Gospel

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.

But God (Romans 3:21-31)

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3ab6f2c27c9413a1b12f20fefc4b1a66-700I remember dark cold nights as a parent with screaming teething kids or sick kids who would not sleep, at about 3-4am it feels like the darkest time, the bleakest time when emotional and energy resources are spent, and a sense of desperation has sometimes set in.

And yet there is the light of dawn just around the corner. I remember seeing the first hints of the sunrise and almost instantaneously feeling like life was not so desperate after all.

Similarly, after the bleak section from Romans 1:18-3:20 in which Paul has been at pains to detail our human problem of sin, Romans 3:21 is a new dawn of unspeakable joy!

No one is righteous; no one is good enough; no one can be justified through law-keeping…BUT NOW.

What glorious words. A new era has dawned. A seismic shift has occurred in salvation history and now everything is different forever and ever.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

  • No one is righteous (morally right & or right before God) (vs9-18)
  • No one can be made righteous through law-keeping (vs20)
  • But now a righteousness from God has been revealed (vs21)
  • The whole Old Testament hinted at its coming… (vs21)
  • A righteousness of God that comes through faith in Jesus Christ (vs22&26)
  • A righteousness that is a gift (vs24)
  • A righteousness graciously bestowed on those who believe in Jesus because of Jesus’ self-sacrificial act of averting the wrath of God that should have been spent on us by taking it on Himself (propitiation/atonement). (vs25)
  • A righteousness that results in that person not just being declared right before God but also freed (redeemed) from their prior slavery to sin, Satan & death. (vs24)

Our salvation is entirely unmerited. We did not initiate it or deserve it; God stepped in to do what we could not do. In giving us Jesus as our atoning sacrifice, God gave us Himself to save us from Himself, His impending wrath against our sinfulness, so that He could save us for Himself, to be in right relationship with Him forever.

God worked salvation in such a way that as the Holy God, He could somehow be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (vs26). The cross of Christ was the only way for God to be both just & the justifier of those who trusted in Jesus’ saving work for them on the cross.

After all, God would not have been just in forgiving sinners if He had not substituted Himself in our place for our sin. Someone had to pay the penalty for sin for God to be just, and yet God did that for you and me. God Himself took on Himself the penalty for sin SO THAT He could justify us, declare us to now be not guilty of the sin we had done. God could do this and still be just because the guilt, shame and punishment that was ours had been transferred onto Him on the cross so that He paid it in full SO THAT we could have His righteousness transferred to us making us right with God.

As 2 Corinthians 5:20 (NIV) summarises;
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Praise Him. Thank Him. Worship Him. Love Him. Live your whole life for Him.

Do vs believing it’s DONE (Matthew 19:16-30)

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A young man, an achiever in life wants to know how to ensure that he obtains eternal life.  He seemingly has everything he wants in this life, but maybe he is intrigued by things Jesus has been saying about eternal life and he wants to know how to obtain it. 

So he asks Jesus what he needs to DO to get what he wants (vs16).  This young man is steeped in religion.  Religion always gives one something to DO in order to be accepted.

Following Jesus is nothing like religion and so Jesus is going to reveal the difference between following Him and religion.  The man wants to DO something to gain God’s acceptance (that’s religion) and so Jesus plays along with him; 

“Keep the commandments” – Jesus says to the man.  “Done” the man says, I have kept them all (vs20).  ‘You want to be perfect?’ Jesus effectively says to the man?  ‘You want to know you DID enough, then just do one more thing’, Jesus says.

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:21-22)

This man, in fact no person can DO enough to satisfy God’s requirements.  No one is righteous (Romans 3:11-12), all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), the only way to be right before God is to accept the righteousness of God that’s apart from what you DO (Romans 3:21), a righteousness that’s from God through faith in Jesus (Romans 3:23). 

