The blindness of self promotion

Series: Face to face with Jesus (John’s gospel).

By Rosie Moore.

“Jesus claimed to be worthy of the honour due God. For one simple reason. He was. Surely only a fool would make such a claim…and yet, Jesus walked on water…calmed the wind and waves…healed the lepers…and sent demons scurrying. Could anyone but God do so?” (Josh McDowell).

And yet, John tells us that most of the Pharisees refused to come to Jesus to have life in his name (John 5:40). Tragically, despite all the evidence presented to them, they didn’t have saving faith, because they refused to honour the Son of God. Instead, they accused him of blasphemy. In John chapter 5, Jesus describes two obstacles to their salvation:

  • They did not cherish God or His Word within their hearts. In fact, they didn’t love God at all (John 5:42).
  • They did not seek God’s glory, only their own. They loved man’s praise, instead of the approval of God (John 5:4244). Like typical politicians, they were bent on prominence.

In his confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus highlighted the great contrast between Himself and them:

“I do not receive glory from people…(John 5:41)

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).

Politicians in priestly robes.

In spite of their outward displays of virtue and vast Scriptural knowledge, Jesus saw the Pharisees’ hearts. He saw how they schemed together to kill him (John 5:18). He saw straight through their public prayers, conspicuous giving and showy acts of humility. And He accused them of doing their ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, ‘to be seen’. Concerned only for optics, the Pharisees announced their generosity “to be honoured by men” (Matt 6:1-2).  And so, Jesus called these original “virtue signalers” hypocrites (Matt 6:5) and “blind guides” (Matt 15:14).

Although Christ demonstrated his absolute authority with meekness and compassion, the Pharisees resented his pure goodness and humility. They refused to bow down to Him as Lord of all, because they were all about their own glory. Let’s look at a small section of what Jesus said to these Pharisees after healing the man by the pool of Siloam and declaring Himself as God’s Son:

“You do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:38-47).

Blinded to the evidence.

Self promotion blinded the Pharisees to the vast body of evidence that demonstrated that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.

First, there were His miraculous works:

Hadn’t they just witnessed the supernatural healing of the paralyzed man, or at very least, heard him testify that his life had been truly and completely transformed by Jesus? (John 4:11).  His functioning body was there for all to prod and poke at. Yet, all the Pharisees could see was a carpenter from Nazareth, who threatened their power (John 5:18). They completely discounted the man’s true life testimony.

Second, they ignored Christ’s own testimony, backed up by clear evidence: The Pharisees weren’t wrong when they said that Jesus “was even calling God his own father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). He had just deliberately broken their man-made rules to demonstrate that He was Lord of the Sabbath, as God is: “Jesus said to them “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (John 5:17). The Pharisees knew that only Yahweh works around the clock to sustain the world and deliver his people (Ps 121:3-4).

In John chapter 5, Jesus speaks uninterrupted from verse 19 to 47. Without ego or pride, He makes some of the most astounding statements about Himself and God the Father. If this were a mere man, the Pharisees had every right to accuse him of blasphemy, as it would be idolatry to pay a man the honour that is due only to God. But they would need to ignore the facts right before their eyes. So, it was a wilful blindness and suppression of the truth, because Jesus performed acts that only God could do.

There’s no shadow of doubt that Jesus identified Himself as being one with the Father, with authority to give eternal life (John 5:24); to judge sin (John 5:27); to do whatever the Father does (John 5:19); to be in an intimate, loving relationship with the Father (John 5:20); even to resurrect the dead (John 5:25-26). He claimed to be the source of all life (John 5:26) and to have the power to give spiritual life to people that the Father has chosen (John 5:21). Most offensive of all, Jesus claimed that He was worthy of the same honour as God the Father, and that those who fail to honour Him, cannot claim to honour God. Alford fleshes this out:

“All must honour Him with equal honour to that which they pay to the Father– and whoever does not, however he may imagine that he honours or approaches God, does not honour Him at all, because He can only be known or honoured by us as “the Father who sent His Son”.

These remain the most offensive claims of the Christian faith today. Increasingly, it is seen as bigoted, un-inclusive, intolerant, and an act of oppression and aggression to claim that Jesus is the only way to know and honour God. Equally offensive is the claim that Christ has divine authority to judge humanity. Yet, unapologetically, this what Jesus claimed about Himself:

“For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him… 30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:22-23).

There are many sceptics who deny that Jesus’ claimed to be God, saying that his followers only started worshipping him centuries later. But if the gospels are primary sources, then this cannot be true. The people who rubbed shoulders with Jesus in his own lifetime were certain that He claimed deity. They were willing to die for this belief. “No one ever spoke like this man!” was the verdict of the guards of the chief priests and Pharisees (John 7:46). Who would you rather believe? A primary source and many eye witnesses? Or a secondary source written in an academic institution, thousands of years after the fact?

There are also others who claim that God the Father emphasizes judgment, whereas God the Son focuses on love. Jesus does not give us this option. He claimed to be inseparable from Yahweh. If these claims are true, there can be no rivalry between Jesus and the Father, who says, “I, the Lord, do not change” (Mal 3:6). In fact, if we scroll through John’s gospel, we see that people who came face-to-face with Jesus, encountered a judge who saw into their hearts, and a merciful Saviour who extended a love they did not deserve.

Third, the Pharisees chose to selectively remember their Old Testament Scriptures. They refused to see that these Scriptures pointed to Jesus as the promised Messiah, the One who would fulfill the Torah perfectly (John 5:3946). They searched the Scriptures zealously and cherished their own man-made rules, but were blind to the shadows of Jesus in the testimony of Moses (John 5:45-46).

And so, they missed the Saviour when he came to earth, and even made his dwelling in their own home town, “the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Fourth, they ignored the witness of John the Baptist, who said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:2934),

And so, because of their craving for self promotion, the Pharisees were blind to the great body of evidence given to them. They were blind to the display of life-giving power right before their eyes. And they flatly refused to acknowledge that Jesus was God incarnate, because they were bent on pleasing themselves. Instead of hearing and believing the word of Jesus, they bullied the man who testified to his healing. And as a result, they never crossed over from death to life (John 5:24). It’s tragic to think that these were the men who should have seen Jesus with clear eyes and welcomed the Saviour with open hearts.

But hang on a moment! That’s not actually true of all Pharisees and prominent Jewish rulers of Jesus’s day. Many believed and were saved.

What was the problem with the Pharisees?

In recent years, I’ve heard people attempt to direct Jesus’s accusations against the Pharisees towards a group of people collectively known as ‘oppressors’ on the ladder of disadvantage and intersectionality: Wealthy, heterosexual, able-bodied, educated, white men are usually prime targets, accused of being modern day Pharisees. However, the problem Jesus had with the Pharisees was their hearts, not their group membership. There was nothing inherently wrong with being a Pharisee.

In fact, we are told of a prominent Pharisee called Nicodemus, who visited Jesus at night (John 3:1). This Pharisee became a true disciple. In fact, he helped Joseph of Arimathea to take Jesus’s body off the cross and place it in the tomb (John 19:38-42). We also know that the apostle Paul was once Saul, “a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee”, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6Phil 3:5). Actually, Paul’s knowledge of the Scriptures uniquely positioned him to become a prolific author of the New Testament and an eminent theologian of the early church. God appointed a Pharisee for that task.

Reading through the book of Acts, I was struck by how many synagogue leaders and prominent Jews became followers of Christ, like Crispus in Corinth, whose whole family believed and were baptized (Acts 18:8). After Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Jerusalem, five thousand Jews were saved, among whom there must have been some Pharisees (Acts 2:41Acts 3:4). In Pisidion Antioch, many devout Jews followed Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:43), and the name of Barnabas was actually “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus” (Acts 4:36). Levites were from the Priestly tribe. Apollos, one of the most influential evangelists in the early Church, was also “a learned Jew, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures (Acts 18:24). He vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:28).

And so, it’s quite clear that the problem with the Pharisees was not their knowledge of Scripture, nor their social/ religious group, nor a form of collective guilt. Through the myriad encounters with Jesus in the gospels, we see that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).

But in John 5:40, Jesus sees into the proud hearts of the Pharisees and says, “Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” What a sad indictment and a warning that we should still apply to our own hearts today. Just as Jesus saw into the Pharisees’ hearts, He says to us too, “I know you.” (John 5:42). No one except the Lord has the ability to judge the motives of another’s heart.

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)

“Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Jesus knew that the Pharisees loved prominence more than God or his Word. That is why they would not believe and receive him as Lord (John 5:44).

But the love of prominence is a universal temptation that each of us faces, whether great or lowly. Every human heart is bent towards self-promotion, even if we are not the scheming, political types. We can do it in many more subtle ways. It’s a matter of misguided glory, because Jesus is the only man who could honestly say, “I seek not to please myself but him who sent me…I do not accept praise from men” (John 5:30b41). Only Jesus deserves the glory due to God, as only He could please His Father perfectly.

But by nature, each of us craves the approval, credit and sympathy of people much more than we love to please God. What’s more, in a culture obsessed with optics, it’s especially tempting to create an ‘image’ for the world to see and applaud. And social media is a perfect platform for this form of ‘virtue signaling’, which was the great sin of the Pharisees.

In our generation, we face a constant temptation to look good. We are apt to share photos and videos to prove to the world that we are truly virtuous, caring people. We still seek the best seat at the table and our hearts still long for prominence and significance (Luke 14:7). But this need for self promotion is a serious obstacle to sincere faith in Christ.

As Christians and as a Church, we must spur each other on to good deeds (Heb 10:24). But may we simply give, without our left hand knowing what our right hand is doing (Matt 6:3-4). When we pray, may we simply pray from our heart to our Father, who is unseen (Matt 6:6). And may we catch ourselves whenever we try to impress people with our ‘holiness’ or false humility (Matt 6:17). True humility is simply coming to Christ the Son, and allowing Him to reveal to us who God is, and who we are.

