside when Jesus stepped in our place and said in effect; ‘I’ll pay for that in full!’ on the cross. When Jesus cried out on the cross in the moment of His death; ‘it is finished!’ (John 19:30) we can understand this to mean that He had paid the price for our freedom from debt in full. And because the price was paid in full, the debt is set aside (Colossians 2:14), the ‘cheirographon’ is annulled, and we are free! No more debt before a Holy God, free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last!

4. Crucifixion (vs14)

But what did God do with the ‘cheirographon’? In the time of Jesus and Paul, when someone was crucified, a note would be nailed to the cross to tell everyone what they were guilty of, being executed for.

We know that Pilate had a note nailed to Jesus’ cross that read; “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:37). This is ironic since this was both the charge against Jesus – that He claimed to be God, and also the truth about Jesus that He was God! This note above Jesus’ head as He is dying for us on the cross reminds Paul of the ‘cheirographon’ that God was setting aside through Jesus’ dying in our place for our sin.

Paul then says, God took that ‘cheirographon’ and nailed it to the cross, this is how God could set aside our debt, Jesus paid for it on the cross in full!

5. Victory! (vs14-15)

The death and resurrection of Jesus was the most glorious victory. In Jesus’ time when a military victory had been won, the defeated king or military officials and their soldiers would be paraded in humiliation and defeat behind the victorious king in a victory parade.

This is the picture in mind for Paul when thinking of the cross of Christ and its impact on our lives as believers. The devil and his devilish host have been utterly triumphed over by Jesus death & resurrection; they have been humiliated and defeated, put to shame openly by Jesus’ magnificent once and for all victory!

What good news this is for us who have believed in Jesus. We are on the winning side for eternity; the battle is won, we know how the story ends. His victory is our victory. So live in the good of His victory and never cower in defeat before satan, sin or death.

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Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

 

Gospel Vignette (Ps 89:14)

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photo-illustration-drawing-pencil-strokes-black-religious-theme-crucified-christ-calvary-beige-background-vignette-144925712Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne, steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” (Psalm 89:14)

Ethan the Ezrahite could not have been able to see the full revelation of the wonder of the Gospel yet but this one line in his psalm encapsulates so much of the Gospel!

God’s throne (‘your throne’) evokes thoughts about God’s rule, God’s kingdom.  God’s rule is characterised by, is founded on God’s character, His nature.  Who God is, defines His kingdom.

And as the Psalmist says, God is righteous.  This means God always does the right thing in every situation.  God is utterly pure in character and flawless in His actions.  God is perfect in all He does and is and there is no stain or shadow or turning in Him at all. God’s righteousness is the reason God is holy, totally ‘other than’ anything and anyone else because no one else is righteous.

God is just.  He has no favouritism in Him, no partiality that leads to injustice to some. God cannot be influenced so that evil or sin is allowed to prevail or go unchecked or unpunished.  God can’t ‘turn a blind eye’ to sin.

Jesus’ righteousness and His justice make Jesus the perfect King.  We reverently fear Him because of His righteous justice and yet we are also comforted that the injustices we see daily will be judged.

Because God is just and righteous, we sinners need a Saviour lest we perish in our sin under the righteous judgment of God’s justice.  God is righteous in administering His justice and so we need a Saviour.

Steadfast love and Faithfulness announce God’s presence or His coming.  Like a praise singer walking out in front of God.  Yet the God He announces is characterised by steadfast love and faithfulness so how ought we to approach this righteous, just, Holy, loving, faithful King?

Here is the paradox that is the Gospel.  God is holy, righteous & just and we are not!  Yet as our Creator, God loves the unlovely and so in love He chose to give Himself for us on the cross to satisfy His righteous justice and to simultaneously express His love.  When Jesus died in our place for our sin the righteous One became unrighteous so that we the unrighteous could be made righteous so that we could be reconciled to God in love!

And because Jesus did this, God is faithful to Jesus (1 John 1:9) to forgive the sin of anyone who approaches Him as their King and asks Him to forgive them of all their sins.

Amazing God, awesome Saviour!

Who is Jesus? (1 John 2:18-29)

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Jesus Christ is not just the hinge of history, separating all of history into before and after His birth. Who you understand Jesus Christ to be is what separates Christianity from every other faith.

The apostle John writing in 1 John 2:18-29 is fortifying the church from false teachings that were threatening to undermine the apostolic doctrines of the church regarding who Jesus was.  

John makes some quite clear statements that draw a line between what is Christian and what is ‘against God’ (antichrist).

“Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” (1 John 2:22)

John, as usual, is making stark contrasts. Those he is writing to know ‘the truth’ (vs21) while the person who denies Jesus’ divinity is ‘the liar.’ Such a person is not just wrong but anti-God, against God.

