Please Take a Seat

“Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him”

Hebrews 11:6

Multitudes of people seek ways they may please God. Religions have been established on this desire. Their adherents are trapped and held captive in futile hopes of pleasing a god or gods so that this life, or the life hereafter, is made more comfortable and pleasant.

Faith always requires an object and, when the object is deemed worthy of that faith, appropriate action will follow (James 2:20). Hebrews chapter eleven reminds us of many people who have acted out of faith in God.

No one is able to have or exercise faith in God unless they first believe He exists and it is naive to expect anyone to place their faith in Jesus Christ without first evaluating the evidence. No one sits on a chair without giving it at least a cursory evaluation so we shouldn’t expect someone to trust their eternal soul to Jesus without an evaluation of whether He is worthy of that trust. This is one of the benefits the Bible brings but there are other witnesses. We who have already trusted Christ are living witnesses of, and evidence for, the ability and worthiness of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). He has made us new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17) with a new and living way of life (Hebrews 10:20) by which we are able to commune with God. We are witnesses that Jesus Christ is worthy and faithful. It is our day by day living faith in Him that pleases Him and witnesses of Him. Service follows faith and is our response to receiving eternal life through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 6:23). Faith in Jesus Christ pleases God because:

  1. It recognises who Jesus is
  2. It recognises what Jesus has done for us on Calvary’s cross
  3. It recognises that we are sinners in need of a Saviour
  4. It is acceptance of God’s remedy for our sin
  5. It is the opposite of what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. They distrusted God whereas faith is trust in God

It is as simple to please God as it is to sit in a chair yet many make it a hopeless and useless burden. 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). It is a matter of will. Will you believe?

To Be With Jesus

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

1 Timothy 2:3-4

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

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

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

I am Alive

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

Ephesians 2:1

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

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

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

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

In His Time

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

Galatians 4:4-5

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

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

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

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

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

God With Us

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

Matthew 1:23

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raised from the Dead

“Some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame”

1 Corinthians 15:34

By itself this statement may seem a bit too obvious. It was as obvious to Paul’s readers as it is to us that most people do not have a true knowledge of God, our Creator. The context reveals that he is writing to the church in Corinth saying that some in the church do not have the knowledge of God. That is also just as true today as it was then. I have heard many testimonies of people who had been attending church for years before discovering that they were not born of God. On discovering this they received Him as Lord and Saviour. This is true of me.

The specific truth that some people in the Corinthian church had not accepted was the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul concludes that people who deny Christ’s bodily resurrection do not know the truth and are therefore not born of God, not saved. The fact of Christ’s bodily resurrection is just as much a key element in the Gospel as is Christ’s atoning death (vv 3-4). If He is not raised then neither will we be raised. If that were true, there would be no hope beyond the grave (vv 17-19).

Paul affirms that Christ is risen (v 20) based on the many witnesses who had seen Jesus after His crucifixion and burial, many of whom were still alive at the time of writing and could testify to that fact. This includes Paul himself (vv 5-8). Only two or three witnesses are required to verify a fact but Paul could produce many more than that. Any serious seeker of the truth would be able to find a living witness. Paul’s experience mirrors that of Israel when Jesus returns after the Tribulation. At that time all Israel we see Jesus come in the brightness of His glory and receive Him (Romans 11:26).

Those professing Christians in the Corinthian church may have thought they were true followers of Christ but their own testimony denied that to be so. Those who are truly born of God have the witness of the Holy Spirit in themselves that Jesus is raised bodily from death. From His witness, and that of the Bible, we are able to affirm with Paul that Jesus is raised and is our hope of our own bodily resurrection. Paul queries why he or anyone would risk their lives daily for a gospel that only gives hope in this life (vv 29-30, 19). Christ is raised bodily and all in Him will also be raised bodily (v 20). Those who truly know Him can give a hearty “Amen” to this.

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.

Just as He Said

“Take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me”

Acts 27:25

This account of Paul’s shipwreck has many things to teach us. First and foremost is the quote above. As we read the Bible we find multitudes of similar situations where a person or people have taken God at His word literally. It is folly not to do so. Paul had been told by an angel sent by God that if everyone stayed on the ship all would be saved. Only the ship would be lost.

Paul, God’s man, had warned against taking this journey at this time (v 10) but the experts contradicted him because they had a vested interest (v 11). The majority also ignored his warning because they were impatient (v 12). In the Bible we notice that the experts and the majority are frequently wrong. When the storm hit they believed they could weather it without Divine help and took the usual means to keep the ship afloat. The ship’s tackle was thrown overboard on the third day (v 19) and later the ship’s cargo followed but none of this helped.

In this dire situation when all hope was lost (v 20) only the man of God had an answer and eventually the others allowed him to take the lead. For any to survive, they all had to stay on the ship (v 31). Some, who did not trust Paul’s word from God, tried to leave but were thwarted (v 30). Paul knew the day of deliverance was at hand and led the crew, soldiers and passengers in thanks to God for their deliverance before they were saved. That is true faith. The end was as the angel of God had told Paul. The ship was lost and everyone on board was saved (v 44).

The ship is a type of Christ. He died that we might live. All who are in Christ will be kept safe. The key to salvation is in verse twenty five quoted above. Like Paul, we must take God at His word and stay with Jesus Christ. The centurion, named Julius (v 1) was persuaded by the experts and the majority before the storm (v 11) but later we discover that he chose to believe Paul (v 31). Later still, he was protective of Paul (v 43). The faith of Paul did not keep him from the storm and shipwreck but it was the means God used to cause the centurion, and probably others, to realize that God’s word is superior to that of the experts and multitude. Whether any received eternal salvation we are not told but there is a clear salvation message and illustration for us. Paul took God’s word literally and so should we.

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.

I’m Not That Bad

“… we preach Christ crucified: to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.”

1 Corinthians 1:23

One of the most abhorrent and counter-cultural ideas in Christianity is that everyone is a sinner, and is freely offered forgiveness and redemption. Every “monster”, no matter what they have done, can be saved. Is there any sin that is too great for Christ’s atonement on the cross? No. Was his death sufficient to cover all the worst atrocities perpetuated throughout history? <strong>Yes, it was.</strong>(1 John 1:7)

This concept is anathema due to one of our greatest weaknesses – the persistent notion that at least we are “not as bad as those others”. After all, it’s insulting and degrading to be lumped into the same category as those we regard as the “worst of humanity”.

A certain man was quoted saying “Don’t compare yourself with anyone in this world. If you do so, you are insulting yourself.” (this quote is also attributed to another). This implies that we often sell ourselves short – by comparing ourselves at our worst, to others at their best. It has a grain of truth: that we fail to retain a right picture of ourselves. Although I expect the author of the quote did not intend it, a higher truth may be obtained from it: that we should instead compare ourselves with some One who is not of this world.

We ask the mirror on the wall, “who is the fairest of them all?” and the mirror replies, “You are the fairest” – but the mirror is merely parroting what we already believe to be true. The higher truth is that only through God’s eyes (as revealed in his Word) can we know ourselves truly. And only thereafter can we start to see our fellow humans in the right way as well.

We must let go of pride (Isaiah 5:21), and let go of condemnation (Romans 8:1). Instead of comparing ourselves to fallen creatures, we must set our eyes on the sinless one, Jesus, who has called us to Himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).