What blessed assurance it is to know that if we have put our trust in Christ, we will never be condemned, for we have crossed over from death to life (John 5:24). That is a crossing that can never be reversed, for Christ has finished the work that the Father sent Him to do (John 5:36John 19:30). It is a one-way, fully paid ticket. It is done.

Listen to this beautiful old hymn, ‘Blessed Assurance’, sung by Carrie Underwood.

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood.

A Biblical perspective on the South African riots this week.

By Rosie Moore.

Last weekend 33 trucks were destroyed in the Mooi River area, one of them a carrier with a full load of cars. Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost as factories and businesses; machinery and equipment; farmlands and gas works; oil refineries and distribution centres; wholesalers and Spaza shops; shopping malls and ATM’s; even Hospital suppliers, a Blood Bank and an NGO that feeds the poor, were looted and reduced to ashes. This list can never capture the human suffering in its wake. We have now seen enough looters stuffing expensive electronic goods and fridges into waiting vehicles to know that our country has reached a turning point. The army who were called on to help enforce the lockdowns, are now being called to quell the riots and targeted attacks on major infrastructure. There is a shortage of fuel, basic necessities and medicines, and the violence has had a devastating impact on the medical community already stretched to the limits with Covid-19.

Where to from here?

I’m sure that each of us is asking the same question, “Where to from here?” By now, we are still counting the losses throughout South Africa, most especially in KZN.

The scale and cost of a few days of looting is unknown, but we do know that economic recovery can take many years. Property developers, businesses and investors are not going to return with confidence. Even if the violence and looting of the past few days runs its course, supply chains have been severed, which will lead to human suffering and an economic crisis for which there is no easy re-set button.

To add fuel to the fire, the uprising of the past week comes on top of an economic crisis caused by long Covid-19 lockdowns; corruption on a massive scale; closures of thousands of businesses; high unemployment and the Eskom crisis. Even if shopping malls and factories can claim insurance payouts, will it really make business sense for them to rebuild?

And now evidence is emerging that individuals set about instigating the so-called protests, riots and looting to achieve their political ends. Some were targeted attacks, while others were opportunistic criminality. But whatever the circumstances and causes, in our post 1994 history, never before have we seen such large scale lawlessness across the country. If we are truthful people, we must call it what it is: unrestrained evil.

And once again, it’s the poor who will suffer most when they can no longer buy their basic groceries from their local shop. Their chance of employment and a hopeful future is even more of a pipe dream, as many jobs will be lost forever. We have seen this devastation play out in our nearest neighbour, Zimbabwe. Ask any Zimbabwean immigrant to describe the effects of their nation’s economic free fall since the land grabs and looting of 2002-2005. These were orchestrated by Zanu-PF in a desperate bid to cling to power. Zimbabweans now need to cross borders to get basic foods and find jobs, where their homeland was once the bread basket of Africa.

But as Christians, our national crisis should not lead us into despair. The Bible reminds us of some timeless truths to help us process what is happening in our country and to respond realistically. Here are just two of these truths:

1. No one is righteous, not even one.

While it’s true that looters seem to act with impunity and instigators of violence shamelessly use people for their own selfish ends, Paul reminds us at the beginning of Romans that without the righteousness of Christ, who died on our behalf, there is no one righteous, not even one…

11     there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throats are open graves;
    their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
14 
    “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 
    ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”
18 
    “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin (Rom 3:10-20).

What is true of everyone without Christ— Jew and Gentile; religious and unreligious; black, white and brown; employed and jobless; business owners and looters; instigators and peacemakers; criminals and authorities; male and female–is that we are all condemned by our sin. “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). That is not to say that everyone is equally sinful, but all are equally condemned, because by nature, there is no fear of God before our eyes.

The Bible doesn’t try to justify our sin. The righteous God of the universe is not indifferent or nuanced about the lawlessness we witnessed this week (Ps 11:3-7). “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men…The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates…For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.” We must not try to excuse or lessen the evil that was committed against our people this week.

Sin affects our minds, motives, will, speech, relationships and attitude towards God (Rom 3:11-18). In these verses, Paul is describing the outworking of sin in the human heart. The videos and eye witness accounts of riots we’ve seen this week have pulled back the curtain to show us the true horror of sin in 3-D, technicolour. As I watched, the thought came to mind:

This is unrestrained evil. This is the ‘secret power of lawlessness’ that Paul describes in 2 Thessalonians 2:7. This is what our real enemy, Satan, is like. He lies, kills, steals and destroys. He uses people as pawns for his own destructive ends. He never builds, only breaks.

And so, from its opening pages, the Bible reminds us that evil resides in every human heart which is captive to Satan. War and violence, theft and murder, lies and plots, are just a sample of the many faces of sin. Given free reign, we will find something to fight about, leading to political factions, bloody coups, revolutions, murders and wars. We see it vividly in the cameo of Cain murdering his brother, Abel (Gen 4:1-16).

Only Jesus can free us from Satan’s captivity, because on the cross “he disarmed the rulers and authorities, putting them to open shame, by triumphing over them”  (John 10:10Col 2:15). Only the Holy Spirit can open our eyes to see that we are moral beings, accountable to a Holy God. Unless we know that we have no defense to make, no goodness to offer God, nothing but empty hands and a ‘silent mouth’ to receive Christ’s righteousness (Rom 3:19), we will remain as lost and guilty as the people who have caused the destruction this week, whose throats are open graves; whose lips hold vipers’ poison; whose feet are swift to shed blood; who do not know the way of peace; and who have no fear of God before their eyes.

Lest we become forgetful or self righteous in our anger, the Bible sets us straight: We are only set free from the life of sin that Paul describes, because of the righteousness of God–a free gift we receive when we believe in Jesus Christ as our substitute (Rom 3:21-26). The perfect God-man, the only Son of God, was punished in our place, for our sin. And only Christ’s Spirit enables us to live a life that is righteous and pleasing to God.

It’s why the gospel of Jesus Christ is our only hope in South Africa.

So, in our anger and turmoil, let’s not forget God’s amazing grace and love for sinners—looters, arsonists, plotters, corrupt politicians and not least of all, ourselves (John 3:16-18). This is the perspective God provides on our anger:

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Eph 4:26-27).

 “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
    but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land” (Ps 37:8-9).

2. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood.

But there’s a second truth that the Lord has brought repeatedly to my mind in the past year. It is from Ephesians 6:10-20.* Everywhere I look, I seem to see this text. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood…

Christians are a people at war. Our ultimate enemy is not a human being, but the ancient serpent with his crafty schemes (Eph 6:11). Satan uses people and energizes rulers of this dark world, as well as demonic forces, to accomplish his evil purposes (Eph 6:12). His plans are to deceive the nations and destroy God’s people (Rev 20:3710Rev 12:17), even to deface God’s image in any human being.

Right now in our uprising, we see the devil demonstrating his two major strategies: He deceives and devours. That’s why he is called the snake who deceives, and the dragon who devours (Gen 3:132 Cor 11:3Rev 12:4). Andrew Naselli describes the devil’s modus operandi: “Snakes tempt and lie; dragons attack and murder. Snakes backstab; dragons assault.”

And so, it is Satan who is ultimately behind the unrest and intrigue that is shaking our country. It has been this way ever since Genesis 3:15, but Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work (1 John 3:8).

Here are three practical ways we can apply this truth to our lives as Christians:

  1. As Christ’s people, his Bride, we must be careful not to have our thoughts led astray from “a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor 11:3). Our minds can easily be led astray by paying too much attention to anger and fear, the external chaos, the inadequacies of the police, instead of keeping our eyes on Christ. Our Government’s God-given duty is to maintain law and order and restrain evil (Rom 13:4). Our corresponding duty as citizens is to respect and submit to these authorities in carrying out their role (Rom 13:1-2). So, let’s be Christ-like citizens and use every opportunity to do good in our communities during these days of distress. Let’s wear gospel shoes of peace (Eph 6:15), showing the world the contrasting beauty of the gospel and the fellowship it fosters. This week, we saw this pure devotion to Christ outside a hospital, where staff and visitors joined together to sing How great Thou art. We mirror the unity and peace of the gospel every time we get together to pray, rebuild or protect vulnerable people.
  1. As Christ’s people, Paul tells us to resist Satan, careful not to be outwitted by him or ignorant of his true designs (2 Cor 2:10-11). The Christian faith is not naïve or passive, but neither does it stoke conflict. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” says James (James 4:7). Peter too, reminds us to “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9). Jesus himself told his disciples to be innocent as doves, but wise as serpents (Matt 10:16). It’s been wonderful to see our nation come together to resist evil this week. Communities made up of many races have stood shoulder to shoulder defending their towns and suburbs where police have been unable to protect them. Brave individuals have spoken hard truth to counter the lies of those who stir up strife. Officers of our courts have upheld the rule of law despite intimidation from very powerful people. Farmers have supplied medicines and groceries to communities. Ordinary South Africans have shared what they have with their neighbours and the police, and volunteered to clear up mess. Pastors and civic leaders have called on people to unite and rebuild their towns. As the saying goes, evil is allowed to flourish when good people do nothing. As Christians, “Let us not grow weary in doing good” (Gal 6:9). Let us pay respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed (Rom 13:7). That is how we resist Satan in these times.
  1. And finally, as believers, let’s never forget that the battle belongs to the Lord, because it is Christ, not ourselves, who will finally slay the great dragon, “that ancient serpent who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world…He is full of wrath because he knows that his time is short!” (Rev 12:391012). This week it may seem as if evil has the upper hand, but victory has already been secured on the cross. God has placed each one of us in this country and in our community for such a time as this. One of these days, Christ will return to enforce justice, destroy Satan, and get his Bride (Rev 19:6-8). We are that bride! And lest we think that He is only ‘Gentle Jesus- meek and mild,’ Christ is also the great dragon slayer and the commander of angel armies! (Ps 27:1-3;  Rev 19:11-21). That’s why his people can take heart and stand firm in the Lord and in his mighty power (Eph 6:101314Ps 27:14).

