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).

Veiled Eyes

“Even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart”

2 Corinthians 3:15

Referring to Moses’ experience on Mount Sinai, Paul illustrates how unbelievers cannot comprehend the Bible. They can read the words and know the stories but as through a veil, not seeing with spiritual eyes. This is one of the reasons we cannot argue or debate someone into the kingdom of God. To attempt to do so denies the power of God. Paul writes, “My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). It is not our ability to present the Gospel in a clear way that will speak to the other person’s heart; it is the Holy Spirit applying the truth of the Gospel that we share. Oswald Chambers writes, “Never rely on the clearness of your exposition, but as you give exposition see that you are relying on the Holy Spirit.”

For the religious Jew of Paul’s day the Law was like a ball and chain. The rules and regulations of false religions, including some called “Christian,” keep captive with rules and rituals that give false hope. Paul writes, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17). That is, liberty from compliance to a set of rules, regulations and rituals in order to receive eternal life.

Eternal life is a gift in Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s Gift (John 3:16, Romans 5:8; 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-10). We give special attention to this fact at Christmas. If a person is not willing to humble themselves and receive God’s love Gift they deny the Holy Spirit the opportunity to lift the veil from their eyes. They may think they know all there is to know but the veil will keep the reality from them. Paul writes, “It [the Gospel] is veiled to those who are perishing whose minds the god of this age has blinded” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). When the veil is lifted by the Holy Spirit we see the reality that had been hidden and is revealed more and more. Paul writes, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Until we receive Jesus Christ we are looking at reality through a darkened veil and not seeing clearly. “Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:16). Let us pray that many will turn to the Lord and see clearly without the veil of spiritual blindness.

Stepping Stones

“Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, leading to edification”

Romans 15:2

Romans 15:13 concludes Paul’s explanation of what it means to “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). The purpose of pleasing our neighbour is for his good and for his edification, not to satisfy fleeting earthly pleasures.

The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) explains who our neighbour is. Essentially it is anyone who is in need that we can help. Every unsaved sinner is in desperate need of help. Comforting him by telling him he is okay is not going to be for his good. His lost state needs to be revealed along with the remedy that is in Jesus Christ. What is for his good is that which is true; that which will edify or build him up is also truth.

Sharing the Gospel with a man I once worked with brought a rebuke that I didn’t love him because I told him that he came short of the glory of God and was a sinner before God (Romans 3:23) and that he needed Jesus Christ to take away his sin (John 1:29). It hurt me deeply that he thought I hated him. Sharing the Gospel of Christ with a lost person is the greatest act of love we can do for anyone. Not to do so shows indifference to his plight and hatred. The good news was that he did eventually take on board the Scriptures that I had shared with him and a month later received Christ’s forgiveness and new life. It took the truth of the Gospel to reveal his perilous state so that he was motivated to seek the remedy.

In Romans 15:3 Paul gives us the ultimate example of what it means to please our neighbour for his good and edification. Of course that example is Jesus Christ. “For even Christ did not please Himself” He always pleased the Father (John 8:29). Since Christ indwells us it is reasonable to expect that when the Holy Spirit fills us Jesus Christ’s nature and attitudes will be observed. We will please God through conforming to His will and obedience and not by fulfilling our own selfish desires. That is a “living sacrifice.” It is to God’s glory that we live in this way because it reveals the Divine Nature in His creation in a way that physical features cannot. “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received you, to the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). As Jesus has been for us, let us be stepping stones for others and not stumbling stones.

Birth Language

“How is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born”

Acts 2:8

The first act of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was to enable the disciples to speak “the wonderful works of God” (v 11) in various languages as He determined. They spoke in the birth languages of the dispersed Jews who had returned for Pentecost (v 8). Jews from around the Roman Empire and other places had come for this occasion but they had different birth languages according to their place of birth. The message preached by the disciples most certainly centred on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the coming Kingdom of God. We see this in Luke’s record of Peter’s first sermon in the remainder of the chapter. The disciples had just spent forty days with the risen Christ hearing Him speak concerning the coming Kingdom of God (1:3).

The fact that they heard the disciples speak in their own birth language (sixteen different languages are mentioned in verses 9-11) got the attention of people and caused them to listen to the message. Jesus often said or did things to provoke consideration of who He is so we should not be surprised that the first ministry of the Holy Spirit at the foundation of the church and through His church would do the same (v 12).