John is saying that; “everything depends on what a person believes about Jesus Christ. If an individual does not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Christ, God’s own Son, sent from the Father, then he is (literally) against Christ.” (David Jackman)

More than this, we see from vs23 that the Trinity is not divisible. The Father, the Son and the Spirit can not be separated, to deny the Son is to deny the Father and conversely accepting the Son causes one to be in a state of right relationship with the Father also! 

Who is Jesus Christ? This is essentially the BIG QUESTION that every person on the planet has to answer, and it is also the most important test, that sorts out all religious teaching we may hear.

John confirms that the teaching about Jesus from the very beginning has not changed (vs24-25). It will not change, does not need updating but believing in the Gospel truth about Jesus comes with an amazing promise – eternal life.

So, remain in Jesus. Stand firm against all notions that divert from the truth portrayed in the Gospels about Jesus. Remain, believing in Jesus Christ so that when He appears in glory, you’ll be excited to see Him and not shrinking back because you diverted from the truth (vs26-28).

In closing, the church wrestled with false teaching about who Jesus was for nearly three hundred years after this letter was written by John. Which is not surprising since the enemy must have tried everything in his power to derail God’s church.

Finally, in 451AD the Fathers of the church from the known world agreed on this long but important statement of faith/creed about who Jesus is for us as Christ Followers. This statement has never been updated and has never needed to be nor will it never need to be;

Chalcedonian Creed from the Council of Chalcedon 451

“We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.”

Chew on that for a while, marvel at Jesus and worship Him!

Compromise & Judgement (Hosea 8-9)

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Israel’s sin of idolatry is described in detail in Hosea 8-9, while enemies are waiting like a vulture readying itself to descend upon Israel in judgement (Hosea 8:1). Why?

Because these people cry; ‘My God…we know you’ (Hosea 8:2) However, the truth is that they had continually spurned the one true God (Hosea 8:3) and so they will be pursued by the enemy and taken off into exile in the nations.

Israel had appointed kings without asking for God’s guidance, appointed princes without God’s approval (Hosea 8:4 in NLT). They were worldly, no different from the nations around them, they lived and led as though God was not on His throne and as though God had no authority in their lives.

To make matters worse, Israel had made idols for themselves from their silver and gold. And because of this, they had brought about their own destruction (Hosea 8:4).

When the kingdom of Israel was divided (see 1 Kings 12) Jeroboam sinfully built altars for sacrifices in Bethel & Dan and had two golden calves built for these places of false worship. “And he said to the people, ‘You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.'” (1 Kings 12:28)

In Hosea 8, God expresses His righteous anger at this sinful offensive act and how it had been perpetuated in Samaria for nearly 200yrs – ‘I have spurned your calf, O Samaria. My anger burns against them…the calf of Samaria shall be broken to pieces.’ (Hosea 8:5-6)

The beginning of the Ten Commandments reads;

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:1-5)

This idolatry with the golden calves was outright rebellion against God, and it was going to be punished by Him.  

The ‘worship’ and sacrifices in Samaria mimicked the worship God had ordained for the temple in Jerusalem. There were similarities, therefore. But God refused to accept the syncretistic compromised worship of the northern Tribes at their self-made temples with their golden calves – ‘but the LORD does not accept them.’ (Hosea 8:13).

So their external ‘religious’ actions had no effect; their sins were not going to be forgiven; rather, their sins would be remembered by God and punished by God (Hosea 8:13).

‘Israel has forgotten his Maker’ – (Hosea 8:14). A chilling echo of this passage is found in Romans 1:18-32 where also there is judgement coming because of the willful decision to exchange; ‘the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator’ (Romans 1:25).

Because of Israel’s idolatry, they will be exiled to Assyria and Egypt for; ‘the days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come.’ (Hosea 9:7) ‘Woe to them when I depart from them!’ (Hosea 9:12) ‘My God will reject them because they have not listened to Him; they shall be wanders among the nations.’ (Hosea 9:17)

These are sad chapters. There is no good news in them, no ray of hope as in earlier chapters.

So what does this mean for us?

  • Warnings are important to take heed of! In life, we ignore warnings at our peril.
  • I thank God for passages like this. Although you don’t find them on Christian bumper stickers or the like, they are essential.
  • Passages like this contain solemn warnings. May we not be like these people who willfully disobeyed God’s clear commands, who compromised and mixed true worship of God with idolatry.
  • Is there any way in which you are ignoring a clear command of Scripture?
  • Is there any way in which you are dabbling in trusting in anything or anyone other than Almighty God?
  • If you are, repent now, don’t delay even a minute.
  • “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27)

God: Free to Choose (Romans 9:16-29)

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In Romans 9:1-16, we learnt that God is mercifully sovereign in choosing anyone to be His people.

