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).

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).

Delight in the Lord

“I delight to do Your will, O my God”

Psalm 40:8

For the most part we live as though God exists to accomplish our will. We decide how, where and when we will serve Him – if at all, and under what conditions. We complain when He allows discomfort or adversity in our lives and may even begin to doubt His care, love or existence. The cure for such doubting is to look afresh at the cross where Jesus suffered and died for our sin. Paul writes that everything that happens to us is for our good (Romans 8:28) and His pleasure (Philippians 2:13). The Lord has a goal for us and He will accomplish it better if we stop getting in the way.

Every commandment of God is an expression of who He is and of His will for us. If we find resistance in our heart to any directive or command then we must review our relationship with Him and His word. The psalmist frequently writes of his delight in the word of God, His law, and His statutes. Any resistance to loving and living God’s word and delighting in His will expressed in those statutes and commands is a red flag exposing a rebellious spirit against Jesus Christ. We must then look afresh at Calvary’s cross.

When we are truly delighting in the will of God we will share John’s delight, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). When Christ’s love toward the Father is manifest in us His commandments will not be a burden but our delight because we know everything He allows or brings into our lives is an expression of His love for us. I have heard it said, “God loves us as we are but He loves us too much to leave us as we are.” Paul writes. “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

Discovering His will for us is as the surprise of unwrapping a gift – a gift from someone we know loves us. Look in the Bible for His directives, statutes and commands. In those areas not expressly addressed He gives guiding principles. The Holy Spirit is given to guide us so that we understand them and put them into practice correctly.

Whenever we decide how, when and where we will serve Jesus Christ we are in the way of His will for us and we will not have the delight in life that He desires. When we are deciding pride is ruling. When Christ is leading and we are following then grace is ruling.

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.

Plead for Your Child

“There came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue And he fell down at Jesus’ feet and begged Him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying”

Luke 8:41-42

Few of us would have any difficulty identifying with Jairus’ grief over his only daughter suffering to the point of death. Emergency departments of hospitals are frequently visited by parents with this kind of grief. Some children are born with life threatening conditions such that their parents endure ongoing grief. Sometimes the condition can be rectified but other times it cannot. Most of us would know someone in this situation or have experienced it in our own family. Those who have had this experience will know how this man felt.

Jairus had heard that Jesus had healed people from all kinds of illnesses so he came to Him. Before Jesus could walk to his home the report came that his daughter had already died. He would have been grief stricken but Jesus also heard the report and encouraged Jairus to have faith that He could raise her even though she had died (v 50). There was no doubt that the girl was dead (v 53) and the family and friends watching on saw with their own eyes that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He is revealing once more that He is God who created Adam.

In the past as a parent, and now as a grandparent, I have pleaded daily with Jesus to lead my grandchildren to the place of faith in Him and that they continue in faith in Him. While we can’t look into the hearts of others and observe the presence or lack of anguish over the salvation of their children we should be concerned that many parents, even Christian parents, don’t share grief like that of Jairus over their child’s eternal state. Perhaps they are unaware of the consequences or have a vague hope that somehow their child will come to faith in Jesus. Jairus brought Jesus to his daughter. That is a privileged role that parents have.

It is no surprise when the pleading cries of a father and/or mother for their lost son or daughter are answered and the child responds to Jesus in faith. That is cause for rejoicing beyond anything else in their child’s life.

Let us all who have unsaved children and grandchildren continually plead with Jesus to come to them and give them life. They are our “Jerusalem” (Acts 1:8; cf. Luke 11:5-8 John 10:10, 28).

Pleasing God

“The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy.”

Psalm 147:11

In the preceding verse the psalmist writes that the Lord takes no delight and finds no pleasure in physical might. What pleases Him are people who know Him and therefore stand in awe of Him. People who have not entered into a personal relationship with the Lord cannot stand in awe of Him because they do not know Him. We stand in awe of a sunset because we see it. We stand in awe of God because we know Him and see His handiwork in everything.

It is encouraging to know that we do bring pleasure to the Lord. Satan would have us believe otherwise. That is why he attempts to discourage us and rob us of the experience of the joy of the Lord. John states that the main purpose of his second letter is that our “joy may be full” (1 John 1:4).

