The Spirit’s gift of persistence

Persist in the Spirit

Series: Spirit-filled, by Rosie Moore.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Gal 2:20-21)

It’s easy to spot an outright lie, but a twisted truth is more difficult to see.

The Galatian Christians had begun their Christian life well, in the power of the Holy Spirit. But now, many were losing sight of the gospel they’d first heard, forgetting that they must grow and persist in the same power of the Holy Spirit. They were struggling to trust completely in what Christ had secured on the cross and in his Spirit’s power to change them.

Just sixteen years after Christ’s death (49AD), many of these Christians were mesmerised by a false gospel that perverted the good news of Christ crucified. This hollow deception was infiltrating the church, leading sincere believers away from their freedom in Christ. In fact, it was driving them back into slavery to ‘works of the law’.

See if you can spot the six straight-shooting questions Paul asks the Galatian Christians to bring them back to the true gospel:

“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? (Gal 3:1-6)

The way they begun

It is good to think back to when our spiritual life begun (Gal 3:3).

For the Galatians, many were probably converted in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, others through Paul’s message. The Galatian believers had begun their Christian life when the Holy Spirit convicted them of the truth of the gospel, leading them to repent and turn in faith to Jesus as Saviour and Lord. They immediately received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-39). As a sign of their cleansing of sin and new life in Christ, they were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Baptism was, and remains, a mark of belonging wholly to Christ.

So for us too, saving faith is the only entrance gate of the Christian life (Gal 3:2). It is not simply faith that believes in God or even tries hard to obey God’s commands. It is putting all our hopes in the life, death and resurrection of God’s Son, the Saviour. We begin our Christian life when we respond to the gospel with faith. There is no other way.

A twisted truth

But, ever so quickly and imperceptibly, the church in Galatia was absorbed in a new brand of Christianity touted by Jewish Christians called Judaizers. The fledgling church was lurching on dangerous ground. Even Peter and Barnabas compromised their beliefs to blend with these insistent Jews and keep the peace (Gal 2:11-14). They stopped eating with Gentile believers.

These radicals wanted to turn Gentile Christians into Jews, adamant that they should follow Jewish laws and customs, especially circumcision. But, what made this cultural ideology so beguiling was its ring of truth and reason: After all, weren’t God’s Old Testament laws good, custom-made for his people to flourish? Wouldn’t it be safer for the gospel if Christians could blend in as Jews and not stand out? (Gal 6:12)

It may not be easy to spot, but the deceiving power behind false teaching is its mask of half-truth.

Notice how Paul pulls back the mask and exposes the weak, miserable, enslaving principles that undergird them (Gal 4:9).

Nancy Guthrie explains why Paul was so intolerant: “The circumcision Abraham was commanded to carry out pointed to a cleansing to come that would not only mark the body but also change the heart. This ritual purification became an experienced reality when Christ provided the cleansing that circumcision pointed to…Christ also experienced in our place the judgmental aspect of this sign. He was cut off from God for us, fulfilling the penalty of the covenant, putting an end to circumcision as the mark of one belonging to God. Rather than being marked as belonging to God by circumcision, we are marked as belonging to God in a new way—through baptism” (Matt 28:19; Gal 3:27-29).

“Through baptism God marks us as belonging to him.” (Nancy Guthrie, The Promised One).

By running the false ideology through the grid of the true gospel, Paul shows that they are taking a step backward, not forward in their faith. It is a simple test that every Christian must apply if we are not to be taken “captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world, rather than on Christ” (Col 2:8). We cannot afford to be gullible.

A Gospel grid

Paul’s urgent plea is to persist in what we have originally heard. The alternative is to be sidetracked by cultural pressure and man-sourced wisdom. The false dogma didn’t match the simple truth of the gospel, and Paul gives four reasons why:

  1. The deceptive philosophy demanded human effort and rituals, rather than relying on what Christ had done perfectly, taking the curse of sin on our behalf (Gal 3:13; 4:8-11). It reduced Christianity to a set of rules, not grace. And it transformed the Good news of the gospel into burdensome, bad news (Gal 2:20).
  2. It perverted the unity that Christ purchased on the cross for all believers, when he permanently destroyed all human barriers, so there’s “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus…Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:27-29). It undermined God’s plan to bring together a people from every nation, tribe, people and language to share equally in Abraham’s blessing (Gal 3:7-9).
  3. The relational fruits of this philosophy were rotten, breeding alienation, division, pride, envy and confusion—one believer devouring another (Gal 1:7; 4:17-20; Gal 5:15).
  4. The rot of hypocrisy was spreading quickly to well-meaning believers (Gal 2:13).

And so, Paul is adamant that nothing should distort the clear and true gospel in the Galatian church.

Likewise, for believers today, perhaps this is a useful grid to use whenever we need to “weigh carefully what is being said”, “to test and hold onto the good” (1 Cor 14:29; 1 Thess 5:21; 1 Tim 4:1). In a culture saturated with beguiling beliefs and false teaching, we must be discerning, as the consequences of being deceived are dire.

Persistence in the Holy Spirit

In a nutshell, we need the Holy Spirit to persist in the Christian life (Gal 3:3-5). Persistence is always more difficult than being sidetracked. I must admit that persistence often seems too simple or too ordinary to me.

But let’s remember that we became Christians through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit brings us new life, and even our faith to believe is a gift from him. Often the Spirit’s greatest work in Christians is to teach us to persist, to keep doing what is right, to keep believing that God is who he says he is, and will do what he promises to do. Persistence in believing the simple gospel message we first heard.

The reality is that life in a broken creation is hard. We get tired of fighting daily battles and who doesn’t wish for a magic formula to launch us into a better place? But let’s never move beyond the gospel of grace. We have been saved by God’s grace in Christ, and that’s how Christ’s Spirit will continue to mature us and make us more like our Saviour. The Holy Spirit will continue to teach and lead us, to create in us new desires for love, joy, peace and many other good fruit. Only the Holy Spirit can end our bondage to our sinful desires.

So let’s persist in the Holy Spirit, “that the gospel of truth may remain with us” (Gal 2:5)

Prayer

Lord, fill us with your Spirit and stir us up to see that every day offers up new opportunities to live for you, wherever we are. Save us from hollow and deceptive philosophies that give us many things to do, but draw us away from the true gospel. May we persist in faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that Christ’s character is formed in us, day by day. Amen.

Let’s not grow weary!

van gogh Red_vineyards-1024x798

Series: Spirit-filled, by Rosie Moore

Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal 6:9-10).

I don’t know about you, but I need patience in the Christian life. Sometimes we feel weary, especially when things appear to be getting worse, not better. But Paul’s letter to the Galatian church reminds us that the Spirit-filled life is a long distance race and it’s easy to stray from the road of truth (Gal 5:7). It’s easy to fall into a works-based religion where we abandon Christ (Gal 1:6-7; 2:16). And it’s easy to use our Christian freedom as a license for sin (Gal 5:13; 2:4-5). Personally, I’m glad Paul loved the Galatians enough to write them this honest letter, as these warnings are for us too (Gal 4:16).

In the last two weeks, we looked at the marks of a Spirit-filled Christian, both in the exercise of fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit. We saw how these spiritual gifts and fruit can only be genuine if produced by the Spirit of God in us. We also saw that they are given to build up the church as a community. Today we focus on Paul’s plea in Gal 6:9-10. What an amazing reminder to all God’s people who are discouraged and weary today!

But we ask, “Paul, how can I not grow weary? How can I keep doing good, keep enduring, keep sowing even when I experience only discouragement?

Christ alone

Firstly, the Bible tells us that only Jesus can motivate and keep us enduring with the gospel to the end. No human goals or pursuits, however worthy, can keep us true to the gospel over the long haul. The writer to the Hebrew Christians nudges us to run with endurance the race set before us,

“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb 12:1-3).

As the household of faith, the race we are running is God’s race, the race to take the gospel baton throughout the world. We dare not act independently of Christ’s person, his works, his teaching, his mission and his sufficiency.

Christ alone is the creed of the household of faith!

The perfecter of faith

Jesus never leaves us to fend for ourselves. He remains in the arena with us, and fights for us when we suffer for doing good. He stays in our corner. He will mould and mature our faith to the very end, to make us fit for heaven. So let’s not grow weary and give up!

Jesus is not only our example, but he has also given us his Spirit to strengthen us for the good he has called us to do, summarised succinctly for us in Galatians 5:22-23. But, so often, we are impetuous and impatient. We put the work before the Spirit, and act or speak without first praying and depending on him. The result is that we don’t display the Spirit’s fruit at all.