(Romans 9:16-18): God’s sovereign choice of actions is not limited. God works in all of human history; God even works through evil despots for the purpose of His will – “that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (vs17). God is free as the sovereign One to have mercy on those He chooses to and to harden whomever He wishes for the broader purpose of His will.

God is not unjust in acting in this way. After all, as Paul demonstrated in the early chapters of his letter, that all human beings are sinful and guilty in God’s sight (3:9,19&23), nobody deserves to be saved or chosen by God. “Therefore, if God hardens some, He is not unjust, for that is what their sin deserves.” – John Stott

(Romans 9:19): But if God is so much in control and since we cannot resist His will – then the question arises; “How can God find anyone guilty?” The answer to this question completes the verses of the chapter.

(Romans 9:20–23): Scripture never defends God’s sovereign free will to choose to show mercy or to express His righteous wrath and to still hold people accountable for their sin. Instead, Scripture insists that we, as finite human beings, are totally out of order rebelliously questioning God’s ways! When we do so, we are like the clay disrespectfully calling the potter to account for his actions in choosing to make what He wanted to out of the clay. “God created a world in which both his wrath and his mercy would be displayed. Indeed, his mercy shines against the backdrop of his just wrath, showing thereby that the salvation of any person is due to the marvellous grace and love of God. If this is difficult to understand, it is because people mistakenly think God owes them salvation! ” (ESV Study Bible)

(Romans 9:24-29): In his grace and mercy, God has called people to himself from both the Jews and the Gentiles just as He promised He would do through the prophet Hosea (Hosea 2:23 & 1:10). God did this to illustrate His stunning undeserved grace. All people who are called by God are sinful underserving people; God has shown His grace to the Gentiles just as He showed His grace to Israel by saving them and choosing them as His own even though they were all undeserving. Anyone being chosen by God for mercy and not wrath is pure mercy on the part of God!

(vs27-29) Remember that not all of ethnic Israel was saved, or were truly God’s people, but only a remnant was the true Israel of God as was prophesied in Isaiah 10:22–23 and experienced salvation and not God’s judgement (Isaiah 1:9).

Are you battling with some of what’s revealed about God in Romans 9? Ask yourself why you’re battling? Is not all of Scripture God-breathed and useful to teaching and rebuking us (2 Timothy 3:16)? Are you not in danger of being the clay screaming at the potter about what ought and ought not to be? We need to be so careful that we do not elevate our thoughts or questions above the revelation of Scripture in such a way that we end up judging Scripture rather than allowing Scripture to interrogate our hearts and minds!

Spurgeon once said when asked about defending the Bible;

“Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it, and it will defend itself.”

This is the revelation of Scripture regarding God’s sovereign merciful free will in choosing some and not others to be saved. May we, may I humble ourselves grateful that God elected to choose to show mercy to us and may we rejoice in His gracious choice and worship Him for His mercy.

Questions for Reflection:

1. What does this passage teach me about God & faith?
2. What does this teach me about myself, what is God saying to me?
3. What should I do as a result?

Love Demonstrated (Romans 5:6-11)

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We sinned, Jesus died. Why did Jesus do this for you and me? Could it be that we were somehow worthy of this incredibly selfless act? Paul is at pains to show that we did not merit this act of selfless love. He describes the state we were in at the point when Jesus chose to die for us in four ways;
– we were utterly helpless, unable to help ourselves (vs6)
– we were ungodly/wicked/irreverent (vs6)
– we were sinners entrenched in our rebellion against God (vs8)
– we were the enemies of God (vs10)

How worthy were we of this selfless act on the part of Jesus?
Totally unworthy!

Jesus died for us ‘at just the right time’. Waiting any longer would not have helped matters. We were not going to improve our situation with more time none of the four characteristics Paul used to describe us would have changed with more time. But, what made it just the right time?

Jesus’ coming was preceded by the entire history of the people of God, the choosing of Abram, the covenant and the promises, the formation of a people, the exile, the giving of the Law & the system of atonement for sins & worship, the journey to the Promised Land, Israel’s rejection of God as King followed by one failed king after another, Israel’s continued cyclic disobedience and God’s grace & mercy and forgiveness & God’s sending multiple prophets to speak to His people of another era to come & more specifically of the coming Messiah God’s King of kings – all this made the timing of Jesus’ incarnation, life, death & resurrection just the right time.

Jesus’ coming to die in our place for our sin wasn’t just at the right time it was the primary demonstration of the love of God! (vs8)

The cross of Christ is the zenith of the demonstration of God’s love for you and me. Yes, we feel loved when there is an answer to some prayer of ours, or we feel God’s protection or provision or blessing. But these are secondary demonstrations of the love of God; nothing can compare with the cross as the ultimate expression of His love for us. Later in the letter, Paul will use this same argument, saying if God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us, how much more will God not then also along with giving us Jesus give us all these other little things we need (Romans 8:32).