The psalmist then adds that those who bring pleasure to the Lord are those who have received His mercy. Mercy is God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. We deserved judgment but in His loving kindness He receives those who humble themselves and seek Him. Notice that He does not say that the Lord finds pleasure in the righteous. None are righteous (Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Romans 3:23).

The prophet Micah records, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). In another Psalm we read, “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to all and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:8-9). Who would not stand in awe of the Lord when they begin to know these qualities of Him? “Let not mercy and truth forsake you” (Proverbs 3:3).

In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) we observe that the one who appealed to his own righteousness did not please the Lord but the one who humbled himself, acknowledged his sinfulness and sought mercy, he pleased the Lord and received forgiveness. Such a person stands in awe of God because they have seen and experienced God’s forgiveness of a sinner. Not surprisingly, this and many other Psalms conclude with “Praise the Lord.”

Do Not Lose Heart

“For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life” 2 Corinthians 5:4

In my role as a volunteer driver for the local shire I was transporting a lady to a hospital appointment. She had been employed in the medical profession for a significant portion of her life and had witnessed many people suffer terribly leading up to their bodily death. She commented that she hoped that she would have the right to euthanasia should she ever be in that situation. From the viewpoint of one who believes that there is nothing beyond the grave – that one’s existence ceases altogether at death – this makes logical sense. This is why some people, some quite young, choose suicide. They believe it will end the pain that they believe has no end otherwise. One can only imagine their great disappointment to discover their error and that they have robbed themselves of ever having the opportunity to receive new life in Jesus Christ. Of course that presupposes that someone would share the Gospel with them. We cannot know how many suicides might have been prevented if Christians shared the Gospel.

In the verse above Paul gives us a Christian view of similar situations. Yes, we do groan as our bodies age and feel all kinds of pain. Christians are also often burdened with the same slow and painful deaths that many unbelievers experience. It is necessary that our earthly tent is destroyed so that we can put on the eternal dwelling place (v 1). The how, when and where of our bodily death is God’s sovereign choice – just as was our birth.

The person without hope in Christ just wants to be rid of their pain and suffering; but the person with hope in Christ, while having no desire to cling to this body (v 8), is more focussed on the new resurrected body we shall have when in Christ’s presence. This is why Paul writes, “Not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed.” A little further on Paul writes, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (v 8).

If we only focus on what we want to leave behind, we will not have much in the way of joy. Those latter years of our lives will be a time of sadness, grief and perhaps self-pity. However, if our focus is on Jesus and what lies ahead, we will have joy in the glorious expectation of that day we see Him face to face. Yes, there will still be the groan to be free from our dying body; but our affections and desire will be upon being fully clothed in Christ (5:2).

Just before these words Paul wrote, “We do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (4:16). The perishing of our body Paul writes is a “light affliction but for a moment” and God has a purpose in it (4:17).

You Shall Know

“’Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,’ says the Lord” Ezekiel 37:14

This statement and some like it, such as “Then you shall know that I am the Lord” (v 13), are repeated some seventy times in the book of Ezekiel. The Lord is making the point that the foretelling aspect of prophecy includes when the prophesied events come to pass people will know that it is God who has spoken it and done it. The test of a true prophet is that what he foretells comes to pass exactly as he said (Deuteronomy 18:22). The majority of times this statement is used in Ezekiel relate to Israel but there are quite a few that relate to Egypt and other Gentile nations so that they also may know.

Three times Jesus told His disciples that He would be crucified and rise again (Matthew 29:19). He also predicted the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the Tribulation and His return (Matthew 24 & 25). The purpose in telling His disciples these and other things in advance was that they would not be discouraged when they occurred but rather encouraged.

In Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Thessalonica he wrote concerning the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Once more we see that the purpose in informing Jesus’ followers ahead of time was that they might “comfort one another with these words” (4:18; 5:11). If these words are not to be understood in the normal literary sense then no one would be comforted.

By neglecting the foretelling aspect of prophetic revelation we rob Christians of the comfort that comes from knowing that current and future events must come to pass and that they will not prevent, hinder or delay Jesus returning, establishing His earthly kingdom and creating a new heavens and a new earth. We are in fact encouraged and comforted as we see the day approaching.

