Gospel

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!

Family Resemblance: Love (1 John 4:7-12)

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In the preceding verses (vs1-6), John has made it clear that false teaching is invariably linked in part to erroneous teaching about who Jesus is and what He came to do.

Then starting in vs7, the apostle John contrasts false teaching with authentic godly life that results from right teaching and right believing.

Those who have accepted the Gospel, those who have been loved and accepted by God, in turn, love others with the same type of love with which they have been loved (vs7).

The connection between love for God and love for people is so strong that the apostle writes that anyone who doesn’t love other people can’t truly love God!

The Gospel doesn’t leave us unchanged; it doesn’t just cause our sins to be forgiven; the Gospel melts our hearts and changes our lives and our relationships.

True faith in Jesus Christ has to have an outworking. The overwhelming characteristic John highlights is love – because ‘God is love’ (vs8). Therefore, we will love if we are truly God’s children (‘born of God’ vs7) because God is love.

I can’t see it, but people tell me that my children look like me. The resemblance is there physiologically and in terms of things like temperament and personality. They share some of my DNA, and they grew up in close proximity and relationship. Similarly, the apostle John’s argument is that we who have truly been supernaturally born of God will resemble God because we have God’s DNA in us (1 John 3:9)!

True faith is not the attainment of knowledge, or experience but demonstrates itself as being true in God-like self-giving love.

And this is how we know what real love is – that God gave of Himself in sending His only Son into the world to save us (vs9). Love doesn’t start with us (‘I love God’); rather love was initiated by God when God loved us and sent His Son Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins (vs10)!

Brother or sister, we did not initiate reconciliation with God. We didn’t take the first step in love towards God. While we still sinners, still against God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Salvation is all God’s initiative; God has loved the unlovely and made us lovely and able to love others.

So, let you and I who have believed in Jesus love one another with the same love with which we have been loved – and as we do, God’s tangible presence will be experienced amongst us.

Reflection

  • Who are you finding hard to love right now?  Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you about this person and your present struggle.  What is the Holy Spirit speaking to you?  And what ought you to do now?
  • Look back on your spiritual journey of faith in Jesus – how have you changed when it comes to love for others?  Be encouraged.  We all mess up, but as you look back you will see progress.  Now ask the Holy Spirit to make you more and more like your heavenly Father.

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!

#SinlessSinBearingSaviour&Advocate (1 John 1:5-10 & 2:1-6)

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Do you like torches? I do, always have been fascinated by how this small device can illuminate a path or space. Go into any camping shop, and you’ll agree by the array of choice of torches and lights that others share my interest in a good bright torch. Light displaces darkness, and something in us really likes that.

A dim light might be insufficient to light up a whole room, and so conditions can exist in which darkness and light seem to cohabit. However, even with just one light bulb, most average-sized rooms are lit up, and darkness flees.

Not to mention how every morning the Sun rises in blazing glory banishing the night across an entire swathe of the globe north to south all at once. Light displaces darkness; darkness cannot exist in the presence of light. There is no struggle, just darkness receding when the light appears.

John says, God is light (vs5) – a light on another magnitude entirely! John doesn’t say God is like light or like the Sun, rather light is God’s essence, His very nature.  And because God is greater than my torch or a light bulb, greater than the Sun in all its brilliance, because of the greatness of God’s light – there is no darkness in God at all (vs5).

Describing God as ‘light’, is John’s way of explaining that God is entirely and utterly holy, sinless, blameless, pure.

All of which leads us to vs6. The apostle John says to you and I – that just like darkness can not cohabit with light of any significance, so too you and I can not claim to be ‘following Jesus’ or ‘walking with God’ if we lie and do not practice the truth if we are living a life of sin and compromise (darkness).

Light dispels darkness, so if we are living a lifestyle of sin and darkness, then the truth is we are not walking with God, we are far off from the brilliance of His light.

