Gospel

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.

Gospel Transformation (1 Timothy 1:12-20)

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You are much, much worse than you think you are.

Of all the things that Paul talks about here, perhaps one of the most surprising is to see how he considers himself. In a direct contrast to the proud and arrogant false teachers waging war on the church in Ephesus, Paul recounts how undeserved his salvation is, and exposes the very worst parts of himself to everyone who reads 1 Timothy 1.

We know Paul’s background as a Pharisee who persecuted and murdered Christians. Which is why verse 13 is no surprise to us. Paul really was a blasphemer, a persecutor and an insolent opponent. It is perhaps understandable why Paul views himself as “the chief/foremost of sinners” in verse 15. He did do terrible things.

However Paul isn’t just talking about his past. In verse 15 Paul says “… I am the foremost…” where he is using the present tense. There are similar accounts in the bible where Paul exposes his unworthiness of Gods love, such “For I am the least of the apostles”[1] or “though I am the very least of the saints.”[2] These are all present tense statements, and they are so surprising! This is the super apostle Paul. This is the Damascus road guy! This is the church planter extraordinaire!

Paul is demonstrating a raw and vulnerable leadership that contrasts so heavily from other leaders. There is beauty in his humbled heart, his lack of ego, and his great desire that Jesus is ‘displayed’ through his ‘example’.[3] Paul hasn’t developed an ego, he has developed a correct understand of how far away he was from God, before God intervened with his mercy.[4] Paul was much worse than he ever thought possible, and God changed that to show the gospel’s power to transform the very worst of us.

Aren’t you utterly amazed, that even though you are (present tense) much worse than you ever thought, Gods arm was not too short to save you, and isn’t too short to preserve you now. Instead the grace of God overflows for us (verse 14) that Jesus would be displayed to those who will come to believe (verse 16).

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

  1. As Paul got older, his conviction over his sin grew. Evaluate your life and ask if the same is true for you?
  2. How does an accurate view of our sin help to display Jesus?
  3. Why do you think Paul was willing to bear such a heavy cost so Jesus could be displayed?

LEADERSHIP NOTE:    

Paul’s purpose for recalling his story was so that Jesus might be displayed. Paul was willing to take the cost of appearing unimpressive if it advanced the Gospel. He leverages his story for the sake of the lost. Leadership is all about sacrifice, leaving everything behind and taking every opportunity to make Jesus known.


[1] 1 Corinthians 15:9

[2] Ephesians 3:8

[3] 1 Timothy 1:16

[4] 1 Timothy 1:13 & 16

Third Day People (Hosea 6:1-11)

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Old Testament prophecies are a little like onions in that they often have layers of meaning. They meant something in that day to those people; they often prefigure Jesus the Messiah in some way, they often have direct application in our lives in the present and sometimes they have an as yet unfulfilled future relevance too.

Hosea 6:1-3 is one of those portions of OT prophecy that from our perspective in redemption history suddenly takes on a fuller meaning.  

“Come let us return to the LORD” – vs1

God’s repeated call to His people is that they would reach this point, that they would come to their senses and would return to the ONE who had covenanted to love them. Here the prophet includes himself and appeals to Israel to join him in returning to the LORD.

The good news of the Gospel is this – is it not? God has openly displayed His love for us; God has made it possible for us to have our sins forgiven so that we could return to Him and be reconciled through faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.

Have you sinned? Confess your sin and then return to God through Jesus Christ, your Saviour King.

‘For he has torn us, that he may heal us…’ (vs1)

God has punished Israel’s sin, purifying Israel so that healing could come to them. God justly struck them down, but God will bind them up…

Israel was punished for their sin; they were struck down; some were killed; they were exiled.  

We too deserve the wrath of God against our sin, our compromise and rebellion against God. And yet God doesn’t strike us!

No. God allowed Jesus’ back to be torn by whips, ripped open by the rough wood of the cross. God allowed Jesus to be killed in our place for our sin. This all happened to Jesus so that it won’t happen to us, to those who put their trust in Jesus. Jesus was struck, we get bound up, healed by His finished work on Calvary.

“On the third day…” (vs2)

The prophet announced to Israel that although their sin was about to be punished, it would not last forever and they would be revived. Hosea and the people of his day could not have known what all was contained in these words of the prophet.

But we know the story. We know that Jesus died but ‘after two days’ (vs2), ‘on the third day’ (vs2) God raised Jesus up just like Hosea prophecied!

Jesus was struck for our iniquities, but He rose again victorious. Not even death could hold him down and because Jesus rose again from the dead we too who believe in Him have His resurrection life in us.