Don’t ever wonder whether God loves you – Jesus died on the cross for you! He did this while you were still an ungodly, helpless, sinner, who was His enemy! And now that you are no longer ungodly but righteous, no longer a sinner but a saint, no longer an enemy but a reconciled son or daughter of God & now that you are no longer helpless but have the Holy Spirit as your Helper – how much more will God not pour His love into your life (vs6)?

So when circumstances appear to shout that God doesn’t love you when your enemy the deceiver shouts God doesn’t have your best interests at heart (just like he did to Adam and Eve) – don’t listen, look again at the cross of Christ. Ponder what Jesus did for you while you were his enemy. Know that He loves you with an everlasting love and that this tough or confusing situation can’t mean that God doesn’t love you because nothing can unravel the zenith of God’s love demonstrated for you on the cross.

Friend, the future is impossibly bright for the believer. If you consider how God treated you while you were His enemy, can you imagine how God will overwhelm you now with His love since you have been reconciled back into right relationship with Him! (vs 9-11)

To underline his point, even more, Paul contrasts the results of the death of Jesus and the life of Jesus. Since the result of Jesus’ death that we were reconciled back to a right relationship with God, how much more shall our lives be healed & restored and our relationship with God be deepened as a result of Jesus’ resurrection life! Jesus resurrection life is what makes Jesus what Hebrews calls, the guarantor of a better covenant;

“This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:23-25)

Because of Jesus’ eternal life, He is able to save us to the uttermost, to save us completely. And because of this, we rejoice!

Who is Jesus? (Matthew 16:13-28)

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Every person on the planet has to answer that question at some point in their life.  Jesus is the central figure of all of human history, Jesus is the one person of whom it is not possible to have no opinion of or to ignore forever.

Those around Jesus in the crowds and amongst the pharisees, even the disciples themselves were all trying to work Jesus out!  A man claiming to be God’s Son, the promised Messiah?  Could it be?  And if you think about it for even a moment, I believe that the vast majority of us would have been the same quandary.

Jesus knows this, and so probingly He asks the disciples; “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13)  The answer is diverse because the theories were diverse – no one really had a good handle of who Jesus was. 

Some said Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead (Matthew 14:1-2), some thought Jesus was the fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy (see Malachi 4:5) or maybe Jesus was in fact Jeremiah or one of the other prophets..?

All those responses were interesting but Jesus, getting right to the point then asks His disciples; “But who do you say that I am?”  There’s no wriggle room here, they are on the spot… 

All of us will face a moment just like this one at some point in our lives – “Who do you say that I am?”.  In that moment there will be no referencing others, just the need to give an account for what we have believed about Jesus for ourselves.

I am certain there was a moment of silence before the disciples all felt a wave of relief wash over them as they heard Peter limbering up to speak first…

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” – Peter said to Jesus (Matthew 19:16)

Nailed it!  Peter in a moment of revelation given to Him by God Himself (vs17) sees Jesus in splendid clarity.  Jesus is the Messiah (the meaning of ‘Christ’), Jesus is the begotten Son of God. Truly God, truly man – what a mystery revealed.  Peter didn’t just see Jesus in that moment, but Peter also believed what He saw about Jesus.

Who do you say Jesus is?  You can delay your answer for a period of time.  But in the end of the day, everyone of us will have to answer that question ourselves before Jesus.

So, what’s your answer?

I pray that you might have the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that You may know Jesus fully (Ephesians 1:17) and I pray that you might have power to grasp the magnitude and magnificence of Jesus and His love for you.  So that you like Peter would be filled with revelation knowledge of Jesus, and that as a result you might be filled to overflowing with the fullness of God in your life! (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Jesus is the Messiah, the only One worthy of all our worship and adoration.  May you see those truths, may they transform you from the inside out, may they impact your life 24/7 and forevermore. 

Lastly, if you already know Jesus as Messiah and Lord of your life, why don’t you choose three people in your life who wouldn’t yet answer Jesus as Peter did.  Why not beginto pray for them.  Start by praying the prayer I’ve prayed for you in the paragraph above.  Pray that they would come to know and love Jesus.  Then in addition to praying, invest in their lives relationally, and look then invite them to contexts that would help move them towards faith in Jesus.

9:1 (Luke 17:11-19)

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Ten people all in a desperate situation.  All outcasts excluded from society, from relationships and normal interactions.  Everyone of them with their lives on hold because of a circumstance brought on by a physical condition.  They all needed God.    

