Authentic Faith (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10)
Paul and his companions were convinced that the Thessalonians were true believers because:
- The Gospel proclamation was accompanied by signs and wonders & by the power of the Holy Spirit displayed (vs5).
- The Thessalonian believers received the good news about Jesus with full conviction. They weren’t uncertain about what they had heard & believed (vs5).
- These believers also began to imitate the faith and the life-example of Paul and his ministry companions; they learnt his ways and changed theirs (vs6).
- So much so, that they became an example to other believers elsewhere as the testimony of their faith spread (vs7-9).
True believers in Jesus, turn from worshipping anything else to worshipping and serving the one true God. More than this, they live then with eager expectation for the return of Jesus Christ the Son. The one whom God raised from the dead, the one who alone can deliver those who believe in Him from the wrath to come (vs9-10).
The Gospel doesn’t just change our eternal address it transforms our lives, our thinking, our speech, our lifestyles, our rhythms, our habits, our community…
What an amazing clear testimony these believers in Jesus had. The evidence of their changed lives testified loudly to the authenticity of their faith. People were speaking about the changes that had occurred in them.
When we truly make God the centre of our lives, everything begins to revolve around Him and find it’s proper perspective or orientation to Him.
Is your faith crystal clear like that of the Thessalonians? Is it evident to others that you have forsaken any other “gods”? And that in their place you are passionately focussed on, worshipping and serving God with your whole life?
This is the only “reasonable response” (see the NIV or ESV footnote of Romans 12:1) if you have grasped the wonder of who Jesus is and what He has done for you.
May you, may we live lives that are radically focussed on Jesus, worshipping and serving Him for His glory, while we wait for His glorious return!
God the Centre (Numbers 9-10)
In Numbers 9, the people of God have been out of Egypt for just over a year camped at the base of Mount Sinai. At this moment, just before they set out into the Wilderness on their journey to the Promised Land, God establishes a rhythm of worship and God provides an observable fulfilment of His promise to Moses.
Exodus 33:15-16 records how God promised that His presence would always be with His people, and how Moses implored God to make His manifest presence always known amongst His people;
And he said to him, “”If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”” (Exodus 33:15-16)
Accordingly, God’s people were then neatly arranged in an orderly fashion. They had assigned roles & responsibilities. God had given specific instructions on the details of worship centred around the tabernacle, and in Numbers 9, we read of two pillars that were God’s answer to Moses’ request recorded in Exodus 33:15.
The pillars of cloud and fire hovering over the tabernacle signified God’s presence in the midst of His people. God’s presence was right there at the centre of the elaborate arrangement of the twelve tribes, the focal point. God was quite literally at the centre of their lives! Worship of God was central to their lives, God’s presence being with them was central, it was paramount to them.
Also in Numbers 9-10 we read about a rhythm of worship and remembrance (Passover and other feasts like the Day of Atonement) all established by God. These rhythms continuously reminded God’s people of their need of Him, of how God had delivered them & provided a way for them to be forgiven.
Now, we don’t live in tents arranged around a tabernacle in a desert, and we don’t have pillars of cloud and fire. However, just as they were arranged with God at the centre of everything. Just as their lives had a rhythm that God established, ensuring that He was not just physically but mentally at the centre of their lives. We too are wise, when we arrange our lives around God. We are wise when we arrange our lives around regular corporate rhythms of worship. Gathering together as the people of God (the church), drawing near to Him together, in repentance forgiveness and worship.
We live in an age of impossible busyness, where the habit and the rhythm of gathering on a Sunday every week is being pushed out to the periphery for many! In South Africa, small towns used to have church buildings at the centre. Church buildings are right there on the main street or in the centre square of the town. The assembly of God’s people for worship was central to the rhythm of life, and this centrality even had a physical manifestation. Today, the church building has been replaced by the mall, the soccer stadium, the TV…
Moses’ plea that God be at the centre, that His presence never leaves us – seems forgotten. It is commonplace for people to treat gathering as a church for worship on a Sunday as an occasional thing.
For many believers, if their lives were a camp, the tabernacle/Sunday worship would no longer be at the centre! Gathering for church on a Sunday is just no longer central to their lives, their thinking or their regular rhythms! Corporate worship as God’s people has slipped on the list of priorities for many so that it is now lower on the list of priorities than family, recreation, rest…
But this is not how God meant it to be! This is not what Moses pleaded for in Exodus 33. God is meant to be at the centre of our personal lives, our families, and gathering for corporate worship as a whole church is God’s way and wisdom.
The writer to the Hebrews urges us as believers to not give up the habit, the rhythm of meeting together as the church, because that rhythm puts God at the centre of our lives, it demonstrates what we believe (Hebrews 10:24-25).