Stand firm and take heart.

“The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thess 3:3).

This is what Paul wrote to Christians facing dark days in the first century. In our own dark days, let’s put on the armour that Christ himself has secured for us on the cross and not neglect the Sword of the Spirit, which is God’s Word. And over all this, let’s “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Eph 6:10-20).

Lord, we plead the mercy and blood of Jesus over this beloved country that we all call home. We pray that the people and leaders of South Africa would not tolerate evil, but would come together as a nation and bow before you in this strife. What was meant for evil, please use for the good of the gospel and your eternal Kingdom. Lord, use this crisis to make us conscious of our sin and bring many hearts to repentance and faith in you. Unite us as one nation and help us to resist the lies that Satan uses to divide us. Bring spiritual revival to South Africa and deliver us from evil. We look to you who has already won the victory! In Jesus’ name Amen.

Take heart! That’s the message of this song, by Matthew West.

Sources:

  • The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer– Short studies in Biblical theology, By Andrew David Naselli.
  • *The series I wrote on spiritual warfare in July and August 2020 may help you think through the implications of each of Paul’s pieces of equipment:
  1. Going to War.
  2. The Belt of Truth
  3. The Breastplate of righteousness
  4. Gospel shoes
  5. Putting on our thinking caps.
  6. The Sword of the Spirit
  7. The Weakest saint upon his knees

Jesus didn’t offer the lame man a crutch.

By Rosie Moore.

Series: Face-to-face with Jesus (John’s Gospel).

I wonder if you’ve ever heard this accusation: “You’re only a Christian because you need a crutch! Your faith is just a comfort to get you through life!”

Personally, I laugh whenever I hear this accusation leveled against Christians. It’s absurd when you think of the lives of Christ’s disciples and the price they paid for their faith in Jesus. And it’s a false caricature of the Christian faith as a crutch for the weak. In the 45 years that I’ve been a Christian, on more occasions than I can count, my faith has led me straight into the conflict zone and it’s been anything but a crutch. Being an agreeable person, I would always prefer to avoid conflict and quietly get on with my life. But Christ doesn’t give believers that option.

What’s crystal clear from the story in John 5, is that Jesus didn’t offer the lame man a crutch. Nor did He offer prayer, comfort or a well-meaning support group, as we might offer a sick, suffering friend. No, Jesus confronted the lame man with a question. Then he ordered him to get up, take up his bed, and walk! And that’s exactly what the man did. There’s surely no man on this earth who can do that.

An unavoidable confrontation.

It struck me that Christ’s healing of the lame man at the pool (John 5) led Jesus and the restored man straight into the firing line of the Jewish authorities, who cared more about their rules than about doing good. It would seem that Jesus deliberately healed the man on the Sabbath when he could easily have dodged offense by waiting until the next day. Jesus walked purposefully into the combat zone and the poor man didn’t have much time to enjoy his restored limbs before he too found himself facing the Pharisees’ outrage. This was the first of many conflicts which unmasked the Pharisees’ unbelieving hearts and their willful suppression of the truth that was evident for all to see. The extraordinary truth was that Jesus was the Son of God.

Whole, not hobbling.

Instantly the man’s dead cells, nerves, muscles, joints, ligaments and bones regenerated, as if obeying the order of a commander-in-chief. There was complete healing in every corner of his withered body.

After 38 years of paralysis, the lame man left the pool whole, not hobbling! Jesus made him into a new creature, not a cripple with a crutch.

With the Holy Spirit’s help, the reality of this extraordinary miracle should still stun us today:

John 5:2-17:

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

That you may believe…

Let’s remind ourselves why John selected this miracle out of the hundreds of signs that Jesus performed: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).”

As readers two thousand years later, we must hear John’s clear purpose for writing this story down for us. He didn’t just fancy himself as an author of a biography about his Jewish Rabbi. We will miss the whole point of this true story if it does not lead us to personal, growing faith in Christ. John wants us to believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be–Not just God’s Messiah, but God Himself.

“Do you want to be healed?” (v 6)

John doesn’t want us to gloss over the fact that the man’s muscles, bones and ligaments hadn’t moved for 38 years. His body had lain limp beside the pool, absolutely helpless and atrophied. The lame man didn’t show any understanding that Jesus was the Son of God, and there’s no evidence that he had any faith before he was confronted by Jesus. Yet, in verse 6, Jesus singles this man out and asks him a strange question: “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6).

Why would Jesus ask this unnecessary question? Surely the answer was self evident and rhetorical? After all, wasn’t the lame man lying beside the pool, hoping to be healed? And why did Jesus single him out from all the other sick people?

It is a mystery why he chose to heal this particular man, but it’s also a wonderful illustration of the mystery of faith. Jesus fleshes it out a little later in the chapter when he says: “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.” (John 5:21). Jesus was pleased to heal this man.

Then Jesus told the man to do what he could not do. Being paralyzed, it was impossible to get up, or pick up his pallet, or walk (John 5:11). He didn’t have the strength to do any of these three things. But this man did exactly what Jesus told him to do. He responded in faith. As Spurgeon puts it, “Because Jesus told Him, he asked no questions, but doubled up his couch, and walked. He did what he was told to do, because he believed in Him who spoke. Have you such faith in Jesus?”

Do you remember the day, or period in your life, when you first heard the gospel, and Jesus confronted you with this same question, “Do you want to be healed from the disease and ultimate death of sin?” Do you remember when you responded to Christ in faith? The Holy Spirit begins to seek us out long before we seek God.  Jesus singles us out and confronts us in our utter helplessness of sin. And throughout the Christian life, Jesus continues to ask us this same question: “Do you want to be healed?”

Jesus doesn’t force restoration on anyone. And just like the lame man in this story, if we say yes– even tentatively and without much understanding– Jesus will bring us complete healing from sin, death and judgment. There are no half measures with Jesus!

When Jesus heals us spiritually, He doesn’t give us a crutch, but sets our feet firmly on the road to a whole and holy life.

This true, face-to-face encounter with Jesus is a wonderful illustration of free, unearned grace and Christ’s perfect saving power. Like the lame man, Jesus will save us perfectly and completely if we respond in faith to his question. And there’s nothing we need to do except believe in the Son of God.

“Stop sinning that nothing worse may befall you.” (v 14).

But verse 14 contains another response from Jesus that initially sounds strange and harsh. Jesus finds the man in the temple and he gives him this warning:

“See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14).

Dick Lucas, the pastor who confronted my own dad with Jesus Christ many years ago, commented on Jesus’s response in verse 14, by explaining the difference between free grace and cheap grace:

“Christ gives him back his health, but now Jesus says that worse things will befall him if he doesn’t repent of sin. If Christ intervenes and forgives me, then He commits me to a lifelong battle against sin and evil in my life. Cheap grace is a perversion of free grace. I cannot ask Jesus to redeem me and then live as though I have no further obligations to him. Do we love our treasured sins? Do we love sin too much? We won’t be completely whole until the last day, but we are being worked on every day until then. We cannot snatch the blessings of eternal life and then continue to live our same old life. That is cheap grace. Jesus offers us free grace, not cheap grace.”

Jesus is surely the kindest and most loving person to ever walk the earth. Yet, He still remains offensive to many. Perhaps that’s because Christ speaks the truth when it comes to our sin. He doesn’t whisper about sin, but exposes it as the fatal disease it is (Mark 7:14-23Mark 16:16John 8:34). Even today, He confronts us like he confronted the lame man (Matt 5:30). Would Jesus be loving if He left us to suffer in our sins which enslave us? True Christian faith is about trusting Jesus to save us, and then waging war against self and sin every day of our lives.

That doesn’t sound like a crutch to me.

Prayer

Father, thank you for the way in which you plucked me from the fire and turned my life around. I wasn’t looking for you, but you sent your Son to earth to seek and save a helpless sinner like me. I’m amazed that you singled me out and poured out your free and undeserved favour on me. Thank you for not offering me a crutch or a temporary comfort, but complete healing and restoration from my sin. As the One who spoke life into a lame man’s body, I submit to you as my Saviour and Lord again today. Please invade every corner of my life and help me to hate and wage war against sin in its sly and deceptive guises. Help me to do whatever you tell me to do in your Word, because I trust in you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Join us next week as we look at the stunning claims Jesus makes in the remainder of John 5.

Source

Dick Lucas sermon, The Cure of Souls.

The man who took Jesus at his word.

Series in John’s gospel: Face to face with Jesus, By Rosie Moore.

“Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed (John 4:50).

Often we hear the expression “Seeing is believing”. But the Bible tells us that the opposite is true when it comes to faith in Jesus Christ: “Believing is seeing.” Or as the writer of Hebrews puts it: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.” (Heb 11:1-2).  In John chapter 4, the nobleman believed Jesus and took Him at his word, before he saw the miraculous healing of his son. The same is required of us if our faith is to grow.

Our Lord did perform a sign for this nobleman, but it was to point him to greater faith in Christ, not the sign itself. The spiritual miracle of faith in the desperate father and his whole household was far greater than the physical healing of the boy’s body.

Let’s read together this amazing face-to-face encounter with Jesus:

John 4:43-54:

43 After the two days he left for Galilee. 44 (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 45 When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there.

46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.

48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

50 “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”

The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.”

53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.

54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.

“Lord, please grow our faith through this true encounter that John chose to write down for us. Show us that we don’t need to first see sensational signs and wonders to believe you. The Bible shows us enough to know that you are trustworthy and good. As we read these words, may you strengthen our faith so that we may put our trust in you as our Lord and Saviour, just as this nobleman did. Grow our faith through whatever desperate or difficult situation we are facing right now. May our crisis be a severe mercy, just as it was for this father. Amen.”

The man who had everything money could buy.