One day none other than Jesus walks on to the horizon of their lives.  Can you imagine the conversations bouncing around this motley gathering of people, united by misery?  

“Is that Jesus of Nazareth?”  “Isn’t he the man they say raised the young girl back to life?”  “I heard he healed a man born blind” “Isn’t he the one they say calmed the storm on the lake with one command from his mouth?”… 

It’s not hard to imagine the conversation excitedly ramping up then to something like; 

“Guys this is our moment!  If the stories about him are true maybe he will perform a miracle and heal us!”  And so they cry out; “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13)

Testimonies, God-stories about others encountering God can have an effect on our own faith.  There is no evidence that this band of 10 believed at all in Jesus prior to this moment.  But when Jesus was present, the testimonies of others primed their own faith causing them to believe that Jesus could have mercy on them and free them from their painful circumstances.

Jesus sees them.  Jesus acknowledged these people who were outcasts and untouchables in that society.  Jesus gives them dignity by responding to their cry for help.  Jesus stops his journey to speak with them, Jesus is not too busy, not too self-important to stop for them.  Jesus is amazing!

Just the other night I was convicted by the Holy Spirit of being totally unlike Jesus was here in this encounter.  I had taken my wife out for a date and we had just had a nice meal.  A man I had not seen before appeared out of the shadows near our car as we tried to get into it (as often happens in South Africa).  He was looking for some money, which I was going to give, but then as we got really close he started suddenly pleading urgently and awkwardly and I baulked, got in the car and drove off – I am sad to say.  In the moments that followed my sense of having not been like Jesus increased and so I repented and asked for God’s forgiveness.  Now one could make arguments against giving in certain settings, but that’s not the point – the point is Jesus stopped and still stops for people and I want to be more like Jesus!

Jesus tells these 10, to go and show themselves to the priests which in our day equates to Jesus saying, “Go, get checked out by the Doctor and you’ll find you’ve been healed and can re-enter normal life!” (see vs14)  They must have looked down at their various sores and lesions which Scripture did not say were healed instantly, rather it says; “And as they went they were cleansed.” (vs14)

It appears as though the healing required a second step of faith.  Step 1 was believe Jesus can heal you and cry out to Him.  Step 2 seems to have been for them believe Jesus that you won’t be wasting your time getting checked out to see if you’re healed because I am going to heal you.  Step 3 “and as they went” they were healed.  They had to take a step of obedient faith and then they were healed.

All 10 are healed as they go on their way and it seems 9 of the 10 just keep going and never come back to thank Jesus.  

Sadly I have seen this pattern repeat itself over and over again over many years.  We have prayed for countless unemployed people, or people wanting a better job, or marriages that are in need….and then when God breaks into people’s lives, in the moment that they should be thanking God, telling the God-story for God’s glory and then continuing to live for God – they disappear.  God warned Israel of doing this to Him in Deuteronomy 8:11-20 saying; “take care lest you forget the Lord your God” (vs11) when God answers your prayers for a Promised Land, “beware lest you say in your heart, my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this” (vs17).

But one of the men did return to Jesus, fell on his face before Jesus’ feet and gave thanks worshipping Jesus for the miraculous and instant healing he had received.  May we be like this guy!  May we be those who honour God as the source of all good gifts to us.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

May we be those who don’t only remember God when we feel like we need Him, but who remember God when we need to praise, honour, worship and thank Him.  After all God is worthy of praise always, everyday, for giving us Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and healed us not of some disease but delivered us from sin and sin’s punishment to come.  Live your whole life as a response of love to Him.

I AM… (John 8:12-59)

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God who encountered Moses in the burning bush moment, God who revealed Himself to Moses using the name; “I AM who I AM” (Exodus 3:14) is the unseen Almighty God of Scripture.  John in his gospel reveals that Jesus is the visible, tangible, personal revelation of that same unseen God, Yahweh (John 1:18).

In this encounter, Jesus is engaging with the Pharisees & Scribes who had just prior to his brought the adulterous woman to him in an attempt to catch him out and have him arrested.  Jesus authoritatively restores the woman to a place of dignity and challenges them regarding their self-righteousness and spiritual blindness.

They’re still standing there in what appears to be a hostile mood and so Jesus engages them in some verbal jousting.  Jesus is provocative!  He uses a phrase translated “I am” 13 times in this single encounter.  Now in one sense he is just using an ordinary phrase; “I am going” but He knew what He was doing.  He was making a point implicitly which he eventually makes explicitly in vs58.

The Greek translation of the Hebrew OT (called the Septuagint) uses the same phrase Jesus uses 13x in His conversation with the Jews opposing Him here in the Genesis 3:14 account of God with Moses. 

