Black Friday

As I write it is the day after “Black Friday”, the day which has come to mean the “Bargain Day” of the year for consumers. The shopping centres are invaded by massive crowds, armed with their cash and plastic cards, hoping to acquire goods at ‘knock-down’ prices for Christmas presents, or for their own needs. However, it seems that the term “Black Friday” was first used by the retailers rather than the consumers. It was the day that retailers who had had a lean year were able to jump from ‘in the red’ to ‘in the black’ in one day, and end the lean year in profit!

However there was a day in history that, more than any other, could be called “black Friday”, namely the day when the Lord Jesus was crucified. Something happened on that day that has never happened before or since. Darkness covered the earth for three hours ( Matthew 27: 45-46; Mark 15: 33-34;  Luke 22: 44:45)! I believe that these three hours are the most important three hours in the sufferings of the cross, and in the whole history of this world. Yes, we are given much information on what took place during the first three hours that Jesus spent on the cross during which He suffered the physical cruelty and mockery of man, driven forward by the malice of Satan, who wanted to see Him ‘cave in’ under the physical suffering. In this, Satan failed, so that Jesus was able to go forward into the far more important second period of three hours which  He spent on the cross, a period of which we are told little in the Gospel accounts, but of which we can learn much from the rest of the Bible, Old testament, and New Testament.

There He suffered the wrath of God being poured out on Him until there was no wrath left, and he was able to utter the triumphant words, “It is finished”. It is vitally important for us the realise that Jesus did not die a victim, but a victor, His was the greatest victory ever in the whole history of the world. Because He suffered the Father’s wrath till it was finished, the prospect for man, as a sinner, who has sinned against God, is completely and irreversibly changed. We can now be gloriously RightWithGod in this life, and know that after death we will most surely go to heaven, and be with Christ for all eternity. All that is required of us is to come to Christ as sinners and trust Him to take away our sins, and we will most surely and certainly be saved.

But why the darkness? Why was the out-pouring of the Father’s wrath hidden from man? Firstly, it was probably something which would be too much for weak human nature to survive. But also, strangely, it was a ‘private’ time between God the Father and God the Son. There the  Father poured out His wrath on His beloved Son for the sins of human beings until it was quite spent, and so salvation for sinners was purchased in complete and utter righteousness.The Father did not spare the Son because He was His Son ( Romans 8:32).

So this ‘black Friday’ did not come and go as the commercial ‘Black Friday’ did,  but ended in glorious triumph and light, because Jesus was raised from the dead. Since then the glory of gospel light has bathed this world. The call to sinners is, ‘all things are now ready. Come and receive Christ, and be saved’.

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God Upholds Marriages

One of the privileges of my position is that I get the opportunity to conduct marriages. Yesterday, once again, I enjoyed that privilege. Two lovely young people, male and female,  made the most amazing promises regarding their future together. These promises were made in the context of a service of worship because they wanted to affirm what they were doing before God, and before many witnesses. The fact that these promises were made in such a context makes them more than promises. They are vows, and they are binding for life. It is particularly wonderful that these vows are still taken at marriages in an age when, generally, mutual trust among human beings is at a low ebb; and even more wonderful that some trust one another to the extent that they are willing to articulate such vows before God and before many witnesses.

Some will say, ‘what is the point? marriages no longer last’. It has to be admitted that sadly today many marriages fail. That is a fact. However, that is only one side of the story. The far more amazing fact is that so many marriages succeed, and survive, against all expectations. Why is this the case, and why can we have confidence that this will continue? Because marriage is not a human ‘invention’, but an institution ordained and put in place by God. Why should that make a difference? Because God upholds marriages. He upholds, not only the marriages of those who are believers and RightWithGod, but of those who have not made any commitment to  trust God for their salvation, but who acknowledge His existence, and His rule over all things. I believe that He even upholds the marriages of confessed unbelievers, as long as they remain faithful to one another. Why is marriage and its upholding by God, so universal in its availability? It is because marriage was instituted before the fall of man. We read of the institution of marriage in Genesis chapter 2, but the fall does not occur till chapter 3. Marriage is a privilege available to all mankind.