I urge you to consider your life, your choices, your regular rhythms & your priorities. If your life were a camp, would it be obvious that God & the gathering with His people for worship was the centre of your life? Is your life arranged around the gathering of the saints or is Sunday worship or Small Group something you occasionally do when there isn’t anything else more pressing? We can not replace the gathering of the saints for corporate worship, the word of God & fellowship with private times of worship and PODCAST or VODCAST sermons.
God’s people have always for millennia arranged their lives around the rhythm of their gathering for worship together, God’s presence has always been central to the life of the believer – is it yours?
Don’t do this because you feel you HAVE TO, but because YOU WANT TO, or if you can’t say at present you want to make it your regular rhythm to gather with the church for worship then at least acknowledge that it is the WISDOM OF GOD and a command of Scripture (Hebrews 10:25) and so re-prioritise your life, your weeks and weekends and put God at the centre again and your heart will be melted in His presence so that in time it will once again become what you want to do.
Fearfully & Wonderfully Made (Numbers 4)
Reading Numbers 1-4, it is clear that God is specific and detailed. The camp was set up in an evident ordered pattern with the Tabernacle, the symbol of God’s presence in the middle of it all.
Numbers 4 details the roles of various of the Levite clans who served beside the priests in the Tabernacle. God was specific and detailed; individuals and groups had specifically designated roles.
Eleazar (Aaron’s son) had a specific role concerning the oil and incense and other items used in the worship in the Tabernacle. God chose him specifically. Aaron and his sons were to “appoint them each to his task and to his burden” (Numbers 4:19), “according to the commandment of the LORD through Moses they were listed, each one with his task of serving or carrying.” (Numbers 4:49)
So what! I hear you say. How does this have any impact in my life? We can always ask of any passage the following questions;
1. What can I/we learn about God?
2. What can I/we learn about people or faith?
3. What can I/we learn about myself?
4. And what is God asking me TO DO as a result?
What can I/we learn about God?
God is specific and ordered. God cares about details. We see this in the intricate design of creation and the human body. We also learn that God is holy, and the worship of him must be filled with reverence and awe, the sons of Kohath needed to work with special care to not touch the ‘holy things’ lest they die!
What can I/we learn about people or faith?
God gifts people, equips people uniquely and diversely for a myriad of specific God-given roles. We live in an age which esteems ‘freedom’ as the notion that one can choose to do and be whatever one wants to, self-determination is enshrined. But God as our creator, is purposeful in how He has made us in all our diversity of race, gender, personality & gifting. Ephesians 2:10 declares; “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Specificity, God-ordained purpose! Maybe freedom is more about discovering through Scripture and by the leading of the Holy Spirit what God has intended for us than it is about us self-determining who we are!
What can I learn about myself?
A prayer… “Lord, you commanded all these people with specific roles in ministering to You. How can I best live for Your glory and not my fulfilment? How can I better know Your design for me and the ‘good-works’ You have planned for me? Lead me, Lord, speak to me and help me to humbly embrace Your design as my loving LORD, Father & Creator.”
And what is God asking me TO DO as a result?
Spend time thinking about this prayerfully and then responding in whatever way God directs.
Mystery & Clarity (Romans 11:25-36)
Learning to live with mystery is an integral part of the Christian life. The topics Paul has been writing about, election, human responsibility, God’s plan in redemption for the Jewish people and the Gentiles are hard to grasp fully.
God’s words to us recorded in Isaiah 55:8-9 are a helpful reminder of our limited capacity to grasp the ways of God;
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts; neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Moses counselled God’s people who were trying to wrap their heads around God’s actions in judging the nation of Israel for their sin in breaking His covenant with them saying;
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)
Similarly, the apostle Paul, having written about the mystery of salvation history and having written to the Roman believers about how the majority of Israel has been hardened so that the full number of elect Gentiles will be saved. Having written about how God will do a new work in the future in Israel in which He will save all “Israel” somehow, in faithfulness to His covenant promises. Then after writing about these things, the apostle breaks out in wonder and worship at the mysteries of God’s ways;
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33)
We are so limited in our understanding. If I am honest, I don’t even really know how the toaster I am about to use works! May we remember that, when we dive into the deep end of the mysteries of God’s ways in election and redemption history and what does it mean that ‘in this way, all Israel will be saved’? (vs26)?
Living with worshipful trust in the presence of mystery is essential for the believer. There will be lots of things, even in our little lives and the lives of those we love that will not be solvable to our limited understanding. May you, may I trust God and worship God in those moments, knowing and holding on to that which is clear in Scripture;
And this is what is clear; “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)
- All things are from God; God is sovereign over all things
- All things are through God; God is both the creator, the author & the sustainer of all things (Colossians 1:15-17)
- All things exist for God’s eternal purpose of His glory being displayed and magnified in all things and by all people and all of creation forever and ever!
