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.

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.

Up to Jerusalem

“Behold we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished”

Luke 18:31

Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to Him in Jerusalem (vv 31-33) but the disciples didn’t. We are told that it was hidden from them (v 34). This reminds us that God can and does keep things hidden from us. Some things He grants only through careful and faithful study (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17). Like any good teacher He only teachers us that which we are ready to receive. The problem in our learning is never with the Teacher.

As with Jesus, the aim of the Christian is to do the will of God. We usually interpret that as serving where we think we are of most use to God but that may not be the case. Unless our service is in obedience to the will of God we may just be accumulating wood, hay, and straw (1 Corinthians 3:12). Our service must be in His will and that is where He judges us most useful. It is not for us to choose our place or role. The clay does not tell the potter what to make of it. Jesus always obeyed the Father (John 8:29). His aim, and ours, is to obey the Father and be led by the Holy Spirit.

There are many examples in the Bible and church history where God seems to us to have wasted His most gifted people. Stephen (Acts 7) and James (Acts 12:2)  are two of many examples. We cannot see what God is aiming at, so let us walk by faith and trust God to accomplish His plan and purpose in and through us.

Jesus went to Jerusalem and the cross to fulfill the will of God as prophesied in Scripture. Though they did not understand, the disciples went with Him anyway. Oswald Chambers writes, “In our Lord’s life Jerusalem was the place where He reached the climax of His Father’s will upon the cross, and unless we go with Jesus there, we shall have no companionship with Him. Nothing ever discouraged Our Lord on His way to Jerusalem. He never hurried through certain villages where He was persecuted, or lingered in others where He was blessed. Neither gratitude nor ingratitude turned Our Lord one hair’s breadth away from His purpose to go to Jerusalem.” We may not be able to see our “Jerusalem” but we will go toward it as Jesus did, in the will of God as a living sacrifice on the altar of His love (Luke 14:27; Romans 12:1-2).

See the Nail Prints

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”

John 20:29

This statement came from Jesus in response to Thomas’ refusal to believe until he had touched the nail prints in Jesus’ hands. For his part, Thomas has been the brunt of many less than thoughtful comments and acquired the less than honourable title of “doubting Thomas.” We should note that Jesus had shown the nail prints in His hands to the other disciples a week earlier (v 20). Jesus knew that all the disciples needed to see the nail prints in His hands in order to believe that He had risen bodily from the dead and was not just spirit. So He showed them.

Remember that even with the report that Jesus was no longer in the tomb all the disciples went home (v 10). They weren’t expecting Him to appear. Two disciples on the road to Emmaus, presumably homeward bound, on that first Sunday had heard the report that “certain women”  had seen angels at the empty tomb and were told that Jesus had risen (Luke 24:22-23). They also knew that “certain of those who were with us,” most likely Peter and John, also saw the angels and the empty tomb (Luke 24:24) yet they were on their way home. Fortunately for them Jesus met them and revealed Himself thus turning them back in time to see the nail prints that first Sunday evening. Perhaps Thomas is singled out unfairly.

It is interesting to note that the first meetings after Jesus’ resurrection were held behind closed doors and at night time for fear of persecution (John 20:19, 26). Many Christians around the world meet under similar circumstances today.

Returning to Jesus’ statement (John 20:29), He says that those who believe without seeing Him in the flesh are more blessed that those who had seen Him those two evenings. Why did He say that? The answer lies in the fact that if we haven’t seen Jesus in the flesh then we must have seen Him in some other way. Jesus gives us a reasonable explanation in Matthew’s Gospel. In response to Jesus’ question to the disciples as to who they believed He is, Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (16:17). Those more blessed than those who saw and touched the nail prints in Jesus’ hands are those to whom the Father has revealed Jesus through the eye of faith.

Belief Without Faith

“But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him”

John 12:37

As we read the Gospel accounts it becomes obvious that miracles do not of themselves lead to repentance and faith. Jesus had said that “if they do not hear Moses and the prophets [i.e. the Scriptures], neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Miracles or signs often caused people to follow Jesus but not for Himself. Rather they followed Him for perceived temporal benefits such as food, health or wealth. After feeding the five thousand Jesus said, “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 appears that He means they didn’t even associate the sign as pointing to Him being the Messiah. Those who follow Jesus for temporal reasons will be disappointed because of unrealised expectations.

Following the lead text above we read, “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him” (John 12:42). These rulers believed that Jesus did the miracles in the power of God but they still did not repent, believe Him to be the Messiah, or trust Him for salvation. “They did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43). Some today believe who Jesus is and what He has done, but still refuse to trust Him for forgiveness and submit to Him as Lord. A morally righteous life, family history, baptism, or membership of a church, as helpful as these may be, cannot save. They can be idols in the place of Jesus. These rulers of the synagogues valued their position among men greater than they valued their position before God. This is evidence of an unchanged heart. No amount of flattering words to Jesus, which they sometimes tried, could alter the fact that they have not grasped what He was saying and that the signs pointed to Him being Messiah. It is Jesus’ words that will judge them and us (John 12:48). This begs the question as to why so many professing Christians choose to bend and twist His words so that, like these rulers, they may retain their position, power and the praise of men. Jesus says, “Whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak” (John 12:50). Not to take His words in a normal literal sense makes a mockery of this and many other statements of Jesus.

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.

