To Be With Jesus

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth”

1 Timothy 2:3-4

The Bible teaches that God is not willing that any should miss His gift of salvation (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). Hence we read in several places that Christ died for all (e.g. John 1:29; Romans 5:6, 8; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 2:2). Since God created us in His image we have the ability to choose how we respond to God’s invitation and He will not override that choice or we would be no more than robots. Out of love for mankind God sent His Son to deliver us from sin and death by dying in our place. Now that the price is paid God invites all who want to, to come to Jesus and receive eternal life in Him as a free gift (John 1:12; Romans 6:23).

Sadly, most will go to anyone or anything except Jesus; but Paul writes that there is only one Mediator between God and man and that is Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). The reason He is the only Mediator is that He alone died for our sin and is therefore the only one qualified to forgive sin (Romans 5:8; c.f. John 14:6; Revelation 5:1-7). There are some who want a heaven without Jesus but that is impossible. Heaven is being with Jesus. Anything else is hell. If you don’t desire to be with Jesus then it may be that you have a false or futile hope of heaven. Jesus says that He is preparing a place for the saved and it is with Him (John 14:3; 2 Corinthians 5:8; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:10).

In his letter to Timothy, Paul writes that he was appointed to preach Christ primarily to Gentile unbelievers but also to unbelieving Israel (1 Timothy 2:7).  That mission has also been given to the church, a living body composed of all individuals who have received Christ as Lord and Saviour. The Gift of God, which is Jesus (John 3:16), is offered to all people because Christ died for all people. But God will not usurp a person’s own will. He invites, He provokes, He persuades but He does not force anyone. Only those who will of free will receive God’s Gift and appropriate Him will benefit. Many years ago I was conscripted into the army but there will be no conscripts in heaven. Everyone in heaven will be there because they believed God’s offer, wanted to be with Jesus, accepted His invitation and received His Gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. “And thus we shall always be with the Lord” 1 Thessalonians 4:17).

I am Alive

“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins”

Ephesians 2:1

There can hardly be sweeter words than these to a person who knows that they were spiritually dead with no fellowship with God but now have intimacy with Him. What real joy can one have if they only have a vague and uncertain hope of heaven? John writes, “These things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:4). He is referring to the very words of Jesus who said, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Joy is in knowing (1 John 5:13).

Our Creator had placed Adam in His beautiful garden and said, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). We know that he did eat and he did die immediately in regard to intimacy of fellowship with God and he brought both spiritual and bodily death to all mankind (Romans 5:12).

Clearly, from the verse at the head of this article, we can be made alive to God again and this is the foundation of our joy. Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul writes that being made alive is a gift. That is, we have done nothing to deserve or merit God’s favour. “The gift of God” might be better translated, “The Gift which is God.” God Himself is the Gift in the Person of Jesus Christ. At Christmas we focus on the arrival of that Gift and at Easter we focus on the means by which He made it possible for we who were dead to be made alive.

We will be filled with joy when we are aware that salvation is God’s gift to anyone who will believe Him. Who can attain to God’s righteousness and holiness from conception to bodily death? Paul writes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and he goes on to write, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). As we read Ephesians 2:1 again, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” our hearts leap with joy that He has given the perfect Gift which is His Son. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

In His Time

“When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons”

Galatians 4:4-5

Like many phrases in the Bible the first few words of this passage have been adopted by some into their regular speech. The “fullness of time” means at the right time. It was God who declared the time right. The people involved had no foreknowledge and it was unexpected on their part. Neither Mary nor Joseph had any warning.

The reason Jesus came is stated for us here. His mission was to buy back that which Adam had given away to Satan. The price was the Son of God crucified. The law could not redeem people and neither could any person redeem themselves or anyone else because all were born in sin and have sinned. All that the law can do is reveal people’s condemned state. It would take incarnate deity to pay the price for our sin; One without the sin disposition and who has never sinned. At its root sin is rebellion against God: “I want to do it my way, not His way.”

On the cross Jesus not only delivered us from justifiable punishment but in His resurrection He gave us a new position that we could never attain ourselves. An adopted son is equal with a biological son concerning inheritance. In Christ’s death and resurrection He has taken away the penalty for sin and also the very root of sin and placed us as sons with Christ to share in His inheritance.