And, you and I are part of that good plan of God to glorify Himself. Election, grace and all of the mysteries of redemption history are part of that good plan to glorify Himself. What we can understand and what we can’t understand are all part of God’s plan. So even though we don’t understand it all, we can know with utter certainty that God will always be working in us and through all of creation for His glory and we can know that we who believe in Him are wrapped up in that grand plan and through it are blessed forever and ever!
So trust God and worship Him in the midst of mystery thanking Him for the clarity He has given us which is enough to worship Him forever with.
God: Free to Choose (Romans 9:16-29)
In Romans 9:1-16, we learnt that God is mercifully sovereign in choosing anyone to be His people.
(Romans 9:16-18): God’s sovereign choice of actions is not limited. God works in all of human history; God even works through evil despots for the purpose of His will – “that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (vs17). God is free as the sovereign One to have mercy on those He chooses to and to harden whomever He wishes for the broader purpose of His will.
God is not unjust in acting in this way. After all, as Paul demonstrated in the early chapters of his letter, that all human beings are sinful and guilty in God’s sight (3:9,19&23), nobody deserves to be saved or chosen by God. “Therefore, if God hardens some, He is not unjust, for that is what their sin deserves.” – John Stott
(Romans 9:19): But if God is so much in control and since we cannot resist His will – then the question arises; “How can God find anyone guilty?” The answer to this question completes the verses of the chapter.
(Romans 9:20–23): Scripture never defends God’s sovereign free will to choose to show mercy or to express His righteous wrath and to still hold people accountable for their sin. Instead, Scripture insists that we, as finite human beings, are totally out of order rebelliously questioning God’s ways! When we do so, we are like the clay disrespectfully calling the potter to account for his actions in choosing to make what He wanted to out of the clay. “God created a world in which both his wrath and his mercy would be displayed. Indeed, his mercy shines against the backdrop of his just wrath, showing thereby that the salvation of any person is due to the marvellous grace and love of God. If this is difficult to understand, it is because people mistakenly think God owes them salvation! ” (ESV Study Bible)
(Romans 9:24-29): In his grace and mercy, God has called people to himself from both the Jews and the Gentiles just as He promised He would do through the prophet Hosea (Hosea 2:23 & 1:10). God did this to illustrate His stunning undeserved grace. All people who are called by God are sinful underserving people; God has shown His grace to the Gentiles just as He showed His grace to Israel by saving them and choosing them as His own even though they were all undeserving. Anyone being chosen by God for mercy and not wrath is pure mercy on the part of God!
(vs27-29) Remember that not all of ethnic Israel was saved, or were truly God’s people, but only a remnant was the true Israel of God as was prophesied in Isaiah 10:22–23 and experienced salvation and not God’s judgement (Isaiah 1:9).
Are you battling with some of what’s revealed about God in Romans 9? Ask yourself why you’re battling? Is not all of Scripture God-breathed and useful to teaching and rebuking us (2 Timothy 3:16)? Are you not in danger of being the clay screaming at the potter about what ought and ought not to be? We need to be so careful that we do not elevate our thoughts or questions above the revelation of Scripture in such a way that we end up judging Scripture rather than allowing Scripture to interrogate our hearts and minds!
Spurgeon once said when asked about defending the Bible;
“Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it, and it will defend itself.”
This is the revelation of Scripture regarding God’s sovereign merciful free will in choosing some and not others to be saved. May we, may I humble ourselves grateful that God elected to choose to show mercy to us and may we rejoice in His gracious choice and worship Him for His mercy.
Questions for Reflection:
1. What does this passage teach me about God & faith?
2. What does this teach me about myself, what is God saying to me?
3. What should I do as a result?
The Gift of Grace (Romans 4:4-5)
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.
To Befriend or not? (James 4:1-6)
James has been at pains to describe in his letter, that true faith/religion;
– Endures through trials of all kinds
– Seeks wisdom for God
– Is not double-minded or sharp-tongued
– Does not just hear the Word of God but acts on it
– Doesn’t show partiality
– But loves people
– Results in lives that are not full of quarrels or jealousy or selfish behaviour but rather lives that are pure and peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy…
Then in James 4:4-5, as believers, we are warned strongly, even rebuked for being unfaithful to God because we have befriended the world. The language used here is severe and thought-provoking indeed – ‘You adulterous people!” Serious stuff this.
But this raises some questions;
How are we guilty of befriending the world and so being adulterous to God?