Here in John 8, the Jews are demanding that Jesus answer the question; “Who are you?” (vs25) and throughout this conversation Jesus is hinting at Exodus 3:14 until eventually He says it explicitly in John 8:58 and when He does they immediately picked up stones to stone Him on the spot as they got it – Jesus was claiming to be the same God who encountered Moses in Genesis 3:14.

Who is Jesus?  

This is the question that every person on the planet needs to answer at some stage in their life or ultimately on the day Jesus  Himself returns.  And when it comes to this question, we really only have three options;

    • Jesus is a ‘Conman’
    • Jesus is a ‘Madman’
    • Jesus is ‘God/man’

Some people would want to add that maybe Jesus was a simply a ‘Good man/Good teacher’ but that’s not an option really if you consider that we don’t call people who have delusions of deity good and would not encourage people to sit and learn from such people either – we would resign such a person to the Conman or Madman categories!

When Moses encountered God in the burning bush moment, God told Moses; “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5) and in that moment in response “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3:6)  Similarly, when Isaiah encountered God and saw a vision of God in glory in heaven, he crumpled before God falling on his face keenly aware of his sinfulness and God’s greatness (Isaiah 6) – this is who Jesus was claiming to be.

Friend, although Jesus was and is a man, don’t for a minute loose sight of the fact that He is one and the same God of glory, majestic and mighty, holy, or as Colossians 1 says of Jesus;

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  (Colossians 1:15-20)

So, worship Jesus, stand in awe and wonder at Him, bow before Him and surrender your whole life to Him and then live the rest of your days for Him and for His purposes alone.  Amen.

God-Moments God Created (Mark 6:45-52)

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In Mark’s Gospel account, just after Jesus multiplied the five loaves and the two fish to feed the thousands, Jesus then encouraged the disciples to get into a boat and travel to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while He stayed to dismiss the crowd.

Jesus created this God-moment!  He did so by sending the disciples on before Him so that He could then walk by them on the water.  Why? 

Was it so that He could continue to answer their question recorded in Mark 4:41; “Who then is this; that even the wind and the sea obey him?” which had not yet fully answered by Him?

Do you ever get that feeling?  Like God has organised things, events, timing, meetings with people, conversations and there is more going on that what’s maybe visible on the surface…?  God does this all the time actually. 

Here in Mark 6, we get to observe from the outside – and so it is relatively easy to spot God’s hand in the circumstances.  However, it is not always so easy when we are in the thick of it.

Why did Jesus create these circumstances?  Jesus wanted His disciples to know Him, to know His deity, His power over creation and the laws of nature (multiplying food, walking on water, healing diseases…).  And so Jesus sent them ahead in a boat, fully intending always to catch them up by walking across the water, walking past them (vs48) so that they could see Him.

And when they do see Him, their first thought is not; “Hey Jesus!”  Their first thought is more like; “WHAT!  A Ghost!”  Aren’t you and I like that? 

We are all too often filled with fear not faith, doubt not delight.  If they had been on land they would have probably run for their lives, but they were captive on that boat, captive to the circumstances.  Sometimes we are in the midst of a circumstance God Himself has orchestrated but we don’t see God or His handiwork, we just see dimly and have a tendency to freak out like they did.

Jesus didn’t want to make them afraid, and God’s not playing with your emotions either.  And so, as soon as Jesus sees their fearful terrified response He spoke to them calling out to them; “Take heart, it is I.  Do not be afraid!”  

Friend, God is always with you, even when you can’t see Him obviously, even when you can’t feel His presence or hear His voice above the storm and the winds of life.  In those moments remember what God has promised; “never will I leave you and never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5) and “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20)! 

So call out to Him, He is there and when you do call God will come rushing to you and will speak to you, comforting you as He comforted them with His words of affirmation, with His presence (Jesus climbed into the boat with them – vs51).

Just like the other storm which was calmed by Jesus authoritative words (Mark 4:35-41), this storm too suddenly abated and peace was restored.  The disciples are dumbstruck, they are in awe and wonder, astounded (vs51) at who Jesus really is – God almighty.

God arranges moments in our lives that will help us to see Him more clearly, moments that will demonstrate who He is to us in ways that no sermon or song could ever convey. 

So, next time there is something of a storm in your life, ask yourself whether God might be in the storm in some way?  Ask whether God might be wanting to reveal something more of Himself to you?  Call out to Jesus, He is there with you already, but He will come rushing to show Himself to you and to speak words that calm you just like He did for the disciples.  Trust Him that He can silence wind and calm waves with one whisper of His voice.  Worship Him, be amazed at Him, trust Him, grow in your love and knowledge of Him continually.  Amen.