This all happened so that; ‘we may live before Him.’ (vs3). This is the Gospel, hidden in the pages of OT prophecy. Jesus took on Himself the punishment that was ours and rose again victorious on the third day SO THAT we might be forgiven of our sin, cleansed from all our unrighteousness and be reconciled back to right relationship with our Holy God.

We are a ‘third day people’. We have hope because Jesus died and rose again on the third day. It was foretold about 740yrs before Jesus Christ – this was God’s gracious plan all along.

‘Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD’ (vs3)

All that Jesus did for us is worth nothing unless we take hold of the opportunity God has given us and press on, press in to know the LORD.

Jesus has removed every obstacle, removed the sin that separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2); there is no reason why we ought to be far off from God. We can know Him.

But will we? Will we remain far off or will we press on to know God intimately, deeply?

About 28years ago, my Father in law was once asked by my friend who had recently given his life to Jesus on a youth camp; ‘Jeff, pray that I would know God better.’  

To this, Jeff replied; ‘I can’t pray that!’  

My friend (and I) were horrified at his seemingly unloving response. Then he said words that I have never forgotten; ‘I can’t pray that you would know God better, that’s up to you. But I can, and I will pray that you will WANT to know God better.’ And so he did, and now that friend leads one of the most significant churches in Cape Town South Africa.

Do you know Jesus? Let us press on to know the LORD! The more we know, the more we will love and worship Him.

Costly Love (Hosea 3:1-5)

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How long was Gomer waywardly unfaithful to Hosea? We don’t know exactly, but it was long enough to have conceived and weaned two children – so presumably a minimum of 4-5yrs!

All that time, Hosea must have cycled through the whole exhausting range of conflicted emotions. Then God spoke to the prophet; “And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and loves cakes of raisins.” (Hosea 3:1)

This woman who is not named, who is not even called Hosea’s wife she is so estranged relationally from him (see Hosea 2:2), is still rightfully understood to be his wife Gomer for this is the dominant illustration of the book.

And yet God commands Hosea to love her again. Since this is what God does to us, His people, loves us even when we are unlovely.

Hosea obediently goes and buys his wife back from some form of slavery or bondage she has gotten herself into. The fact that Gomer had to be purchased back reveals the desperate situation she has sunk into. No detail is given as to how she got into this situation but for Hosea to reconcile her back to him would cost him the guiltless one.

Forgiveness always precedes true reconciliation, and forgiveness always costs the one who was wronged.

Hosea’s having to pay a ransom price to be able to be reconciled with his wife foreshadows what it cost God to be reconciled back to right relationship with us wayward sinners (Rom. 5:6–11).

God was going to purify Israel through exile in a foreign land – a time when they would have no king of their own. In exile, they would be removed from what had become their everyday idolatry so prevalent in the Northern Kingdom during the years preceding this. (Hosea 3:4)

But after that appointed time, Israel would; ‘return and devote themselves again to the LORD their God and to David’s descendant, their king’ (Hosea 3:5 in NLT). God would reconcile them to Himself after this time of exile. The wayward tribes of the Northern Kingdom who had been in rebellion against God’s appointed line of kings will have to return to be included in the covenant promises to David’s line and the ultimate King of kings who will come from that line – King Jesus!

What does this mean for us today?

  • God is patient, merciful and forgiving!
  • God loved us and still loves us even when we are unlovely & ungodly.
  • God wants a real relationship, a loving, committed relationship with us, and because of that God paid the ransom price by sending Jesus the Son to die on the cross in our place for our sin SO THAT we could be freed from the penalty of our slavery to sin and be reconciled back to right relationship with God.
  • What a love story! What a King, what a Saviour. Worship and love Him with all you have for He is worthy.

The Tale of Two Hills (Psalm 24)

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The God of Psalm 24 is almighty (vs10), glorious (vs7), Holy (vs3) and He owns everything on the planet – because He made it all! (vs1)

So who can approach this God? Who can ascend His hill, or enter into His presence?

  • Only those who like Him are holy and pure (vs3).  
  • Only those of who have ‘clean hands and a pure heart’ (vs4).  
  • Only those who have never been deceitful or lied to anyone (vs4)

But who can truly claim such things? Who could honestly claim that they have not done anything or even thought anything sinful or impure? No one can – not even one.

So no one then can ascend Almighty God’s hill.  Our sin has separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2). No one can approach Him on their own merit.

But praise God, there was another hill that was ascended for us! Jesus, God Himself ascended Golgotha’s hill leading to his death on the cross on our behalf.  