And how can we reconcile this with God’s love for the world (John 3:16) and God’s mandate for us to reach the world with His love and the message of how His Son loved the world by dying on the cross for our sin to offer us forgiveness?
A) Befriending the world
James is using the language of the Old Testament here, where God speaks to His people through the prophets several times (e.g., Jer. 2:20; 3:6–10; Hos. 1:2) about their unfaithfulness to him being like adultery. They had broken the relationship, had placed their hope and trust in other things, small-g-gods, their ability etc. So may we heed the warning and we not live worldly lives that are characterised by a lack of exclusive trust in God alone & a prioritising of our relationship with God above all else.
B) Are we to love the world or not?
We know that God was so moved by love for the world stuck in its sin and shame that God, the Father, sent God the Son to come and die in our place for our sin. John 3:16 is explicit that God has loved the world & that love for the world was the motivating force behind the incarnation and the cross of Christ. So are we not to love the world too? To be like God.
We are not to love the world in the sense of being unfaithful to God and not trusting Him alone. We are not to love the world in the sense of living with the very same passions and desires that the world has and so find ourselves unfaithful and in compromise. Be we are to love the world in the sense that God has through sending Jesus. We are to love all people because they are like sheep without a shepherd and God is calling them to return to Him, to repent so that they can receive the good news about Jesus and be saved.
God loves you, and I jealously (vs5), God does not want to share you and your affections with anything or anyone else. So give all of yourself in worship to God, be wholehearted and love and worship and trust Him exclusively. Be ruthless with sin and compromise so that it can not be said of you that you are enamoured with the world and what it promises but that you are infatuated with God!
9:1 (Luke 17:11-19)
Ten people all in a desperate situation. All outcasts excluded from society, from relationships and normal interactions. Everyone of them with their lives on hold because of a circumstance brought on by a physical condition. They all needed God.
One day none other than Jesus walks on to the horizon of their lives. Can you imagine the conversations bouncing around this motley gathering of people, united by misery?
“Is that Jesus of Nazareth?” “Isn’t he the man they say raised the young girl back to life?” “I heard he healed a man born blind” “Isn’t he the one they say calmed the storm on the lake with one command from his mouth?”…
It’s not hard to imagine the conversation excitedly ramping up then to something like;
“Guys this is our moment! If the stories about him are true maybe he will perform a miracle and heal us!” And so they cry out; “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13)
Testimonies, God-stories about others encountering God can have an effect on our own faith. There is no evidence that this band of 10 believed at all in Jesus prior to this moment. But when Jesus was present, the testimonies of others primed their own faith causing them to believe that Jesus could have mercy on them and free them from their painful circumstances.
Jesus sees them. Jesus acknowledged these people who were outcasts and untouchables in that society. Jesus gives them dignity by responding to their cry for help. Jesus stops his journey to speak with them, Jesus is not too busy, not too self-important to stop for them. Jesus is amazing!
Just the other night I was convicted by the Holy Spirit of being totally unlike Jesus was here in this encounter. I had taken my wife out for a date and we had just had a nice meal. A man I had not seen before appeared out of the shadows near our car as we tried to get into it (as often happens in South Africa). He was looking for some money, which I was going to give, but then as we got really close he started suddenly pleading urgently and awkwardly and I baulked, got in the car and drove off – I am sad to say. In the moments that followed my sense of having not been like Jesus increased and so I repented and asked for God’s forgiveness. Now one could make arguments against giving in certain settings, but that’s not the point – the point is Jesus stopped and still stops for people and I want to be more like Jesus!
Jesus tells these 10, to go and show themselves to the priests which in our day equates to Jesus saying, “Go, get checked out by the Doctor and you’ll find you’ve been healed and can re-enter normal life!” (see vs14) They must have looked down at their various sores and lesions which Scripture did not say were healed instantly, rather it says; “And as they went they were cleansed.” (vs14)
It appears as though the healing required a second step of faith. Step 1 was believe Jesus can heal you and cry out to Him. Step 2 seems to have been for them believe Jesus that you won’t be wasting your time getting checked out to see if you’re healed because I am going to heal you. Step 3 “and as they went” they were healed. They had to take a step of obedient faith and then they were healed.
All 10 are healed as they go on their way and it seems 9 of the 10 just keep going and never come back to thank Jesus.
Sadly I have seen this pattern repeat itself over and over again over many years. We have prayed for countless unemployed people, or people wanting a better job, or marriages that are in need….and then when God breaks into people’s lives, in the moment that they should be thanking God, telling the God-story for God’s glory and then continuing to live for God – they disappear. God warned Israel of doing this to Him in Deuteronomy 8:11-20 saying; “take care lest you forget the Lord your God” (vs11) when God answers your prayers for a Promised Land, “beware lest you say in your heart, my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this” (vs17).