Of all the miracles that Jesus performed, John chose to tell this story of a desperate Government official, known as a ‘basilica’, whose son was lying in bed at home, at death’s door.  Jesus was not physically with the boy when he healed him. In fact, the sick boy was at home in the city of Capernaum 32 kilometres away, while Jesus was in the village of Cana. But this father, who had everything money could buy, except what he truly needed, saddled up his horse in the midday heat and galloped many miles to find Jesus. He was the man’s last hope.

Let’s put ourselves in this nobleman’s shoes for a moment.

As a ‘basilica’, he was an official of high rank and steady income. He had everything money could buy, except the health of his beloved son. Verse 46 and 47 are understatements. This man was desperate, because his boy was on the verge of death. Reading between the lines of these verses, one can only imagine the misery of this father, who would have given everything and anything to see light in his little boy’s eyes again, to see him running and playing like a normal child. As a parent, I can relate to his fear. When I went to wake up my own son one morning and found him unresponsive, in a severely hypoglycemic state, there’s nothing I wouldn’t have done to bring him back to life. Thankfully he recovered, but the extreme helplessness of this loving father turns any parent ice cold with fear.

In fact, whoever we are, we have probably known this desperation sometime in our lives. The oldest book of the Bible reminds us that “Affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:6-7). Life is like a fire that sends its flames of suffering upward, regardless of what some prosperity preachers may say. All human beings are born for sorrow, and there are no exceptions. Just think of what money can and cannot buy:

Money can buy us a lovely soft bed, but it cannot buy us sleep!

Money can buy us delicious food, but it cannot make our digestive system work!

Money can buy us fame and followers, but it cannot buy us close friends!

Money can buy us medical aid, but it cannot buy our health!

Money can buy us a luxury holiday, but it cannot buy a happy family!

The man came to Jesus.

There are many things that money cannot buy. Even 2000 years later, our hearts must ache with this man’s heart, because he shows us our own desperately helpless condition.

But did you notice that this man got on his horse and found Jesus? He didn’t just bemoan his situation. He rode for 32 kilometres to find the one man whose miracles he had heard about. He must have heard about the story of the first miracle Jesus had performed in Cana of Galilee—when he’d turned water into wine. He must have known that this Jesus was no ordinary man. So the wealthy, finely dressed basilica came personally to meet the carpenter, to beg him to come home with him to heal his son.

Notice that this nobleman didn’t send his wife or servant to fetch Jesus. He didn’t send a proxy to ask Jesus to pray for him. Instead, he cared enough to come himself to seek the help that he desperately needed, and fell down at the feet of the one man who alone could do for him what he was unable to do for himself.

And he called Jesus, “Sir”, putting himself under Christ, even though the nobleman had legal authority over the carpenter. Coming to Jesus and throwing himself at Christ’s mercy was his first act of faith.

This man’s humble trust reminds me of how Hebrews describes the kind of faith that God will always reward: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Heb 11:6). This man was earnestly seeking Christ to meet his desperate need.

Unless you people see signs and wonders…

Jesus’s reply in verse 48 is startling and hardly what you would write if you were making up a story of an empathetic hero.  Jesus was speaking to the crowd who depended on signs and wonders for their faith. Their focus was not on Christ. But this father was no sensation seeker. He did not need to see the miracle he sought before he would believe. He didn’t take offense at Jesus’s charge but he knew that Jesus was his last hope. His eyes held onto what he knew about the Lord, even though Jesus gave him no sign.

Jesus replied, “Go your way, your son lives. The man took Jesus at his word and departed” (John 4:50).

The man took Jesus at his word.

What an astounding response. This man’s faith was true, not superficial! Unlike many who craved signs and wonders, the nobleman didn’t need to see his son’s healing before he would believe. The man trusted Jesus’s bare word and acted upon his faith, even before he saw the evidence. He didn’t question Christ’s command to go home, but departed immediately. He simply trusted and obeyed.

The man somehow knew that distance was of no concern for Jesus, and so he obeyed without hesitation. He didn’t bribe Jesus to come home with him, but seemed at peace with Christ’s promise. And when he questioned the servants on the time of his son’s healing, it was at precisely 13h00, the time that Jesus had spoken the word of healing.

When the man saw for himself that Jesus had been true to his word, he couldn’t contain himself. He must have shared his divine encounter with his entire family and those who worked in his home, leading his whole household to faith. They saw for themselves that this miracle was authentic, not just an illusion or the power of positive thinking. The boy was obviously and visibly healed the moment Jesus had spoken the word. On that basis, the basilica’s household believed and put their faith in God’s Son (John 4:53). As Jesus himself described his miracles, “This is the work of God, that you may believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). That is what each and every one of us must do if we are to put our faith in Christ.

A picture of growing faith.

What a beautiful picture of blossoming faith emerges from this story! Whether we are thinking of coming to Jesus for the very first time, or whether we have been Christians for many years, faith is always taking Jesus at his word and trusting his promises more than we trust our perceptions or our doubts.

A little further on in John’s gospel, Jesus made a promise that is almost incredible to believe. He said,

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:35-37).

This is Christ’s promise to each and every one of us: He will satisfy our deepest longings. He will never drive us away. We do not need to see Jesus face-to-face in order to come to him and believe. Like the desperate father, we can come to Jesus in prayer. And like him, we can take Jesus at his word, and believe every one of the promises contained in his Word. The Bible contains the very words by which we can live our lives, and this is how our faith will grow, even when we cannot see or understand.

John reminds us why he wrote his gospel in the first place: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

This story reminds us that it’s not enough to say we believe that Jesus is a great miracle worker, or a wise prophet, or the Saviour of the world. It’s not enough to believe that Jesus can take care of our problems and desperate situations. Faith is acting in accordance with those beliefs. It is doing as the desperate father did, when he got on his horse and galloped 32 kilometers to meet Jesus personally. We need to meet personally with Him, by prayer.

Faith is coming to Jesus as Lord, and submitting our entire lives to him. It is praying,

“Jesus, only you can save me from my sins! Only you can help me in this situation! Only you hold the keys to eternal life, and I desperately need you to unlock the door to let me in. I believe you are the Son of God and your promises are true, so I come to you for forgiveness, for light, for life. I beg for your mercy and grace to fill my desperate need. I will take you at your word and do anything you ask me to do.”

This is how faith is born and this is how faith grows. We will never graduate from the humble attitude of trust that this royal official displayed, as he knelt at Jesus’s feet and begged for what only Christ could give him.

Acknowledging the Source

Series: Thankfulness, by Rosie Moore.

A former congregant of our Church, who is struggling with a brain tumour, has written a wonderful little book titled “Have you heard of Eternity?” After considering how God has revealed himself in the tiny details of the human body and the world of nature, Marius Le Roux writes:

“Evolution postulates that life on earth arose from non-life, that is, from the inorganic, mineral compounds and substances of the earth…

But there is another worldview…based on the reality of a living, personal God who created all that there is, including the human race. This is the God of spotless purity and holiness. Righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne. This is the covenantal God who entered the human domain to reconcile himself with a failed humanity….It is the God who promises us a future, stretching into eternity”.

Despite his own personal suffering, every page of this book is saturated with the author’s thankfulness and wonder at the “everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth…who gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isa 40:28-29). I would highly recommend that you download this little book “Have you heard of Eternity?” as an ebook or order a hard copy from Marius. It will remind you to acknowledge the Source.

Who do you thank?

GK Chesterton said, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful but has no one to thank.”

Who do you thank when your immune system is gathering its troops and beating off the coronavirus?  Who do you thank when you look at your loved ones and feel utterly blessed? Who do you thank for a beautiful sunset, or a brilliant little bird that knows exactly how to build its nest? Who do you thank for an eternal home kept safe for you in heaven? And who do you thank for the certainty of a new world and a restored body?

Do you thank your lucky stars? The Universe? The Force? Or do you thank the sovereign, eternal God, who created the universe and everything in it?

This week I’ve felt like we’re fighting a war against an enemy that changes its face every few days. I haven’t felt brave or strong at any stage. In this third wave of Covid, the hospitals are full and many loved ones are in their homes fighting for their lives. We’ve had to face the stark reality that even oxygen in our bloodstream cannot be taken for granted. As Paul reminded the Athenians, God “himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). And, as Paul rhetorically asked the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor 4:7). We owe everything we have and everything we are to God.

“To whom will you compare me?”

In Isaiah 40, the prophet describes God’s power to create, his provision to sustain and his presence to help his people, Israel. No person or thing can be compared to God, but even so, he cares for each of his flock personally:

“He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young (Isa 40:11).

Here are some of my favourite verses from Isaiah 40, which have reminded me this week not to underestimate God, nor to stop thanking Him for the many small ways that He is revealing his love to us in Jesus Christ. Even the strongest people get tired and defeated at times, but God’s power and strength never diminish. He is never too tired or too busy to listen to our cries and to help us. His strength is our source of strength. This is a great reason to give thanks.

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint (Isa 40:21-32).

The Bible speaks about a particular kind of gratitude that is directed specifically at the author and source of life and salvation—God himself. If our soul is awake to Him, we will recognise His good gifts all around us, and give thanks for them. We will never take things for granted, as though we are entitled to them. As Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth writes,

“If we take it all for granted, if we think life just shows up with this stuff already in place, if we trick ourselves into believing that everyday household items come from the grocery rather than from a gracious God, we walk right past countless reasons for worship (and, I would add, for giving thanks), without even knowing it.”

Acknowledging the Source.

The Bible says that ingratitude to God as Creator and sustainer of the universe is at the heart of sin. Refusing to give thanks or credit to God as the Source of everything, is in fact, the root of all manner of unrighteousness. It actually turns us into fools: “Although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…” (Romans 1:21-2229).

