Holiday Thoughts

In Psalm 95:1, we read, “O come let us sing unto the Lord: Let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation”. Why? Because that Rock is Christ. Why ‘Rock’? Because He is utterly dependable, making our salvation unspeakably secure.

Holiday Thoughts

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ” (Romans 8:1). Believer, there is a banner over you. It is Christ’s banner of love. It says, “NO CONDEMNATION”. How can that be? It is because Christ has paid the penalty for your sins so fully and completely that further charges would be unjust.

The Danger of Hardening your Heart

The danger the title speaks of is the greatest danger that anyone is open to. It is not a danger from any person, or power outside of yourself, but a danger from within you: the danger of hardening your heart against the voice of God. The title comes from Psalm 95: 7-8, and is repeated in the New Testament in Hebrews 3: 15. The background is called the ‘rebellion’, or the ‘provocation’, referring to a time when the Israelites hardened their hearts against God in spite of the fact that He had miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt. The results for that whole generation were catastrophic. With the exception of two people, none of them entered into the Promised Land.

This sad situation is held up in the bible as a warning to us, not to harden our hearts against the voice of God: “Today, it you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts”, Hebrews 3:15. What does it actually mean to harden our hearts against the voice of God? It sounds like something which only a really hard-hearted person would do. But this is not necessarily so. This is something the loveliest of people often do. They would not dream of rebuffing or ignoring a gracious  invitation to come to a wedding, or something of that nature, which had involved much planning, great cost and sacrifice. Indeed they would gladly accept the invitation, even if it interfered with plans that they had already made. Yet these same people may ignore and put aside God’s invitation to come to the greatest feast that anyone had ever prepared, the feast of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This was the costliest feast that was ever prepared in the history of this world. God gave His Son to this world in order to suffer and die in the place of sinful human beings, and so save them from the eternal destruction which they deserved. Not only so, but to give them a guaranteed eternal inheritance with Christ in heaven, where there is “fullness of joy, and pleasures forever more” (Psalm 16: 11). The invitation is to all human beings without exception to come freely and willingly to this great feast.

Your response may be, I have no intention of refusing this great invitation, indeed I have every intention to respond some day, or even soon. Please listen to me, my very dear friend, that is actually hardening your heart to the voice of God. The invitation is, “Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart”. That implies that today you are hardening your heart, if you put it off even for one other day. Perhaps you may say to yourself, I would like to accept God’s invitation, but this is not a good time for me, tomorrow will be better. That is Satan’s evil plan to bring you to destruction. He never says to someone who is weighing up God’s invitation, ‘Forget it’. He will always say, ‘There is plenty of time”, and if you take His advice today, he has you where he wants: on the slippery slope of ‘another day’, when God says, ‘today’. “Behold, now is the accepted time, behold, now is  the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

(I will be on holiday for two weeks, but I hope to leave some ‘Holiday Notes’, while I am away.)

“True blessedness”

It is a natural tendency in man, especially in the present age, to project an image of oneself, of strength, confidence, success, prestige and so on. Sadly, this kind of ideal image has to some extent invaded the church, and even some of the pulpits of our land. The question we must ask is: Is this the picture of believers that is set before us in the scriptures? The answer is, No. Jesus began His ‘sermon on the mount’ with a list of the characteristics of the ‘blessed’,  in Matthew 5:3-11. Surely, there can be no doubt that He is giving us a list of the marks of a true believer, one who is RightWithGod.  The list he gives us is very different from ‘strength, confidence, success and prestige’. It is ‘poor in spirit’, ‘mourning over sin’, ‘meek’, and so on. This is very different; but the latter are the happy ones. The literal meaning of the word translated, ‘blessed’ is ‘happy’. In fact, the comforting words addressed to those described in verses 3-11, are found in verse 12: “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you”. Their reward was not to be the approval of men, but a reward which awaited them in heaven; and it was a ‘great’ reward. In this world, their predecessors, the prophets, were persecuted rather than admired; so it would be with them.

Obviously there is a difference between the image that many christians of today like to project and the biblical picture of the happy christian, that we have in Matt chapter 5. Does this really matter? Of course it does. The question of motivation comes strongly into it, and motivations are the really important things. It is not just what we do that is important, but why we do it. The worry is that the believer who is more concerned about what the world thinks of him, than about what God thinks of him, is wrongly motivated, because it is what God thinks of us that is important. We are told in 1 Samuel 16:7 in words spoken by God to Samuel, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks upon the heart”.

If we are christians, and truly RightWithGod, we will have a strong desire to get beyond the ‘child’ stage in our christian lives. This means that we must “put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11). We must put away our ‘image building’ and seek the honour and glory of God above all things. We must seek to be like Elijah who was able to say, “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts”(1 Kings 19:14). We should have something of that jealousy for the honour and glory of God, even though we are not prophets.