That’s grace, that’s the gospel, that’s the good news Jesus brings for each one of us – the way to eternal life is to believe in Him, to trust in what He has DONE for us. And that is the only way to obtain eternal life.

It’s a funny thing, but grace is not appealing to all people.  Although God’s grace offers us forgiveness and acceptance soley on the basis of believing in what Jesus has DONE for us, that very offer is offensive to a religious person!  How so?

It’s offensive, because in order to receive grace you have to accept that you have not been able to DO enough yourself!  In order to receive grace you have to accept that you need grace and that is a humbling hit to the pride that religion breeds.

Scripture says that the young man went away sorrowful, he did not believe Jesus who answered the question he had asked at first.  He did not believe that letting go of everything that he had been trusting in, to trust in Jesus was worth it, was the right choice.  He didn’t want to humble himself so as to receive grace, and so he went away sorrowful…

Receive Jesus’ grace daily.  Trust in what Jesus has DONE for you and don’t ever put your trust in what you can DO in order to please God.

Believe Jesus, believe Scripture.  Believe that nothing in this life is worth living for, saving up or hoarding when compared to what Jesus offers those who will lay everything down to believe in Him and to follow Him.  Surrender your whole life, all you have to Jesus – you will never reget it.  Not in this life and not in eternity either.

Disqualified? Qualified! (John 4:1-45)

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Life is a sequence of many moments isn’t it? Yet not all moments are equal in their importance for our lives. Some of the moments in our lives are what one could call; ‘God-moments’. These are moments, which are often unexpected in which radical change can happen, faith can be birthed or strengthened, in which we can learn something new about ourselves, God or others.

Today, God wants to bless you. This devotion could be a God-moment in your life. God wants to bless you, to encounter you, change your view of Him, to change you, to pour His love into you, wants to heal and restore you…

Back to the story, this woman at the well is about to have an unexpected God-moment in her life as she comes to draw water at the well but finds Jesus there! After some interaction about Jesus’ thirst, Jesus’ offered her water that would satisfy her thirst forever, she then asked Jesus to give her this water so that she would never thirst again.

Jesus knowing everything about her, asks her about her husband, asks her to call him. She didn’t want to talk about these things, it’s too personal, she tries to cover up this sad aspect of her life. We are often like this woman aren’t we? At first she resisted God’s loving, kind advances, and she tries to hide from the King of Glory. But He’s all-knowing, He knows about all 5 of her previous husbands & He knows of her current sinful relationship with the man who is not her husband but whom she is with.

At this point you might expect Jesus to draw back. After-all, she has been exposed and it’s messy. Yet,
amazingly, graciously, God still pursues her as He pursues you and I. Amazingly, what God knows about you and I doesn’t cause Him to re-coil and run from us.

Yet Jesus stays with her keeps pursuing her in this moment and reveals to her that He is the Messiah (vs26). God accepts us as we are, warts and all, God wants to transform us from who we have been and who we are today into worshippers who will worship in Spirit and truth!

And so in this God-moment the woman has a revelation of God, a revelation of the grace, mercy & forgiveness of God. What she thinks about God, what she knows is re-written in a moment as God reveals His true character to her in this God-moment…

You might have thought that her past and her present disqualified this lady. And yet actually her mess strangely qualified her to speak to others about who God is and what God is like! Having slinked out of town to come and get water, ashamed, at a time when not many others would be there.

Having met Jesus though she runs back into town effectively shouting; ‘Come and see a man who told me everything that I ever did, I think He is God!’ This woman’s shame actually became her proof of who God is! Her shame was what qualified her to testify to who God is and what God is like. In that God-moment, her sin became her God-story of redemption which in turn then showed off the grace, love & mercy of God to her whole town.

In one sense, you and I can’t be entrusted by God to share with others about Him until we have received, encountered, grace from God towards us first. Receiving grace from God qualifies us to tell others about God’s grace and mercy.