But one of the men did return to Jesus, fell on his face before Jesus’ feet and gave thanks worshipping Jesus for the miraculous and instant healing he had received. May we be like this guy! May we be those who honour God as the source of all good gifts to us.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)
May we be those who don’t only remember God when we feel like we need Him, but who remember God when we need to praise, honour, worship and thank Him. After all God is worthy of praise always, everyday, for giving us Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and healed us not of some disease but delivered us from sin and sin’s punishment to come. Live your whole life as a response of love to Him.
I AM… (John 8:12-59)
God who encountered Moses in the burning bush moment, God who revealed Himself to Moses using the name; “I AM who I AM” (Exodus 3:14) is the unseen Almighty God of Scripture. John in his gospel reveals that Jesus is the visible, tangible, personal revelation of that same unseen God, Yahweh (John 1:18).
In this encounter, Jesus is engaging with the Pharisees & Scribes who had just prior to his brought the adulterous woman to him in an attempt to catch him out and have him arrested. Jesus authoritatively restores the woman to a place of dignity and challenges them regarding their self-righteousness and spiritual blindness.
They’re still standing there in what appears to be a hostile mood and so Jesus engages them in some verbal jousting. Jesus is provocative! He uses a phrase translated “I am” 13 times in this single encounter. Now in one sense he is just using an ordinary phrase; “I am going” but He knew what He was doing. He was making a point implicitly which he eventually makes explicitly in vs58.
The Greek translation of the Hebrew OT (called the Septuagint) uses the same phrase Jesus uses 13x in His conversation with the Jews opposing Him here in the Genesis 3:14 account of God with Moses.
Here in John 8, the Jews are demanding that Jesus answer the question; “Who are you?” (vs25) and throughout this conversation Jesus is hinting at Exodus 3:14 until eventually He says it explicitly in John 8:58 and when He does they immediately picked up stones to stone Him on the spot as they got it – Jesus was claiming to be the same God who encountered Moses in Genesis 3:14.
Who is Jesus?
This is the question that every person on the planet needs to answer at some stage in their life or ultimately on the day Jesus Himself returns. And when it comes to this question, we really only have three options;
- Jesus is a ‘Conman’
- Jesus is a ‘Madman’
- Jesus is ‘God/man’
Some people would want to add that maybe Jesus was a simply a ‘Good man/Good teacher’ but that’s not an option really if you consider that we don’t call people who have delusions of deity good and would not encourage people to sit and learn from such people either – we would resign such a person to the Conman or Madman categories!
When Moses encountered God in the burning bush moment, God told Moses; “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5) and in that moment in response “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3:6) Similarly, when Isaiah encountered God and saw a vision of God in glory in heaven, he crumpled before God falling on his face keenly aware of his sinfulness and God’s greatness (Isaiah 6) – this is who Jesus was claiming to be.
Friend, although Jesus was and is a man, don’t for a minute loose sight of the fact that He is one and the same God of glory, majestic and mighty, holy, or as Colossians 1 says of Jesus;
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)
So, worship Jesus, stand in awe and wonder at Him, bow before Him and surrender your whole life to Him and then live the rest of your days for Him and for His purposes alone. Amen.
God-Moments God Created (Mark 6:45-52)
In Mark’s Gospel account, just after Jesus multiplied the five loaves and the two fish to feed the thousands, Jesus then encouraged the disciples to get into a boat and travel to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while He stayed to dismiss the crowd.
Jesus created this God-moment! He did so by sending the disciples on before Him so that He could then walk by them on the water. Why?
Was it so that He could continue to answer their question recorded in Mark 4:41; “Who then is this; that even the wind and the sea obey him?” which had not yet fully answered by Him?
Do you ever get that feeling? Like God has organised things, events, timing, meetings with people, conversations and there is more going on that what’s maybe visible on the surface…? God does this all the time actually.
Here in Mark 6, we get to observe from the outside – and so it is relatively easy to spot God’s hand in the circumstances. However, it is not always so easy when we are in the thick of it.
Why did Jesus create these circumstances? Jesus wanted His disciples to know Him, to know His deity, His power over creation and the laws of nature (multiplying food, walking on water, healing diseases…). And so Jesus sent them ahead in a boat, fully intending always to catch them up by walking across the water, walking past them (vs48) so that they could see Him.
And when they do see Him, their first thought is not; “Hey Jesus!” Their first thought is more like; “WHAT! A Ghost!” Aren’t you and I like that?