I urge you at the start of this year to reconsider your lifestyle, your patterns of behaviour and thoughts your rhythms and habits. It’s all too common to find believers in Jesus who claim to be following Jesus, and yet their lives reveal the truth.

The apostle John sounds a warning, that it is ridiculous to claim to walk with God and yet to live as though God’s moral commands and imperatives are optional or unimportant.

But John knows the human condition and John knows the Gospel. No one can claim to have no sin in them – not one (vs8). According to Tim Keller the Gospel is that;

‘We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we dared to believe, yet at the very same time, we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.’ – Tim Keller

So we have a problem. God is holy, and we are not – we need a Saviour! God is light, and in Him, there is no darkness at all, and darkness and light cannot cohabit, and we are dark in our sinfulness! So what are we to do?

Enter the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

‘The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin’ (vs7). Which then makes it possible for us to ‘confess our sins’ (vs9) trusting that God will respond to our confession and our trust in Jesus’ saving work and will forgive us of our sins and to make us clean, holy, pure, light (vs9). And so because of this work of Jesus, we can have fellowship with God who is holy. What a Saviour!

What darkness is there in your life at present? What sin are you involved in? Don’t lie that what you are doing is not sin and don’t grovel either that you have sinned.  Rather confess, acknowledge to God your sin and ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and to make you clean again. Then walk free of it, live in the light, makes changes to your life pattern and walk with God thanking Him always for this amazing gift of forgiveness because of the cross of Christ.

Consider this, who is God faithful too in vs9 when it says; ‘he (God) is faithful’?

You could think God is faithful to you because you confessed your sin and trusted in Jesus to be forgiven. However, I believe John is saying that God is faithful and just to Jesus. How so?

Because God’s righteous, holy wrath was satiated by Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross in our place for our sin (1 John 2:1-2), it would be unjust for God to punish us for sins Jesus paid for already!

So, God is faithful to Jesus, honours Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice for us every time we ask for forgiveness. Next time you need forgiveness, worship Jesus for making forgiveness possible and thank God the Father for being faithful and just to Jesus – which makes your forgiveness possible and glorifies Jesus again and again.

‘My little children’ – says John (1 John 2:1). He urges them to not sin but knows that they will at times sin, and so assures them that we have one who argues our case on our behalf in the heavenly realms – Jesus our advocate, Jesus the righteous (2:2), Jesus the one who took the penalty of our sin away (2:3). What assurance, what good news!

How now shall we live in response?

Don’t deny that you do struggle with sin & don’t continue living in sin. Aim to live free of sin (2:1), aim to keep Jesus moral commands (2:3-4), aim to follow the counsel of His Word (2:5), make your goal to follow Him in the way that you live (2:6), and confess your sins when you do sin and receive His forgiveness (1:9).

A Plan for the new year: Love God & People (1 John 1:1-4)

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[This month in our church’s Bible Reading Plan we are reading the letters of the apostle John – 1-3 John]

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Happy New Year! May your year be filled with the presence & power of Jesus in your everyday life. May you listen to Him and His promptings by His Spirit and through His word, so that you may glorify Him with your every moment and advance His kingdom rule and reign while you can.

Last night I was asked by a friend; ‘What’s the plan for our church (www.recroadchurch.co.za) for 2020?’ 

I have pondered that question many times, and I always come back to the same answer essentially…  

Which brings me to the focus of our devotions in January – the final letters from the apostle John to the believers (1 John, 2 John & 3 John).

The historian Jerome tells us that when the aged and last surviving apostle (John) had become so weak that he could no longer preach, he used to be carried into the congregation at Ephesus. Weak and unable to contribute much to the assembly of believers, John would then content himself with bringing but a single short word of exhortation each time.

‘Little children,’ he would always say, ‘love one another.’ 

When his hearers grew tired of this message and asked him why he so frequently repeated it, he would respond, 

‘Because it is the Lord’s command, and if this is all you do, it is enough…’ (David Jackman, The Message of John’s Letters)

As the last of the apostles of Christ who was an eyewitness of the events we read about in the gospels, John would have had exceptional authority, and these letters of 1-3 John were probably the last Scripture written.