But sadly, the great delusion of our time is the humanistic worldview which arrogantly holds that there is nothing more than the natural order. Science is god, we are god, mother earth is god. But in reality, there’s no God, no Creator, no higher authority, and certainly no Father with whom we can have a personal relationship. This atheistic worldview suppresses the truth of God. It insists that Creation merely exists, without cause or reason. Nothing happens at the end of life. Our lives are accountable to no one and therefore count for nothing. Our lives will end and be extinguished forever. Every honest atheist must reach the same logical conclusion as Betrand Russell did, “The whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins.” But this atheistic worldview is a lie.

How different is the worldview of David, who worshipped God as the Creator 3000 years ago, as he gazed up into the night skies. They are the same heavens that cover us in the 21st century:

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
    I will recount all of your wonderful deeds….” (Ps 9:1).

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
    It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth (Ps 19:1-6).

Thankful worship.

Thankful worship is the right response of anyone who understands that God is the everlasting Creator and caring Shepherd of his people. And thankful worship is the natural outlet pipe of a heart that is radically transformed by the Holy Spirit, when the Word of Christ dwells richly in us (Col 3:15-17). In all circumstances and for everything, it’s God’s will for us to give grateful thanks to Him (1 Thess 5:18).

If we don’t give thanks to God for who He is, for who He has made us, and for the wonderful things He’s done and is doing, then we’re the ones who will suffer for our ingratitude. God’s glory is self sustaining and not dependent on our thanks. Even the stones would cry out if we were silent (Luke 19:40).

Listen to this wonderful song by Sandra Mc Cracken, which reminds us that God is altogether good. And that’s why it’s altogether good for us to direct our thanks to Him, and to thank those whom God has provided to help us on life’s journey.

Thanking our Father…and our dads too

Series: Thankfulness, By Rosie Moore.

This Sunday is Father’s day. For many people, it’s a day that brings up painful memories because of a less-than-perfect father. But as Christians, we should see our own earthly fathers through the lens of our great heavenly Father, who is the Father of the fatherless and protector of the widow (Ps 68:5). He is the Father who loved us so much that He gave up his firstborn Son, so that we too may be called his sons and daughters (1 John 3:12 Cor 6:18). No wonder John exclaims,

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1) The Fatherhood of God is almost unbelievable!

Jesus died, so that we can live with our Father in an eternal home that is being prepared for us (John 3:1614:2). Jesus the Son reveals the Father to us and is the only way to know God as Father (Matt 11:27). And even now, Jesus is interceding for us at our Father’s throne, holding securely onto us, even when we can’t hold onto Him ourselves (Heb 7:25Rom 8:34). Do we grasp the Father’s love for us, not just in our heads, but in our hearts too?

No fear when Father is near.

Why would we not give thanks to God for this wonderful privilege of adoption? It is the reason why we have no need to fear again: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba? Father!” (Rom 8:15). There’s no fear when our Father is near. And He is always near to us through His Spirit.

God is our personal, loving, ever approachable Father, who has our very best in mind. Unlike our human fathers, who are flawed just like us, our heavenly Father’s ways are always upright and just (Deut 32:4). He is always faithful and does no wrong (Deut 32:4). In the security of this perfect Father, we can thank our human fathers for all they have done in our lives, even if they haven’t been perfect. In the embrace of our perfect Father, we can overlook their wrongs and weaknesses as human fathers.

My own human father loves to read the final chapter of Packer’s book, Knowing God, over and over again. The chapter is about the unique Christian privilege of calling God our Father. And the reason that dad reads it so often is because he says that he’s apt to forget just how loved he is in Christ. Most of us are forgetful of this awesome reality. This is how Packer starts his chapter on the fatherhood of God,

“You sum up the whole of New Testament if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.

For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. ‘Father’ is the Christian name for God. Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God)

Thanking our Father.

It’s only right that we direct our thanks at God the Father because:

Things haven’t gone well in our household this week. Covid has struck, including my mom and dad. My dad, who is usually sprightly and brimming with energy, is looking frail and tired. But human dads are sons of God too, and I hope this devotion will remind him, and all fathers, of how much their heavenly Father loves and cares for them. Jesus described the heavenly Father to whom every son and daughter must ultimately look for everything:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself (Matt 6:25-34)…

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).

When we thank our Father for his good gifts; his faithfulness; his beautiful Creation; his generous provision; his loving correction and his amazing capacity to make all things work together for good, gratitude flushes the debris out of our eyes. We are able to see clearly how truly privileged we are. And when we give thanks to our Father, even for our sufferings, even in the midst of our sufferings, we are entrusting ourselves to our Father’s kindness and goodness. Hope and expectancy spring from knowing God as our caring Father.

Our Father never slumbers.

When we thank God as our Father, we are reminding ourselves that He is at work every minute of every day and night, fulfilling his sure and good purposes (John 5:17Rom 8:28-31). Our Father will not let our feet slip, because he never slumbers nor sleeps (Ps 121:3).

And so, Christian thankfulness is so, so much more profound than the world’s idea of positive thinking or good manners. Thankfulness takes the believer’s focus off ourselves, our grievances, our weaknesses and fears, even our genuine suffering, and turns our hearts towards God our Father. It is like the north star that leads us back home.

Let’s thank our heavenly Father and our earthly fathers today.

Let’s pray.

Our Father in heaven,

Even as we address you as Father, we can hardly fathom what a great and awesome privilege that is. Today, we thank you for creating us, and for giving us the opportunity to live in a right relationship with you, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thank you, Father, for your undeserved grace, which covers us every day, even while we are sleeping.  Today we trust in your promise to be with us in everything–in the present and the future, through trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, sickness, danger, in life and even in death. You’ve said that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, and we stand firm on that truth today.

Father, we pray for your blessing on each father and grandfather in our church family. Give them the means to provide for their families during these difficult times. Help them to love you before all else, so that they may love their wives and be faithful to them. Help them to bring up their children to love and serve you with whole hearts. Thank you for the human fathers you’ve given us and help us to remember to thank them for all they’ve done for us.

Heavenly Father, when fathers are discouraged, weak or tempted to sin, turn their hearts towards you, so they may have the strength they need to lead their families in your ways. May each father be convicted to read the Bible with their children and pray with them. Help Christian fathers to model your fatherly goodness, grace and discipline in their own homes and families. Do not allow them to exasperate or neglect their children, but give them the grace to be a blessing to their households.

Most importantly, remind us all daily of our real identity and destiny in Christ:

“I am a child of God, God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Saviour is my brother; every Christian is my brother and sister too.” (Packer)

Amen.

Thanksgiving is like sunshine.

This is the first in a series in Thankfulness, by Rosie Moore.

“Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 5:19-20).

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:16-18).

The Bible commands us to give thanks always and for everything. Thankfulness is not an optional extra reserved for sunny personalities! Paul reminded first century Christians that thanksgiving doesn’t hinge on our circumstances or warm feelings, but is appropriate in every circumstance, come rain or shine. We don’t need to ask if it’s God’s will to say thank you. An attitude of gratitude is always appropriate and beneficial for those who have tasted and seen that God is good.

It’s why the Psalms are full of thanksgiving:

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever. (Ps 136:1)

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations” (Ps 100:1-5).

Gratitude is like sunshine.

Gratitude is a bit like sunshine. What I love most about living in Gauteng is the sunshine in winter. This week, the south-facing room where my computer normally sits has been like a freezer, so after a few hours of clicking away on my keyboard, my fingers turn blue and even my bones feel like ice blocks. It’s dark and cold in there, so I move around from place to place, ferreting for warmth and following shafts of sunlight. My favourite thing is to go outside at noon and sit on the warm grass, with the sunlight on my skin, feeling its rays begin to thaw me right to my core. It helps that our furry golden retriever makes his home on my lap too!

Sunshine makes us thrive as human beings. We desperately need it for our physical and mental wellbeing. And likewise, our hearts desperately need to give thanks to God, our good and caring Creator. A heart that overflows with thanksgiving is a sure sign that our relationship with Christ is healthy and thriving, that we are “rooted and built up in Christ and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Col 2:7). Conversely. there’s nothing that sours a family relationship more than an ungrateful, entitled child.

Like sunlight, thankfulness thaws our cold, complaining hearts. It fills us with the warmth and wonder of our Father’s blessings all around us, even in our struggles and suffering. An attitude of gratitude proves that God’s peace is ruling in our hearts and that we are acting and speaking in Christ’s name (Col 3:15-17). In fact, if you think about it, thanksgiving is the natural outlet pipe of the gospel as it works its way through our lives.

Gratitude is like Vitamin D.

Apart from the sun’s warmth and energy, one of the great and invisible benefits of sunshine is Vitamin D. Its benefits are not merely skin deep, but profound and far reaching in the human body. Much has been said about the importance of Vitamin D in recent months. It is called the ‘sunshine hormone’, because our bodies produce it naturally when exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D has been shown to be essential to maintain healthy bones, teeth and muscles; to regulate blood pressure and mood, even to ward off depression. Vitamin D also helps the immune system act like an army that prevents invaders, such as viruses and bacteria, from taking over the homeland – our body.

Like the master key to a rich storehouse, Vitamin D enables the body to absorb other beneficial nutrients like calcium and magnesium. It is truly a wonderful fighter/protector vitamin that we can’t live without.  Actually, Vitamin D is so essential to human wellbeing that a few studies have even suggested a link between its deficiency and Covid deaths.  But sadly, over 1 billion people worldwide are short of this accessible, cheap and essential vitamin. Vitamin D reminds me of gratitude in the life of a Christian:

It doesn’t cost us much to say thank you, but it’s essential to a holy and happy life. Gratitude protects us from the life threatening diseases of idolatry, especially the idol of self. Gratitude guards and nourishes our hearts, releasing the sweet nutrient of peace, contentment and joy in our lives. We dare not neglect this essential virtue which is the key to unlock many other benefits. In his wonderful little book titled, Practicing Thankfulness in All Circumstances, Sam Crabtree concludes:

With gratitude, everyone wins. You get more delight in God, God gets more glory from you, and people around you find enjoyment from your words and gestures of appreciation. The consequences flowing either from thankfulness or from ingratitude are universal and not optional. No one can escape the fundamental order God has wired into the universe, and that includes the dynamics pertaining to gratitude and ingratitude.