Changed… [Matthew 4:18-22, John 1:35-51]

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Those who encounter Jesus are changed by Jesus!  In Matthew and John’s accounts, at least 7 people have an encounter with Jesus, and in each person’s case that encounter transformed their lives forever.  

Simon & Andrew were fishermen.  Fishing and sea was their livelihood, it was what they did.  They didn’t wake each morning wondering what to do, this was their income, it was even their defining identity.  But with just one encounter, hearing Jesus’ compelling and challenging words; “follow me” they immediately left their nets, left their livelihood, left their identities as fishermen all in order to respond to Jesus.  

Shortly thereafter, their business partners (James & John) similarly hear Jesus’ call to follow Him, and Scripture says that immediately they too left their nets, their identity, even their father and their servants (Mark 1:19) all to follow Jesus.  Luke records summarily, “they left everything and followed Him” (Luke 5:11).

The Gospel accounts don’t record much conversation really.  And yet Jesus was so compelling that when He called them to follow Him, they answered and they did so wholeheartedly!  Jesus redefined each of these four men.  They had been ‘doers’, fishermen, defined by their work.  Now they were in an instant defined as ‘followers’ of Jesus, new lives, new identity…  

What did they encounter in Jesus that caused this reaction?  

John’s account of the same events is full of revelation.  John exclaims; “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:35).  John in that moment has truly seen who the real Jesus is.  Having spent some time with Jesus, Andrew finds his brother exclaiming; ‘we have found the Messiah’ (vs41), likewise Philip finds Nathanael and says in effect; ‘we’ve found the one the whole Law and the Prophets speak of – the Messiah’ (vs45) and Nathanael himself cries out; “Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!” (vs49).  All these people encountered the real Jesus, the King of kings, the Messiah, the got it in those moments…

Those who encounter Jesus are changed by Jesus!

None of them are left unchanged.  Jesus changes their vocations, their identities, their relationships even their names!  Following Jesus must have been exhilarating yes but it also came at with a high cost, with risk even.  All these people have to leave things, people, what they knew for the unknown of following Jesus.  They all paid a price in some way or another, and we too will be called to leave or let go at times as we follow Jesus.  

Following Jesus was costly, following Jesus came with misunderstanding from others (imagine the thoughts, feelings and questions of the father of James and John’s, imagine their families, those who worked with them and those who knew them as fishermen…), and yet they never regretted it for a moment!

Those who truly encounter Jesus are transformed by Jesus.  In fact if your life is not being transformed, if you haven’t felt the call to leave certain things behind, you have to ask whether you’ve met the real Jesus yet?

Ask Jesus to reveal Himself to you again and again, in all His glory and majesty.

Hear His words to you; “Follow me”.

What do those words require from you right now today, at this moment in your life?

Is there anything you need to leave behind in order to follow Jesus wholeheartedly?

Two Faithful People (Luke 2:22-340)

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Nothing is known really about Simeon, but Scripture describes him as a man who was waiting with expectation and hope. The NLT translation vs25-26 says of Simeon;

He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

Simeon, was waiting eagerly. He believed that God would come to comfort His people by sending the Messiah. In fact he had heard God speak to him by the Holy Spirit that it was imminent, that he would not die before seeing the Messiah.

We have no knowledge of how long Simeon had waited with faith and expectation, but we know that in the period of delay, of waiting, he just kept coming (vs27) to synagogue (the equivalent of church in his day). He didn’t get discouraged waiting, he showed his faith by being consistent in coming, didn’t moan at God about delay but trusted God in it!

How do you handle delay? I urge you to keep being faithful, to keep trusting God even when you’ve had to maybe wait a long time. God is faithful. Decide to be disciplined in the delay!

More than this, he came ‘in the Spirit into the temple’ (vs27). He was like the person coming to church full of faith and expectation that He was going to see God do wondrous things, and that day recorded in Luke 2 was his day.

When Simeon met Joseph and Mary and their small child Jesus, he saw not in the natural (just another baby boy) but he saw Jesus’ destiny, he saw that Jesus was the Messiah the Saviour of God’s people (vs29-32). He picked up their child and blessed him recounting Scripture over Him speaking of His destiny, prophesying to Mary about Jesus’ future life.

All the longings in Simeon’s heart were fulfilled in a moment seeing Jesus! Now I can die in peace he said in effect (vs29). One meeting with Jesus, satisfied Simeon. Jesus is the answer to all our questions, the fulfilment of all our longings, Jesus is the One who alone can and does save those who trust in Him.

Luke tells us of another person who met Jesus that day in the Temple, an old woman called Anna. Anna was a prophet, she had lost her husband many years ago and was now 84yrs old but she too, recognised who Jesus really was when she encountered Him and so she exclaimed the truths about Jesus to those listening (vs38), telling them of who He really was.

