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).

Fully Persuaded

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

Romans 8:35

It isn’t unusual for new believers and sometimes people who have been Christians for a long while to question their faith. There are a number of triggers that the accuser may use to set raise doubt in our minds. He is the accuser so when we stumble in our walk and sin he is quick to accuse us to our spirit, our conscience and to God with a view to creating doubt in our minds. He did that with Eve in the Garden of Eden; “Has God indeed said …” (Genesis 3:1) and has been at it ever since. Jesus gives us the correct response to this; “It is written …” (Matthew 4:1-11).

There will be occasions when we sense the biting accusations of Satan more acutely but God allows them for His purpose and our benefit. He may let us remember past sin to humble our hearts and remind us of His grace and forgiveness. That will produce a thankful and worshipful heart in one with a right spirit toward God. Quite likely we have all done something immensely foolish and/or sinful at some time, perhaps many times. The memory of these is intended to restore humility before God and a thankful heart. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We are as secure in Christ as Christ Himself is in God.

If Satan’s accusations bring doubt or a sense of failure then they are God’s means of bringing us back to that place of reaching out to Jesus. Peter was able to confidently step out of the boat and walk on water but when he was reminded of the circumstances around him he began to sink and would have drowned. He reached out to Jesus and Jesus was immediately there with a strong arm to lift him out and walk him to the boat.

When a Christian continues in doubt it likely means they have not really reached out to Jesus and trusted Him to deliver them. They may want Jesus to deliver them from the circumstances but He may wish to show His strength and faithfulness by delivering them through the circumstances. Paul is convinced that tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, poverty, peril and the sword cannot separate him or us from God’s love because we are in Christ (v 35). We share in the life of the Conqueror (v 36) and nothing above or beneath can separate us from the love of God (vs 38-39). We can have this same assurance if we will choose to believe what God has said in His word.

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).

With All Your Mind

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

1 Timothy 4:1, 2

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

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

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

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

Image

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Mark 12:17

The chief priests, scribes and the elders in the temple (11:27) could see that their authority was under threat. They sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus with a view to discrediting Him and not to discern the source of Christ’s authority (12:13). Paying taxes to Caesar was a sore point in Israel. Their view was that taxes should go to the temple not Caesar. If Jesus answered their question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not” (v 14) with either a yes or no it would have been incorrect and provided an opportunity to discredit Him. Neither yes nor no was the correct answer.

Jesus’ answer agrees with scripture that we should pray for and support earthly governments but that we also have the privilege and responsibility of providing for His ministry on earth.

In focusing attention on the image of Caesar on the coin He confirmed that obligations to human government should be met. It is God who raises up and puts down kingdoms. It was the Roman Empire that had provided the circumstances for Messiah to enter the world and fulfill scripture at that time.

Where there is Caesar’s image that object belongs to Caesar. The extrapolation of that is that where God’s image is, that belongs to God. We read in Genesis 1:26-27 that mankind was created in God’s image. Jesus said that the coin which bears the image of Caesar should be rendered to Caesar and therefore man, created in and bearing the image of God should be rendered to God. This is what Paul was thinking when he wrote, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1) and “You were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

That we are created in God’s image means that we belong to Him to serve and worship Him. This is the basis for Jesus’ demand of supreme love, supreme loyalty and supreme devotion to Him without which we cannot be one of His disciples (Luke 14:25-32).

The image of God in man was corrupted when sin entered the world but when Jesus, “the image of the invisible God,” (Colossians 1:15) came into the world and suffered the cross He opened the door for the image of God to be recreated in any person who will receive Him (John 1:12-13; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

The Insanity of Idolatry

“It is the land of carved images and they are insane with their idols”

Jeremiah 50:38

The reason for God’s judgment of a nation is expressed in several ways but it always boils down to man’s pride.

Against the people of Moab Jeremiah expresses the reason for God’s judgment as being arrogance: “Because he exalted himself against the Lord” (Jeremiah 48:42). The people of Moab are not alone in this. Satan’s lie (Genesis 3:5) is gladly consumed these days although the source of the lie is denied. In order to do what seems right in their own eyes people declare they are answerable to no one. Exalting themselves against the Lord they deny His existence and His word. In doing this they confirm their enmity with God. Mercy, love and forgiveness are available through Jesus Christ but when God’s existence is denied all these provisions are also.