Let us take a look at Genesis 2: 24 which reads: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh”. These words teach us three important things concerning marriage as laid down by God which are crucial to its success.

1. There must be a leaving of father and mother. This does not mean any fall-out, nor does it exclude mutual help and cooperation; but it does mean a definite and accepted separation, as far as that is possible.

2. Husband and wife must cleave to one another. This means an absolutely exclusive relationship, which excludes all others. For any third party to invade that relationship is a most serious disregard for what God has laid down in His Word.

3. Husband and wife must have no inhibitions about being joined together in the physical relationship of marriage, to the extent that they become “one flesh”.

I have no doubt whatsoever that God upholds faithful marriages. The emphasis must be on faithfulness. Once the sin of marital unfaithfulness comes into a marriage, my own observation, and experience in dealing with marriage problems, is that reconciliation is then extremely difficult. My question in such a situation is, ‘has God withdrawn His upholding hand?’

As far as our view of marriage in general is concerned, let us be optimistic, and have confidence that marriages will continue to be entered into and many of these marriages will endure; because God instituted marriage in the first place, and since then He upholds what He has instituted.

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Reconciliation

It still amazes me how easily children fall out with one another. One  does one little thing to offend the other, then there is retaliation on the part of the other. Then there follows an escalating process of ‘tit for tat’ until  one ends up in tears. But I am also amazed how little time it takes for children to forget the whole thing and get back to playing together as if nothing had happened.  Not only has the offence been put aside, but it has been truly forgotten. Reconciliation seems to have come about so easily

When we become adults, we are not so good at reconciliation. We may manage to put the offence aside, in some measure, but it is much more difficult for us to forget that it ever happened. We may wish that we could blot it out from our memories, but, we soon realise that we cannot exercise such control over our memories.

But when God says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31: 34).  He actually means it, and He is able to do it! Yet  God does not forget anything as we often forget things. So how is He able to say, ‘I will remember their sin no more’? Because He is able to do something which is to our minds amazing and even incomprehensible, that is, He can choose not to remember! And that is the end of the matter.

Does this mean that He passes over sin and forgets it and so reconciles us to Himself. No, He cannot do that. Why not? Because He is a righteous God. What does that mean? It means that it would be utterly against His nature to pass over sin without the full punishment being paid. Does that mean we can never be friends with God? No, because God in His love has done a wonderful thing. We read in Romans 5: “When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son”, a reference to the death of Christ, the Son of God, on the cross of Calvary. Christ there suffered the full penalty for all the sins, past, present and future,  of all who receive Him as Lord and Saviour. They are “reconciled to God by the death of His Son”. They are irreversibly RightWithGod and the friends of God forever.

This is the gospel, and here the beauty of Christ’s reconciling work shines forth. The christian has a banner over him: “reconciled to God”. He loves God and all things to do with him. His heart leaps at the word, ‘reconciliation’. Especially when he thinks that his reconciliation to God is rooted in righteousness, and therefore, unassailable.

Of course this relationship to God will produce a sensitivity to the things that offend God. It is not that this is going to add to our salvation. Nothing can be added to it; it is forever complete and perfect. It is rather that this new relationship is a relationship of mutual love, and the christian is always grieved at his own sin, and wants to go to God confessing his sin, and seeking repentance (turning determinedly away from all sin) and forgiveness, so that he can enjoy God with a clear conscience. This does not mean having a perfectly spotless conscience. No sinner in this world can have that. What it does mean is what Paul strives for in Acts 24:16: “This [being] so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offence toward God and men.” (Acts 24:16). The believer should have no difficulty in knowing that there is some offence on his conscience, which he needs to confess and seek forgiveness and cleansing for.

 

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