We are all too often filled with fear not faith, doubt not delight. If they had been on land they would have probably run for their lives, but they were captive on that boat, captive to the circumstances. Sometimes we are in the midst of a circumstance God Himself has orchestrated but we don’t see God or His handiwork, we just see dimly and have a tendency to freak out like they did.
Jesus didn’t want to make them afraid, and God’s not playing with your emotions either. And so, as soon as Jesus sees their fearful terrified response He spoke to them calling out to them; “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid!”
Friend, God is always with you, even when you can’t see Him obviously, even when you can’t feel His presence or hear His voice above the storm and the winds of life. In those moments remember what God has promised; “never will I leave you and never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5) and “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20)!
So call out to Him, He is there and when you do call God will come rushing to you and will speak to you, comforting you as He comforted them with His words of affirmation, with His presence (Jesus climbed into the boat with them – vs51).
Just like the other storm which was calmed by Jesus authoritative words (Mark 4:35-41), this storm too suddenly abated and peace was restored. The disciples are dumbstruck, they are in awe and wonder, astounded (vs51) at who Jesus really is – God almighty.
God arranges moments in our lives that will help us to see Him more clearly, moments that will demonstrate who He is to us in ways that no sermon or song could ever convey.
So, next time there is something of a storm in your life, ask yourself whether God might be in the storm in some way? Ask whether God might be wanting to reveal something more of Himself to you? Call out to Jesus, He is there with you already, but He will come rushing to show Himself to you and to speak words that calm you just like He did for the disciples. Trust Him that He can silence wind and calm waves with one whisper of His voice. Worship Him, be amazed at Him, trust Him, grow in your love and knowledge of Him continually. Amen.
Changed… [Matthew 4:18-22, John 1:35-51]
Those who encounter Jesus are changed by Jesus! In Matthew and John’s accounts, at least 7 people have an encounter with Jesus, and in each person’s case that encounter transformed their lives forever.
Simon & Andrew were fishermen. Fishing and sea was their livelihood, it was what they did. They didn’t wake each morning wondering what to do, this was their income, it was even their defining identity. But with just one encounter, hearing Jesus’ compelling and challenging words; “follow me” they immediately left their nets, left their livelihood, left their identities as fishermen all in order to respond to Jesus.
Shortly thereafter, their business partners (James & John) similarly hear Jesus’ call to follow Him, and Scripture says that immediately they too left their nets, their identity, even their father and their servants (Mark 1:19) all to follow Jesus. Luke records summarily, “they left everything and followed Him” (Luke 5:11).
The Gospel accounts don’t record much conversation really. And yet Jesus was so compelling that when He called them to follow Him, they answered and they did so wholeheartedly! Jesus redefined each of these four men. They had been ‘doers’, fishermen, defined by their work. Now they were in an instant defined as ‘followers’ of Jesus, new lives, new identity…
What did they encounter in Jesus that caused this reaction?
John’s account of the same events is full of revelation. John exclaims; “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:35). John in that moment has truly seen who the real Jesus is. Having spent some time with Jesus, Andrew finds his brother exclaiming; ‘we have found the Messiah’ (vs41), likewise Philip finds Nathanael and says in effect; ‘we’ve found the one the whole Law and the Prophets speak of – the Messiah’ (vs45) and Nathanael himself cries out; “Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (vs49). All these people encountered the real Jesus, the King of kings, the Messiah, the got it in those moments…
Those who encounter Jesus are changed by Jesus!
None of them are left unchanged. Jesus changes their vocations, their identities, their relationships even their names! Following Jesus must have been exhilarating yes but it also came at with a high cost, with risk even. All these people have to leave things, people, what they knew for the unknown of following Jesus. They all paid a price in some way or another, and we too will be called to leave or let go at times as we follow Jesus.
Following Jesus was costly, following Jesus came with misunderstanding from others (imagine the thoughts, feelings and questions of the father of James and John’s, imagine their families, those who worked with them and those who knew them as fishermen…), and yet they never regretted it for a moment!
Those who truly encounter Jesus are transformed by Jesus. In fact if your life is not being transformed, if you haven’t felt the call to leave certain things behind, you have to ask whether you’ve met the real Jesus yet?
Ask Jesus to reveal Himself to you again and again, in all His glory and majesty.
Hear His words to you; “Follow me”.
What do those words require from you right now today, at this moment in your life?
Is there anything you need to leave behind in order to follow Jesus wholeheartedly?
Devoted! (Acts 2:42-47)
With the World Cup Soccer 2018 reaching fever pitch level on the excitement scale for many around the world, when I read this passage and read the word ‘devoted’, I am reminded of all those soccer fans colourfully arrayed in their teams colours. Faces painted, hats on, scarves, socks, shirts, tattoos even themed underwear!!!