The apostle John wrote his letters from the pagan city of Ephesus in a time when the authentic Gospel was under attack from false Gnostic teachings.  

These teachings claimed special knowledge that leading their proponents to deny the reality of Christ’s incarnation, atoning death and bodily resurrection, and with that to redefine sin and redirect Christian behaviour! (David Jackman, The Message of John’s Letters)

The errors of John’s day, which challenged the church, were a result of accommodation of the Christian faith to the prevailing ideas of the secular culture – and a resultant loss of the Gospel.  

Every generation has to face up to this same challenge – holding on to faithfulness and relevance. Every generation needs to choose to either stand and lovingly confront or to be conformed to the culture of its day. The danger is no different for us today.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)

John begins his letter wasting no time in establishing his core foundational belief – who Jesus is.  

  • Jesus is the eternal God (‘from the beginning’ vs1). This opening line reminds one of Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 (look them up).
  • Jesus, as God, took on flesh, became a man. John testifies that he knew personally. He heard Jesus speak, and He saw Jesus, He touched Jesus’ real body (vs1-2).
  • This is John’s eyewitness testimony! Jesus Christ is and was God incarnate, divine & human (vs2).

John starts his letter with this focus on the divinity and humanity of Jesus because most theological error starts with an undermining of who Jesus is and what Jesus did for us in his incarnation, life, death & resurrection.

Every person on the planet will ultimately have to answer two questions and these two questions are answered in John’s letters we will be reading; ‘Who is Jesus?’‘What does this mean for how I live my life?’

CS Lewis famously said of Jesus;

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. – CS Lewis

So what do you believe? Who is Jesus? Is He God incarnate? Is He LORD of your life? Does the pattern of your life, do your life rhythms and choices reflect what you say you believe?

As we will see again and again in John’s letters, loving Jesus is connected to loving people.  When we love Jesus and seek to obey His leading in our lives, we will end up loving people too!

So, do you want to be happy in 2020? John wanted those who read his letter to have their joy made complete (vs4). Joy is a stated purpose in his writing to them. Joy is a hallmark of Christ’s kingdom (Rom 14:17) and yet needs to be fought for sometimes and is only found in a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ as your LORD, obeying His word and His Spirit.

Back to my friend’s question about 2020…  In Mark’s gospel it’s recorded that a person asked Jesus;

28… “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

So let’s make that our goal in 2020. To love God more deeply, to obey Him more fully so that we will, in turn, love people more clearly.

The Re-Mix (Psalm 98)

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[Firstly, thanks so much to Tom and Donrich who wrote devotions for me in December on 1 & 2 Timothy! Such good content, thanks guys.]

Psalm 98 is a song, that was sung for a thousand years with a particular meaning and significance to God’s people.

But since the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus as our Messiah King, it now carries an even greater significance than the original composer could never have contemplated.

The composer sings of God’s deliverance of Israel from its enemies (vs1-3) how God is worthy of new songs, songs that express gratitude in new ways, fresh melodies and rhythms (vs1).

But for the believer in Jesus, this Psalm about salvation now carries even more profound meaning. God has now revealed His plan for salvation for His people, in fact, for all people through Jesus Christ (vs2).

The whole Old Testament pointed to the time when Jesus would come; however, those events could only be seen dimly to all those believers in the Old Testament.

But then Jesus did come (as we have just celebrated at Christmas) and God’s plan for salvation was revealed (Ephesians 3:9 & Colossians 1:24-29) in all its glory and wonder to the apostles and the early church.

God’s salvation story is no longer a mystery, but a mystery revealed to the praise of His glorious grace (Ephesians 1:3-10)!

So, ‘sing to the LORD and new song, for He has done marvellous things!’ (vs1)

For, God has worked salvation for us in a way that no one could ever have imagined. God became flesh and gave Himself for us to save us from Himself so that we could be with Him forever. Sing a new song about that – marvel at that!