We will never have the power to endure if we trust in our own wisdom and strength. We will never produce his good character if we are looking to our flesh or to the world for guidance (Gal 5:18). But if we look to Christ– to his example of goodness and humility, to his words and teachings, he will guide us and refresh us by his Word of truth. He will give us rest instead of restless wandering. He will produce life and peace in us, rather than the discordant acts of our sinful natures (Gal 5:19-21). He will give us a good harvest in its proper season. For, “our Lord does not grow faint or weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength” (Isa 40:28-31).

Do good to everyone

The second helpful thing I noticed in this text is that God calls us to take opportunities. He has given us these opportunities to do good, to show kindness and love to everyone, especially to fellow believers (Gal 6:10). It is often the small things that make a big difference. Perhaps the email or text to encourage a weary believer; the invitation to join a Zoom Bible study; the meal you drop off at an isolated neighbour. Doing good always involves drawing people closer to Christ.

These small things reflect what Jesus did all the time, as he went about doing good to all. Jesus did not treat people according to rank, status or importance. No one was a distraction on his way to the cross. No, Jesus affirmed the dignity of a foreign woman at a well; a rich religious ruler; tax collectors, zealots and children; the sick, bereaved and prostitutes, even a Roman guard and a dying thief. His impartial encounters were part and parcel of his salvation work. He was not a respecter of persons. And Jesus is our example of how to “use every opportunity to do good to everyone”.

Jesus has done the work!

But let’s always remember that the good we do can never earn us God’s favour, for Jesus has done the work! (Rom 8:1). God’s favour is a free gift for all who come to Jesus in faith and repentance, because of his finished work on the cross. Once for all, for every sin — past, present and future, he has done it (John 19:30; Ps 22:31; Rev 21:16; Dan 9:24)

That is wonderful news, because the household of faith is now free to live the abundant, beautiful, gospel-shaped life God wants us to live (John 10:10). We are no longer under shame or guilt. We do not have to do good works to prove our worth. No, we do good to all, with complete assurance that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6-7). It is as good as done!

Be sure of this. No one in God’s household of faith will ever be abused, cancelled, marginalised, silenced, accused, shamed or cast out by Jesus. We will always enjoy his loving presence. The good we do is just the natural fruit of the gracious life we have been given in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:8-10). Praise God that we are free to do good to all, as Jesus did.

That’s why those in the household of faith can keep doing good, keep sowing, keep enduring even when we see only thorns. We can be wholehearted in our service no matter how we feel (Col 3:23-24). And we can do good from a position of victory. As long as we are running Christ’s race and not our own, our effort will never be in vain (1 Cor 15:58). He will enable us to turn away from evil and do good; to seek peace and pursue it (1 Peter 3:11). As the people of God, Jesus will enable us to endure hostility as he did when he died for us (Heb 12:2-3). And he will give us everything we need to abound in every good work right to the very end (2 Cor 9:8).

Prayer:

Lord, fill us with your Spirit. You know that many are feeling discouraged and weary, but thank you that you never slumber or sleep. Draw your people into your fold. Bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. Help us to remember that we have been saved by grace, through faith in your finished work on the cross, not through anything we do. Thank you that we bear no shame or condemnation, and that we are in fact a delight to you, our loving Father. Help us to remember that together as a church family, we are the household of faith– your workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for the good works you have prepared beforehand for us to walk in. Father, help us to run with endurance the race that you have set before us, not looking to the left or right, but looking straight ahead, always to Jesus. Amen.

Gifted

spiritual GiftsSeries: Spirit-filled (By Peter and Rosie Moore)

“What is this?”

“What am I going to do with this?”

These are probably some of the questions you ask yourself each time you have a birthday and someone gives you a gift (particularly if it’s your young child!)

But when we consider spiritual gifts, I think we should similarly ask two questions: “What are my spiritual gifts?” And, “What shall I do with my gifts?”

Natural and spiritual gifts

When the Bible talks about a gift, it is talking about any natural ability that God has given you. What then makes that gift spiritual? A natural gift becomes spiritual when that gift is used for a spiritual end, namely when the person using their gift is empowered by, and acts in accordance with, the will of the Holy Spirit. We often refer to this as bearing spiritual fruit. We can use our natural gifts to do and accomplish a lot of good things, even as a non-believer. However, we will only bear spiritual fruit when we are in communion with Jesus through faith and repentance. As Jesus told his disciples, “Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (Jn 15:4). If we want to bear good spiritual fruit, we must remain in Christ.

And so, whatever our particular gifts and callings, we must speak and act in ways that honour the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph 4:2-6). We must always speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15; 25). And we must remain reliant on the Holy Spirit to take our words and deeds, and use them for God-honouring consequences. For, “apart from (me) Jesus, you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).

Are gifts miraculous or non-miraculous?

Contemporary Christianity often exalts the miraculous, but the exercise of our gifts can be spectacular and public, or ordinary and seemingly mundane. The results vary too: Some are miraculous, seeming to bypass normal laws and principles, and some may appear inconsequential. However, the Scriptures do not make this distinction between the spectacular and the mundane.

Hence, the gift of prophecy and miracles is listed alongside serving, helping, teaching, languages, communication, wisdom and discernment, shepherding, giving, leading, public speaking, encouraging, administration and being merciful (I Cor 12:28, 1 Cor 12:8-10, Eph 4:11, Rom 12:6-8, 1 Cor 7:7, 1 Pet 4:11). I do hope that, in reading this list (which is by no means exhaustive), you will see some of your own spiritual gifts. One thing is certain: Christ has gifted each and every Christian (Eph 4:7-8).

What’s the purpose of gifts?

It’s all very well to identify our gifts, but what exactly am I meant to do with my gifts? 1 Pet 4:11 is most helpful in showing us that gifts are given to enable us to speak and do God’s will, “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ”. And so, when spiritual gifts are discussed in the New Testament, the types of gifts described are wide and varied, because the ways we speak and act for Christ are wide and varied too. Just as the parts of the body are diverse, enabling the person to perform a varied number of functions, so too are gifts. So the gifts listed in the New Testament do not appear to be an exhaustive list, but just a sample of the infinite possibilities.

What then is God’s will for how we should use our gifts? Well, ultimately it is to bring glory to God, the very reason we were created. Although that sounds very “spiritual” and otherworldly, it is actually very practical. We bring glory to God by utilising our gifts in order to be a blessing to those around us, both inside and outside the church.

An example of how we use our gifts properly in the church would be “.. to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12, 29). Despite our diverse gifts, races and cultures, we are urged to use our gifts to keep spiritual unity through the bond of peace (Eph 4:3-4). We are always to exercise our gifts humbly, gently, patiently, graciously, “bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2; 32). We are always to use our gifts in a way that pleases and doesn’t grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30). Abiding in Christ is the only way to bear spiritual fruit.

Outside the church, it might be that we use the gift of tongues in order that people from other tribes, tongues, peoples and nations can hear the gospel in their own language, just as they did on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:8). It may be to expose evil or show mercy (Eph 5:9,11). But either way, the proper use of spiritual gifts is always outward focused, not to draw attention to ourselves or win the approval of people. Our service must be undergirded by the gospel and the glory of God. In contrast, using gifts “unspiritually” would be doing so with a selfish motive, often manifesting in boasting, vanity, slander and rage (Eph 4:31).

So, if you can dream up a way to bring glory to God and reach people with the gospel, then go ahead. Unwrap the gifts God has given you for his kingdom, and keep using them until the day he takes you home. Just have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness while you go about your business (Eph 5:11).

Should I desire spiritual gifts?

The reality is that as a Christian, you already have spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:7, 11 & 1 Pet 4:10) because everyone is gifted by God and every Christian has the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9; Eph 4:7-8). As a result, no-one in God’s kingdom can claim to be “ungifted”. Everyone has a unique purpose and a part to play. If you want to extend your giftedness, perhaps you should ask yourself the questions, “Why do I want a gift? Do I want this gift in order to be more useful in God’s kingdom, or do I want it to extend my own kingdom?” If the answer is “yes” to God’s kingdom, then “eagerly desire” and pray to be equipped with spiritual gifts (1 Cor 14:1). You are never too young or too old to be using your gifts for the kingdom.

How do I identify my gifts?