In moments like this words like devotion, passion are on display in technicolour. In our passage today, Luke uses the Greek word that is translated into English as ‘devoted’. The underlying word means to be earnest towards something, to persevere in something, to be constantly diligent in something, or to continue to adhere closely to something (like with teaching or instruction).
The converts from Peter’s first Gospel message joined the 120 disciples and together they formed the first church on the planet. A church, a new community of faith that had previously not existed, people that did not know each other or even have much in common instantly became a family that together devoted themselves to some things.
- The apostle’s teaching (which is the Scriptures now for us)
- Breaking Bread (Communion)
- Corporate Prayer
Now, we know what a devoted Brazilian, English, French…. soccer fan looks like, they are hard to miss really. So what would a church community that’s DEVOTED to these things look like? And, who doesn’t want to be part of a church like that?
Which reminds me of something Nicky Gumbel said;
“Stop looking for a perfect church. It does not exist. Join an imperfect church and serve in everyday you can to make it nearer to perfection”.
This church we have in Acts 2 is radically wonderful! But don’t go looking for one, rather make the church you’re in like one, because you’re there and because you get it…
These brand new believers kept on meeting (vs44) with one another in the big meetings, all together in the temple and then also meeting in homes (small groups) (vs46), they ate meals together (vs46), they had their view of personal finance transformed by their faith.
So much so, that these devoted Christ followers ensured that no one amongst the family of faith had any need because they provided for another through sacrificial giving to the church by liquidating assets and investments to provide in abundance (vs45) for God’s church.
This was a worshipping (vs47), glad, supernatural (vs43) community who were also in awe and reverence of God (vs43). A church where reverence, wonder and amazement is dead will also have worship that is dead. That’s because wonder, reverence and ‘strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship’. – John Piper
So, let’s believe God for churches like this saturating our cities and towns just like this church started to impact Jerusalem with its devotion as the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (vs47).
- Pray that you would be freshly filled with the Holy Spirit like these believers were.
- Pray that you would be full of awe, wonder, thanks and praise
- And pray that you would be devoted to Scripture, Fellowship, Communion & Corporate Prayer like they were
- Pray that your whole life would be transformed by the Gospel including your finances, your view of your time, resources, relationships…
- Pray asking God to ‘do it again’, to cause churches like this one in Acts 2 to fill your city!
- Don’t look for a church like this one, make one!
- Live the change you desire!
- Be devoted!
Amazement & Mocking (Acts 2:1-13)
Jesus had told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until ‘the promise of the Father’ (Acts 1:4-5) and so they did. Devoting themselves to prayer together and then suddenly one day, Luke records that there was an experience that was quite unexpected and without precedent.
A sound, a roar came from heaven and was heard in the room they were in. A supernatural unusual breeze entered the room, followed by a physical manifestation of flames of fire that rested on each one of them. Something was happening and they all knew it. How long did it take for someone or all to recollect Jesus’ words and conclude that surely this was the baptism of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had spoken of and promised just days before.
The resulting impact of this sound, this wind and these supernatural flames was that everyone there was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in supernatural languages as the Holy Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:1-5).
I love it that we had a medical doctor on the scene to describe in detail what was happening! At this point we don’t know what they were saying, but we know that they were saying it rather loudly. So loudly that the sounds emanating from the room gathered a crowd, devout Jewish people from all over the known world (who were dwelling in Jerusalem). And what did they hear? Babbling, craziness?
No, rather these who gathered to the sound of the disciples speaking in tongues exclaimed;
“…we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:11-12)
Not everyone was amazed though, some seemingly didn’t hear praise but simply assumed that these disciples, who has been filled with the Holy Spirit, had in fact just probably had too much wine to drink, that had gone to their heads and mocked them. (vs13)
- The big question is the one the devout men asked; “What does this mean?” What did it mean then, what does this mean now for you and for me?
- This was the moment of the fulfilment of OT promises (Joel 2:28-32)
- Jesus is faithful and trustworthy ( John 7:37-39, John 14-16 & Acts 1:4-5)
- The outpouring or in-filling of the Holy Spirit was tangible/experiential
- It is possible to be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ & it’s urged in Scripture (Ephesians 5:18)
- The gift of speaking in tongues was not learnt but a spontaneous initial sign of in-filling by the Spirit
- The content of speaking in tongues (recorded in Acts 2) was worship to God in a multitude of earthly languages
- The impact of the in-filling of the Spirit was joy & merriment that could even be confused with drunkenness
- The impact of the in-filling of the Spirit was unity amongst believers. A united experience of God’s presence and power, a united explosion of worship and a united multi-cultural witness about the glory of God.
