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).

Ministry or Manipulation

“Let each of you look out not only on his own interests, but also for the interests of others”

Philippians 2:4

There are only two kinds of Christians; but the word used to describe the two kinds may differ according to the emphasis of the writer or speaker. In this chapter Paul mentions both kinds and gives three examples of one of them.

He introduces the person who manipulates others in verse three, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit.” These people, mentioned again in 3:19, are only interested in their own position, power or comfort and manipulate others to achieve their goal. Phrases used by such people may include, “If you loved me you would …” or “You call yourself a Christian?” The motive is always the same – selfish ambition, earthly things and pride.

In contrast Paul gives three examples of people who did not manipulate but ministered to the needs of others in humble service at personal cost: Jesus, Timothy and Epaphroditus. He exhorts us to be of the same mind and develop the same characteristics. If we are abiding in Christ these characteristics will become more and more evident.

The key characteristic of Jesus that he mentions is humility. Although Jesus has the highest position; that of Creator, King of kings, Lord of lords yet he took on the form of a servant in order to redeem mankind. The cost to Him was the experience of the cross.

The main quality of Timothy that Paul mentions is also humility expressed through sacrificial service for others. People like Timothy were in short supply (v 20). Most Christians in Paul’s presence at the time were self-seeking manipulators (v 21). Timothy, on the other hand, had proven that he was one who ministered for the edification and benefit of others (v 22).

Epaphroditus is mentioned for his sacrificial service even though it nearly killed him (v 27). Clearly, this was an expression of humility also. Paul commends him for his labour as a “fellow worker and fellow soldier” who ministered to his need (v 25). Not surprisingly Epaphroditus was much loved by those to whom he had ministered before and they were greatly concerned at his ill health (v 26).

Paul’s desire for all Christians is that we have the same mind as Jesus, Timothy and Epaphroditus and, may I add, Paul.

Following Jesus

“Follow Me and I will make you become fishers of men”

Mark 1:17

The Gospels record Jesus calling men to follow Him several times. At times it was just one person being called at other times more than one.

The initial call to follow Jesus is that one may learn who He is and learn His ways but Jesus attached an outcome for those who genuinely followed Him – they would become fishers of men (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17). They would reproduce. In order for reproduction to occur several things need to be in the heart of the disciple.

Not everyone will accept Jesus’ terms. Some make excuses (Matthew 8:19-22; Luke 9:57-62). Some weigh the cost and see it as too high, preferring the riches of this world rather than riches in Christ. The rich young ruler was this kind of man (Matthew 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 18:22).

The cost of self sacrifice, taking up one’s cross, is too much for many, even many who claim to be followers of Jesus. How can one be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ and not be willing to become a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1)? Jesus willingly went to the cross and died for our sin so how is it possible to refuse to follow His lead to be a living sacrifice and still call ourselves followers of Jesus?

The great commandment is that we love both God and our fellow man (Matthew 22:37-39). The kind of love that we will have when following Jesus is His kind of love described in 1 John 3:16“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” and John 3:16. To refuse to love in this way is a refusal to follow Jesus.

Recorded by all three synoptic Gospel writers are Jesus words, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). That they all recorded this surely means we must accept that this is a water-shed condition of any disciple of Jesus especially if we wish to work with Him in making more disciples (Matthew 28:19).

Many of us want to choose our own place of sacrifice and ask Jesus to come along and bless it but for us to be followers it means discerning the place of sacrifice that He has chosen for us and follow Him there. As Jesus said, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me, and where I am, there My servant will be also” (John 12:26).

Surrendered to God’s Grace

“The eyes of both of them were opened” Genesis 3:7

This is the first time any person ever felt guilt. Adam and Eve’s attempt to cover their guilt was futile. Covering for guilt and the ultimate removal of guilt would require the death of a substitute. Guilt caused them to flee God’s presence instead of coming to Him. Guilt still does this to those who are yet to be forgiven. Those who most vehemently oppose God are the one’s sensing guilt the strongest. Their sin is against God and only He can forgive their sin. To remain just, a satisfactory substitute would have to die. Adam had brought about a fundamental change in his being which must die. Only a new creation could allow him into God’s presence again.

With the guilt came conviction of sin for which Adam and Eve had no remedy but to flee God’s presence. This did nothing to diminish the conviction or remove guilt. Instead of desiring God’s presence they wanted to hide from Him. People who have believed Satan’s lie still prefer to hide from God.