You can do this by reflecting honestly (Rom 12:3) about your interests, desires and abilities. Also, honestly reflect on your effectiveness when you have taken opportunities to minister. Be brave enough to lose your defences and insecurities. Try new areas of service. Ask people around you (who know you well) to give you an honest assessment of where they perceive your gifts to be. Ask yourself whether you enjoy using certain gifts more than others. And ask God, who knows and loves you, to answer your prayers and give you wisdom in this regard (James 1:5-6).

More blessed to give than to receive

Jesus and Paul remind us to work hard and help the weak, for “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Our gifts are not ours to keep or store for a future day. With that in mind, let’s prayerfully consider the spiritual gifts God has uniquely given to each one of us, and use them for the benefit of others and for His glory.

You can’t pin lemons to a lemon tree

Lemon tree resizedSeries: Spirit-filled, By Rosie Moore

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23).

It’s easy to look at this list of Christian graces, known as the fruit of the Spirit, and feel despair. If this is the yardstick of virtue, who can claim to be good? If I’m completely honest, my fruit is often fragile, apathetic, conditional and fickle. At times, it’s absent.

But, like the ten commandments, the fruit of the Spirit only convinces me of what John Newton, the slave trader, said about himself, “I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Saviour”.

Our deep depravity and Jesus’s great goodness meet on the cross, for only Jesus has embodied these fruit perfectly, at all times.

Fortunately, there’s the little preposition, of. It reminds us that the fruit listed in this passage is not our own fruit, but the fruit of Christ’s living and active Spirit, working in and through God’s redeemed people. It’s not virtue pinned on the outside, but virtue produced and ripened from the inside-out.

The sad tale of a barren tree

This week I noticed that our lemon tree in the garden is completely bare. It used to produce lovely bunches of bright yellow lemons throughout the year. Of course I was disappointed, but I’ve only myself to blame for its barrenness. After a few seasons, my zeal to irrigate, fertilize, spray and prune have waned. My tree is sadly neglected.

Slowly, the nearby trees have grown wild, robbing my little lemon tree of sunlight and nutrients. So, the simple fact of the matter is this–there are no lemons for tea, because I stopped tending the lemon tree! It illustrates the Biblical proverb, “Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7).

Now, it won’t help to buy a bag of lemons and pin them to the tree, because soon they will rot and fall off. You see, the problem with my tree is not superficial, it’s systemic. Left to nature, my tree cannot produce good fruit, as the conditions in which it grows are dry, dark and nutrient-deficient.

My little lemon tree reminded me that, left to ourselves, it’s impossible for any human being to live by the Spirit and produce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:16). It’s why we need a supernatural intervention to cure our sin problem and rescue us in this present evil age (Gal 1:4). We need to be actively led and controlled by the Spirit of Christ, who re-orders our desires.

The sad tale of a twisted nature

Left to our natural desires and instincts, the works of the flesh will rule us. As God warned Cain, sin is crouching at the door of each of our hearts, eager to control us. But we must subdue it and be its master (Gen 4:7).

Against this reality of our sinful nature, Paul warns the Galatian Christians, and us, to wake up and smell the lemons, so to speak! Unless we are steadily being filled with the Holy Spirit; unless we actively and repeatedly crucify the sinful nature with its passions and desires, we too, will naturally default to the works of the flesh. Paul lists some of them for us:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. (Gal 5:19-21).

The Spirit’s fruit versus the works of the flesh

As I read through Galatians 5 and 6, I wondered to myself:

Isn’t it more natural to bite and devour each other, than to love our neighbour as ourselves? (Gal 5:14-15) Isn’t jealousy, hatred, hostility and rage our native human language? (Gal 5:20)

Isn’t it more instinctive to slander someone, than to watch our own tongue and restore people gently (Gal 6:1)? Aren’t rivalries and factions the hallmarks of our fractured society?

Isn’t it easier to signal our own virtue on social media, to think we are something when we’re nothing, than to love our own spouse, or carry each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2-3)?

Isn’t it easier to compare ourselves to others; to feed our own pride and ego; to make a good impression, rather than to actually do good (Gal 6:4,9,10,12)?

Of course, doing virtue is harder than hearing or speaking about virtue (James 1:22). Likewise, discord and envy come much more naturally to us than being led by the Spirit into love, joy and peace (Gal 5:20-21).

But, Paul says that to sow to the flesh, is to reap corruption—a potent Greek word for decay, death and rotting corpses (Gal 6:8). It is the fruit of our lives that proves whether we are of God’s kingdom or not. Our fruit has eternal consequences, I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:21).

We need supernatural help to change our natural desires. Pinning a lemon on our tree won’t do.

John Stott expresses it well:

“To live in harmony with God and others, and in firm control of ourselves, this is a supernatural work of God’s grace. It is the ‘fruit’ of the Spirit… The real proof of a deep work of the Spirit of God in any human being is neither subjective, emotional experiences, nor spectacular signs, but moral, Christlike qualities. For we see in him a token of God’s grace and a temple of the Holy Spirit.”

Pinning lemons versus systemic cure

The events of recent weeks, and indeed world history, provide living proof that humanity is desperately sick and in need of a Saviour outside of ourselves. The Bible tells us that the real destroyer, the real scourge, the real barrenness in our world is rooted deep in the human heart (Jer 17:9).

Perhaps the hidden blessing of 2020 is that many may finally see that we are not good after all. For sin is the systemic gangrene of human nature that only Jesus can cure.

Left to nature, we are utterly incapable of loving our neighbour, and our feeble outward displays of virtue don’t fool the God who knows our hearts (1 Sam 16:7). Our only hope is the One who loved his neighbour perfectly, even to death on a cross.

As Abdu Murray says, “We cannot re-educate ourselves into a better world.” The only pathway to holiness begins with self-despair and repentance (Matt 9:13).

So holiness, an expression of Christ’s Spirit, begins with the death of ourselves, so that it is no longer I that lives, but Christ who lives and reigns in me (Gal 2:20).

Sowing and reaping

As the body of Christ, let’s remember that we are not our own, we are the Lord’s! And, as the Lord’s people and his ambassadors, we are responsible to create the right conditions to bear good fruit in our lives. We do this when we sow godly thoughts and godly habits (Gal 6:7-8).

If we take care of the seeds we sow, the Holy Spirit will take care of the fruit.

We sow by the company we keep; the use of our time; our interactions on the internet; the movies we watch; our private devotions and prayer; our preoccupations; everything that absorbs and dominates our minds. We sow, either to the Spirit or to the flesh, day after day. This determines the fruit we will produce, over a lifetime. Either the wholesome fruit of the Spirit, or the decaying works of the flesh. But tokens of virtue, like pinning lemons on a tree, do not fool God. They are religious rituals that cannot save us (Matt 9:13).

Abstract nouns and concrete verbs

These nine fruits of the Spirit may be abstract nouns, but their meaning is far from abstract or culturally determined. Whereas our world’s new definition of ‘love’ and ‘kindness’ is unconditional and unceasing affirmation of people, this is not the Bible’s definition of loving our neighbour.

On almost every page, the Bible adds flesh and bone to these nine marks of a Spirit-filled Christian. It’s why we must read the Bible for ourselves. God has shown us in his Word, and through Christ’s life and teachings, what these fruits look like in a real human being, living in real tribulations, under real enemy fire.

God has shown us, in weighty passages like Romans 12:9-18, how to love in actions, rather than abstractions. In verbs, rather than nouns. Paul begins with “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good…He ends with, Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

There’s plenty of detail to digest in between those pithy instructions of Paul, and we would all do well to meditate on this passage and allow God’s Spirit to teach us what the Lord requires of us at a time like this. We need Him to show us what it means to act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

Prayer

Lord, we ask for your Holy Spirit to show us what you mean when you say, I desire mercy and not sacrificeFor I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Please save us from empty gestures that only feed our pride and ego. Help us to act justly, to show mercy and to be dependable in all our dealings. Lord, may our love be heartfelt and genuine, not just for the approval of others. May we sow good thoughts and habits, so we may develop minds that are controlled by your Spirit, not by our nature. May the fruits of life and peace ripen and mature in our lives. Let our lives demonstrate the saving power of Christ in us, as we show his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to our neighbour and our fractured society. Amen.

Further reading:

Abdu Murray, Saving Truth– Finding meaning and clarity in a post-truth world.

John Stott, Baptism and Fullness

Why we keep singing

50 nationsSeries: Spirit-filled, by Rosie Moore.

More than anything else in recent months, I have missed singing together in church.