God’s grace is that He accepts us, just as we are, warts and all. God accepts us not on the basis of our merit but on account of His goodness and His lavish grace and kindness to us in Jesus. Although Jesus knew every sordid thing about this woman, He still accepted her and forgave her! Jesus came to seek and save the lost, He didn’t come for those who think they’re doing just fine, stuck in their self-righteousness, He came for sinners like me, like you…?

The end of the story is amazing. One woman’s God-moment, one woman encountering Jesus as the God of grace, results in her sharing her God-story with her town so that Scripture then records that; “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” (John 4:39)

So what are you ashamed of? What do you feel disqualifies you from being used by God, from being God’s agent for change, His channel of grace and blessing to people? Can your sin potentially actually become a God-story which ends up showing off the God of grace?

Ask Jesus to forgive you, to pour His grace and mercy into your life right now and then go and tell the world how great and good and loving Jesus is! Needing grace, doesn’t disqualify you, it qualifies you to share with others about the incredible grace and mercy and love of God.

The People around Jesus [Mark 2:1-12]

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Think about this setting described in Mark 2 and think about the various groups of people or individuals in the room that day and what they encountered of Jesus.  You know, how we see Jesus, what we think and believe  about Jesus in a large way determines what we will encounter of Jesus.

This moment recorded for us in Mark’s gospel is symptomatic of the types of responses that people tend to have to Jesus.  It is rare to find someone who has heard of Jesus who has no opinion regarding Him.  However, it’s those opinions that shape what people encounter of Jesus.  Praise God that Jesus is graciously reaches out and engages even with people who approach Him with hostility and unbelief.   Jesus came to seek and save the lost, came to die for and rescue His enemies – we see such a clear example of that in this passage.

So who was there with Jesus that day?  

There were;

  • Seekers who are curious and drawn to Jesus but who still have questions 
  • Skeptics scrutinizing everything through the lens of unbelief 
  • Physically sick and suffering people with varying degrees of faith and hope
  • Sinners stuck with the guilt and sin needing forgiveness & freedom  
  • Believers in Jesus delighting in Him

In one sense these groups of people are always around, when we are speaking to people about Jesus.  Whether that is in our everyday lives or even in any given Church meeting.  Consider quickly how each of these groups of people encountered Jesus on this day recorded for us in Mark 2;

  • Seekers: The gathered crowd that day must have had many like this.  They’d heard about Jesus, heard about his radical teachings, His displays of power and His love setting people free from demonic oppression and sickness.  That day they witnessed first hand that Jesus was willing to stop, to be interrupted for an individual.  They saw that Jesus is moved by faith (the faith of the four friends here) and that Jesus has authority to forgive sinners from their sin and to heal their physical sickness too. More than that they witnessed that Jesus was discerning, that He knew the hearts of everyone in the room and attempted to help the skeptical overcome their barriers to faith.  Seekers must have felt drawn closer to Jesus this day, we know this crowd dispersed amazed in the end saying things like; “we never saw anything like this!” (vs12)  May those who encounter Jesus in us, touch something of His love, His grace, His discernment, hear of His offer of forgiveness and encounter His power over sickness through us.
  • Skeptics:  Can you imagine this group on that day.  They’d probably decided before they even came  to the house what they thought!  Spurring each other on in their hardening towards Jesus, these fictitious fault finders were difficult and demeaning.  Such people love to group together and amplify each other’s skepticism closing their eyes and ears to the actual evidence before them misreading or reading into everything and reaching wrong conclusions.  Jesus knew they were there all along, and yet graciously He didn’t bounce them at the door.  Jesus didn’t even rebuke them, but conclusively and graciously He answered their gripes about His authority to forgive sin by showing that He also has authority to heal!  Did they go away believing?  We don’t know.  However, may you, may I like Jesus was be resolute and yet gracious with such people too.
  • Physically sick and suffering people: we don’t know how long the paralyzed man had suffered but we know that his suffering was so great that he either could not get himself to Jesus physically or he could not do so emotionally – having maybe lost all hope.  In an instant with one command of Jesus this man’s life is transformed for the better and the sickness that defined him was banished!  Jesus as King can heal anyone, at any time.  His words have power to suspend and rewrite the effects of the curse of the fall in a moment.  Let’s keep praying for people asking Jesus to say the word and to heal and restore people.   And let us note that this is a story that would not have happened had it not been for some friends who had faith that Jesus could heal and would want to heal their mate! Let’s be such friends for Jesus loved their faith and in the end of the day they might have even been as equally happy as the man who was healed.  This man’s encounter with Jesus resulted in a life-transformed!
  • Sinners: we all have the same sin problem.  The friends defined their brothers problem as physical, Jesus redefined it showing that in fact his greatest need was spiritual was the need to be forgiven of his sins.  We easily see the physical, emotional, financial needs of people, but all people’s greatest need is to have their sins forgiven by Jesus so that they can be restored to a right relationship with God.  And putting your faith in Jesus is the only way to be forgiven.  What right now feels like your greatest need?  What do you think Jesus would say is your greatest need right now?
  • Believers: the disciples and others who had already believed in Jesus must have grown in their faith, love and awe of in Jesus that day as they watched him authoritatively and yet graciously deal with the skeptics, respond to the friends act of faith and forgive and heal the paralyzed man!  They must have felt strengthened in their faith and conviction about who Jesus was!