This may be one of the compelling aspects of the ministry of the 144,000 witnesses spoken of in Revelation seven and fourteen and the two witnesses spoken of in Revelation 11. They would be able to point people to Scripture, and what will at that time be current events, to show that the God of the Bible is the One true God and that Jesus is the Christ. This will provoke many to believe and receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Jesus did this Himself with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27). He confirmed it as a legitimate way to share the Gospel to all the disciples. He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44).

We do a great disservice to God’s people if we fail to expound and teach the foretelling aspect of the prophetic Scriptures and we rob ourselves of joy, peace and comfort if we do not study and believe them.

What Kind of Love

“Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” John 20:20

The disciples were behind locked doors fearing for their lives. A few days earlier they had witnessed the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter had denied knowing Jesus and the other disciples had fled when Jesus was taken. The reason for their fear was that they had not listen carefully enough to Jesus words and hence not taken them into calculation. On at least three occasions He told them about His coming death and resurrection.

When Christians fear it is for that same reason – in some matter we have not heard at all, not considered carefully enough, not believed or taken on board, something that Jesus has said. The cure of fear is to draw near to and see the risen Jesus. We have His word to read and consider as often as we desire.

Not many days before His crucifixion and resurrection Jesus said to His disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” and “I will come to you” (John 14:2-3, 18). Somehow these kinds of statements by Jesus were not on their minds while their hearts were in turmoil over His crucifixion and the perceived hostility against themselves.

Our lives will be in turmoil from time to time and we may have fears but just as the disciples were at rest in their souls and were glad in their hearts when they saw Jesus so will we.

What was it that they saw in Jesus that gave them this joy and peace? Was it just because they saw Him alive or was there more? The beginning of the verse gives us the answer: “He showed them His hands and His side” where the nails had penetrated and fixed Him to the cross and where the spear had caused His blood to pour out. When they saw His hands and His side they also saw His sacrificial and unconditional love. That is what brought peace and joy to their hearts.

When we see the nail prints in His hands we see His kind of love. His “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). To know Jesus is to love Him. If we are to experience this peace and gladness we must see Jesus. When we see the kind of love and magnitude of His love written in the nail holes and the gash in His side, we will no longer be in turmoil but trusting Him to care for us and our concerns for eternity. “Behold what manner [kind] of love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).

Vultures and Darkness

“It came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram” (Genesis 15:17, 18).

It is not difficult for us to put ourselves in Abram’s place and to share his experience in this great event in the history of God’s redemptive program. However, there was much that was needed to pave the way for this day. This chapter begins with the words, “After these things …”

There was the first step of obedience by Abram to leave his homeland without knowing his destination. Chapter twelve records his arrival in Canaan. He also had to be separated from his family. Chapter thirteen records his eventual separation from his remaining family member – the worldly Lot.

Abram showed that he wholly trusted the Lord to fulfil His covenant when he rejected the world’s offer of a reward (Genesis 14) and by offering a tithe to Melchizedek, king of Salem. There was still an important experience for Abram to endure, one that we would not desire ourselves but one that we can expect.

In Genesis 15:6 we read that Abram already had God’s righteousness accounted to him so what follows is subsequent to his believing – what we would refer to as subsequent to salvation.

God asked Abram to offer animal blood sacrifices. When they were placed as God commanded, instead of heavenly visions as we might expect, there came vultures. Instead of showers of blessings came the vultures of doubt (v 11). Instead of God’s peace came the thief to steal away that which Abram was offering to the Lord. There was also the great darkness of depression (v 12) that seemed as though it would consume him. We offer ourselves as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) but somehow it doesn’t go to plan and we feel doubt and depression.

The vultures, the deep sleep, the horror of the darkness all made Abram feel absolutely helpless. Doubt and depression may visit us and make us feel helpless. If we did not experience doubt we would not experience having the truth confirmed. If we did not experience the darkness of depression we would not be able to experience the joy of assurance. Out of Abrams’s experience the Lord confirmed all that He had said to him and gave him assurance. God alone passed through the sacrificed animals and Abram knew that the fulfilment of the covenant was based solely on God’s faithfulness and ability.

Our ultimate deliverance from sin and from this fallen world is dependent solely on Jesus Christ. Neither doubts nor fears will prevent Him from delivering us into the presence of the Father. Doubt and depression may at times infiltrate our lives, but they cannot steal away the Gift of God (cf. Romans 8:38-39). Peter writes that we “are kept by the power of God through faith” (1 Peter 1:5).