Let us examine our motives with honesty and sincerity, calling on the help of the Holy Spirit, the Great Enabler, to help us to get this very important area of our lives right, and to keep it right.

 

The Spirit of Adoption

We all become children of God the moment we are born again. We are “begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”(1 Peter 1: 3). Yes, at the moment we are born again, we experience a resurrection in our souls which is a spiritual parallel to the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is an instant in which this happens, but God usually hides this from us for our good. By nature we are prone to boast about any experiences we might have. Although that great instant is hidden from us, we soon sense the effects that it has on us. Our desires, inclinations and tastes begin to change. The detail of this varies from person to person, but in every case there will be a general swing away from the satisfactions of this world to the satisfactions of the spiritual life.

But here, as is often the case, God shows himself to be the God of the second mile. What we have described above is the first mile, where we are made the spiritual offspring of God. The second mile is, that God puts His Spirit within us to dwell there permanently, and by doing so, God is adopting us into His family making us more than offspring. We enter into a true Father/child relationship with God, and the Spirit who now dwells within us enables us to instinctively address God with humble confidence as Father. This is why the Holy Spirit is called ‘the Spirit of adoption. As Romans 8: 15, 16 puts it, “ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that, that we are the children of God”. (The words, Abba, Father, are simply the same word repeated, ‘Abba’ being like the Hebrew word for ‘Father’. Truly, our God is the God of the second mile.

This is often the way that God conveys assurance of salvation to the believer. Every true believer wants to have assurance that he or she is truly saved. Now, our first instinct is to know that we have truly believed, and that our sins are forgiven, because Christ has bourne them for us. God does not usually give us that information directly, but He sooner or later gives it to us indirectly. We have already mentioned changed desires and inclinations. Here is another way in which he gives us assurance: by enabling us to address Him Affectionately and reverently as ‘Father’, knowing that He delights in hearing it.

Of course, there are many other aspects of the Father/child relationship, which we do well to keep before us. There are all the protections, privileges and provisions that come with this relationship; there is also the discipline which comes with it, and the loving Fatherly chastisement which often goes with that discipline.

“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Unfeigned love of the brethren”

The title is part of 1 Peter 1:22, which reads, “Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently”. The word, ‘unfeigned’ is used four times in the bible: one other time in reference to love as here, and twice to describe true faith. It is a very demanding word for the serious christian. We are commanded to love one another; not just those we like, but all who are Christ’s. We are to love them because they are Christ’s; and we have to love them unfeignedly, that is, sincerely. Let us look more closely at this word.

To put it in the simplest language, unfeigned love is sincere love; love without pretence; love which is true and unstained with hypocrisy. In fact the word in the original language, translates simply as ‘without hypocrisy’. This standard of love is very high, even for those who are in a state of grace, that is, people who are RightWithGod through Jesus Christ. Christ Himself was the only one ever who was able to practise this love perfectly, and His command to us His people is, “That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 13:34). His love was truly unfeigned love; it was perfect love which had no trace of hypocrisy in it. That is the standard that He set for us. We must never stop trying to reach this standard, although we will never reach it in this life. This quest makes us long for heaven where we will be separated from sin forever, and be able to love Christ and one another with unfeigned love.

However, while we are in this world, the verse we are looking at, 1 Peter 1: 22 gives us some help. The striving towards unfeigned love is part of the general quest for holiness, which the christian is constantly engaged in, namely,  purifying our souls. This purification received a great initial impetus at conversion, when we obeyed the truth of the gospel, but it continues until the end of life. None of this would be possible without the help of the Holy Spirit who helps our weaknesses, and makes things possible for us that would otherwise be impossible to us. However, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are enabled to progress in holiness, and this works toward the “unfeigned love of the brethren”, loving one another “with a pure heart fervently”.

All this would be quite impossible for us, except that when w received Christ, we received the Holy Spirit to be a permanent resident within us. There are many things laid upon us as christians, which we could not by nature even begin to strive for, which become things that we can sincerely strive towards, due to the help of the Holy Spirit, such as loving one another with love unfeigned. That is the way that He loved us, and if we wish to see that love in its ultimate expression, we must go to the cross and see Him suffering, the sinless One for condemned sinners, the Just for the unjust, the Rich for the poor.

 

When Wicked Men are God’s Hand.

King David was a peace loving man, but he had much trouble in his life. There is not always an explanation when trouble comes into the believer’s life. Few believers go through this life without some trouble. Jesus said in John 16:33, “In the world, you shall have tribulation (trouble): but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world”. Nevertheless, God never sends trouble for no purpose, but always with a view to sanctification in the case of the believer. It may have an element of chastisement in it, it may not, and the question often the believer has when being tried is, ‘Is this chastisement, or is it not?’