These groups of people are not just on the pages of Scripture but are present in our everyday lives, present in our church meetings.  May we be like Jesus to them!

A new Era! (Acts 2:14-41)

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The Holy Spirit has been poured out on those disciples who were waiting and praying as Jesus had commanded them to (Acts 2:1-13), the resultant worship and joy has drawn a crowd of people some of whom are in amazement and some are mocking…

Someone needs to say something! Peter, full of the Holy Spirit stands up and impromptu preaches the first message in the history of the church of Jesus Christ.

He addresses those present, addresses their questions coming from what they have observed (vs15 & 22-24), he draws on OT biblical texts (vs17-21, 25-28 & 34-35) to teach and to convict of sin (vs23) and to motivate them to respond, giving them hope of what God’s response will be (vs38-39).

Many in the crowd are ‘cut to the heart’ (vs37) by listening to Peter’s preaching and as a result they want to respond and so exclaim; “what shall we do then”? (vs37)

38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

They asked; “what shall we do?” and Peter’s response is that they should;

  • Repent (be contrite & acknowledge your sin before God & then turn from it)
  • Receive forgiveness (ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and then receive His forgiveness)
  • Receive the Holy Spirit (having been cleansed of sin, be filled with the Holy Spirit and His new life)
  • Be baptised in water (make an outward demonstration of the inward step of faith you’ve made)

And then those who did these 4 things, get added to the local church community. The Gospel saves individuals but joins them to a family of faith! There is no such thing as Christianity outside of local church community.

Questions for application

  • Have you responded with faith in Jesus to the good news of the Gospel?
  • Have you truly received forgiveness and received the in-filling of the Holy Spirit as a believer?
  • Have you been baptised in water yet or do you need to still take that step declaring your faith?
  • Have you added yourself, joined a local church community as a committed member?  What’s stopping you?

 

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.

Perfect Prophet, Priest & King (2 Kings 24-25)

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By this point in reading through 1&2 Kings it is hard not to feel exhausted by the cyclical pattern of ungodliness in the leadership of Israel and Judah.  But all of this long story of hundreds of years of  cyclical ungodly leadership is to there to tell a story…

A story which started way back when God’s people had clamoured for a human king as recorded in 1 Samuel 8, they wanted to be like the nations around them rather than be lead by God as their king leading them through his appointed prophets/judges.  God had warned them that this rejection of Him would not be a blessing to the people and 1&2 Kings records that it definitely wasn’t a blessing!