Only as we have the same nature as God can we commune and coexist with Him. Jesus accomplished that for us and that is the Gift of God to undeserving sinners. The magi from the east brought gifts to Jesus in worship and thanksgiving. Everyone who has truly trusted Christ will be thankful to God. Paul writes that it is therefore reasonable that we should present ourselves as a living sacrifice in thankfulness, and as an act of worship, for His unspeakable gift (Romans 12:1).

The times are in His hands and at the right time He will again invade the earthly realm and assume His rightful place as KING of kings and LORD of Lords. Then, and only then, there will be: Peace on earth and goodwill toward men. May you experience a very happy and blessed Christmas with joy that endures all year.

God With Us

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel.”

Matthew 1:23

It may be that I have shared something like this with you before but I cannot stop having joy in my heart over this name given to the Lord Jesus Christ. “Emmanuel” means God with us. The name Jesus which means that He takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) and Emmanuel has the promise of His permanent presence with us now by the Holy Spirit and forever by His physical presence.

On that first evening in the Garden of Eden God came down to meet with Adam and Eve. He had spoken to Adam earlier in the day and given the one restriction to his freedom but now He came to socialise with Adam and gave him the responsibility of naming all the animals and birds. As I read the Bible the theme of Emmanuel (God with us) is consistent and insistent. God wants to dwell with man who He created in His image (Genesis 1:27).

Sin had made that impossible but God had a perfect plan to make an end to sin. He would send His Son. In order to deal with mankind’s sin His Son would have to take on humanity. This was accomplished through His birth. Mary was the mother of His humanity and she is a physical descendant from King David. Jesus is the eternal Son who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1-4).

Jesus’ presence on the earth was Emmanuel, God with us, but until the cross, empty tomb and resurrection it could never be as intimate as God intended. That is now possible and when He returns He will dwell with His creation forever.

There are many things people give as the reason for Christmas but the only real reason is, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

We do not worship a baby as the shepherds did nor a young child as the men from the east did. We worship the risen Saviour and as part of this we remember how He entered the world. In the process we do not forget why He “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). He took on humanity in body to “take away the sin of the world.” The giving and receiving of gifts reminds us that God gave His Son in order that we might receive His Son as a gift with thanksgiving (John 1:12).

Slaves

 “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”

Romans 6:16

In answer to the question, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” Paul gives an emphatic, No!  In expanding on that succinct response he gives us a few before-and-after statements in support of that response.

We know that having been crucified with Christ we should no longer be slaves to sin (v 6). We know that having died with Christ we shall also live with Him (v 8). As a result we are to count on the fact that we are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (v 11). Since these things are true it is unreasonable that we would yield ourselves to sin’s power. On the contrary, the reasonable thing to do is to yield to God and His righteousness (vv 12-14). Thank God there is forgiveness when we do stumble (1 John 1:9).

In verse sixteen, quoted above, Paul compares two opposites: sin and obedience. Sin is that disposition that is in rebellion against the will of God. It started when Adam chose to disbelieve and disobeyed God’s word. That disposition has been passed down through every generation to every person. Obedience is that disposition that flows out of love and trust. One who receives God’s love and trusts Him will obey His word because he/she knows it leads to God’s righteousness and holiness. Disobedience shows that we have accepted Satan’s lie and do not desire God’s righteousness.

If we allow sin to reign in our bodies and present our bodies as instruments of unrighteousness we will not be able to experience intimate fellowship with God. This will be loss to us and those around us but especially to Jesus Christ. The more intimate our fellowship with God through Jesus Christ, the greater we will experience the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). If we are lacking in any aspects of this fruit it may be because we are yielding to sin. We were slaves to sin (v 17) but now, in Christ, we are set free from sin (v 18). Do I want to be a slave of sin or a servant of Jesus Christ? We are slaves to whom we yield. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v 23). Choose!

Nothing to Offer

“This Man has done nothing wrong”

Luke 23:41

Jesus was crucified between two criminals and by the admission of one of them, they deserved to be there (v 41). Matthew records that both criminals joined with the passersby to mock and ridicule Jesus (Matthew 27:44) but one of them had second thoughts about who Jesus is after he heard Jesus say “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Both criminals would have heard this statement and recognised that Jesus was claiming deity by calling God His Father. Both heard Him pray for forgiveness for the very people who were mocking and crucifying Him. They did not feel that kind of compassion.