And because Jesus ascended that hill for us, because Jesus was like us in every way and yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), and because Jesus gave His life as a ransom to pay the price for our sin in our place…

Because of that, because He ascended that hill for us now, we who have put our trust in Him can ascend the hill of Almighty God with confidence.

Our hands were not clean, and our hearts were not pure, but Jesus made us clean, spotless and pure by His substitutionary sacrifice for us, which took our sin away when we believed in Him.

So now, we can walk right into the holy of holies, stand at peace before the King of all the earth (Romans 5:1). Our hope is not in our righteousness but in His; we stand now secure as God’s children, those who belong in our Father’s presence – amazing grace!

It’s the tale of two hills. It’s the incredible story of our Saviour’s love for us.

What’s your lens? (Philippians 1:12-20)

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What’s your lens? What gives you meaning in life, and what helps you make sense of all that happens in your life?

As he writes to the Philippian believers, the apostle Paul is a prisoner of Rome because of his faith in Jesus. We know he was confined to ‘house arrest’ for two years, and yet he is isn’t found complaining in his letter to the Philippians.

Consider this for a moment, what would you have been writing about if his experience was yours?

It’s hard to know for sure how I/we would have responded, but a brief analysis of our prayers when life is feeling unfair or hard for us now are probably a good indication.  

And yet Paul was rejoicing! (vs18) How could this be?  

Paul’s joy, his sense of meaning and purpose was clearly not tied to his personal comfort or freedom – since he wrote this from a period of imprisonment, most likely chained to a Roman soldier.  

His lens for life, his life purpose was that the good news of Jesus would be proclaimed & that Jesus would be glorified through his life or death.

And because of this, he wrote; “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (vs12)

His imprisonment gave him access to the praetorian guard (vs13) – a special unit of ten thousand selected soldiers in Rome that had unusual privileges & were influential. He could write that the whole guard knew that Jesus was the reason for his imprisonment. It seems as though God, through Paul’s imprisonment, had inserted him inside the ranks of those who were influential in the great city of Rome, sowing gospel seeds for the future behind enemy lines.

There was meaning in his suffering, in the curtailment of his freedom. And so there could be rejoicing because his lens was God’s purpose, plan and God’s glory, not his comfort or liberty.

What’s your lens? Your lens will focus your attention and define your reaction to life’s varied circumstances.

Paul was strengthened in his imprisonment, knowing that the Philippians were praying for him & knowing that the Helper was with him. And so he was confident that God would deliver him either in the present from Roman captivity or in the glorious future at the return of Jesus (vs19).

Paul embraced his circumstances because of his lens which was that all of his life was to proclaim Jesus and to bring glory to Jesus in how he responded to all of life’s circumstances believing that God was sovereign in them.  

And so he wrote;

“…it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” (vs20)

What’s on display here is the focus of Paul’s life – that Jesus Christ would be honoured by my life whether that means I live or whether I die – Jesus be glorified.

What an inspiration! May his lens be your lens and mine. May Jesus being proclaimed and Jesus being glorified be the priority that pulsates through our every decision and our every thought in every circumstance we endure.

Gospel Clarity, Certainty, Confidence & Responsibility (Romans 10:12-21)

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Clarity, Certainty, Confidence & Responsibility

I love the remarkable inclusivity & certainty of Romans 10. Paul is determined to make two things abundantly clear;

Clarity

1. That ‘everyone who believes’ (Romans 10:4), ‘everyone who believes in Him (Jesus)’ (Romans 10:11), that ‘there is no distinction’ (Romans 10:12) between various groups of people ‘for the same Lord is Lord of all’ (Romans 10:12), that God will ‘bestow His riches on all who call on Him’ (Romans 10:13), for ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord’ (Romans 10:13) will be saved!

It could not be clearer; the Gospel is the good news to whoever believes in Jesus. The Gospel is the most significant unifying force in the world! Nothing else unifies human beings in this way. We all have a common problem (sin), and God has made His solution to our problem available to everyone who will believe. Which leads to the second matter Romans 10 makes abundantly clear…

Certainty

2. That everyone who believes in Jesus ‘will be saved’ (Romans 10:9), the one who confesses this belief ‘is saved’ (Romans 10:10), such a person who believes in Jesus ‘will not be put to shame’, but God will respond to their faith by ‘bestowing His riches on all who call on Him’ (Romans 10:13) for those who call on Jesus’ name ‘will be saved’ (Romans 10:13).

What assurance! What confidence and clarity the apostle Paul is writing with. There is no uncertainty, no qualifying statements such as “if…” just absolute pronouncements of what God will do in response to anyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ.