In 2 Kings 24-25 we read of the final sacking of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon of Judah, approximately 120years after the Assyrians overthrow and exile of Israel.  2 Kings 24:2-4 expressly makes God the active agent as Chaldeans, Moabites, Syrians and Ammonites and finally the Babylonians raid Judah and finally overthrow it with a siege and burn the city and the temple and break the walls down.

The sad summary statement in 2 Kings 25:21 reads; “So Judah was taken into exile out of its land.” 

The Promised Land is vacated by all except a remnant of poor people, the Temple as the place of worship is ruined and ceases to operate.  

What will happen next?  What has happened to the covenant?  

God’s place – the Promised Land and the Temple lies in ruins, God’s people have been exiled from it.

Israel’s history is littered with priests who failed, prophets who failed & kings who failed.

The people have been unfaithful to the covenants they made and to God’s word to them.

This is the riddle of the Old Testament really.  

  • God is holy, we are not – what can we do, what will He do?
  • God’s people, we need a better, a perfect, an eternal prophet, priest & king.
  • God’s people long for a place where we can dwell with God, where worship is not defiled & never ends
  • God’s people need forgiveness that’s eternal and truly transforming…
  • All this points to the ONE who was to come – Jesus!
  • Our Saviour, our perfect Prophet, Priest & King!

Sin is serious & we all have a part to play in the BIG STORY! (2 Kings 9-12)

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In what is a long section of brutal narrative… 

Exactly what God promised through Elijah in response to Jezebel and Ahab’s killing of Naboth for his vineyard in 1 Kings 21 is now fulfilled and Ahab’s sin and Jezebel’s sin and evil is punished by God in 2 Kings 9-10 by Jehu.

What can we learn from this for our lives?

Sin is extremely serious.  If we don’t recognise the seriousness of sin before a Holy God we are deluded, we cheapen grace and ultimately we don’t need a Saviour to rescue us from our sin or to forgive us for our sin.

“Salvation shines forth brightly when it is seen against the dark background of divine judgment. We cheapen the gospel if we represent it as a deliverance only from unhappiness, fear, guilt and other felt needs, instead of as a rescue from the coming wrath.” – John Stott

Don’t prematurely decide that just because people don’t seem for the moment to be accountable before God for their sin and their rejection of Him that they won’t be held accountable by the Holy One.

All people’s only hope is Jesus Christ who was the propitiation for our sin!  That means, Jesus was the sacrifice that was paid in our place for our sin, the sacrifice which took away the wrath of God;

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10)

Another feature of this section and all through 1&2 Kings are the little cameo’s in the BIG STORY of human history and salvation by often unremarkable individuals who did the work and will of God in the midst of a crooked and evil age.

Little cameo’s like;

  • The little Jewish girl who was carried away by Syrians and served in the house of Naaman who believed God could heal her master (2 Kings 5:2-3)
  • The unnamed servants of Naaman who helped him not miss his healing because of his reaction to Elisha’s instruction (2 Kings 5:13)
  • The four lepers (2 Kings 7) through whom God ended the brutal siege of Samaria
  • Princess Jehosheba who hid Joash from Athaliah for 6yrs in the house of God with the priest until the priest anointed him as king at the tender age of 7yrs old.
  • Joash the young 7yr old who listened to Jehoiada who discipled and instructed him and so he did amazingly good things reforming Judah and dealing with sin and Baal worship and repaired the temple.

What can we learn for our lives?

You never do know when you are going to do the greatest thing you will ever do for God, or whether you have just done it! – Michael Eaton

God’s kingdom advances through people just like you and I doing often what might not seem like extraordinary things.  Live every day as if it is the day you will do the greatest thing you will ever do for God, live on the edge in anticipation and serve God with whatever and whoever God puts before you, disciple, reach out, love, speak the words of God….