Matthew, Mark and John all record the notice on Jesus’ cross stating that He is Israel’s King. One of the criminals mocked Jesus’ claims to be Israel’s King and deity to by asking, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us” (Luke 23:39). He understood the claims of both the notice on the cross and Jesus’ prayer to the Father. Sad to say, it appears his last words before he died were to mock Jesus.

The other criminal began to think more closely about Jesus. Was it possible that Jesus really is the Son of God and Israel’s Messiah? In the most dire of circumstances he came to the realisation that Jesus is the Son of God and the promised King who would sit on the throne of David forever. Because of Jesus’ words to the Father he also knew he could be forgiven.

Significantly he called Jesus by the name “Jesus” which means Saviour. He understood that Jesus’ death on the cross would not be the end. He believed in resurrection and that Jesus is Israel’s King. He asked, “Jesus, remember me when You come into your kingdom” (v 42). He was immediately told that he would be with Jesus in “paradise” that very day. He had absolutely nothing to offer but himself on a cross condemned and about to die. He had no good works, no church membership, not even baptism but he received the Gift of God (John 1:12). He had fulfilled his part for salvation. He had acknowledged his sinfulness and hopeless situation; he had acknowledged who Jesus is and what He was doing and he appealed to Jesus for the forgiveness Jesus had just offered to those who were mocking and crucifying Him. Jesus then did His part and ever since that day this former convicted criminal has been with Jesus.

Christ Sets Free

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”

John 8:32, 36c

Some time ago in South Africa, my friend Paul and I were sharing the truths of the Gospel with more than twenty men who were in prison awaiting trial. For two hours we preached the Gospel of Christ, with Q & A, and the importance of knowing the truth. John recorded Jesus saying “I am the truth” (John 14:6) and “the truth shall set you free.” The apostle Paul wrote that believers are set free from sin by Jesus Christ (Romans 6:7, 18). One of the men asked us, “Are you saying that if I became a Christian, when I go to court, I will have to tell the truth?” Our answer was, “No, you won’t have to tell the truth; but if you truly are a Christian – you will want to tell the truth.”

The truth is that truth concerning Jesus Christ who delivers us and frees us from the power of sin, death and the wrath of God by way of the cross. Some may think that telling the truth merely sets us free from the sense of guilt but that is not the freedom of which Jesus is speaking.

Immediately after our response to that prisoner another stood up and, speaking to his fellow inmates, said, “I will speak the truth at my trial. I know I will receive three life sentences, two for murder and one for abduction but I will not lie anymore.” That is a man who has been born of God and truly understands that “the Son makes you free.” He is now free to tell the truth because he has received the One who is Truth. He now knew Jesus and the truth about Him.

This man had been a slave to sin (John 8:34) and that had brought him to a life in prison but he was now free from the prison of sin and death. He is infinitely more free than many outside of prison. Some might think he was not a good candidate for the Gospel but Jesus thought otherwise. To those who think only morally good people, by their evaluation, are worthy of salvation, Jesus said. “For I did not come to call the [self] righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). It is Jesus who makes us free from sin (John 8:36), its power and its consequences. The cross of Jesus alone is His justification for forgiving our sin (1 John 1:9) and being reconciled to God (Romans 5:10) so that we may call Him “Father.”

Receive Him Joyfully

“[Zacchaeus] sought to see who Jesus was…”

Luke 19:3

Unlike the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees who came only to condemn Jesus (Luke 20:19-20), Zacchaeus really wanted to know who Jesus is. In response to his genuine inquiry Jesus came to his home and spent time with him (19:5). The religious leaders came judging Jesus, but Zacchaeus humbled himself in Jesus’ presence. The outcome was that Jesus revealed to him who He is. The proud and arrogant will never discover who Jesus is.

The evidence that Zacchaeus understood and accepted who Jesus is is revealed in his response. He made good fourfold of all that he gained illegally and gave away half his wealth to the poor. He didn’t do this to gain forgiveness and eternal life but because he had already been forgiven and gifted eternal life. This is the evidence of a truly repentant heart changed by the power of God through Christ.

Zacchaeus didn’t come to Jesus without first hearing about him from others who had seen and heard Jesus. He had heard reports of the teaching of Jesus and seen evidence of changed lives in those who had received Him as Lord. Within his heart he knew he was under condemnation and he greatly desired to be delivered from it.