No wonder Paul was not ashamed of this Gospel; no wonder he believed that it really was the power of God to save people (Romans 1:16). Do you share his conviction? The conviction that the Gospel is for all people and that you can share the Gospel with confidence knowing that anyone who simply believes in Jesus will be saved by Jesus from their sin and will be welcomed by God into eternal life with Him?

Personal Reflection:

How assured are you of your salvation? God wants you to be assured and at peace if you have put your faith in Jesus if you have believed the Gospel that’s on display in the book of Romans. Do you battle wondering whether you genuinely are accepted by God or not? Read Romans 10 again and again, be fortified by the inclusivity and certainty.

Confidence

Because it is clear that the Gospel is for everyone who will believe in Jesus, and because we have certainty regarding the power of the Gospel to save completely all those who believe in Jesus we can and should share the Gospel with an incredible confidence knowing that it is the power of God to save people (Romans 1:16).

Responsibility

People will not believe unless someone shares the Gospel with them (Romans 10:14-17), and it is the responsibility of every generation to reach their generation with the good news about Jesus.

So, who are you investing in relationally, reaching out to, living in proximity with so that you can share the Gospel with them? How will they be able to believe the Gospel without you sharing it with them at some stage? Remember that ‘faith comes by hearing’ the word of Christ (Romans 10:17) and God has placed you in the lives of people, in proximity to people who God wants you to share the Gospel with so that they can hear and believe.

Don’t hide behind the often quoted nonsense that says; “preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necesary”; when Scripture makes our words necessary! “It’s simply impossible to preach the Gospel without words. The Gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching the Gospel is inherently verbal behaviour.” – Duane Liftin

The Gospel is the announcement about the good news of WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus came to do and offer to all those who will believe in Him. That announcement, those words of life must be shared by people living out transformed lives which put that Gospel power on display through their lives, but the power to save people is the good news about Jesus not the good news about your behaviour.

May the Gospel’s clarity & certainty fortify us giving us the confidence to take up our responsibility to share it will all those God has sent us to in our everyday lives.

Salvation: It’s believing not sincerity or morality that saves! (Romans 10:1-10)

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Sincerity is not enough for salvation. It is possible to be sincere and yet sincerely wrong. Paul desires & prays that religious Jewish people who are in fact lost, might be saved.

He knows that many of them are sincerely zealous and yet simultaneously spiritually ignorant of the true Gospel. Because of this ignorance of the right relationship that is possible by grace through faith in Jesus – such people try to attain their own righteousness through human effort and law-keeping, which will never lead them to salvation.

But Jesus is the end of the law (Romans 10:4), both in the sense that He has fulfilled the law and also that through Him, God has announced a righteousness that is apart from the law (Romans 3:21). Paul is passionate about the salvation of his fellow Jews, sincerely religious people, who sadly are putting their faith in the wrong thing – in their own righteousness, their own law-keeping ability, their own morality which Paul knows is futile and will not lead to salvation. Only faith in Jesus will.

Personal reflection:

Paul was living with an earnest and intense passion and longing that people would come to faith in Jesus Christ. This passion directed his life; it informed his decisions and ultimately led him to massive self-sacrifice. Is the Gospel and the salvation of those you know, those you are near to a directing passion in your life? Does the Gospel feature highly in your decision-making process and your priorities? Spend some time reflecting and speaking to God about this.

The Gospel is simply this;

“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

  • Anyone (Romans 10:4) who confesses these things will be saved.
  • Anyone who confesses or acknowledges WHO JESUS really is – God
  • Because they’ve believed that to be true in their heart
  • Anyone who believes WHAT Jesus did in dying & rising again for them will be saved.
  • They will be justified, declared righteous before God!
  • On the basis of WHO they believed in (Jesus) & WHAT they believed Jesus did for them on the cross.

Sincere religious people do not go to heaven, sincere morally good people do not go to heaven – believers in Jesus do.

 

 

Unified in Jesus (Romans 9:30-33)

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A wave of nationalism and increased polarisation between diverse groups of people is washing over the world stage with issues like Brexit and the increasingly hostile international trade negotiations between the USA and China just current examples.

Within our nation (South Africa), we are experiencing the same wave of polarisation. In our recent national elections, there was a rise in support for the extremes on both ends of the political spectrum and the rhetoric in the public space is increasingly acrimonious.