God did this before all the nations. The great empire of Rome heard about it, ancient Greece. God made known His salvation not just to Israel but to every nation, to all people (vs2-3). So much so that every person on planet earth has their history and their calendars hinged around Jesus’ birth date! The good news of salvation through Jesus; ‘will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come’ (Matthew 24:14).

What was once Israel’s song, is not a song for anyone who will believe in King Jesus and bow their knee in glorious good surrender.

So, let the whole earth worship God for Jesus is the King of all kings. Jesus is worthy of majestic, beautiful worship with diverse instruments and melodies (vs4-6).

Let the whole of creation join in and worship King Jesus for he has come not just to redeem humankind but to redeem all things (Romans 8:19-23) and one day to declare; ‘Behold, I am making all things new!’ (Revelation 21:5)

Psalm 98 is an old song revitalised by new revelation, transforming it into an eternally relevant song about King Jesus. Worship Jesus today, sing your own new song, use your own worship let worship bubble up and out of you, He is worthy of all praise forever.

Our Desperate Need for Christmas (Luke 1:1-38)

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Can you sense it? Christmas is not what it should be. Everywhere we turn, the world around us has become so fixated on what we have made Christmas to be. The decorated nativity sets that you have to dust off once a year. The wrapped gifts that bring instant joy but never seem to fully satisfy. The fake smiles as families (try to) get along. If we are not careful, Christmas can become a manufactured event that fails to satisfy and can rob us of genuine joy, and our only defense from these cultural forces is to remember why Christmas happened.

In this long passage of scripture, we get several beautiful moments that remind us of the purpose of Christmas. Lets look at two of these moments from the Christmas story. They should act as a reminder to us of why we needed a saviour to come to us.

“And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

These are the angel Gabriel’s words about John the Baptist, however they reveal something about the spiritual state of the people of God that should be very sobering for us today. There was a need for the people of God to change, and they clearly could not do this themselves. They needed John to “turn” them towards the coming saviour, Jesus Christ. If Gabriel said that they needed to turn towards God, it meant that they were previously turned against God. The people of God also needed John to “make ready…a people prepared”, which means that previously they were not prepared. They were not ready because they were stuck in their sin and “disobedience”. Lets not be fooled friends, Romans 3 makes it clear that this wasn’t just the spiritual state of the people of God then – it is the state of every single person before God changes things. We are all stuck in our sin and disobedience. No one is righteous, no one understands salvation and no one even tries to seek God.

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

6 Months later, there is a new revelation in the Christmas story that can bring us all hope. This time the angel Gabriel reveals God’s plan to meet our desperate need. Jesus Christ, “the Son of the Most High”, will come to win His people back by forgiving their sins and giving them eternal life. He will do this coming to Earth, living among the creation that He Himself created and showing love to the most unlovable. Notice that in Gabriel’s description of Jesus, there is a lot of intentional references to the Old Testament. “The throne of David”, “the house of Jacob” and even the concept of “His Kingdom” are all references to the OT, revealing that this was the plan all along. God’s mission was always leading to the time when He would put on flesh. The Old Testament promises were yearning for the coming of Jesus for its fulfillment. God Himself would meet the most desperate need of all humankind.

In the first moment from today’s passage, God reveals our desperate need for a saviour. In the second passage, God reveals His plan to be the saviour that we so desperately need. This is the Christmas story. This is what we miss if we are not careful with our holidays.

At the end of verse 17, John the Baptist is given a mission to make people prepared. So are you prepared for the Christmas story of the Gospel? Are you ready for God’s amazing plan to meet your most desperate need? John Piper writes “Don’t let Christmas find you unprepared. I mean spiritually unprepared. Its joy and impact will be so much greater if you are ready.” So don’t get lost over Christmas. Don’t be so distracted by a world that always promises what it never delivers. Remember why Jesus came to Earth. Remember that He came for you. Remember that He came to fulfill our desperate need for a saviour.