Thoughts on the Last Day of the Year.

It is fitting that we should end the year by referring to the last chapter of the Old Testament, the fourth chapter of the book of Malachi. It is a very short chapter. It begins with a warning to the proud and the wicked, those who have not turned from their sins, and are not RightWithGod. It is a warning to them that  that a day of judgement awaits them, “the day that shall burn as an oven”verse 1, when God will punish the unrepentant. God has given a clear command to “all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). That command is a loving command to from God, to sinners, to turn from their sins and to turn to Him while they have the opportunity.

Then in Verse 2, God addresses those who are RightWithGod, having repented of their sins, and received God’s remedy for sin, as promised in the Old Testament. They are addressed here as “you that fear my name”. Everyone who loves God has a genuine reverence for God, as the all-powerful One in whose hands all are as the ‘clay in the hands of the potter’ Jeremiah 18:6. Love for God and fear of God are always found together.

The promise made to them here is indeed wonderful: “Unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings”. The ‘Sun of Righteousness’ clearly refers to Christ in His second coming, when He will appear in His glory, to set up His throne of judgement, and to ‘divide His ‘sheep from the goats’ (Matthew 25:32, referring to believers and unbelievers). When the Lord’s own people see Him, they will be changed, healed of all sin and all diseases. Hence the words, ‘With healing in His wings’. For them, the words of Revelation 21: 4 will be the reality: “There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

As we now come to the end of another year, we look forward to a new year. We naturally wonder what the new year has in store for us. We cannot know the future, and we must not seek to know the future. We honour God by leaving that with Him. We must live in the present, and submit to God in the present. However, there is nothing wrong with having aims and goals, especially spiritual ones, as Paul expressed in Philippians 3. Perhaps you would like to know what mine are, so I will give you these. I pray that God will help me to walk before Him in true humility, and I confess that that does not come easily to me. I pray that God will enable me to understand more of the meaning of holiness, and to pursue it with vigour. I love Psalm 107 as a psalm which describes so much of the true christian life, especially the ‘way to walk’ mapped out for us in verse 7: “He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation”. This tells me that there is a ‘way that is right’ through this life for the believer to seek and to find. This seeking and finding must be done with prayerful searching of the Bible. It is to do, not just with what we do, but also what we are. Psalm 107:7 does not tell us the future personal details of the ‘way’, but it tells what the destination will be: “a city of habitation”,  a place prepared specially for us by Christ (John 14: 2,3).

May you and I have a ‘good new year’, walking in the way that is right: a truly good new year.

 

 

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That believing ye might have life through His name.

The last two verses in John chapter 20, verses 30 and 31, are very important verses. There John gives his comments on the appearances of Christ to His disciples after the resurrection. In verse 31 John tells us the reason why he wrote his account of these wonderful events. It was to lead his readers to believe that Jesus was truly “the Christ”, the promised Messiah, the Anointed One who was to come to save His people by being ‘wounded for their transgressions and bruised for their iniquities’ (Isaiah 53:5). These post-resurrection appearances were very persuasive. They not only indicated that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but that He was a divine being, namely, the Son of God, as well as being the man that He clearly was.

Simply believing that these things are the biblical facts of the gospel is extremely important in salvation. Indeed the preaching of the gospel is taken up firstly with the proclamation of these facts. The meaning of the word translated ‘preaching’ in the English New Testament means ‘proclaiming’. To know the facts of the gospel is extremely important in salvation, but that knowledge does not save. We must take that knowledge to another level. We must believe that these facts are true, and again we have to say that this is very important in the process of salvation; but even that believing does not save.

In John 20:31, John makes this clear. He says, ‘these things are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God’; but then he adds, ‘and that believing ye might have life through His name’, and in doing so, he leads us into the deep mystery of what happens in the moment that we are actually saved. I say ‘mystery’ because what happens in the moment we are saved, is an area, which involves miracle, and which is God’s own work, and He has not delegated it to any preacher or evangelist or any other human being. It is a very serious mistake to try to engineer this miracle. It is a work of God. Yes, we must preach the foundational truths of the gospel, with all earnestness, and commend Christ to every sinner that they might put their trust in Him, but we must not seek to do God’s work for Him. His promise is, “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). God’s purpose regarding saving faith is, “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5). John expresses this miracle in the words with which he continues in 20: 31, “and that believing ye might have life through His name”.