The church that received this letter from the apostle Paul was needing to work out its unity in diversity, needing to avoid polarisation within the church. The Christians who were ethnically Jewish seemingly had some heart re-wiring that was required. They were in danger of spiritual arrogance, trusting in their traditions and ethnicity. They were at risk of potentially looking down on their Gentile brothers and sisters as being ‘less-than’ in some way or another.

Paul has been at pains in his letter, to show that salvation for all people is not something we can earn personally through law-keeping, is not something we obtain through our ethnicity but that God has revealed a righteousness that is received by faith in Jesus alone. (Romans 3:21-24) and so God is the God of the Jews & the Gentiles equally (Romans 3:29), God is the One who mercifully ‘justifies the ungodly’ (Romans 4:5).

All believers are in the same position. None of us is deserving of God’s grace and mercy, none of us was able to earn it through good behaviour, no one has any ethnic advantage – we all need God’s grace and mercy to be saved!

(Romans 9:30-31): Shockingly to Jewish believers, Gentile believers who didn’t even seek God or deserve anything – have been made righteous by God’s gracious choosing.

And Jewish people who wrongfully put their trust in the Law and their law-keeping efforts have not been made righteous because God has revealed a righteousness that is ‘apart from the law’ (Romans 3:21).

All people are in the same position, all people need God’s grace, and all people need to put their trust in Jesus, not in their law-keeping efforts or their ethnicity or traditions but to put all their faith in Jesus only.

(Romans 9:32-33): Which makes Jesus the stumbling block that Isaiah prophesied about. The proud religious person who believes they deserve or have earned God’s choosing of them will battle to put their trust in Jesus – He is a stumbling block to them, a rock in the road obstructing their way.

Paul is uniting the believers in the church in Rome, destroying spiritual arrogance, digging up pride in ethnicity and relaying the same foundation for all people – “…and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:33).

The great power to overcome polarisation in our nation and the world is the Gospel of Jesus. Whoever believes in Jesus will be saved! No matter what your upbringing was, no matter what your social standing is, no matter what sin you’ve committed – putting all your faith in Jesus is the answer and therefore is also the great equaliser and unifying power in the world. May we, as believers, be part of churches that demonstrate this unity in diversity that is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ.

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!

The Gift of Grace (Romans 4:4-5)

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Imagine the scene. You’ve worked your first month in your new job. You feel like you put your best foot forward, did all that was required of you, didn’t mess anything up. You know you worked hard, put in some extra hours wanting your new boss to be happy with the new hire!

It’s payday, and you get called into the office, presumably to collect your first payslip. It feels good, you know you earned it, and as you walk to your boss’s office, your mind is already thinking ahead a little spoil – maybe some dinner out or something.

As you enter their office though you’re a little taken aback, as they stand up to greet you with the words; “Phil, I have a gift for you!” They say as they hand you your payslip all wrapped in ribbons. A gift? No mate, I earned that. That’s not a gift, that’s my wages, that’s what I worked so hard for, that’s what you owe me – you think to yourself as you smile and stretch out to receive your payslip.

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5)

Paul is at pains here to show us that the righteousness that is from God (Romans 3:21) is not a reward for good behaviour or hard work. Our salvation is not God responding to something good or deserving in us.

On the contrary, our salvation is a work of God, despite us and in spite of what we have done and or not done. God saves the person who didn’t work to earn God’s forgiveness. God saves the person who ‘believes in Him who justifies the ungodly’ (vs5).

Tim Keller says; “And what is the gospel? It is that you are so lost and flawed, so sinful, that Jesus had to die for you, but that you are also so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for you. Now you are fully accepted and delighted in by the Father, not because you deserve it but only by free grace.”

God saves, God justifies the ungodly vs5 says! Jesus similarly said He came to help the sinner (Matthew 9:13) & the lost (Luke 19:10) not those who thought they did not need him! God saves ungodly people, not good people. As Angus Buchan says; “good people don’t go to heaven, believers in Jesus do.”

Friend, throw off all attempts to earn God’s favour or forgiveness! It can’t be done. That’s not how the righteousness of God is obtained. You can’t earn it, won’t ever deserve it. The only way to be made right with God is to receive God’s GIFT of salvation and forgiveness by believing in Jesus Christ, in His life, death & resurrection for you.

This gift of salvation is the most glorious gift of grace. And if you’ve ever given someone a massive gift, you’ll know that God doesn’t want you to now feel indebted, doesn’t want you to try to pay Him back, but rather is most honoured when you thank Him, appreciate the gift and love Him who paid the price for that gift.

Is your confidence in yourself or in the majestic goodness of God’s grace?
Repent of any pride of self-righteousness & revel in the glory of grace.