The benefits of gratitude.

Like vitamin D, gratitude opens the door to a storehouse of beneficial byproducts. Because it draws us away from our own orbit into God’s orbit, thankfulness protects us from the invasion of natural predators and parasites that our sinful human hearts manufacture on a daily basis.

Have you noticed that it’s impossible to be truly thankful while simultaneously grumbling, complaining, stressing, criticizing, despairing, demanding, plotting revenge or envying?! There’s just not room in our hearts for both! We cannot worship at the altar of self and be grateful at the same time. So, gratitude protects our hearts from our own feelings and desires which draw us into the deadly black hole of self.

As Jon Bloom puts it, “Gratitude is both a vital indicator of our soul’s health and a powerful defender of our soul’s happiness.”

Expressing thanks is much more than cultural niceness or warm feelings. It’s not a“name-it-claim-it” technique that releases God’s blessings in our lives, nor a tool of flattery to get what we want from people. But, like all God’s good commands, thankfulness is essential to our wellbeing. For thousands of years, the Bible has been telling us what science is discovering:

The Power and Practice of Gratitude.

In 2003, two classic studies—showing that expressing and experiencing gratitude bring peace of mind, satisfying personal relationships and well-being, were conducted by McCullough and Emmons. They formed two groups over 10 weeks. One group wrote a list every day of things they were grateful for. The second group focused on things that had irritated or displeased them (negatives). This was the ungrateful group. At the beginning, the participants had reported similar levels of happiness, but after the 10 weeks were up, they discovered that the grateful group were far happier and their bodies were healthier than the ungrateful group. They also noted that neither group changed their lifestyle at all.

Physical benefits of the grateful group included: Stronger immune systems; Less bothered by aches and pains; Lower blood pressure; Exercise more and take better care of their health; Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking.

Psychological benefits included: Higher levels of positive emotions; More alert, alive, and awake; More joy and pleasure; More optimism and happiness.

Social benefits included: More helpful, generous, and compassionate; More forgiving; More outgoing; Feel less lonely and isolated.

So, even world experts know that gratitude is an attitude, not a feeling, and it has a huge impact on our lives. There will always be irritants and frustrations, grievances and complaints in life, but if we choose to focus on these, we will become self-absorbed, depressed and anxious. We will fail to see how we’ve been supported and helped by other people. And worst of all, we’ll fail to honour God or see his good purposes in everything.

But, like sunshine, expressing thanks has many beneficial byproducts. One of them is that we begin to see ourselves as rich, blessed and privileged, even if our outward circumstances appear the opposite.

Follow the sunlight.

For a Christian, the expression of thanks is the supernatural response of a heart that sees the sunlight of God’s presence and provision, basking in its shafts of light wherever we find them. Thanksgiving flows out of a right understanding of ourselves and God’s good provision. Even Jesus humbly gave thanks to the Father, because He understood his role of submission to the Father (Matt 11:25Luke 10:21John 11:41).

“Gratitude is the divinely given spiritual ability to see grace, and the corresponding desire to affirm it and its giver as good”(Sam Crabtree). It is to bless the Lord, just as He has blessed us.

Next week, in “Acknowledging the Source”, we will look at the uniqueness of Christian thankfulness.

Prayer:

Lord, we are not naturally grateful people. Please forgive us for the grumbling, complaining, jealous words which often tumble from our mouths, out of our sinful hearts. Give us eyes to see the wonder of your blessings all around us. Thank you that, in Christ, we are your people and the sheep of your pasture. Thank you that you are good and your love endures forever. Even as we pray for our needs and tell you about all our troubles, we thank you for your provision– yesterday, today and tomorrow. Keep us out of the cold, dark room of our own wrong expectations, and draw us into the wonderful sunlight of gratitude. Thank you for your Holy Spirit, who enables us speak the universal language of thanksgiving. In Jesus precious name, Amen.

“Where is his promised coming?”

Series: 1 & 2 Peter, by Rosie Moore.

…Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Peter 3:3-4)

At last we’ve inched our way to the final page of Peter’s letters. You’ve probably wondered if the end of the world might come before the end of our series in Peter!

A scoffer’s profile.

Peter’s original readers really needed to know the final destination on their road of suffering. Many hoped that Jesus would return within their lifetimes to vindicate them. And so the scoffer’s question, “Where is the promise of his coming?” may have left them wondering if Jesus would keep his promise (2 Peter 3:3-5).

“What’s taking your precious Jesus so long to come back for you?” jokes the scoffer. “Maybe he’s got himself lost on the way from heaven.”

Two thousand years on, and Christ still hasn’t returned. Mockers continue to scoff at our belief in Christ’s return and a restored Creation under his perfect rule. Sometimes we may even feel as if it’s all too good to be true.

Scoffers have always ridiculed God’s involvement with the earth. They poke fun at the supernatural, yet are seldom willing to investigate the historical evidence of Jesus Christ for themselves. That’s because their problem is not only an intellectual problem with God and his Word. It’s a moral problem, as they refuse to submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ over their lives. They prefer to remain autonomous.

Proverbs says that the scoffer resents correction, is proud and arrogant, and prefers his own simple ways to God’s wisdom (Prov 1:229:814:615:1221:24). Most offensive of all to the scoffer is the idea that God will judge the world and hold each person accountable for their own sin.

“How can you be so naïve to believe in a final day of reckoning? It’s the environmental crisis that will bring an end to this world, not your Jesus! I’ve never answered to anyone in my life, so I’ll go out on my own terms thank you! How can a good God judge people?”

But Peter reminds us that God has been involved in His world from the beginning. He spoke the world into existence. Then He came in judgment, flooding the world in the days of Noah. Scoffers are dead wrong when they say that nothing ever changes:

“…knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Peter 3:3-7).

Peter says that we don’t have to worry about justice being done. “The Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of Judgment” (2 Peter 2:9). God created the world with his word, and by that same word, the world as we know it will come to an end.

A scoffer’s willful ignorance.

Peter reminds us that history isn’t just the same year after year. Surely the crisis of 2020/1 has proved that point. But Peter also calls out the willful ignorance of scoffers who “deliberately overlook” the clear evidence of God’s handiwork in creation and His judgment of the world in human history (2 Peter 3:352 Peter 2:4-9).

Willful ignorance mirrors Paul’s description of sin in Romans 1: In our natural state, we all “suppress the truth” in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18-32). Left to ourselves, we refuse to give God the thanks and honour due to Him as the Creator. Instead, we make ourselves the judge of what is right and wrong and worship the creation. That’s the heart of sin that bubbles out of every human heart (Mark 7:20-23).

So, by nature we are all willfully ignorant. Like scoffers, we follow our own sinful desires and rightfully fall under God’s wrath and judgment (Rom 1:18). Unless God does a miraculous heart transformation to wake us up to the reality of who He is and who we are, we will always ‘deliberately overlook’ the truth right in front of our eyes. We will remain blind to the truth (Matt 13:16-17).

Not slow, just patient.

But Peter also helps us understand God’s purposes in ‘delaying’ the second coming. From God’s perspective, there’s no delay in His return. It’s just that God isn’t limited by time or geography, but motivated by compassion and patience. He has a kind heart for everyone He has made, even the willfully ignorant scoffer. Even you and me. Peter writes,

“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:8-10).

God’s patience is extended to allow as many people as possible to repent and be part of His righteous kingdom. Just think for a moment of how, even today, the Lord is faithfully stirring human hearts around the world, bringing hundreds of people to repentance and faith in Christ. In the last century in Africa alone, the Christian population has grown from ten million Christians at the beginning of the twentieth century (about 10% of the population), to close to five hundred million professing believers today. In fact, we owe our salvation to this ‘delay.’ (Click here)

Soul by soul, God is patiently growing his mustard seed kingdom into a magnificent tree, “so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Matt 13:31-32). Many, many more ‘birds’ are making their home in God’s kingdom because of His ‘delayed’ return. We tend to forget that God sees time with the perspective we lack (2 Peter 3:8).

Like an artist painting a gigantic mural, God is sovereign over all human history and the cosmos. And like a seamstress stitching delicate beadwork on a wedding dress, God is also attentive and involved in the minute details of a single human life.

If you are a Christian, you can rest assured that Christ will return for his Bride, even if “the bridegroom is a long time in coming” (Matt 25:5). Jesus himself told us that there would be a delay in His coming. God is not slow, just patient in extending mercy to mankind:

“As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek 33:11). That was Christ’s kind heart for the Jews of his day too (Matt 23:37).

But time is running out. The day will come for each of us to die, or for Christ to return. The time for repentance will then be over, for “just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9:27-28).

There will be no extensions or postponements of the court date that the Judge has scheduled.

A microcosm of final judgment.

Jesus and Peter saw the Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah as microcosms of the Final Judgment (Luke 17:26-302 Peter 3:6-72 Peter 2:6-8).

And a few years ago, I personally glimpsed a small preview of the Final Day on a history tour in Europe. After spending two days at Auschwitz concentration camp, I went to Nuremberg, the town where former Nazi leaders were tried as war criminals for the murder of six million Jews, along with 4-6 million non-Jewish people. The Nuremberg tribunals became a useful model for future trials of war criminals in the Yugoslavian and Rwandan genocides. As I listened to the transcripts and viewed the films, I felt sick to the stomach. I’ve never been able to forget the horrific evidence presented at those trials.