Against Babylon Jeremiah expresses the reason for God’s judgment as being idolatry (Jeremiah 50:38 quoted above). We still observe people worshipping the works of their hands. The objects of worship may not be in the form of statues of wood, stone or metals. The things that are idolised may be cities, buildings, ships, bridges and other structures. There are TV programs that assist in worshipping these works of the hands of people. Likewise people may worship the talents of athletes, singers and actors.

Rarely does anyone give God the glory for these abilities and talents because they prefer to exalt themselves above the Lord. They forget that it is God who “made the earth by His power; He has established the world by His wisdom, and stretched out the heaven by His understanding” (Jeremiah 51:15). It is the Lord who created all the materials, laws and principles in creation that people use to make their objects or perform their art yet they will not give Him the glory. We ought to remember that our next heartbeat and our next breath are at His pleasure.

The last time God judged the whole earth He sent a flood. The rainbow is both a sign that He has judged and destroyed the whole earth, except those on the ark, and that He will not do so again by flood. Next time it will be by fire (2 Peter 3:7, 12).

Jesus gives us the principle that we should follow: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).

The Idol of my Heart

“He will reduce to nothing all the gods of the earth” Zephaniah 2:11

One thing that mankind cannot deny is that he will worship something. Ultimately if that something is not God it will be himself albeit disguised in some religious or moral garb. All the false religions and objects of worship have man at the pinnacle. This is very clear in those who worship the theory of evolution. They believe it in spite of the evidence being contrary because it puts mankind in the place of God as Creator. In essence the theory of evolution has man responsible for creating himself and this includes moral values; hence our current national moral corruption and bankruptcy. Paul put it this way, “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonour their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:24-25). What is “the lie?” I believe the lie is the one from Satan in Genesis 3:5, “You will be like God.”

God created man in His image but ever since the Garden of Eden people have been creating gods in their own image. We do this because it feeds pride. King Nebuchadnezzar’s arrogance in creating a golden image of himself and demanding all bow down and worship his image is a good example. Daniel had informed him that it was the Lord who had given him the empire and that He would also take it and pass it on to another. The image of the statue of gold, silver, brass, iron and clay represented the passing of the kingdoms. In defiance of the Lord Nebuchadnezzar had a statue created that was made all of gold. In doing so his statement of defiance against God was that he built the empire and that he would cause it to endure forever. He then demanded worship as if he were God.

The idols we worship today may not always be statues or physical images but they always put oneself in the place of God. We may worship our work or our sporting heroes, our moral uprightness or we may worship some person. The one with a spirit of criticism worships himself. The way to ascertain what we worship is to discover what it is we will not surrender if Jesus asks us to. It is not a matter of whether it is good or bad but whether we prefer it to Jesus Christ. If we do, that is an idol. We may even have an erroneous view of Jesus that we worship. An example of this is one who is legalistic in their walk with Jesus. Ultimately, they worship themselves.

When Jesus returns, “He will reduce to nothing all the gods of the earth.” However, if we truly are disciples of Jesus Christ, we have done so and maintain a watch over our hearts to ensure we do not allow anyone or anything to usurp God’s rightful place of worship, especially not ourselves.

The Slain Lamb on the Throne

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals; For You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” Revelation 5:9

It may seem strange that a slain Lamb would rule the earth. However, to the one who knows that Lamb it is no mystery. The risen Lamb is the only One worthy to open the scrolls that initiate God’s righteous judgement on the world and then to rule the world.

Mankind judged the Lamb as unworthy of headship and worship and crucified Him. That very act revealed that mankind is unworthy of the Lamb. The Lamb alone is worthy to judge the world and rule it. The Lamb shed His own blood for the sin of all mankind but just as most rejected Him at His first coming most still reject Him now. It is by their rejection of Him that people unwittingly judge themselves as unworthy of Him.

Those who have received the gift of eternal life have already judged themselves as unworthy, accepted the only remedy for sin and received the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23). They trust the risen Lamb for forgiveness and cleansing (John 1:29) and they boast in nothing and no one else (Galatians 6:14). Their names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. This book is mentioned at least seven times in the book of Revelation. Those whose names are in this book have received eternal life (Revelation 21:27). Only they are washed in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 1:5).

There are only three references to Jesus being King in Revelation; two of them as King of kings and Lord of lords. There are twenty six references to Him being the Lamb. As typified in Genesis 22 and in the Passover Lamb, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1 John 2:2). This is God’s last revelation to us and the focus is on the cross of Jesus Christ. The obvious invitation is to come to Him for forgiveness and cleansing while we may.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). When we agree with God that we are sinners and have sinned, declaring our unworthiness to enter His presence, He is justified in forgiving us because Jesus Christ shed His blood for our sin.