Only Jesus Gives Understanding

“He opened their understanding that they might comprehend the Scriptures”

Luke 24:45

Jesus had told His disciples on several occasions that He would die and rise again as the Scriptures foretold. How could the Son of God, Israel’s Messiah, allow Himself to be crucified and die? They believed He was going to redeem Israel (v21). But because they did not take His words literally they were unprepared for what was to come.

Two of Jesus’ disciples were going home very disheartened because their expectations were not met. Their expectations were wrong because they had not listened to, believed and heeded Jesus’ words. Like these two, we may believe who Jesus is but, also like them, our expectations of what that means may be wrong such that we are disheartened. Being downhearted in our walk with Jesus will be because we have not really heard, believed and heeded what He has said.

These two disciples had heard the report of the women who saw the empty tomb and spoke with the angels (v22) yet they left in unbelief. They had heard the report of Peter and John (v24) yet they left in unbelief. Not surprisingly Jesus said they were foolish because they were slow in believing the Scriptures concerning Himself so He spent the rest of the trip explaining the Scriptures to them (v27) but still they didn’t understand. As He shared the Scriptures with them their hearts “burned” but not until Jesus revealed Himself to them and opened their understanding did they comprehend and believe (v31).

Only then were they ready to return to the other disciples and tell what Jesus had revealed to them. When they arrived they discovered that, since they had left, Jesus had appeared to Peter (v34). While they were sharing about their meeting with Jesus with the other disciples He appeared in their midst. But even with all the witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection the disciples were terrified and doubted (vv37,38). Jesus reminded them of the things He had told them prior to His crucifixion and what was written in the Scriptures (v44) and then He opened their understanding so that they could understand the Scriptures (v45). Two things happened; Jesus revealed Himself and He explained the Scriptures. Many people read the Scriptures but it is as a story to them. Others read it and their hearts “burn” but only Jesus gives understanding.

With All My Heart

“We know that when He [Jesus] is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

1 John 3:2

We may wonder what life will be like when we have passed on to be with Jesus. The Bible doesn’t give as much of a description as we might like but there are clues. Most descriptions have to do with nature rather than material things although some passages do describe physical attributes of the new material world.

To Jesus and the New Testament writers the physical aspects are of secondary importance. The prime aspect of our future with Jesus and with each other is that of what we will be like in nature. In the verse above, John writes that we will be like Jesus. Since Christ is in us we should expect that His nature will be expressed more and more as we learn of Him and grow in faith in Him and His word. For the present, we fall short and that grieves us but in the resurrection we shall be just like Him.

When Jesus was asked by an expert in the law what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus asked him what was written in the law. His response was, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself” (Luke 10:27). This man knew that he couldn’t achieve that so asked for clarification. Jesus’ answer gives us the account of the Good Samaritan.

For now we all fall short but it is a description of what we are in Christ and shall be when with Him (Ephesians 2:10). Jesus loves the Father in this way and so will we. Little by little His nature will be expressed in our lives as we allow Him to live in us. It will be completed and perfected when we pass into His presence.

Read and pray the verse again; but this time, personalise it as a witness of faith that He will accomplish it:

“I will love the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my strength, and with all my mind. And my neighbour as myself”

This is a description of you and all who have trusted Jesus as we will be in His eternal kingdom. It is the fulfilment of the New Covenant. What is left but to give glory, praise and thanks to God for His amazing Gift in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and to work out what He has worked in? “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”  (Philippians 1:6; 2:12).

Hear Him

“They did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him”

Mark 9:32

Peter, James and John had been on the mountain with Jesus when Elijah and Moses appeared to them but it seems they missed the most important aspect of that meeting. The conversation with Moses and Elijah concerned Jesus’ coming death and resurrection (Luke 9:31). As important a component as that was, it was not the most critical.

Not for the first or last time in the Gospels Jesus’ disciples are exhorted to “Hear Him.” Also, at the end of each letter to the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3 we read, “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Good teachers are a blessing but Jesus is looking for, and the church needs, good hearers. This is the essence of being a disciple: one who is teachable and hears to the point of doing what Jesus says.

The reason the disciples were confused when Jesus spoke of His betrayal, death and resurrection (v 31) was that they did not take note of the Father when He said to them, “Hear Him.” That is, take on board the words of Jesus as factual and to be applied in the normal literal sense. Unfortunately they did what so many people do. Because the words of Jesus don’t fit our theology we either dismiss them as irrelevant or try to manipulate them to fit our own ideology. Jesus spoke plainly so they could understand what was to come.

When Jesus was betrayed, His disciples fled. Because he didn’t believe what Jesus had said, Peter, out of his confusion and ignorance, put on a brave front with a sword – but he was acting contrary to the will of God.

The Second Coming of Jesus is well documented in Jesus’ teaching, in the writings of the prophets, and in the New Testament. Although there is much recorded concerning His Second Coming, there is confusion among Christians. This confusion exists for the same reason it existed among the disciples when Jesus was betrayed and taken to be crucified. Many people will not take Jesus and other biblical writers at face value. If some part of the Bible doesn’t fit their theology they either dismiss that part, interpret it to fit their own ideology, or remain confused. One can only wonder how different the disciples’ actions might have been had they obeyed the Father’s command, “Hear Him.” How different our peace and joy would be if we took Jesus at His word.

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.