What was most surprising to me was the scoffing of the accused SS commanders. They stubbornly pleaded “Nicht Schuldig” (Not guilty), swaggering around the courtroom and joking amongst themselves. They mocked the legal process and the prosecutor’s mispronunciation of their names. They sniggered and scoffed… Even after hearing the gut wrenching testimonies of holocaust survivors; even after viewing films showing piles of corpses and roomfuls of human hair, belongings and photos of obliterated families; even after being presented with their own written reports documenting their killings.

Even after full exposure, one SS doctor who had conducted medical experiments on inmates argued that he was doing the world a favour by eliminating his Jewish patients. Hermann Göring laughed throughout the trials, yawning and making sarcastic remarks to his friends. He dismissed hard evidence as propaganda. But as the day of sentencing approached, Göring grew more and more nervous, and laughed less and less. For all his scoffing, he took an arsenic tablet the night before he was due to be executed.

The scoffing of the accused was just a human fig leaf, a grasping for self justification, a way to suppress the truth of their own guilt.

However, when the truth was finally told, the International Tribunal found almost all the accused guilty of mass murder. The guilty were sentenced to death or given prison sentences from 10 years to life. Some were tried decades later, most notably Adolf Eichman, the architect of ‘The Final Solution’ against the Jews. When arrested in 1960, he said, “I had nothing to do with killing Jews.” Many Nazis evaded justice by taking on new identities elsewhere in the world and committing suicide.

At Nuremberg I saw that at best, our attempts at human justice are flawed. In democracies, we try to follow Biblical principles of due process to ensure fair verdicts, but we all know that human justice is often perverted in society. Often, the guilty go free and cases go cold. The truth is hidden forever. Corrupt people flourish while good people suffer.

But this will not be the case on the Day of Judgment. No one will be scoffing in the presence of the Lord Jesus, who will judge with perfect justice and righteousness (Psalm 2). No one will be able to lie or escape, as there’s no place to hide from the final film reel of our lives. Never again will a criminal walk free. Never again will Satan accuse, deceive or persecute God’s people.

This is why each of us must repent of our sin and take refuge in Jesus (Rev 21:4Acts 17:30-31). He is the one and only safe place to hide on the day that “the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10). Christ’s death is the sacrifice that turned away the wrath of God for those who believe in Him (1 John 2:2).

And God puts his mark on his children, so they will be distinguished from those on whom judgment is to fall (Rev 7:1-3). Even now, this mark of ownership is the Holy Spirit, who lives inside us (Eph 1:13-14). With God’s seal of ownership, we are safe from the coming judgment!

Scoffers are dead wrong.

The line separating good and evil.

But Jesus didn’t allow me to walk away from Nuremberg feeling pleased with myself and better than ‘those other men’ on trial. In my natural state, I know that Solzhenitsyn was dead right when he said,

“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.” (The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956)

Given the same brainwashing and war conditions, I may have walked in the Nazis’ footsteps at Auschwitz. I may have bayed for Christ’s blood at his trial too. My heart is no better than theirs.

If you’ve lived your life with you in control, running it your own way, never giving much thought to Christ as your Lord and Master, loving nature but never loving the God who created it, you have set yourself up as God’s enemy. You may believe that death is the end, but it isn’t the end. There will be a second death much worse than the first. Here are three questions to ask ourselves:

Why would God welcome a rebel into his kingdom where every citizen worships Christ as King?

Why would God welcome into his perfect home an unrepentant sinner who has scoffed at his Son and despised his offer of righteousness? (2 Peter 3:13)

Why would a good God not judge wickedness and evil in the world?

But when the thief on the cross saw himself as the sinner he was, he didn’t scoff like his partner in crime. Instead, he threw himself on the mercy of Jesus (Luke 23:42). And Christ responded in mercy, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Not just in paradise, but with Jesus, forever, in paradise!

So, as wonderful as it is to look forward to a completely restored Creation, without tears, death, mourning or pain (Rev 21:1-5), there is a reason why Jesus died for our sin on the cross. There is also a reason for us to turn away from our sin and live for Christ. The gospel is for those who want to meet Christ as their friend and Advocate, not as their enemy and Judge. The gospel is for those who long for a ‘forever home’, where Christ rules with perfect righteousness and justice. That home can never be swallowed by a sinkhole, flood, fire, or anything else for that matter (1 Peter 1:4).

Peter ends his letter by reminding Christians not to be fooled by false teaching but to remain steadfast in the gospel, to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and to do good wherever God has placed us. That is how we prepare to move into our forever home that Christ is preparing for us right now:

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:1-18).

In his song The Great Reckoning, Andrew Peterson expresses the wistfulness that God’s people have for Christ’s return, when justice will finally be done and God’s kingdom will come on earth, as it is in heaven.

How long until this curtain is lifted?
How long is this the song that we sing?
How long until the reckoning?

And the wicked roam the cities and the streets tonight
But when the God of love and thunder speaks tonight
I believe You will come
Your justice be done, but how long?”

Dear Reader,

Thank for your patience in bearing with me on this ten-week journey through 1 and 2 Peter! When trials come to refine our faith, I pray that we will always be inspired by Peter and his earliest readers. If we’ve been counted worthy to suffer for Christ, may the Holy Spirit help us to rejoice and give thanks in everything. Let’s treasure the precious faith that we’ve received from the Lord Jesus! And let’s remember that He is very near to each of his children, even as He gathers His people from every corner of planet earth. Let’s keep living as if we’re permanent residents of the home that He’s preparing for us!

A Mother’s song

Mother’s Day devotional, by Rosie Moore.

I’ve always smiled at Bilbo Baggin’s description of himself as “thin, sort of stretched…like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.” It sounds pretty much like being a mom!

This morning I read an article about a woman from Mali who gave birth to nine babies! I couldn’t help but wonder how her body managed to carry, nourish and birth so many little bodies. An even more terrifying prospect is how she’s going to feed, clean and raise all those children until they’re self-supporting adults. This mother represents a hyperbole of motherhood in general:

Mothers are bound for life to their children– emotionally, financially and physically. Motherhood is indeed a great privilege and blessing, but being a good mother invariably comes at a high cost and sacrifice. When we become mothers, we trade our preferred future for a risky, uncertain one. But if God, in his providence, has given you children, you can be assured that He has called you to it. For a Christian, motherhood is not a weak call, but a lifelong vocation that requires great courage, trust and surrender to God’s will. In my opinion, no one embraced the painful privilege of motherhood more than Mary, the mother of Jesus.

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.”

If you think about it, Mary was the only human being present at Jesus’s birth who also witnessed his death on a cross. As a teenager, she saw Jesus arrive as her precious baby son, and later, watched him die as her Saviour. It was just as the old priest, Simeon had said, directing his prophecy towards Mary, “And a sword will pierce your soul too” (Luke 2:34-35).

Have you ever thought of the risk that Mary took when she replied to the angel’s message:  “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)?

Mary’s story is worth pondering. Mary risked everything in her willingness to surrender her body, her reputation and her preferred future. She risked everything by entrusting herself fully to God’s care and mercy. Let’s stand in her shoes for a moment:

Mary was a poor teenage girl whose one hope to a future was Joseph, a good Jewish boy to whom she was engaged. Before she saw God’s provision, she was required to walk through the door of obedience, to trade her hopeful, promising future for what must have seemed a disastrous outcome.

In first century Jewish communities, pregnancy outside of marriage was a scandal that we can only begin to imagine today. Unless the father of the child agreed to marry a pregnant woman, she would probably remain unmarried for the rest of her life. If her own father rejected her, she could be forced into prostitution or begging to earn a living. Add to that Mary’s bizarre story about being a virgin and pregnant with the Holy Spirit. This teenage girl risked being labelled as an immoral liar and a delusional, crazy woman. Her reputation and standing in the community would have instantly been blown to bits. Remember that Mary didn’t know any more than what the angel told her:

“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God…  38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Did you notice that the angel Gabriel doesn’t rebuke Mary for her honest, humble, practical questions (Luke 1:29-3034-35)? But neither does the angel give her a step-by-step guide on how to step into her unique role as mother of God’s promised Messiah. In spite of her own fears and reputational loss, Mary glorifies God in song for what He is going to do for the world through her. She boldly embraces God’s call to use her for his redemptive purposes.

Here is part of her song, known as the Magnificat, spoken after her cousin Elizabeth confirmed the angel’s message:

Mary’s song.

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name….

In Mary’s song of praise and worship, we see the centrality of motherhood in the story of salvation. It’s the beginning of the fulfillment of the earliest gospel announcement in the Bible:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15).

A costly obedience.

Mary shows us what obedience to God looks like.  Her song is full of humility, strength and gospel exuberance. Mary is totally at God’s disposal, a nobody for the Lord. She is willing to accept all the vulnerabilities; weaknesses and the disgrace of her pregnancy and ‘bastard’ son. The role of carrying, nurturing and raising this Messiah child was a painful privilege that Mary gladly embraced.

Picture Mary as a teenage mother raising the perfect son of God in her little home in Nazareth. Jesus was an ordinary child and adolescent with younger brothers and sisters. Amidst the normal routines of daily life, watching Jesus working in his father’s workshop, Mary must have often been reminded that her son was far from ordinary. “The child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). Mary had plenty to “treasure in her heart” as she raised the Christ child (Luke 2:51-52).

And then, 33 years after the stable in Bethlehem, Mary watched her boy being rejected, humiliated, beaten and finally crucified as a criminal, on a hill in Jerusalem.

Yet, even as his own life ebbed away on the cross, Jesus was concerned for his mother watching nearby (John 19:25-27). As the eldest son, Jesus entrusted Mary to John, the only friend who stayed with him at the cross. Jesus’s attitude of care towards his mother shows us the honour and support that we should give our own mothers right to the end of their lives.

Every Christian mother’s song.

In a small way, Mary’s song is every Christian mother’s song. Lydia Brownback says it well:

“If we trust in Jesus and follow the way he has marked out for us in his word, we will know personally the blessing of every promise he ever made.”