It may seem strange to a lost world to have a slain Lamb ruling but to the redeemed He is the only One worthy to do so. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing” (Revelation 5:12). He is the risen Lamb of God for whom we eagerly await. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

The Truth Exchanged for a Lie

“It was too painful for me until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end” Psalm 73:16b-17

The writer of this Psalm noted the prosperity of people who gave no thought to their Creator; the One who gives them life and provides their sustenance in gracious abundance. He observes that they are full of pride and count pride in themselves as a blessing (v 6), they oppress others (v 8) and boast in wickedness and blaspheme against God (v 9). They are at ease in the earthly riches (v 12) that God has provided for them.

The psalmist then asks himself what the advantage was of him living a righteous life in which God has frequently chastised him (v 13) when the ungodly appear to suffer no chastisement (cf. Hebrews 12:5-8).

We live in such a world as the psalmist observed. There are many who deny God’s existence and are proud in themselves for their material success. Such blessings were meant to turn their hearts in thankfulness for God’s grace. Instead they boast that they have done it by their own ability and strength.

Those who walk with the Lord Jesus Christ do suffer at the hands of the ungodly. Many have their earthly lives ended prematurely at the hands of the ungodly. All Christians will suffer some form of persecution and oppression.

The psalmist then records that as he entered the sanctuary and bowed before the Lord praying about these matters, the Lord reminded him of the destiny of the ungodly.

The world is still going blindly on in unbelief and instead of receiving the truth the truth is suppressed. By God’s grace there are still many people turning to the Lord Jesus daily but that is against the tide of ungodliness. We live in an age of people “who [have] exchanged the truth of God for the lie and worshipped and served the creature [man] rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).

As he waited before the Lord the psalmist realised that those people who have rejected God and refuse to have a change of heart have no expectation other than the wrath of God. He understood that such people are in dire need of mercy and forgiveness and that it was he who was in the most blessed state.

Jesus related an account of a certain rich man and a beggar named Lazarus to give us understanding when we observe these things (Luke 16:19-31). The most necessary thing for people is to hear and believe God’s word. Jesus said, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). At Easter we give special attention to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is another opportunity God has given us to share the truth with family, friends and acquaintances.

Give Yourself

“From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take my offering” Exodus 25:2

From time to time we hear someone say that the church is only after our money. There are religious organisations and even some churches that seem to have this mindset but it is not God’s way.

Some church leaders manipulate people to give by appealing to their need or greed. People in extreme poverty may respond to the false doctrine that says that if you give materially to God He will give materially more back. I have witnessed church leaders who are financially well off fleecing their poverty stricken flock with this lie. Greedy people may also be taken in by this false teaching.

The context of the above verse is Israel’s recent deliverance from slavery in Egypt. God demanded nothing of Israel for their deliverance. God initiated it and He performed all the miracles without any requirement from Israel. At the time of departure the Lord put it in the hearts of the Egyptians to give of their possessions to Israel. So the slaves who had very little became materially rich by God’s gracious gift.

When it came time to create a place where God could dwell among His people as a place of worship He asked the people to be involved. Several points need to be clear:

  1. No offering was asked for Israel’s salvation. The blood of the Lamb pictured Christ offering Himself to redeem Israel.
  2. This offering was only to provide a place of worship and communion not for salvation.
  3. The offering came from the resources that God had given Israel through the Egyptians.
  4. The offering was to come only from those with a willing heart. No pressure was to be applied and no promise attached to the giving other than a place to commune with God.

Only those who give out of a willing heart are able to worship Him. When we give our offerings thinking it is our duty or that God needs them, there is the potential for pride to arise in the heart (cf. Luke 18:9-14). That might make us feel good but it does not please God.

The churches in Macedonia exemplified this attitude to giving and Paul records it in 2 Corinthians 8:1-7. Out of their poverty these Christians gave beyond what they could afford out of free will. They were already saved from sin and death by God’s free gift in Christ Jesus. As an act of worship they freely gave all they could muster. Paul summed this up when he wrote, “They first gave themselves to the Lord” (v 5). God wants our hearts.

Salvation is free to us because Jesus paid the ransom price to redeem us. However, when we give ourselves to the Lord part of our worship will be by giving to Him. Not out of necessity but out of a willing heart that worships the Lord. Giving of ourselves, skills and our possessions is our response when we have received God’s gracious Gift, namely Jesus Christ. Part of our worship is our freewill offering. If it is not freewill it has not been offered to God and it is therefore not worship.