For centuries the church has sent missionaries to other countries, cultures and language groups to share the Gospel of Christ but we live in a changed world in which people from different countries, cultures and language groups are coming to us. Perhaps we should make an effort to learn their birth languages so that we can share “the wonderful works of God” with them in their birth language.

We notice that while many were provoked to discover the truth and significance of what was happening (v 12), there were those who dismissed the event as people out of their mind (v 13). Paul informs us that being filled with the Spirit may appear to unbelievers as though they are drunk with alcoholic wine (Ephesians 5:18). Both experience a freedom from inhibitions but one is given over to the Holy Spirit and the other given over to the spirit of antichrist and Satan. The central message of all Christian preaching must be Christ crucified and risen (vv 30-32), and His coming kingdom, and that preferably in the birth language of the hearers.

Choose Life

“We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God”

John 19:7

There are some who say that Jesus never claimed deity – but that is not what the religious leaders in Israel at the time understood. There are a number of occasions when they believed Jesus was claiming deity for Himself and each time they sought how they might put Him to death (e.g. John 5:18; 7:29-30, 32, 44; 8:58-59; 11:49-53). At no time did Jesus try and correct them which confirms their understanding of what He was saying. Some have claimed that “Son of God” is not equal to being God but if that were so, the response of the chief priests would make no sense. They clearly understood that only deity could be the Son of God.

Under the law, anyone falsely claiming deity was to be put to death – so Jesus would be very foolish to falsely claim deity. Ultimately this was the only true accusation that they could make against Jesus. What they, and many since, have not grasped is that He is God in flesh (John 1:14; 1 John 1:1-4), an essential fact in redemption.

Each time Jesus was asked if He was the Messiah or Son of God He affirmed that He was (e.g. John 9:25; 18:37). Throughout His ministry He provoked, through His words and miracles, people to query who He is. This was repeated several times in regard to the Sabbath.

In John chapter 19 it is interesting to observe the banter between the chief priests and Pilate on this question. Pilate referred to Jesus as “the Man” and the chief priests said that Jesus claimed to be “the Son of God” making Himself equal with God. The Jews then demanded His death by crucifixion. Pilate, knowing he was trapped showed his hatred for the Jews by calling Jesus, “your King.” This he also put on the cross in three languages (v 20) to publicly humiliate the Jews and yet unwittingly declare the truth. In the exchange the chief priests uttered their final renunciation of Jesus demanding His death by crucifixion (v 15). We live in a world that is rejecting Jesus’ words and thereby rejecting Him. We are observing a rapid rising of opposition to that which Jesus taught and attempts to silence His word through laws befitting the spirit of antichrist. Nations and people who reject Jesus and His word, and refuse to accept His love-gift of salvation will be judged by His word and rejected by Him (John 3:16-18, 36; 1 John 5:11-12).

Choose life; choose Jesus.

With All Your Mind

“The Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron.”

1 Timothy 4:1, 2

None of us like to hear that someone we love and care for has taken on board teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ that we know is false. We like it even less when that person is someone we have prayed for and shared the truth with. However, denying that they are deceived doesn’t help. It is the truth that sets people free, not lies.

We live in a world that gives false hope. Many churches that claim to be “Christian” also give false hope. The doctrines (teaching) they give is contrary to truth and no matter how moral an organisation may be, if it teaches contrary to the Bible then it is leading people into hell.

We would do well to heed Paul’s warning. Hiding our heads in the sand will not help. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy was to give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (4:13). The Bereans were commended for doing just this so as to protect themselves from erroneous teaching.

In the past few decades, in churches, there appears to have been a move away from absolute truth in favour of appeasing the ideologically perverse world or having a good feeling in “worship.” For many, worship has become an experience in which the truth of the Bible is inconvenient. The cry in many churches has been to cut back on teaching the Bible and have more bland songs that touch the emotions and not the intellect or mind. Jesus said we are to worship Him in spirit and in truth. Worship without sound teaching is not worship and it must involve the mind. Jesus said that we are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37, Luke 10:27, Mark 12:30) One of the saddest things is to see someone we care for reject the true Gospel and accept the lie. The best thing we can do for them is to cling to the truth, not water it down or compromise it. Love and truth go hand in hand and are inseparable just as worship and sound teaching go hand in hand and are inseparable. These are foundational aspects of the Divine Nature of our God and essential for our fellowship with Him (1 John 1:3).