Maybe it’s because music is a God-designed pathway to pray, to proclaim Christ to each other, and to praise the Lord. There is nothing quite like music to bridge the gap between our thoughts and our emotions. I am speaking here about Biblically-faithful, theologically rich, Gospel-centred music.

I’ll never again take for granted this simple joy. But I’ve also been amazed by the ingenious online efforts to bring music into our homes and hearts through playlists, videos and live-streamed services. Old hymns and Psalms are making a comeback too, even a little Bach and Handel’s Messiah!

So, why do believers have a compulsive need to sing the song of our Saviour? (Or, at least, to listen and appreciate it, if you’ve got a voice like mine!) Here are some thoughts:

Singing is Spirit-led

Ephesians 5 demonstrates a clear kinship between the Holy Spirit and music:

Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 5:18-20).

Paul doesn’t say that heartfelt praise always comes easily to Spirit-filled believers. Or that we must sing only when the style, language and choice of song appeals to us. In some situations, it may be downright incongruous or uncomfortable to sing. But it is always a fitting way to worship God, and it is good for us too (Ps 147:1,7Ps 149:1,5).

Think of Paul and Silas in a Philippian prison cell. They sang hymns to God while semi-naked, immobile, in pain and pitch darkness, bound in stocks, before an audience of hardened prisoners and a jailer (Acts 16:22-25).

One can hardly think of a more unsuitable place to sing! Yet, they sang to express their deepest longings and needs to God. They sang to remind each other of their hope in Christ. And, as they sang, the truth in those hymns tutored and changed their own thoughts and feelings. Amazingly, their incongruous singing even led to the jailer’s conversion!

Singing is God-centred

And so, singing is not chiefly about us: Our feelings, our preferences, our comfort, our platform, our audience. It is a response to the Holy Spirit calling us to worship and thank God for everything, even our struggles (Eph 5:19-20). When we sing, we are addressing and encouraging each other. We’re building fellowship with other believers (Eph 5:19; Ps 95). And the byproduct is nothing like the mindless, self-absorbed disorder and depression that are the by-product of drunkenness.

The by-product of singing

I’ve discovered that worship music has lifted many of us through the lockdown. It has helped us to pray and proclaim the truth to each other; to process our turmoil and see our problems through the lens of God’s covenant commitment to us. It has even helped some of us to fight sin and temptation. For many, it has switched our despondency and doubt, to hope and joy in the living God (Ps 59:16).

The Psalms, which express a thousand years of human emotion, show how music is a God-given pathway to love God and enjoy him forever, regardless of our circumstances:

How good it is to sing praises to our God,
    how pleasant and fitting to praise him!

Sing to the Lord with grateful praise;
    make music to our God on the harp (Ps 147:1,7).

Singing embeds God’s word.

Singing evokes powerful responses that go beyond understanding facts. The reality of the gospel nestles into our mind and emotions through music. And so, music doesn’t just teach us theology, but also affects the way we think and live and feel. It’s why Paul tells the Colossian Christians:  

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).

But there’s an implicit warning here: if Gospel truth nestles into our mind and emotions through music, so too can narcissism and false gospels. It’s why we need to take care to listen to worship music that is God-centred and faithful to the Bible.

At the risk of giving away my age, just meditate for a moment on the rich theology in these titles, and listen to them later on Youtube :

“In Christ alone”, “Yet Not I But through Christ in me”, “Great is Thy Faithfulness”, “All Creatures of our God and King”, “Be Thou my Vision”, “Crown Him”, “His Mercy is More”, “Is He Worthy?” Christ our Hope in life and Death”, “It is well with my Soul”, “Jesus strong and Kind”, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”, “My Worth is Not in What I own”, “There is a Day”, “The Power of the Cross”, “The Lord is my Shepherd”, “We will Feast in the house of Zion”, “Bless the Lord O My Soul”, “Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah.”

Don’t you marvel at how the whole redemption story merges into two or three soulful stanzas? How the gospel is carved into catchy poetry that’s easy to memorise? If we pay attention to lyrics as we sing, the ‘word of Christ’ will flow out of us when we are under great pressure and can hardly think or pray. It’s what I saw in my gran when she was 100 years old, and only wanted to hear us sing “The Old Rugged Cross.”

Singing builds up the church

We may not yet be gathering to sing in church buildings, but God’s people are still using music to minister to one another. Last week, in a Zoom Bible study, one of our ladies sang all the stanzas of “Turn your eyes upon Jesus!” Admittedly, she has an unusually lovely voice, but instantly our hearts were turned heavenward and the mood of our meeting changed.

In recent months, hundreds of voices have risen from Christ’s worldwide church, singing beautiful confessions of faith across the globe. One of my favourites, “The Blessing,” is resounding like a lockdown anthem from every continent. In “Amazing Grace from 50 countries”, Christians from fifty nations of the world announce the gospel, each in its own language and style. We cried as we watched our brothers and sisters in Christ, some of whom were singing with their faces covered due to persecution.

But they sung with full hearts and one Spirit—the Holy Spirit! They sung with eyes and voices lifted in praise to Christ! And they reminded us that we are part of a kingdom much bigger than any of our nations or even the world. And they called unbelievers to the Lord Jesus, just as God’s people in the Old Testament were called to be a light to the nations (Ps 105:1-2), “to sing praises to Him and tell of all his wondrous works.”

Singing is a preview of the ‘new song’.

Watching these videos of our brothers and sisters around the world reminds me of the three ‘new songs’ (an Old Testament reference to God’s victory), being sung in heaven (Rev 5:9-13Rev 14:2-3Rev 15:2-4).

Unlike the hymnbook of the Psalms, Revelation’s hymnbook is not about Israel’s deliverance from Egypt or a longing for the coming Messiah. No! The songs of Revelation celebrate the victory of Jesus, the Lamb of God, over sin, death and Satan. The new song is about Christ’s rightful claim to rule the world.

The ‘new song’ is sung by all the people Christ has purchased, from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, to reign with him on earth for all eternity (Rev 5:9-10). Everything and everyone will sing out, giving the triune God the praise and glory he deserves. It is the song of the Lord’s redeemed!

CS Lewis says, “We have joy whenever this world reminds us of the next.”

And so, every time we hear music that stirs joy or longing, we get a foretaste of the mighty chorus of redeemed people, joined by the voices of thousands upon thousands of angels, singing around the throne in heaven (Rev 5:11-12)! Every forgiven sinner will be there in person, singing their heart out to Christ, who is worthy of all blessing, honour and glory forever and ever. No audition required for this choir, as Christ alone makes us eligible.

On that day, our hearts will finally be full. Our longings will finally be satisfied. Our glimpses will finally give way to full sight. We will not be able to stay silent! As Randy Alcorn writes in his book, Heaven, “The things we love are not merely the best this life has to offer—they are previews of the greater life to come”.

Before I get too excited, I will end with a short clip of the ‘new song’ to ignite your own prayer:

“They held harps given them by God and sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb:

“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
    Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
    King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
    and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
    and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:3-4)

No wonder music gladdens a believer’s heart more than wine! Please make sure you are included in that heavenly choir singing the ‘new song’. You needn’t audition, but it’s only logical that you must love Jesus as your Saviour and King.

Further reading and listening:

Randy Alcorn, Heaven.

Nancy Guthrie, Seeing Jesus in the Psalms.

Click here to listen to 25 Christ-honouring worship songs on YouTube.

 

Know your thirst!

Know your thirst resizedBy Rosie Moore.

(New Series: Spirit-filled)

It’s like clockwork.

Every evening around 6pm, I have the same blank when I look at the raw food I took out the freezer for dinner. It’s not just that my four kids hover around the kitchen, sniffing nervously at the empty pots. Nor is it a lack of ingredients or equipment. And it’s not that I want to starve my family! No, my problem is lack of inspiration. I don’t have a clue what to do with the pieces of raw chicken staring at me from the chopping board!

But I know that the solution to this daily vacuum is to put on my apron, turn on the oven and take out a colourful cookbook. Within minutes, my mind is ticking with a plan and chewing on delicious ideas. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been cooking every evening for the last 28 years! My mind must still be rebooted and reminded of how much I love good food. My senses must be re-calibrated to see, taste and smell the rich potential in that ordinary chicken carcass…if I just add a little onion, garlic, olive oil to the pan. It’s just as Nigella Lawson says, “I don’t believe you can ever really cook unless you love eating.”

I don’t believe you can really be filled with the Spirit unless you love Jesus!