Jesus explained at length this anticipated moment, and the ongoing life/help that the Holy Spirit would bring (John 14-16), this life and help is the birthright of every believer in Jesus (Romans 8:9-11).
So, if you have believed in Jesus, this remarkable moment in church history ought not be a mere exception, but a historical account of a move of the Holy Spirit that should provoke you to ask God for His in-filling in your life, in your church.
Lord, would you move again in power, Holy Spirit would you fill your people again with power, provoking extravagant worship and power for mission for the sake of Jesus’ great name and glory!
And if youhave not been filled with the Holy Spirit, or if you feel like you need to be filled again – then simplly pray and ask God the Holy Spirit to fill you now, again and again.
Promise Maker, Promise Keeper (2 Kings 25:27-30)
God promised king David (2 Samuel 7:11-16) that God would establish for David a ‘house’ (a lineage, a family, a clan or tribe) that would endure forever! In the context of the books of the Kings where king after king was overthrown some within days of their appointment as king, with whole lines of families being wiped out by successive kings more than once in Israel with the constant threat of invasion and capture from powerful nations all around – in that context these are massive promises to David.
And God kept His promise! As one reads through 1 & 2 Kings phrases like this are embedded in the storyline a total of eight times;
Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David his servant, since he promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever. (2 Kings 8:19)
God was faithful to His promise to David, because God is faithful, He cannot be unfaithful even though we are unfaithful to Him as Scripture declares;
“If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.” (2 Timothy 2:13 in NLT)
And so here at the end of 1&2 Kings in the midst of lament and the tragedy of the siege and sacking and the exile to Babylon, there are four verses that offer a ray of hope, a glimmer of God’s eternal promise to David – which still stands.
Jehoiachin and the royal family are deported and not killed by king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (2 Kings 24:15) and then after 37yrs in prison in exile king Jehoiachin (also called Jeconiah in the NT) is released from prison by Nebuchadnezzar’s successor and is given a place of honour and provision for his family! God is faithful, God is the promise keeper, not one of God’s promises fall to the ground.
And so the line of David is preserved, the promise still stands, and in Matthew 1:12 we read of Jehoiachin/Jeconiah’s place in the storyline that all culminates in Jesus the King of kings the one who ultimately fulfills the promise made by God to David, and He is enthroned as King forever and ever.
The whole Old Testament is really about Jesus, it points to Him, shows us our desperate need of Him and anticipates His coming. As Isaiah prophesied of King Jesus;
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government
and of peace there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Worship, Jesus! Thank God for His unshakable faithfulness. Trust Him.
Enough! (2 Kings 17)
After a period of nearly 200yrs since Jeroboam’s succession from Judah, the northern tribes of Israel are eventually conquered by the Assyrians and deported into exile (2 Kings 17:6). Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the writers of Scripture are very keen to make it plain as to why this happened.
“And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God…and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel…” (2 Kings 17:7-8)
This was an event that came about not because of bad military or political strategy (although the passage reveals there were mis-steps made), Scripture attributes the source of the capitulation and capture of Israel by Assyria as being God Himself as the active agent.
The whole of the chapter reads like a charge sheet being read out in a court room, the list of charges against the accused, the guilty one;
- You have sinned against your God who brought you out of Egypt and into this Promised Land
- You walked in the customs of the nations whom I judged and drove out before you
- You followed wicked evil kings who lead you into sin
- You built for yourself your own places of worship, altars to false gods & served idols
- You did wicked things before me, and made sacrifices to these false gods
- You provoked me to anger (says God)
- I warned you again and again through the prophets, but you would not listen and were stubborn (vs13-14)
- You did not believe
- You despised my commands
- You even burned your sons & daughters as worship to false gods provoking me to righteous anger
And because of this the judgement comes;
18 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only… 20 And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight. (2 Kings 17:18&20)
23…the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day. (2 Kings 17:23)
Yes, God is ‘slow to anger and abounding in love’ (Exodus 34:6) but that does not mean that eventually God will not say; ‘enough!’ God was patient, forbearing with Israel but eventually love for all those sinned against, all those who lost loved ones, love for all those babies sacrificed to false gods looked like God judging sin. God had appealed again and again, urged them to turn from their wickedness – but they refused to with hard stubborn hearts.
So what can we learn from this for our lives?
May we not ever trust our hearts, which are so prone to lead us astray from serving the living God. May we hold on to His words, will and ways laid out for us in Holy Scripture. May we never tamper with His Word and make our own false gods suitable to our fancies and our modern culture’s preferences. May we repent when and if we have sinned against Him, and may we worship our Holy God with holy reverence and as our loving response to all the love He has poured out to us through the gift of His precious Son, Jesus.
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