In the case of David in 2 Samuel 16, he knew very well that the trouble he was experiencing was chastisement at the hand of God. Did this make the trial easier to bear? No; in fact it made it much harder to bear because he knew the explanation.

David had grievously sinned against God in committing adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, the Hittite, while the latter was away with the army defending his country. Then, when David found out that Bathsheba had conceived he tried to cover up his sin, but it did not work. He then arranged the death of Uriah in battle, and took his widow, Bathsheba, to be his wife, so that people would think that the child was his.

But he could not hide his sin from God. God sent Nathan the prophet with a message for David. Firstly, that he had seriously sinned against God; secondly, that he would never be free from battles and bloodshed; thirdly, that one of his own family would rise up against him, and that he would have to flee from him; fourthly that God had forgiven his sin; fifthly that the child would die. All this was, in due time, painfully fulfilled for him.

We are presently dealing with the fulfillment of the third of these promises. Absolom, David’s son, led a rebellion against his own father with a view to usurping the throne. David was forced to flee with a few faithful men. We have a description of part of that very sad scene in 2 Samuel 16:5-13. One of Absolom’s men, Shimei by name, came and threw stones and insults at David. One of David’s men offered to go after him and kill him, but David’s response was, No. He turned down the offer and commanded that Shimei be left to continue cursing David, and he gives the reason, “Let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David”, (verse 10). This was a very strange thing to say, until we join it up to the sentence pronounced on David through Nathan the prophet in chapter 12. Then we realise that David was in the depths with conviction of sin. It was all a reminder to him of his grievous sin, and God’s sentence upon him for that sin. God was using a wicked man to be His ‘hand’ in his chastisement. How exceedingly painful! One of the many lessons that we learn from this whole story is the very important one: God sometimes uses wicked men to achieve His purposes in the sanctification of His people. So, our respose to the wicked when they assault and abuse us, must not be revenge, but an acceptance that they may be ‘the hand of God’. We must always in such situations, ask the question, ‘Is God in this?’ We may have to wait for the answer, but in due time it will come. In the believer’s life, nothing is for nothing.

 

 

“They yet believed not for joy”

 

This moment, recorded in Luke 24:41, is surely one of the most joyous moments recorded in the scriptures. It is fitting that it should be so, because it is do with the most joyous fact in all history: the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. Sometimes what we plainly see with our eyes is so wonderful, that our joy is more than our capacity to believe what we see. Our joy is so great that we are momentarily thrown into dumbfoundedness. The emphasis must be on the word ‘momentarily’, because the dumbfoundedness was only for a moment. It very quickly changed into joyous believing for those disciples, because they knew that He had truly died on that accursed cross, and that He had been laid in the grave. Now there He was standing before them, showing them His wounds and proving beyond doubt that He was no spirit, but ‘flesh and bones’.

Why do christians rejoice so much in the resurrection of Christ? It is because it is the ‘linchpin’ of christianity. The linchpin is the most vital part of an axle. If it fails the axle is useless. The wheels just come off and the axle is of no use whatsoever. If the resurrection had not happened, the whole scheme of the christian faith would fall apart. This is no exaggeration, and if we have difficulty with giving such an important place to the resurrection, we should read 1 Corinthians 15: 13-20. Verse 17 reads, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain (empty), ye are yet in your sins”. Paul is not exaggerating. He is simply stating the facts of the matter. Even atheists recognise that the resurrection is fundamental to all christianity. That is why they have made such efforts to disprove it. However they are up against the evidence, that the resurrection is the best attested fact of the history of that time, sacred and secular. Let us then rejoice and be glad because Christ is risen indeed.

Now everything prophesied about Christ has fallen into place. The door to heaven is wide open for sinners. Now they can be RightWithGod through Jesus Christ. All things are now ready, and the invitation is unconditionally to all men everywhere, to repent of their sins, and come to Christ, and receive freely all that is in Him.

It is so wonderful to know that there is One at the right hand of God who says to us, “, Fear not: I am the first and the last: I am He that liveth and was dead: and, behold, I am alive for evermore; and have the keys of hell and of death”(Revelation1: 17-18). In rising from the dead, he has conquered death for all who will believe in Him; yes, they will die, but death will have no sting for them because it is not hell, but heaven’ which awaits them ‘on the other side’. No wonder Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15: 55, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Where indeed! For those who are RightWithGod through Jesus Christ, death and the grave are the access door to heaven.

 

 

“Take, Eat; This is my Body”

These words from Matthew 26: 26 were uttered by Jesus in the course of eating the last Passover with His disciples. In doing so, He instituted the Lord’s Supper which was to to take the place of the Passover. From then on the Passover, which was a Sacrament which involved the killing of an animal, and the shedding of its blood, was to be replaced by a bloodless Sacrament, where the flesh and blood of the animal was to be replaced by breaking of bread and the pouring out of wine. The blood-shedding of the Passover was to be replaced by the bloodless sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Both sacraments were symbolic of the death of Christ on the cross. In the first, believers looked forward in faith to the final sacrifice to end all sacrifices; the second looked back, again in faith, to the actual accomplishment of that final sacrifice. Further shedding of blood would now be out of place, as it would suggest that the one final sacrifice of Christ was not utterly and completely sufficient to accomplish salvation for all of Christ’s believing people. As we read in Hebrews 10: 12, “This man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God.”