That’s because, being Spirit-filled is never a mystical experience divorced from the person, work and word of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s nothing like the self-absorbed, mind-body flow of ‘new age’ meditation. The Holy Spirit is an unpretentious member of the trinity who doesn’t seek centre stage. He is more like a spotlight that magnifies Christ as the star actor. Like a director who coaches Christ’s understudies. Or like an optician who sharpens our vision to see Jesus more clearly (John 15:2616:14). Sinclair Ferguson says we should think of the Holy spirit as the “closest companion of the Lord Jesus.”

And so, the more we meditate on what Jesus has done for us, the more his Spirit fills us. And the more we are filled with his Spirit, the more we treasure God and love our neighbour. The fruit results from the filling.

Not a once-off wonder

If the truth be told, who of us can naturally produce the Spirit’s harvest table of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Especially in the everyday kitchen of life, where people drive us crazy; where the media fills us with fear; where people die, lose their jobs and go hungry? Unless we are filled by the Holy Spirit, we cannot produce his fruit.

John Stott describes our ongoing need to be filled by the Spirit as an “invigorating, refreshing, thirst-quenching fullness.” Being Spirit-filled is a continuous, repeated, persistent filling up and flowing out.

To be clear, everyone who belongs to Jesus has been baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39Rom 8:9). The Holy Spirit leads us to see our sin and to repent. He gives life, re-orders our desires, liberates, shepherds and transforms forgiven sinners into the image of Christ. He is a gift to all God’s children (Rom 8:15-16). But he is also not a once-off wonder.

The Corinthian Christians show us this. Even spine-tingling experiences and spectacular gifts are no evidence of being Spirit-filled. In fact, these gifted Christians, with a form of ‘spirituality’, were actually sin-tolerant, loveless and proud. Since they had no fruit, Paul calls them unspiritual babies in Christ (1 Cor 3:1-3). To borrow my husband’s description of some cyclists, it is possible for us to have all the gear, but no idea!

Jesus himself illustrates how the Holy Spirit fills believers.

The Living Water

In John 7, Jesus invites anyone who is thirsty to come to himself and trust in him as their Saviour and Lord. It is not a polite suggestion, nor an invitation to walk along the peaceful riverbank of religion. It is an urgent plea to sinners to recognise their dire need, to bend down and ‘drink’ his water of salvation. Then Christ describes how the Holy Spirit will fill believers, like ‘rivers of living water’:

Rivers of living water

“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified” (John 7:37-39).

So, what’s the water metaphor about?

Jesus’s announcement happened on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:237). Every morning, a priest carrying a golden jar would fetch water from the pool of Siloam and pour it out on the west side of the altar. The jar reminded the Jews that God had faithfully provided water for them in the wilderness. It also pointed to God’s promise that he would one day pour out his Spirit on his people, giving them new hearts and cleansing them of their sins, once and for all (Joel 2:28-29Ezekiel 36:25-27). Water was a powerful symbol of this outpouring of forgiveness and the Spirit.

The promised outpouring

Now, we know that this was spectacularly fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. The long-awaited Holy Spirit was released like a flood on his disciples. Like a river, that broke its banks and spawned many tributaries, the gospel flowed to Israel, Asia, Europe, and the ends of the earth. Salvation was carried by the riptide of the Holy Spirit.

Keep drinking

But, just as God did not provide once-off water to his people in the wilderness, Jesus doesn’t give Christians a once-off outpouring of His Spirit. A drink of water cannot quench our thirst for long. And so, we keep drinking because we keep thirsting.

‘Thirst’, ‘come’, ‘drink’ and ‘believe’ are all present tense verbs. So, being filled with the Spirit is a present continuous process that is never finished. We have never arrived! We can’t live off yesterday’s wonder. We will remain spiritually needy until we finally stand in Christ’s presence, and have no hunger or thirst again. Only then will the sun cease to beat down and scorch us (Rev 7:16).

Know our thirst!

For ordinary Christians, Christ’s picture is quite down-to-earth and practical:

First, we need to know that we are hot, thirsty travellers walking through a desert. We are dehydrated, in urgent need of water that only Christ can give. We need to get up each morning awake to the fact that we will be separated from Jesus, unless we sip continuously from his water supply.

Second, we need to see that our world, with all its internet, TV, pleasures and experts, is an arid desert with no irrigation system. No real solutions can sprout from its hard, hot sand. Our world is thirsty, barren and dead without Christ. If we spend hours under the world’s shower spouts, we needn’t wonder why we soon feel dry and despondent.

But in contrast, Jesus’s ongoing ministry in our lives fulfils God’s wonderful promise to “pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring” (Isa 44:3).

Only Christ can slake our soul’s thirst for communion with God! He is our hydration pack on the ultra marathon of life. And we need his water to fill every cell of our body, every day we spend on this earth.

The Holy Spirit is not a JoJo tank!

But, Christ’s Spirit is also not a JoJo tank that stores stagnant water! He is a vibrant river that keeps filling and spawning smaller rivers. When the Spirit fills us, we cannot only quench our own thirst, as it is impossible to store Christ’s living Spirit. He must spontaneously flow out of us to refresh others. That is how we respond to his filling.

An unremarkable Spirit-filled life

Jesus’s invitation is for the average Christian. What a relief that we don’t have to chase esoteric experiences, or find an anointed man to release the supernatural! Or cajole God into unleashing his Spirit. Indeed, God’s powerful Spirit has been unleashed and is currently moving in thirsty believers in quiet and mysterious ways. We just need to keep coming, drinking and trusting in Jesus.

Today, let’s remember the vital experience of the Holy Spirit we had from the beginning of our Christian life. It all began with an invisible, miraculous new birth of the Spirit, of which we were totally oblivious (John 3:3-8). That miracle should still amaze us.

Let’s also remember that “the Holy Spirit is God the Lord. He is the divine Spirit, the mighty Spirit, the free and sovereign Spirit” (Stott). We cannot limit or control him. And our experiences of him are as diverse as the people he fills. The Holy Spirit cannot be manufactured or contained.

And so, as you go about your day, the Spirit refreshes your sense of God as your ‘Abba’ Father. While listening to a sermon or reading a book, the words grip you so personally, that you look around for a hidden camera in your room! Quite unexpectedly, the Spirit digs up a buried sin that you’ve never owned, flooding you with such sorrow that you instantly get on your knees and turn to Christ for forgiveness.

Or, as you open your Bible, the Spirit spotlights Christ’s kindness in a way you’d never seen before. You find yourself sighing with relief that his love doesn’t hinge on your loveliness. Suddenly, a detail of creation or a song sparks praise for your Creator.

The Holy Spirit may give us words that aren’t our own to share the gospel. He may nudge us to urgently pray, give, or initiate a conversation. Silently, he may enfold us in peace in a terrible situation. Or give us a longing for a country where there is only good news. Or maybe, he is strengthening you right now to press on through another day of a great struggle.

These are not spectacular experiences that can be posted on YouTube or shared in a group chat. Nevertheless, God’s living Spirit is filling and flowing through thirsty, responsive Christians. Tomorrow, these Christians will not be quite the same as today.

In reality, most of us are not spiritual giants, just ordinary Christians living unremarkable lives. But, we can all come to Jesus by faith; open up our Bibles and respond to his Spirit. We can all allow the Holy Spirit to carry us in the currents of Christ’s grace and truth. Like living rivers welling up within us.

Now, please excuse me, it’s time to attend to that chicken!

Prayer

Lord, most days I don’t even know how thirsty my soul is. I long for the day when the sun will stop beating down on us and our thirst will be permanently satisfied. Please forgive the many ways I quench your Spirit when I don’t respond and don’t trust you. Lord, cleanse me from all my sins and idols. Move in me, like a strong current, to follow your ways. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh of me. Melt me, mould me, fill me, use me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Further reading:

John RW Stott, Baptism And Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today.

 

Why Christ’s ascension into heaven matters to us on earth

Ascension resizedDoes Christ’s ascension into heaven make any difference to us on earth? It’s a good question to ask this week as the church remembers the ascension of Christ on 21 May.

Luke describes Christ’s ascension in Acts and his gospel (Luke 24:50-53):

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:8-11)

Here’s the backdrop to the ascension: After Jesus rose from the dead, He spent 40 days speaking to his disciples about the kingdom of God, showing them the Old Testament signposts to his death, resurrection and ascension (Luke 24:25-2732Acts 1:3). We’ve been mimicking that in a tiny way in our “Burning hearts” devotions since Easter.