John frequently describes being saved as having or getting ‘life’. He is not speaking about natural life, which every person living has, but about spiritual life, which only the saved have. The whole human race lost this life when Adam disobeyed God, leading  to the catastrophe of the fall. Then, “death passed upon all men” (Romans 5:12). We are saved when we we believe, not just in Christ, but on Christ, looking to Him alone as our only hope of deliverance from the wrath of God for our sins on the day of judgement; having no defence before God, except that Christ suffered and died as a substitute in our place.

When we are enabled truly to do this, the Spirit of God comes to take up residence in us, permanently, and irrevocably. We then have the ‘life’ which John speaks of in John 20:31. Everything to do with our salvation comes to us through Christ, and when we receive Christ, we receive all that is in Him: His person, His work, and much more. This is why John uses the phrase, ‘through His name’. A person’s name in times past meant far more than it does to us today. Then it stood for the person’s character and all that was in his person.

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“Found with child of the Holy Ghost”

Our title is from Matthew 1:18, and, of course, refers to Mary who was unmarried, and had never had intimate relations with any man, but was engaged to be married to Joseph. This was a major shock for both Mary and Joseph. Who was going to believe their story, that they had never had intimate relations with one another? At this crisis moment, God revealed to Joseph in a dream that “that which is conceived in her (Mary) is of the Holy Ghost”. It speaks volumes of the faith of Joseph and Mary that they believed God, and went ahead and got married. They were truly Godly people.

In due time the child was born, and we have no evidence to indicate that the birth was anything but a normal, natural process. There was no miracle in the birth. The miracle had occurred nine months before in the conception of the child in the womb of an ordinary woman who was a sinner like every other descendant of Adam. That she was a sinner is not an unimportant detail, but an essential truth, as we shall later see. It is with some of the detail of what took place in Mary’s womb that we are concerned today, not the birth. The birth was natural. The conception was the greatest miracle of all miracles.

This was “God sending His Son, made of a woman” (Galatians 4:4). ‘Made of a woman’ points to a very important fact. In order for Jesus to be a true saviour of human beings, who could be a true substitute for them, He Himself had to be of the stock of Adam and his descendants. Does this not mean that Jesus inherited the sin of Adam? No, it does not, because ova are not persons any more than sperms are persons, and it is only persons who sin, and a person does not come into being until ovum and sperm are united, only then can there be a sinner.

But what happened in the moment of the conception of Jesus? Well, there was no human sperm involved. Instead of that there was the stupendous miracle: God sent forth His Son. Yes, the Eternal Person of the Son of God, entered into the womb of Mary and took the human nature (not ‘person’) of Mary’s ovum into union with His own Divine Person. The result was the God/man, Jesus Christ. No one in their wildest dreams could have contrived such a plan. It is the ultimate perfection, as far as what was required to save sinful human beings from a lost eternity.

The requirements were, firstly that He would be a true human being of the stock of Adam. That has been fulfilled. Secondly, He had to be God, so that His surrender of His life on the cross would have infinite value, and would be sufficient to save a “great multitude which no man could number” (Revelation 7:9).

It is significant that the apostolic church had little to say about the birth of Christ, but much to say about the glorious person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the God/man. This is evident in the New Testament epistles.

Now He has come and He has finished His work. The call now goes out to all sinners without exception to come and receive. All things are now ready.

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Trust

“In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion.” Psalm 71, verse 1.

‘Trust’ is an extremely important word in true christianity. It is spiritually equivalent to ‘believe’. The expression ‘trust in’ is widely used in the Old Testament. It is the same as ‘believe on’ which is more widely used in the New Testament. In order for us to understand what it means to become a christian, and to live as a christian in this world, it is necessary for us to give some thought to the meaning of these words in the bible, because they are the heart of biblical christianity.