We observe here that God pursued Adam and Eve until He caught up with them. He then gave them opportunity to have a change of heart which they eventually accepted. First they played the blame game. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent but in reality they were both blaming God. This characteristic of fallen people can be readily observed in all spheres of society throughout history and is still very evident today. It is, we accuse, always someone else’s fault!

When they eventually surrendered to the grace of God, God clothed them in animal skins thus picturing the means by which they and all who choose to believe what God has said will be saved. God is still in pursuit of people but sadly most will not heed His words of love, grace and forgiveness. Don’t be among them but be among those who humbly acknowledge their sin against God, turn to face Him and receive His gift of forgiveness. Paul wrote, “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

One who has received the gift of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ will not run away from God when they sin. Having experienced His forgiveness before, they will return to Him whenever they are aware of sin (1 John 1:9). This is a mark of one who has truly chosen to reject Satan’s lie and believe what God has said.

Interest Bearing

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit …”

“Let each of you look out … for the interests of others” Philippians 2:3, 4

The first part of this quote is a description of the character of our world. What we observe is a society that manipulates people, their environment and circumstances for their own personal gain and advancement. Paul makes it clear that this attitude has no place in the Christian life.

Paul exhorts Christians to take an active interest in the welfare (physical and spiritual) of others and gives three examples in this chapter of this principle in action: Jesus, Timothy and Epaphroditus.

Among the saddest words in the Bible must be Paul’s lament, “For all seek their own, not the things which are of Jesus Christ” (v 21). He is writing this of Christians. His experience was that most Christians were living as the world lives, being ambitious for advancement in the world. Paul’s sorrow was that many of the Christians with Him were immersed in the worldly culture around them instead of being immersed in Jesus Christ.

In contrast Epaphroditus had so given himself to ministry that he had become sick. Perhaps in attempting to make up for the lack of other Christians he had overdone it. That is a picture we see frequently in the church. A few give themselves in sacrificial service while the majority care primarily for their own interests.

In Galatians Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (6:2), and also, “For each one shall bear his own load” (6:5). Those who do minister need to be careful that they are not taken advantage of, too much, for too long; otherwise, they may come to a point where they cannot minister at all.

Those who minister need to be careful not to exceed the burden they should carry for another because it may be a burden God has given the other person to achieve His purpose in their lives. In our willingness to serve, we may actually hinder the work of God.

Evidence that Christians are seeking their own interests and not those of others may be seen in the way they evaluate a church. Quite often a church is evaluated on the basis of whether our needs are or will be met. We would do much better to evaluate a church based on prayerful consideration as to whether Christ would have us minister to others in that church. It is not my need that is under consideration, but the need of others.

Only One Reason

“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” John 3:18

Occasionally we meet or hear of someone who is concerned that they have sinned so greatly that they cannot be forgiven or they have committed some sin that is not covered by Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary’s cross. However, the verse above makes it clear that the only reason a person remains condemned is because he or she has not believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

What does it mean to believe in Him? The answer lies in verse sixteen. First we notice God’s love for mankind even though all mankind is born in sin and stands condemned. Verse seventeen says that God did not send His Son to condemn the world. The reason being is that it is already condemned as evidenced by bodily death and the increasing corruption in the world.

We can barely even begin to know the pain and suffering of God by committing His beloved Son to such a horrendous death. It was His love for us that moved Him to do so. “God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We see anguish of soul in parents who tragically lose a child through sickness or accident but that pales in comparison to the suffering of the heart of God.

Truly, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved” (v 17). Sometimes we may think like the disciples who wanted to bring down fire from heaven to destroy the ungodly but Jesus corrected their error. God sent Jesus to save mankind from the existing condemnation. An illustration of this is that of a person in difficulty in the surf at risk of drowning. He is moments away from death with no capacity to save himself. Without outside help he is condemned to drown. Then a surf lifesaver arrives, plucking him from death and returning him to shore.

It is God’s love for already condemned men that sent Jesus Christ to save them. To reject that sacrificial love is to show contempt of that love. Since there is no other way to forgiveness of sin (Acts 4:12) that person remains condemned by their own choice. In Jesus Christ God has provided all that is necessary for forgiveness and salvation. What is required on our part is to receive it as a gift (Romans 6:23). That is why the only reason a person remains condemned is because they have not believed in Jesus Christ. There is no sin so great that the blood of Jesus cannot wash us clean. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

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).