But now, before their very eyes, Jesus literally, bodily ascends into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father. The seated Christ has finished his work of atonement and is taking His place as ruler of the church and the cosmic king, “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1:21-22). We affirm the ascension every time we say the apostles’ creed, “…he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.”

“Why”, you may ask, “did Jesus not just vanish like he did many other times? Why this spectacular departure?”

The ascension is a linchpin

A linchpin is a locking pin that holds a wheel in position and stops it sliding off the axle on which it is riding. In many ways, Christ’s ascension does the same thing for the Christian faith. If you think about it, it is the climax of everything Jesus announced about God’s Kingdom coming to earth (Luke 4:17-21438:1). It is Christ’s coronation and this is a big deal if we’re his subjects! As Tim Keller writes, “It is a new enthronement for Jesus, ushering in a new relationship with us and with the whole world… Jesus was tracing out physically what was happening cosmically and spiritually.”

Notice, for example, the impact this final miracle of Jesus had on the disciples who witnessed it. Instantly they worshipped Jesus, not as a man or a friend, but as their King, praising God as they waited for the promised Holy Spirit (Luke 24:52-53). The ascension convinced these disciples to align themselves with the objective, true King of the universe. It gave them the confidence to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth, even though it cost them their lives. Clearly, this was no personal preference or private faith for the witnesses of the ascension. The disciples based their entire lives on the fact that the risen Christ was also the cosmic king who would one day return to rule and reign on earth.

A few days later, we see Peter proclaiming the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ as inseparable elements in the gospel story (Acts 2:22-36). Listen to Peter’s bold conclusion:

“For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35     until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:34-36).

 

Peter’s testimony was held together by the linchpin of the ascension! If it weren’t for the ascension of Christ, the wheels of Christianity would have surely fallen off shortly after 33AD.

The ascension launches a great mission.

Here’s what I love most in Luke’s account: “Why do you stand here looking up into the sky?!” (Acts 1:11). It’s such a businesslike question for such a surreal setting! Wouldn’t you also be mesmerized by this spectacle? But the two angels order them to get their heads out the clouds and back to earth, “Now’s no time for standing around and staring into space. It’s time to get on with your king’s mission!”

Luke’s account makes it clear that as soon as Christ is launched into his heavenly throne, the gospel is also launched into all of Israel and all the earth by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’s departure ushers in the age of the Spirit (Acts 1:8). And when the Holy Spirit is unleashed, Jesus is no longer limited by time and place as He was in his earthly body.

That’s exactly what we see happening at Pentecost a few days later, and through the book of Acts. It’s what we still see today, and to the end of the age. Because of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will be with every generation of the church until the harvest is gathered in and the great commission is complete (Matt 28:20).

Actually, without the ascension, Christians would have no purpose beyond ourselves in this world. We would just be living for our little comforts and plans, gripes and groans like everyone else. Building our own little ladders to heaven. Securing our paper kingdoms. Dreaming up our own ideas of the afterlife. But because Jesus has descended to earth as our sacrifice and saviour, and ascended to heaven as our real, objective King, we are part of something much bigger than ourselves (Acts 1:8): His Kingdom, in heaven and on earth.

What’s more, those heavenly messengers remind us that history is not cyclical or arbitrary (Acts 1:11). The world is moving purposefully to a certain point in the future. That fixed point is the physical, visible return of Jesus to rule over the earth, the day when every knee will bow to Him as Judge and King. Once and for all, God will make His enemies a footstool for his Son (1 Thess 5:2Ps 110:1Rev 20:14). So, Christ’s ascension is a warning to those who have not bowed the knee to Him as King. And a reminder to Christians not to just to wander about aimlessly on this earth. We are allies of the cosmic King who has great purposes for his Church on the earth. “To preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations”, in the power of the Holy Spirit, until our King returns (Luke 24:47-48). What a blessing to have a mission beyond ourselves! A mission whose outcome is assured by the King himself!

The ascension is our great assurance

But until our King returns, the ascension secures us a heavenly high priest who always has the ear of God, an advocate who is at God’s right hand.

For me, right now, this is why the ascension is such a precious doctrine. Christ is not a remote monarch or wily politician like our world’s leaders. He is the caring, passionate King we glimpse when Stephen is stoned in Acts 7. For this is what Stephen saw as he faced his executioners:

“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56).”

Yes, Stephen saw Jesus standing, not sitting at God’s right hand! Not distant or disinterested, but active and engaged in the lives of those who love him. He is standing in heaven as our great advocate to plead our case before God. To pray for us as we face troubles in this world (John 17:202426). To defend us against Satan’s accusations when we sin (1 John 2:1). To reassure us of His love even when we feel foolish and insecure (Rom 8:34). It’s this vision of Jesus as his heavenly advocate that gave Stephen the serenity to entrust his spirit to the Lord Jesus and forgive his enemies (Acts 7:59-60). It’s this same view of the exalted Jesus that is enabling Ravi Zacharius to face terminal cancer in peace, with the gospel mission still burning in his heart. And it’s why the writer of Hebrews concludes, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them (Heb 7:25).

Because Christ paid for our sins with his life and has ascended into heaven as King, those who have bowed the knee to Him can know that we have a High Priest in heaven. So, we can boldly draw near to God in prayer and always find grace to help us when we need it most (Heb 4:167:1927).

What a difference the objective reality of the ascension makes at this time of crisis and loss! Through this pandemic, let’s not dwell on the gloom of our planet. Let’s lift our eyes to heaven and see Christ the king orchestrating his great redemption mission to the ends of the earth. Let’s see Him building up his church one human heart at a time, guiding all events towards a new heavens and a new earth (Isa 65:17-25). As his subjects, let’s not be so self-absorbed that we miss our part in that grand plan!

Amazingly, two thousand years after Christ’s ascension, we can still know Christ’s intimate presence in Africa, hear his voice powerfully in his word and feel the continuous outpouring of his love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5Rom 8:9-102 Cor 3:17). As Peter wrote to the churches in Asia Minor who had also never met Jesus, “Though you have not seen him, you love him” (1 Peter 1:8). Do we love Him too, and do we really grasp the meaning of his ascension?

Prayer

Lord, we sometimes feel afraid and a little lost at this time of crisis. Help us to truly take to heart all that you said about the Holy Spirit as our counselor, who lives in us, and helps us, and stays with us forever (John 14:16171826). Lord, make your ascension real for us, so we may see you as our active, caring Sovereign and Advocate in heaven, and may be assured of your power, love and presence in our lives, come what may. Come, Lord Jesus.

Further reading:

Timothy Keller, Encounters with Jesus, (chapter 9 titled The Right Hand of the Father).

John Stott, Focus on Christ, (chapter 1 titled Through Christ our mediator.)

John 14-17.

 

The woman who hid beneath God’s wings

Beneath his wings

By Rosie Moore.

I’m fascinated by the names on my mom’s massive family tree* dating back to King John of England (1119-1296). But the name that intrigues me most is Lady Jane Grey –born 1537, beheaded 1554, “Nine-days Queen” of England. This 17-year old heroine of the Reformation was sent to the gallows at the order of her cousin, Mary (aka. Bloody Mary). Her crime? Being a pawn in a family power struggle. No father or relative came to rescue her in the Tower of London. Neither could her noble title or family name save her. But this is what Jane wrote for her younger sister, Katherine, in the flyleaf of her Greek Bible:

“This is the book, dear sister, of the Law of the Lord. It is his testament and last will, which he bequeathed unto us wretches, which shall lead you to the path of eternal joy. . . . And as touching my death, rejoice as I do, good sister, that I shall be delivered of this corruption, and put on incorruption. For I am assured that I shall for losing of a mortal life, win an immortal life.”**

Although my distant ancestor died young, leaving no descendants, Lady Jane now lives in ‘eternal joy’. She chose to hide herself beneath the wings of Christ and her inheritance remains safe with her Redeemer. But Jane Grey reminds me of another young woman called Ruth. She lived, not in 1550AD but in 1550BC. Not in England but in Israel. Bethlehem was no safe place for a widowed refugee during the time of the judges, a time when almost every man decided for himself what was right, with no regard for God (Judges 2:11-12Judges 17:6). Like Lady Jane Grey, Ruth’s life was hard and dangerous. Both women had little influence over their own destiny. But their legacy led straight to Christ, their ultimate Kinsman-Redeemer (Matt 1:16).

This is the first in a two-part devotion on the book of Ruth. Please read this amazing little book and see for yourself the embryos of the gospel on every page.

Ruth’s risky choice

Ruth replied (to Naomi), “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).