Neither Sacrament had any effectiveness in itself towards salvation. The effectiveness lay in the sacrifice of Christ, and the effectiveness of that was received in each case by faith. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we must exercise our faith, that is our trust in Christ and His sacrifice of Himself on the cross in the place of sinners.

But that does not mean that the Lord’s Supper has no effectivenss in the life of the believer. The Supper is a remembering of the Lord’s death, but Jesus did not say, ‘take this bread and keep it to remind you of my death’. He said, pointedly “Take, eat: this is my body”. Why so? Because, as eating bread gives strength to the body, so the eating of the bread at the Lord’s Supper gives strength to the soul. It has a stengthening effect on the spiritual life of the believer. However, again, that effectiveness is not in the bread itself, but in the faith of the believer, who, as he takes the bread and eats it, looks to Christ and His sacrifice as the source of strength for his spiritual life: not the only source, but one source beside several others, such as devotional bible reading, prayer, worshipping and fellowshipping with the Lord’s people. In all these, we exercise our faith, and are strengthened for our pilgrimage through this life, until, at the journey’s end, faith gives way to sight, as we see Christ in His glory, and we all together enjoy His company forever. The world may have many blessings for the christian, but to be with Christ is far better (Philippians 1:23).

There are two more things about the Lord’s Supper which we must keep in mind. Firstly, it is something which the Lord’s people do together. There may be some believers in remote parts of the world, who do not have any brothers or sister with whom to share the Lord’s Supper; but for most of us we must seek togetherness when we eat the Lord’s Supper. Surely this is pleasing in the Lord’s eyes. We are all one in Christ Jesus. Secondly, one of the passages in the scriptures which describe the institution of the Lord’s Supper should be read. This reminds all present that this is not a man-made institution, but one which has the authority of the word of God.

 

 

“I will take you from among the heathen”

The title is from Ezekiel 36: 24, and is part of a wonderful block of verses from 24 to 28, which are characterised by eight instances of God saying, ‘I will’ (with slight variations), in reference to what He is going to do for His people. The original application of these verses was to Israel when they were in exile in Babylon, but all these Old Testament histories are patterns which have application to us in our present pilgrimage in this world. The words in this block of verses have a very clear gospel application.

The phrase, ‘I will’, sometimes will be to do with judgement, but here it is to do with the the great kindness God promises to pour on His people under the gospel. We must learn to respond with gladness of heart when, in a gospel context, we read, the phrase, ‘I will’, coming from God. The more we read our bibles, the more we appreciate the comforting, assuring effect of that phrase. It speaks of the most powerful force in the universe, the will of God. It is the invincible power behind every stage in our salvation, sanctification and glorification. It is a shelter in time of trouble. It is a nest where we can rest ourselves. It is a comfort in time of sorrow. It leads the believer to say with the apostle Paul, “If God be for us, who can be against us”(Romans 8:31).

The promise, ‘I will gather your from among the heathen’, speaks of the very early days of our concern about our eternal destiny. How does God gather sinners to Himself? When we become concerned about our need to be RightWithGod, we become very conscious of the burden that is laid upon us. Our guilt before a holy and righteus God is not only made known to us, but the burden of it is heavy and becoming heavier. The reality is that God is ‘gathering’ us out of the world towards Himself. We had heard the call of the gospel many times, calling us: “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest”. That call had made us uneasy in the past, but a new urgency is now laid upon us, until we surrender, and close in with Christ. We do make a choice, but God is behind it all as we come to find ‘peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We then knew that our sin was covered by His suffering and death on the cross. As we were passing through this experience, the burden seemed to be all on us. However, as time went on and we looked back on it, we came more and more to realise that God was in it all the way, and that His irresistible will was behind it all: ‘I will take you from among the heathen’.

This great beginning is only the beginning of the ‘I will’ blessings, which are now heaped upon us by the irresistible will of Almighty God. We will summarise:                                                                   ‘I will cleanse you’. Every child of God longs for cleansing, not just from the guilt of sin, but from its pollution.                                                                  ‘I will give you a new heart’; a heart to love God and His people, a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone.                                                                         ‘I will put a new Spirit within you’. The Holy Spirit will come and make you His permanent dwelling place. He will never leave.                          ‘I will cause you to walk in my ways, and to love my laws’. I will order your life in a way that is right, and feels right.

We will have the indescribable joy of knowing that the omnipotent and irresistible will of God has ordered it all.