Good News not Good Advice (Colossians 2:16-23)

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Religion is both hard work and useless! False teachers had come into the community of believers in Colossae and were spreading false teachings that seemingly urged the believers to live an ascetic life, to give up all sorts of God-given pleasures or joyful things. Their teachings came with rules about special days and ceremonies and rules and regulations that were essential for spiritual growth according to them.

But the Gospel is good news not good advice! Advice requires you to DO something to achieve something, news is hearing about something that has been DONE already. The Christian life is not about list of things we must DO (observing special rules and rites and filling our calendars with special days and traditions…) so as to please God. No the gospel is the good news that God is pleased with us already not because of anything we did but because of what Jesus has DONE for us!

So hold on to Jesus (vs19)! Don’t let anyone who has been taken in by false religious teachings rob you of your joy in Jesus or your freedom in Jesus.

After all, false religion is both hard work and just plain useless! It can appear so intensely spiritual (such people are always so intense) but in fact it’s nothing of the sort. False religion’s foundation is not Jesus but rather self-righteous, prideful, worldly thinking (20-22). Religion and legalistic rule-keeping don’t have any ability to produce true godliness in us or to restrain our sinful desires, such thinking doesn’t bring any freedom or produce any spiritual growth (vs23).

Only trusting in Jesus, responding to the glorious good news of what He has DONE for us at a heart level, only loving Him back and letting His love for us melt our hearts so that our desires change from the inside out, only that will produce true spirituality and godliness.

For sure, the Christ follower’s life does get totally transformed, everything changes as we shall see in the rest of Colossians, but it’s so important to not slip into religious thinking, to not get taken in by false teachings that have the appearance of spirituality but in fact in the end do not help us at all to worship Jesus more fully and live the rest of our lives as a worshipful response.

So don’t let anyone tell you, now that you’re a Christ follower you HAVE to do this or that!

If you’re truly a Christ follower and you’ve seen what He has done you’ll WANT to make changes in your life, you’ll WANT to press in to Jesus and so you’ll do all sorts of things, but you’ll do them from a place of worshipful joy and not duty, you’ll do them because you’ve been accepted and loved by God not hoping that your activity will earn God’s acceptance and love.

But God… (Colossians 2:13-15)

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Although I am a devoted Christ Follower, I am not a good person in and of myself! There are plenty of people who are more loving, more generous, more patient , more kind — than I am sadly. There are far too many times when I don’t like who I have become in this scenario or that one, when I’m provoked or prodded.

But then a passage like this one reminds me, that I was hopeless without Christ. I was more than hopeless, I was DEAD, living breathing but spiritually DEAD before I came to the point of trusting in Jesus and asking Him to be my LORD and Saviour (vs13).

Sometimes we look at people and think they’re ok, they’re not that bad really. But Scripture never allows for that false perspective – outside of Jesus we are all DEAD in our transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1 & Colossians 2:13), without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12), not one of us is righteous enough (Romans 3:9-12), everyone of us is morally corrupt and bankrupt (Romans 3:23). I was, we were or still are in a bad situation…

But God. “God made us alive together with Him” (vs13)! God forgave us all of our many sins, God cancelled the long list of all my, all our wrongs against Him and against others (vs13). What good news this is for a person like me, like you. God set aside our sin, by nailing it to the cross when God nailed Jesus to the cross, so that Jesus could pay the punishment for our sin (Romans 6:23) so that we could be ransomed, set free from the consequences of our sin.

And so now, I am free from sin’s consequences and I am free to love and obey and follow God, I am not under the control of sin or the devil anymore (like I once was – see Romans 6:15-23) but am under the loving command and control of Jesus Christ my LORD.

I still mess up, but praise God I am forgiven and I am able to continually keep becoming more and more like my LORD and Saviour Jesus, keep becoming more loving, more kind, more generous and patient…

But only because I have been ‘made alive together in Him’ (vs13) and because of that I have the life and the light of Jesus in my life which keeps having the effect of transforming me daily. Thank you Jesus!