Here is a Moabite widow who chooses to follow her mother-in-law to Bethlehem– hardly a welcome home for a penniless, landless, family-less widow from Moab. Add to that Ruth’s responsibility to care for her despondent mother-in-law, battered by famine, immigration and the loss of a husband and two sons. The Elimilech family was hardly a safe bet.

I can hardly imagine what it was like for Ruth to leave behind her identity, security, community, marriage prospects and childhood gods to become a covenant daughter of Israel. Orpah, her sister-in-law, made the easy choice, but Ruth chose Yahweh’s protection over everything else (Ruth 1:14). “My people, my God…there I will be buried.” There’s nothing abstract about her fierce, action-backed pledge to the God of Israel and His covenant promises. And it cost Ruth everything to take refuge under His wings. It meant becoming a refugee.

Ruth’s refuge and rich reward

11 But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before.12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:12).

Isn’t it just like God to use Boaz as the answer to his own blessing over Ruth in verse 12? Boaz himself becomes God’s instrument of protection. A chapter later it’s Ruth who asks Boaz to cover her with his wings as her kinsman-redeemer: “Boaz said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings (garment) over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9).

Wings! What an extraordinary picture of refuge and protection. Listen to what Moses and David wrote about God’s wings in relation to his people:

‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Ex 19:4). “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by….Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!” (Ps 61:4)

And listen to what Malachi says of the coming Messiah that God would send:

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (Mal 4:2).

Doesn’t it sound a lot like Jesus calling to the Israelites of his day, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing” (Luke 13:34)?

And doesn’t Ruth sound a lot like believers who would leave their houses, families and lands for the sake of Christ’s name, but would receive a hundredfold in return and inherit an eternal home? (Matt 19:29)

Surely Ruth’s risky choice is the same choice each of us faces if we’re to take hold of God’s promises and make them our own? Rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, noble or nobody, none of us can save our own lives. And there’s only one way to take refuge under God’s wings: It’s to admit our sin and ask to be covered by Christ’s righteousness. It’s to die to self and trust only in Christ as our Redeemer (Matt 16:14). And it’s to live the rest of our lives for Him, tucked securely beneath His wings of mercy (Matt 16:25). Like Ruth, we’ve got to realise that we’re pilgrims, strangers, exiles in a strange land (1 Peter 2:11-12). For sure, it’s not a safe bet. But if you asked Ruth, she would tell you that it’s worth the risk! For without God’s wings of mercy, we will have no covering for our sin and no protection on God’s day of judgment. We desperately need a Kinsman-redeemer to remain safe on that day.

Although Ruth didn’t know much about Yahweh, and lived 1500 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, she seemed to understand that the God of Israel gives grace to anyone who turns to him and embraces Him by faith. The little she knew about Yahweh gave her enough confidence to abandon every other source of identity and safety, and to cling to Him. Next week we will look at how Ruth’s faith is richly rewarded: From famine to fullness, from rags to royalty, from widowhood to a wedding. The story of Boaz and Ruth is the gospel in seed form. Know for sure that whatever your human heritage or family name, being part of God’s family tree is all that counts in the end.

Footnotes:

*A great-uncle spent the better part of his life researching the family genealogy, which features me and my siblings as a mere scribble in the bottom corner. The irony is that a rat has been nibbling at the edges of the massive paper scroll, as if to demonstrate that a human lineage doesn’t ultimately matter!

*You can read about Lady Jane Grey here.

Devotions, sign up to our mailing list logo

Receive our latest devotion

“If only we had meat to eat!” Seeing Jesus in the wilderness

Wilderness resizedBy Rosie Moore.

“The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down. 10 Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. (Numbers 11:4-10).

Selective memory

No one needs an online course on how to complain, as grumbling is second nature to us! The Israelites were no exception in their wilderness journey to the land God promised them—a land flowing with milk and honey.

It’s amazing how quickly God’s people forgot 400 years of misery, only recalling the free food in Egypt. Talk about selective memory! During their forty years in the desert, they grumbled against God, Moses, and even the blanket of manna that God miraculously provided each morning, except the Sabbath (Numbers 21:4-5). Their desire turned to craving for ‘other’ food–food that God hadn’t provided. Even Moses blamed God for giving him the heavy burden of leadership (Num 11:11).

You’d expect the Israelites to remember God’s surprising acts of kindness, like the clear water gushing from the rock and springs (Ex 15:2717:6); the pillars of His presence that led them by day and night (Ex 13:21) and God’s tender mercy in preserving their clothes and shoes for four decades, even shielding their feet from swelling and blistering (Deut 8:4Deut 29:5). Or the Lord’s powerful protection over them during the plagues and crossing the Red Sea. All they had to do in the face of their enemies was to be silent and trust in Him (Ex 14:2117:15-16Ex 14:14).

But instead of depending on God’s provision, protection, power and plan, the Israelites grumbled and forgot His daily gifts. They pleased themselves with idols instead of waiting, and grew impatient with God’s hard route through the desert (Ex 32:11 Cor 10:7-10Heb 3:9-10). Even on Canaan’s border, they listened to the 10 spies instead of Joshua and Caleb’s encouragement, “We can certainly do it…the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them” (Numbers 13:3014:27-28).

The desert displays our idols

The truth is that testing always reveals what we really value and who we worship. It was so for the Israelites, and it’s the same for us.

Paul says that the Israelites’ 40-year pilgrimage was recorded as both a warning and an example for the Christian life (1 Cor 10:69-11), as we too have been set free from sin’s “slavery”. We are travelling through the wilderness of this world to the new heavens and new earth that God has promised us (Rev 21-22). Our wilderness is the testing ground to build our relationship with our Father and prepare us for our future home. The Israelites should rouse us to exercise our faith to the very end (Heb 3:14).

But when I look at my own Christian life, I see that my record of obedience and trust is at best fluctuating, and my faith often gives way to fear. Everything I read about the Israelites has been true of me, and still is.

If we don’t see Jesus in our wilderness, we will end our journey in a ditch of despair.

‘Manna’ from heaven

When Jesus turned to the books of Moses, He saw every story pointing to himself and trained his disciples to do likewise (John 3:9-15Luke 24:27). Matthew took great care to point out that Christ was everything Israel was meant to be…and everything we can never be: Jesus did for us what we cannot do ourselves, and blazed a trail for us to follow too.

In Christ’s 40-days of testing in the wilderness, He also experienced severe hunger and thirst. Yet, Jesus remained dependent on His Father for his provision (Matt 4:2-3). Each time He responded to Satan, He showed that God’s word is the best ‘food’ and protection in times of temptation (Matt 4:4). Even in His dying hours, it was Scripture that came out of Jesus’ mouth, not cursing (Ps 22:1Matt 27:46). Jesus leaned on God’s word right to the end. He was both the perfect Adam and the perfect Israelite.

Like the Israelites, Jesus was tempted to misuse God’s power and protection, even in the desolate wilderness of the cross (Matt 4:5-7Matt 27:3942). Yet, Jesus waited until God’s appointed time and trusted God’s purposes (Matt 26:39), even when God’s plan led Him up Calvary.

Jesus too was tempted to take a different route to become King (Matt 4:9-10). Yet, the Son of God left the milk and honey of heaven to journey through our wilderness. His life was poured out in the desert, so that we could drink His pure, living water of salvation (Heb 4:15John 7:38Isa 12:3).

The cross was surely the most wretched wilderness that any man could endure, but Jesus pressed on, so that you and I would not die in the desert apart from God’s blessing. The joy of leading us into the Promised land was what kept him going (Heb 12:2):

‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the centre of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water’ (Rev 7:16-17).”

Jesus Himself is the Bread of heaven, better than any manna that God provided in the desert. He is the ‘bread’ that was broken for us  and God’s gracious ‘manna’ for our own journey through the wilderness (Luke 22:19-20John 6:51-58).

Is the Lord’s arm too short? (Num 11:23)

“The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you” (Num 11:23).”

God showed grace to the complaining Israelites and gave them meat to eat (quails). He also showed his righteous anger for their grumblings, because discontent is a serious rejection of the Lord Himself. Their craving ended up consuming them (Numbers 11:2031-35).