Simeon and Anna are such examples of long-obedience, long-suffering faith, and the joy of encountering the real Jesus.

Jesus is all you need. The good news is you don’t need to wait for Jesus like Simeon or Anna did. So, why not reach out to Jesus now, call on Him, speak to Him in prayer. Jesus is so willing and ready to meet with you and to speak with you and to transform your life.

This link is to a song Michael Card wrote about this moment if you want to listen to it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBZiPRPogn0

Simeon and Anna were patient in waiting for God to do what God had promised.  Is there something you are tempted to give up in, tempting to stop trusting God for?  Why not come again to God and to ask Him to fill you with the Holy Spirit and to give you the heart that Simeon and Anna had.

Promise Maker, Promise Keeper (2 Kings 25:27-30)

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God promised king David (2 Samuel 7:11-16) that God would establish for David a ‘house’ (a lineage, a family, a clan or tribe) that would endure forever! In the context of the books of the Kings where king after king was overthrown some within days of their appointment as king, with whole lines of families being wiped out by successive kings more than once in Israel with the constant threat of invasion and capture from powerful nations all around – in that context these are massive promises to David.

And God kept His promise! As one reads through 1 & 2 Kings phrases like this are embedded in the storyline a total of eight times;

Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David his servant, since he promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever. (2 Kings 8:19)

God was faithful to His promise to David, because God is faithful, He cannot be unfaithful even though we are unfaithful to Him as Scripture declares;

“If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.” (2 Timothy 2:13 in NLT)

And so here at the end of 1&2 Kings in the midst of lament and the tragedy of the siege and sacking and the exile to Babylon, there are four verses that offer a ray of hope, a glimmer of God’s eternal promise to David – which still stands.

Jehoiachin and the royal family are deported and not killed by king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (2 Kings 24:15) and then after 37yrs in prison in exile king Jehoiachin (also called Jeconiah in the NT) is released from prison by Nebuchadnezzar’s successor and is given a place of honour and provision for his family! God is faithful, God is the promise keeper, not one of God’s promises fall to the ground.

And so the line of David is preserved, the promise still stands, and in Matthew 1:12 we read of Jehoiachin/Jeconiah’s place in the storyline that all culminates in Jesus the King of kings the one who ultimately fulfills the promise made by God to David, and He is enthroned as King forever and ever.

The whole Old Testament is really about Jesus, it points to Him, shows us our desperate need of Him and anticipates His coming. As Isaiah prophesied of King Jesus;

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government
and of peace there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Worship, Jesus! Thank God for His unshakable faithfulness. Trust Him.

Enough! (2 Kings 17)

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After a period of nearly 200yrs since Jeroboam’s succession from Judah, the northern tribes of Israel are eventually conquered by the Assyrians and deported into exile (2 Kings 17:6).  Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the writers of Scripture are very keen to make it plain as to why this happened.

“And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God…and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel…” (2 Kings 17:7-8)

This was an event that came about not because of bad military or political strategy (although the passage reveals there were mis-steps made), Scripture attributes the source of the capitulation and capture of Israel by Assyria as being God Himself as the active agent.

The whole of the chapter reads like a charge sheet being read out in a court room, the list of charges against the accused, the guilty one; 

      • You have sinned against your God who brought you out of Egypt and into this Promised Land
      • You walked in the customs of the nations whom I judged and drove out before you
      • You followed wicked evil kings who lead you into sin
      • You built for yourself your own places of worship, altars to false gods & served idols
      • You did wicked things before me, and made sacrifices to these false gods
      • You provoked me to anger (says God)
      • I warned you again and again through the prophets, but you would not listen and were stubborn (vs13-14)
      • You did not believe
      • You despised my commands
      • You even burned your sons & daughters as worship to false gods provoking me to righteous anger

And because of this the judgement comes; 

18 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only… 20 And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight. (2 Kings 17:18&20)

23…the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day. (2 Kings 17:23)

Yes, God is ‘slow to anger and abounding in love’ (Exodus 34:6) but that does not mean that eventually God will not say; ‘enough!’  God was patient, forbearing with Israel but eventually love for all those sinned against, all those who lost loved ones, love for all those babies sacrificed to false gods looked like God judging sin.  God had appealed again and again, urged them to turn from their wickedness – but they refused to with hard stubborn hearts.

So what can we learn from this for our lives?

May we not ever trust our hearts, which are so prone to lead us astray from serving the living God.  May we hold on to His words, will and ways laid out for us in Holy Scripture.  May we never tamper with His Word and make our own false gods suitable to our fancies and our modern culture’s preferences.  May we repent when and if we have sinned against Him, and may we worship our Holy God with holy reverence and as our loving response to all the love He has poured out to us through the gift of His precious Son, Jesus.