Not many people follow Zacchaeus’ desire to know who Jesus is. One of the possible reasons may be that they haven’t heard what Jesus had been saying or seen the changed lives. We have a privilege and responsibility to tell them. In a recent quiz show a contestant was asked who said, “Let there be light.” The answer they gave was “Moses.” For the past three or four decades we have lived in an increasingly biblically illiterate society. Even many Christians stumble in knowledge of their Bible and the Person they claim to follow.

Christianity is a restored relationship and fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. It is not a set of rules and rituals to be followed. In response to Zacchaeus’ genuine inquiry Jesus came to and stayed in his home. Zacchaeus received him into his home “joyfully.” He didn’t feel the need to tidy up and clean up first because Jesus had already cleaned up his heart.

If you haven’t already, seek to discover who Jesus is – and when you do, receive Him joyfully. Perhaps you have received Him before but the joy has diminished. Review who He is afresh and receive Him joyfully again.

Humble in Heart

“On this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word”

Isaiah 66:2b

We all desire that other people see us in a favourable light. What other people think of us has power over us; but we may discover one day that few thought much about us anyway. There is only one person’s favour that is worthwhile and that is God’s.

The world holds in high esteem the bold, the brave, the talented and the prominent; but the news in recent times is that many who were once held in high esteem have a dark past which is now coming to light. People who held sway over the opinions of many are being revealed as unworthy of that esteem.

If we want God to look favourably on us we need to know who He does so regard. In the verse above He gives two of the qualities absolutely vital to receiving God’s favour: a poor spirit and a contrite spirit. There are others not mentioned here but mentioned in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).

One who is poor in spirit is one who knows they are absolutely bankrupt when it comes to God’s righteousness. The proud and arrogant person knows nothing of this and continues to show God and everyone how self-righteous he is. The measure of righteousness that qualifies for heaven is Jesus Christ Himself. Though some seem to think they do, no man measures up to God’s righteousness (Romans 3:23; Matthew 5:20).

One who is of a contrite spirit is one who has a repentant heart toward God because of his poverty of spirit in righteousness. Instead of trying in vain to measure up he accepts that he falls short of God’s righteous measure and seeks God’s mercy, forgiveness and righteousness as a gift by faith (Romans 3:19-31).

God says through Isaiah that He will not look favourably on the self-righteous but will look favourably on the person who acknowledges their sinfulness and bankruptcy in righteousness. Such a one is in a blessed place because he/she will seek God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

Only a person humble in heart will tremble at God’s word and, with a repentant heart, seek and receive His forgiveness. The proud and arrogant do not do so because they don’t believe they need it.

Come Clean

“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

Isaiah 6:5

It was because Isaiah had just seen the holiness of God that he realised his own exceeding sinfulness.  That is how it always will be for people. We tend to think we are pretty good until the Lord allows us to see His holiness. That is when we become aware of our exceeding sinfulness. We are inclined to turn away from that which makes us aware of our sin but that is the very opposite of what we should do. It is the realisation of our sinfulness that is meant to drive us to the foot of the cross of Jesus and His shed blood for cleansing and forgiveness.

Isaiah was cleansed with a live coal from the altar. The live coal represented the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Isaiah still had knowledge of his sinfulness but now he also knew that he had been washed clean by the free grace of God. Now he was ready to serve the Lord.

Isaiah is given a mission; a message to speak to Israel. It isn’t one that they will like and he is told that they won’t receive it in the short term. Not surprisingly he asks how long before they will receive it. His message will be preached in Israel until they respond to the Lord’s chastisement (vv 11-12). It is being preached in Israel today although the key chapter 53 is neglected except among the believing remnant. That day is still future.

Within the professing church there are those who hear the Gospel of Christ over and over but because they believe they are good enough they refuse to accept that they are sinful and need Christ’s forgiveness and cleansing. Even in difficult times they will often remain stubborn and unteachable. When the holiness of God draws near through the preaching of God’s word or the presence of one already cleansed they feel unclean. Instead of welcoming Christ’s cleansing they build a barrier in an attempt to remove the sense of guilt. They miss the blessing that Isaiah received, “Your iniquity is taken away” (v 7).

Only Jesus can take away the guilt of sin and that is because He became sin for us. How foolish to turn away from the Lord’s holiness when He is both willing and able to make us as He is, holy (cf. 1 John 3:2). That is why He draws near to us.