It’s easy to wonder why the Israelites refused to trust in God’s providence when He’d proved Himself so merciful and faithful. But don’t we also crave ‘other food’ in our lives? Other provision, protection, plans, power and promises that are not from the Lord? In our dissatisfaction, isn’t it easy to overlook God’s daily gifts and to think that the Lord’s arm is too short… and ours is longer than it really is? Isn’t it easy to overlook the simple privilege of having the Bible, prioritising what we put in our mouths over ‘every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’? (Matt 4:4)

We don’t know exactly how God will provide and protect His people from the financial impact of COVID-19, but we do know that we must ask our loving Father for our daily needs and give without fanfare to those in need (Matt 6:6811Matt 6:2-4). We can be sure that knowing and being known by Christ is the key to contentment, as He will never leave us to fend for ourselves (Phil 4:1119Rom 8:32-37). We also know that we mustn’t worry about tomorrow, as each day has enough worries of its own (Matt 6:34). Perhaps that’s all we need to know.

Prayer

Father, thank you for pursuing me when I wanted nothing to do with you and for your kindness that led me to repentance. Thank you for your new mercies every morning. Thank you that you fight on our behalf and provide everything we need in Jesus. Thank you that our wilderness is not aimless wanderings, but that your providence always leads us from ahead and behind. Thank you that you walk with us by your Spirit, even through the worst of the wilderness. Lord, make us quick to say thank you and slow to crave what you haven’t given us. We trust that you will lead us safely to our promised home. Amen.

 

What on earth has Christ to do with Creation?

Lord of creationI grew up in a Church where we said the words of the Nicene Creed every Sunday. The words tumbled out of my mouth easily, though they didn’t mean much to me at the time. Especially the parts about Jesus, “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made…being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made..who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven.” (Not being able to read, I misheard ‘begotten’ as ‘forgotten,’ and nothing made sense after that!)

I’ve come to love the Creed as a potent portrait of the Triune God and His stunning gospel: The Maker of heaven and earth has built a bridge, so that his finite and sinful creatures may reach Him and know Him as Father. In John Stott’s words:

“Only one bridge spans the otherwise unbridgeable gulf. It has been thrown across from the other side. It is Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son, who entered our world, became a human being, lived our life, and then died our death, the death we deserved to die because of our sins.”

It’s easy to recite words, but do we really think of Jesus as Lord of Creation? And does it really matter whether this is the Jesus we believe in, or not?

In the beginning…

It mattered greatly to John, one of Jesus’s closest disciples. The risen Jesus must have opened up the scroll of Genesis with his disciples, because John began his Gospel with the same words as Genesis 1. He made some staggering statements:

Here’s what John wrote about Jesus as Lord of Creation:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind… 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (John 1:1-41418).

Here’s what Moses wrote about how the universe came into existence:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light (Gen 1:1-3).

Eternal and living Word

John deliberately echoed the first words from Genesis 1 to leave us in no doubt that Jesus is the Lord of Creation. He is also God’s perfect Son and image-bearer (John 1:1418). Yet amazingly, God’s eternal word that created the universe is also the carpenter’s son, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). The eternal word is also the living Word who lived among us.

John is unequivocal that Jesus is the eternal God who lit up the darkness, brought order from chaos and filled the emptiness at Creation. Christ was the creative word that called the cosmos into being each time God spoke, “Let there be…and there was…” We must let the full import of John’s prologue sink into our hearts and minds: Jesus of Nazareth existed at the beginning– before and outside of time, space and matter! This is not just something John made up, as Jesus claimed it too (John 17:5).

Last week I said that Christ is more than we could ever hope for. He is not just for a particular nation, era or ethnic group, but for the whole world and for all time. Jesus is not just Creator of our world, but the whole cosmos—even what’s invisible to our telescopes. He transformed the formless, dark void of nothing-ness into an earth and sky teeming with light and life, order and purpose, beauty and fruitfulness. It’s a picture of blessing.

Light of life

Yet, according to John, Christ’s creative work hasn’t stopped. The Creator is also the Re-creator (or redeemer) of his broken universe that’s no longer under God’s blessing (Gen 1:28), but under His curse (Gen 3:24).

Here’s how John describes Jesus, the true light:

“9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:9-13).

When I read this description of the true light, I think of a rescue searchlight in a gloomy cave, enveloped by pitch darkness— the darkness of Satan, ignorance, alienation, hatred, illness, fear and death. Jesus is the searchlight, seeking out lost people in the darkest corners of the cave, even those who have been blinded for so long, they no longer realize it’s dark. Each and every lost soul who responds to His searchlight, He rescues and restores to the sunlight of family, wholeness and fruitfulness. To blessing and life.

The curse is not God’s final word to us. Jesus is God’s final Word.

That’s exactly what John records Jesus doing when He left heaven to make his dwelling with us:

He announced, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Jesus filled the empty wine jars of an ashamed wedding host and restored order to His Father’s house (John 2:1-1214-16). He filled hungry stomachs with overflowing food, and his disciples’ empty nets with thousands of flapping fish (John 6:1-14John 21:11). He poured living water into the dry soul of a Samaritan woman (John 4:7-42). He spoke wholeness into a lame man and brought light to the eyes of a man born blind (John 5:5-9John 9:7John 9:26-27). When He walked on water, Jesus defied the laws He embedded in His universe at creation (John 6:19). Just as he created the universe ex nihilo, He provided fish and bread out of nothing after his resurrection (John 21:9). He forgave and restored the dignity of an adulterous woman and breathed life into Lazarus (John 8:11John 8:11). He forgave Peter and re-made him as a fruitful evangelist (John 21:15-17). Jesus’ stunning words matched his works, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged, but has crossed over from death to life”(John 5: 242125). That’s the crux of the incarnation, which every one of Jesus’ miracles pointed to.

But Jesus never acted alone. From the beginning, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always worked together to create and re-create life.

New creations

Jesus told Nicodemus that God’s Spirit breathes new life into the hearts of born again believers (John 3:7-8).  This Spirit is the same creative Spirit that fluttered over the face of the waters at Creation, waiting for God’s word to carry out His will (Gen 1:2). And exactly the same Spirit who hovered over Jesus at his baptism when the Father gave His blessing, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to Him” (John 1:32Luke 9:35Matt 3:17)!

Just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit worked together to give life to the first humans (Gen 1:26), God’s word (the gospel) must go out in the Spirit’s power to create new creatures who seek after the Lord.

Renewed day-by-day

Here’s why I think it matters to see Jesus in Creation, even as we go about tidying messy homes, putting food on the table and stringing words together for blogs– generally bringing order from chaos: If Jesus really made and holds the universe together, then we’ll only find our life’s meaning and purpose in Him (Heb 1:1-3Col 1:151617). What He did at Creation, He keeps renewing day-by-day in our inner selves (2 Cor 4:16). Only the Lord of Creation can bring us through the chaos of Coronavirus and all the effects of sin, to our ultimate home. Only His Spirit can illumine the beauty of the gospel to those crouching in darkness. And only when His Spirit “hovers” over His children, will our hearts burn as we live and breathe God’s Word (Rom 12:21 Peter 1:23). If we remain in a living relationship with Jesus, we will be His faithful image-bearers who bear lasting fruit (John 15:4-5Phil 4:17Gal 5:22-23Matt 28:19-20). After all, if Christ spoke the universe into being, He can surely restore every empty, dark, chaotic cave in your life that is crying out right now for redemption!

Making all things new

Jesus is the word of renewal and hope we see in Genesis 1 and John 1. But our hope becomes reality when we see Jesus in the final scene of the Bible. Next time Christ comes, it won’t just be to visit earth for 33 years, but to make his home with us forever!

“He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5).

The presence of Jesus, who existed before the sun, will light the new Creation. The earth will drip with even more abundance and blessing than the Garden of Eden, and no sin or deceit will enter it again (Revelation 21:2327Rev 22:2):

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away…” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children” (Rev 21:3-7).

What on earth has Christ to do with Creation? Absolutely everything!

Lord of Creation, your word has been burning in our hearts today as you’ve searched us with your powerful light. Make us new by your word day-by -day, so that we’ll bear fruit that will last. Thank you for your beautiful world, which displays your power, glory and concern for even the smallest things. Most of all, thank you for your blessed Son, in whom we are made “very good” sons and daughters, today and forever. In His beautiful name, Amen.

Further reading:

Poythress, Vern: How to read Genesis 1-3: Let there be light. Desiring God.

Guthrie, Nancy: The Promised One.

“This will be the seventh-day rest that every Sabbath since Eden has pointed toward and implanted in us a longing for—finally like it was in the garden at the beginning, only better, and this time, forever. God’s people in God’s place, enjoying God himself in their midst for all time.” (Nancy Guthrie- The Promised One).