Reviled for His Sake

“Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven”

Matthew 5:11-12

A few decades ago we hardly imagined that we in Australia would be in the position described by Jesus in this passage. However, we are observing a huge increase in opposition to biblical truths and an undermining of the true Gospel. Part of the reason is the behaviour of those who represent a distorted, and therefore false, Gospel; but another reason is the movement to steal children from their parent’s control.

More and more power is being given to the state to take children from their parents. We are looking at the possibility of another “stolen generation.”  Power has been given to the education system to plant ungodly ideology in the minds of children. Parents who resist may have their children taken from them. Children are being used to bring about ideological change. The enforcement of the ideology has been partially thwarted by private schools, especially Christian schools, so this is now the focus of their attention. This was made clear in the recent election.

Christians in many countries of the world are enduring persecution, false accusations and imprisonment and have been for years but now it is coming to countries that have previously enjoyed Christian ethos and freedoms. Freedom of thought is under attack where it had previously been greatly valued. The recent election result has only delayed their agenda, not stopped it.

The prophets were persecuted, the early Christian leaders were persecuted and multitudes of Christians put to death by horrendously cruel methods. Jesus endured great physical cruelty and pain on Calvary’s cross where He took our sin upon Himself. He did not seek that cruelty, men gave it out of hatred, and neither should we seek it but if it comes because we have trusted Jesus for salvation and life He says we should be “exceedingly glad” because there will be great reward. If we refuse to accept persecution for His name’s sake and deny Him how could we face Him when we come into His presence? “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28).

The Book of Life

“Anyone not found in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire”

Revelation 20:15

This may seem an inconvenient truth to those not aspiring to have their names in the Book of Life. They may use any one of a variety of ways to quench their conscience and bring false hope to their hearts. Some remain indifferent and ignore their conscience. Others, who love sin, object by opposing anything godly. They will try and coerce others to agree with them in order to bolster their own confidence.

For those who believe the verse above, having their name in the Book of Life is of the highest priority, resting only when they are assured that their name is in that Book. There is but one way to accomplish this and that is God’s way.

John writes, “He who has the Son has life; and he who does not have the Son does not have life” (1 John 5:12). In his Gospel he writes, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:14). Having one’s name in the Book of Life is by receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour – but how do we receive Him? The answer is in a number of places in the Bible. Paul writes, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, and not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). He also writes, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

What is the gift of God? The most memorised verse in the Bible tells us that the gift of God is not a “what” but a “who”. “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). Jesus is the Gift of God which is why only those who have received Him by faith have eternal life (John 14:6), and therefore have their name in the Book of Life.

The reason Jesus is the only way is because He alone has dealt with our sin. He did that on the cross at Calvary and it is to Jesus we must come, humbly: confessing our sin of not believing and receiving Him. This will mean a total change in direction – from being indifferent or rejecting Him, to believing His word and receiving Him as Lord and Saviour. This is repentance. Our joy in life comes from confidence that our names are written in the Book of Life.

The Bread of Life

“Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled”

John 6:26

It wasn’t long after Jesus had miraculously provided meals for five thousand men plus women and children from a boy’s lunch that many of the same crowd caught up with Him again. Jesus perceived that their desire was for another free lunch and not to hear His teaching. Sadly, their desire was only for what would fill their tummies and not their hearts.

We need to be on guard of our own hearts to ensure that we don’t default into only wanting what Jesus gives without wanting Him. This is one of the reasons many human relationships break up. People often enter a relationship with expectations of what they will receive. When those expectations are not realised or are no longer met, the relationship collapses. If we come to Jesus with incorrect expectations, when they are not met, we will cease to follow Him. We must be careful how we present the Gospel so as not to give incorrect expectations.

There are many temporal benefits Jesus Christ brings but they are all inseparable from Him. John wrote, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). The “life” is Christ’s life in us, that is, eternal life. Many people want heaven and eternal life who do not want Jesus but that is absolutely impossible.

To evaluate whether we really want Jesus or just the benefits He brings it would be profitable to evaluate our prayers. They may reveal that our main concern is for temporal matters such as food, clothing, comfort and health but not for the benefit of Christ’s kingdom or for Christ’s glory.

Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). When we are with Jesus in heaven we will realise the foolishness of many of our earthly pursuits and anxieties. Our highest priority is to know Jesus Christ. In contrast to pursuing Jesus for these earthly needs Jesus encourages us to pursue that which will never be taken from us. Following His lament that the crowd only followed Him for food He said, “Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (John 6:27).

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.”