Of course, Mary is a unique mother with a unique song of praise and surrender. She was, after all, the only virgin to have conceived; the only mother who birthed and raised God’s Son; the only teenager to be visited by an angel (Luke 1:26). God chose to use Mary to deliver on his great redemptive promise, so she is ‘highly favoured’ in a unique way. But Mary was also an ordinary mother who stood at a cruel cross and watched the death of her own child. Her heart must have shattered into a million tiny pieces as she saw the costly sacrifice of her son, the Saviour (John 19:25).

And in a profound way, motherhood mimics the cross, as it’s the great leveler of women. It really doesn’t matter what you’ve achieved in your life or what amazing gifts you were born with, being a mother brings vulnerabilities, struggles and pain. But for a Christian mother, it is at the cross that we lay down our fears and weaknesses about shepherding our own children. It is at the cross that we share the heavy load of motherhood with the Lord Jesus, so that we are not crushed by its weight. It is by watching Christ laying down his life for us on the cross, that we too can learn to lay down our lives for our children.

Mary knew that God was good and could be trusted. Her obedience and bold surrender to God’s costly call, is an example to every Christian mother. It is God himself who assigns value to our position and role in life. It is God who tells us who we are, even if our culture tells us something different. It is because of God’s providence that we are Christian mothers and will be sustained through every season of our lives, no matter how vulnerable we feel. And because we know God’s extraordinary goodness to us, we too can give the future generations a taste of this goodness.

Mary’s song reminds us that it is God who lifts the humble and uses ordinary, willing people to make his glory known. God uses the common, the mundane, the seemingly insignificant homely jobs mothers do, to have a great impact on families, communities and the advance of the gospel in the world.  God sees us in the unseen moments of our ordinary days, and the work mothers do has great value in God’s eyes. No, we cannot save our children. Nor could Mary save her son. But Jesus saves, and he has called us to be his ambassadors in our own families and communities.

Just as God cared for Mary in her vulnerable condition, sending her to stay with Elizabeth and Zechariah during her pregnancy; preparing Joseph to stand by Mary when he could have abandoned her; sending Mary’s little family to Egypt when Herod tried to kill her baby boy; providing the Apostle John to care for Mary as a widow… so too, God gives us mercy in the difficult and vulnerable places, in every season of life. He gives us all the help we need when we are terrified, helpless and hopeless. If only we’d look up and praise God for the great things He is doing for, in and through us. This is our song,

“for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.

And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.”

 (Luke 1:49- 50)

Listen to A Mother’s Prayer, by Kristyn Getty.

Springs without water

Series: 1 & 2 Peter

“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping” (2 Peter 2:1-3).

Have you ever gone on a long hike, and in your excitement you packed the chips, biltong, sweets and cellphone, but you forgot the water bottles? I have! It’s fine in the Cape mountains where there are plenty of mountain springs to drink from, but in the dry Bushveld of Gauteng, it’s a fatal mistake! The snacks in my backpack soon made me nauseous, and who wants to share pictures on Facebook when you’re dying of thirst? My heart felt sick every time I came upon another dry river bed. It was so full of promise, yet so empty and unsatisfying. Soon all I could think of was a cool, clear stream to quench my thirst. But there was no water to be found, just empty mirages.

Waterless springs.

Waterless springs. This is one of the powerful pictures Peter uses to describe false teachers who will ‘secretly’ infiltrate the church and lead people away from the real Jesus and his true, life-giving gospel. Similarly, Jude calls them “shepherds who feed only themselves…clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead…wandering stars” (Jude 12-13). Ponder on Peter’s emotive warnings for a moment:

“These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for ‘people are slaves to whatever has mastered them’” (2 Peter 2:17-19).

Like Israel’s false prophets in Jeremiah’s day, these false teachers in the Church promise people salvation and sustenance, but their teaching is actually a mirage. It’s empty. “They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord” (Jer 23:16). They teach what is palatable and accommodating, but not what is true, “filling people with vain hopes” (Jer 23:16). Ezekiel said that they paint over people’s broken lives with ‘whitewash’ (Ezek 13:10-12). They don’t lead people into freedom, but further into slavery.

Living Water.

But, in contrast to waterless springs, the real historical Jesus offers authentic, life-sustaining water that quenches our deepest soul thirst. He tells the Samaritan woman, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). And about the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’”(John 7:37-39).

But the real Jesus of the Bible also calls people to the ‘narrow door’ of salvation. He tells us that there is a high cost to being his follower (Luke 13:2414:33). The real Jesus calls us to repent of our real sin and to submit to him as Saviour and King (Luke 13:35). The ‘water’ he offers is the only water that can wash away our sin and quench the deepest thirst of our soul (Heb 10:22Eph 5:26-27). Christ’s living water is not just for now, but for all eternity (Rev 21:6Rev 22:1).

But, in stark contrast, false teachers promise their followers freedom and a good life now. In the words of Jeremiah, “They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, “It shall be well with you,” and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you’” (Jer 23:141617). They give people false security and false hope. Mirages.

According to Peter and Christ himself, the end of false teachers isn’t enviable (2 Peter 2:4-91321-22Luke 13:26-29).

Enemies from within.

But enemies from within are always hard to spot. Peter uses words like ‘secretly’, ‘entice’ and ‘appealing’ in his warnings. He says that they “seduce the unstable” (2 Peter 2:14). And Paul says that this subtlety shouldn’t surprise us, “for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14).

Lest we be offended by Peter’s harsh language or dismiss him as a conspiracy theorist, an un-neighbourly bigot or a paranoid fear-mongerer, consider this question:

How would you feel if you were a parent and saw a pedophile sex offender enter your house and start to groom your young children? This is the anger and outrage behind Peter’s impassioned warnings. These false teachers were twisting the gospel and threatening the eternal welfare of growing Christians. They were belittling the significance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, encouraging people to care for the here-and-now, without any proper fear of God or an eternity separated from his love. They were closing off the only road to salvation and offering a detour to hell (Luke 11:52).

Actually, far from being paranoid, Peter is showing the oversight that all spiritual shepherds should practice when they see teachers seducing Christ’s flock with false assurances and changing the gospel (1 Peter 5:2).

Jesus gave exactly the same warnings, motived by the same loving protectiveness:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit” (Matt 7:15)… For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand (Mark 13:22-23)…

And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold (Matt 24:11-12).

If we find Peter’s warnings unpalatable, then we must dismiss Jesus and the other New Testament writers too.

Peter gives many red flags to help Christians identify waterless springs and stay away from them.

Red flags.

  1. False teachers are empty talkers (2 Peter 2:17-193), often sounding impressive and appealing. They make up clever stories to manipulate people.
  2. They are boastful, bold, rebellious and arrogant– A law unto themselves. They have no fear of God and despise the leaders God has placed in authority over them (2 Peter 2:10181912-14Jude 11).
  3. They often gather a following (2 Peter 2:2).
  4. They cause disgrace and destruction to the body of Christ (2 Peter 2:1132).
  5. They exploit ignorant and unstable people for their own ends (2 Peter 2:3).
  6. They celebrate and accommodate worldly pleasures and sinful desires (2 Peter 2:1813-14).
  7. They are motivated by greed (2 Peter 2:31415).
  8. They ‘wander’ away from the truth of Christ, (which suggests a gradual falling away) (2 Peter 2:15).
  9. They eventually expose themselves (2 Peter 2:20-22).
  10. Their end game is not to bless, but to bring harm to God’s people, as in the example of Balaam (2 Peter 2:15Num 22:4-20).

Different clothes, same lies

False teachers haven’t changed their tactics or half truths since the first century, or the days of Israel. They’re new teachers, but they still proclaim an old twisted lie and produce bad fruit. In Peter’s day, they were lawless and all-embracing, openly celebrating sin as if it were normal and right behaviour. They loved money and the trappings of pleasure and power. They scoffed at the idea of God’s final judgment. They were people- pleasers, with no fear of God and his holiness (Luke 6:26).

And today, false teachers continue to accommodate the culture in their distorted ‘gospels’. It’s not my place to name names, but they are in abundance in today’s churches. They teach a Feel-good Jesus; a Revolutionary Jesus; a Blessor Jesus; a Mystical Jesus; an Ultra-grace Jesus; a Motivational Jesus; a Tuckshop Jesus; a Morality Jesus; a Marxist Jesus; an Inclusive Jesus; a Nationalistic Jesus; a Rockstar Jesus…

They continue to bend the truth of the gospel to exploit people’s thirst for money, status, sex, health, beauty, community, justice, pleasure, hope, certainty, freedom, purpose and peace. Nothing has changed since the false prophets of the Old Testament:

“They have misled my people, saying “Peace” when there is no peace.” (Ezek 13:1016). “You dishearten the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life (Ezek 13:22).

In an age where we can listen to sermons on demand, Christians are easy targets. There’s only one way to guard ourselves against false teachers and their plausible half truths. Peter says the antidote is to go back to the salvation story told in the inspired Word of God, from beginning to end. This is a book that doesn’t have its origins in man’s imagination, but “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

The Bible isn’t just a collection of fables or human ideas about God (2 Peter 1:16). The Jesus described by eye witnesses and foreshadowed by the Old Testament, offers the only life-giving water that exists. He provides the only true cleansing for sinful humanity and offers the only truly good news. And Jesus Christ is the ‘morning star’ who will return to earth to rule in his full glory.

But until that day, we have the Bible as a light and the Holy Spirit to illuminate Scripture for us (2 Peter 1:19). We have God-fearing teachers and pastors to faithfully teach us his Word, leading us to the Living Water that satisfies our deep soul thirst. If we want to be discerning instead of gullible, we need to refresh our memories and become firmly established in the truth  (2 Peter 1:12-15). We cannot just run from mirage to mirage. We must be like those noble-minded Bereans, who “received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, to see whether the things were being taught were actually true” (Acts 17:11).

This song by Shane and Shane is officially my best song ever! It reminds us that the Living Waters are found in relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.