The phrase ‘put my trust’ in Psalm 71:1 means ‘take refuge’. That idea is of course central to salvation. The christian has fled for refuge to Christ, and continues in that relationship for the rest of his life. His hope against the day of judgement is that he is safe in Christ, his refuge. The word ‘believe’ in the New Testament has the same root as the word ‘faith’, and its spiritual meaning is based on the word ‘believe’ in the Old Testament. The really interesting thing about that word is that it is inseparable from the idea of ‘firmness’. So we arrive again at the idea of  trustworthiness. Christ is consistently the ‘firm’ one, whom we can trust, and in whom we can find a safe refuge. He is the ultimate as far as trustworthiness is concerned. Those who believe on Him are forever and irreversibly secure. Sadly, it is not naturally easy for human beings to exercise trust, especially in the day in which we live.

The internet has radically changed most of our lives. In some ways it has been a great blessing, especially in the ease with which we can communicate with friends and family, often face to face, even when they are on the other side of the world. There are also the great conveniences of internet shopping and access to masses of information. However, the internet has also enabled crime and evil to flourish in a way that we could never have imagined. Few of us have not at some time been touched by the evil intents of scammers. It is essential for our safety that we approach the internet with at least a measure of suspicion.

The question that must be asked is: has the internet brought about changes in us as people and in the way we view one another. I believe that it has: it has made it more difficult for people to exercise trust. Suspicion has has edged trust out of our lives. Now that is a great problem when it comes to witnessing, because what we are asking them to do is to exercise trust in a Person, that is, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a great problem, because what we are declaring and commending to them is the greatest ‘free offer’ there ever has been. That by trusting in Christ and His finished work, they can get RightWithGod here and now, and have forgiveness of sins and the assurance of heaven after death.

But this distrust can be a problem even to the christian. If we are going to really enjoy our christian lives, we must live our lives as little children, trusting Christ with child-like trust, in every moment and detail of our daily lives. This is now more difficult than it has ever been. It will often leave us open to ridicule. That is why the Psalmist prays, ‘Let me never be put to confusion’. The word ‘confusion’ is better translated ‘disgrace’. Basically, we as christians are open to the contempt of scoffers and mockers, when we commend Christ. The danger is that we might become discouraged, and even hardened in heart, and lose the joy of being a christian. That joy is very closely connected with the habit of trusting in God from moment to moment.

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Pleasures for Evermore

Psalm 16, verse 11contains one of the most beautiful descriptions of heaven in the whole of scripture: “In thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forever more”. Today we look at the second part of that quote: ‘At thy right hand there are pleasures forever more’.

It is difficult for us, used to the fleeting nature of the pleasures of this life, to begin to imagine pleasures that last forever. Yet this is what is put before us here as fact. This is what it is like at the right hand of God. When we speak of ‘the right hand of God’, we mean the right hand of God the Father. What is at the right hand of God the Father? It is, of course, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is there, not in the state of humiliation in which He first came; but He is there now in His glorified majesty and splendour. We have many references to this in the New Testament, for example, Hebrews 12:2: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God”. (other references for any who desire more are: Mrk 16:19; Acts 7:55,56; Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3; 10:12; 1 Pet 3:22). The first and chief pleasure we will have in heaven is enjoying the actual company of the Lord Jesus Christ in a totally sinless environment: no sin in us or anywhere near us.

Then there is the company of all the saved in their final state of sinless glory. We will be able to enjoy and love them with a perfect love. None of the things which caused breaches and grudges here on earth will be remembered.

There will also be the company of angels, who will be able to tell us so much about their involvement with us while we were in this world, where they ministered to us (Hebrews:1:14).

There will also be activity. Revelation 7:17 tells us, “For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters”.

The actual environment of heaven is a controversial subject, but this text strongly suggests that it will be an environment perfectly prepared to provide glorified human beings with the maximum enjoyment in the constant company of their Lord and Saviour.

In all this we must keep before us, that when Christ looks on us, He will do so with the greatest enjoyment. He will see us as the product of His travail and suffering on the cross, and the amazing thing is that He will be fully satisfied; “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied”. It is not difficult to understand that His satisfaction with us will be a source of unending amazement and pleasure to us. These are some of the continuing pleasures of heaven. They will not be like the pleasures of this world, fleeting, and fading with the using, but will satisfy fully for all eternity.

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