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).

Is your heart burning with the truth of the risen Christ?

Burning heartBy Rosie Moore.

Imagine seeing Jesus in the flesh after his resurrection! The pair on the Emmaus road had burning hearts as Jesus walked beside them and opened up the Old Testament to them. They started their journey bewildered, sad and disappointed, but that evening at dinner, Jesus opened their eyes to see that the cross and empty tomb were part of God’s plan from the beginning.

Back in Jerusalem, the eleven disciples thought they were seeing a ghost when Jesus joined their meal. But he invited them to touch his body, reminding them that his death and resurrection was all written down centuries before, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:4445). When they finally turned to their Bibles and saw Jesus for who he was, they couldn’t be silenced. The fire of the truth could not be extinguished. Is that your experience?

Today, let’s join two burning hearts on the road to Emmaus:

15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

We had hoped…

Cleopas and his friend had hoped Jesus was the one to redeem Israel, but he’d been crucified instead. To them, Luke 24:19 and 20 were jarring contradictions.

Why is it so easy for us to misunderstand who Jesus is, or be disappointed that he has not done for us what we hoped? Perhaps it’s because our view of Jesus and what He came to accomplish is skewed, confused, small or incomplete. Perhaps we don’t pay enough attention to the original source, but only to podcasts and videos about Jesus, plucking from the Bible the ‘useful’ bits that fit our hopes, dreams and needs for today. Like the two disciples, we too are prone to define Jesus for ourselves but blind to God’s big story for the world. Jesus tells us where to look if we want to see Him and his mission clearly. Perhaps it’s time to go back to the whole Bible to see who Jesus is and why He’s much more than we could ever hope for.

In all the Scriptures…

“He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

 You might find it odd that Jesus’ first revelation of himself to these disciples was by way of a Bible study from the Old Testament! That isn’t exactly the kind of sentimental message we pass around social media, which makes us Oooh and Aaah in amazement! Jesus was explaining how all those flawed heroes, stories, symbols, laws, sacrifices, shadows and types were scenes from an unfinished play, awaiting their fulfillment in Him. As Nancy Guthrie writes,

“The Old Testament serves to point out our cavernous need for a better law keeper, a better judge, a better prophet, a better priest, a better king. Jesus must have looked Cleopas and his companion in the eyes that day and said, “That’s me. I’m the one the whole of the Old Testament points to. I’m the one God intended to send all along.”

It was while Jesus filtered familiar Scriptures through the mesh of the gospel, that the sparks of spiritual insight were lit, and their eyes became clearer.

Their eyes were opened…

29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! (Luke 24:29-34).

But is it true?

Today’s familiar story is happy and hopeful, but I pray our hearts are burning with its Truth. Luke intends us, 2000 years later, to be fired up by the same internal combustion engine that no one has been able to switch off since those first disciples saw Christ alive. The resurrection is a critical moment. Jesus’s whole life stands or falls on this moment in history. In fact, the whole Bible stands or falls on whether it’s a fact or fallacy. Was Jesus a blasphemer, a delusional man, a liar…Or was He speaking the truth when He called himself the Messiah-King? (Matt 26:63-64)

The only way you and I will answer that question with integrity is if we read the gospel accounts for ourselves and decide whether Christ’s claims are true.

Search the Scriptures, see Christ for yourself!

I’d like to suggest that the best way you can spend lockdown is by returning to the source and searching the Scriptures for yourself.

I’d like to suggest that one of the best ways we can use our time in lockdown is by turning to the source and searching the Scriptures for ourselves.

“Jesus showed us that the surest road to wisdom is not speculation, reasoning, or reading human books, but meditation on the Word of God…When Jesus sought to enrich others, He worked from the quarry of Holy Scripture…O for grace to study the Bible with Jesus as both our teacher and our lesson!” (C.H Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Jan 18).

Read for yourself how Jesus showed the first eye-witnesses his hands and feet and invited them to touch him (Luke 24:39-40). Join their journey from amazement to adoration as they exclaim one by one, “My Lord and my God!…It is the Lord!… I have seen the Lord!… It is true!” (John 20:28John 21:7John 20:18Luke 24:34). Read for yourself how they watched Jesus fill their fishing nets and eat a breakfast braai with them on the beach (John 21:1-14). From defeat, doubt and disbelief, they were led by the truth to clarity, joy, worship and boldness. Is this your experience?

But this story is a forewarning that the truth is flammable. Once God’s Spirit opens our eyes to see Jesus in the Scriptures, we cannot be silent about Him. The Bible isn’t just ink on paper, or inspirational thoughts, or head knowledge. It should fiercely impassion our minds, emotions, words and actions! It’s God’s true story of what He is accomplishing in the world, and in us, through Christ. And it is only this fire of truth that will make us bold and confident in the gospel over the long haul. Without the fire of God’s Spirit, we will just use the Bible to gather dry factual crumbs or inspirational quotes, instead of feasting on Christ, the Bread of life. Let us be warned by the Pharisees of Jesus’s day:

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40).

Prayer

Lord, open our eyes to see and wonder at the truth of who you are in the whole Bible. Give us a big, beautiful picture of yourself that not only fills our hearts, but extends to the whole world. Help us to be diligent in searching the Scriptures for ourselves, rather than relying on snippets from those who are more learned. Holy Spirit, make our hearts burn with the truth of your Word every day of our lives. Soften our hard hearts that think we know it all already, but refuse to come to you personally to have life. Amen (John 20:31John 5:40).

A foretaste of our new series “Burning hearts”

The Emmaus Road was just a foretaste of the revelations to come. Before Jesus sent his disciples out as his witnesses to the world, He spent almost forty days opening up the Jewish Scriptures with them. He showed them how every book from Genesis to Malachi pointed to Himself and mapped out their gospel mission to the nations. He taught them, through the familiar Torah, how God’s promised Messiah would save them through suffering, dying, rising and returning as Judge and King on the last day. Don’t you wish you could Zoom to those Bible studies with Jesus?!

In the weeks before Ascension day, The God Walk will give a tiny taster of what Jesus discussed with his disciples in these final days. We will start at the beginning, Seeing Christ in Creation. Then the Lamb of God, Son of DavidWisdom Song and The Prophet’s Promise. I look forward to walking with you on our mini Emmaus road!

Instead of a song, here’s a video to help us to see that Jesus truly rose from the dead. I pray that you will stand alongside those first eye-witnesses and say, “It is true!” And that this truth will change you forever.

Who is it you are looking for?

Empty tomb resizedNow Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her (John 20:11-18).

Last at the cross, first at the grave

It’s amazing how the first person to see Jesus alive is Mary Magdalene, a woman with no legal or social standing in Jewish culture, and a dubious past. But Jesus had freed her from seven demons and she owed him everything (Luke 8:2). Her devotion to Jesus was so irrepressible that she had left her home in Magdala to follow and support His mission. She never left his side on the way to Jerusalem. Even when his close friends deserted Jesus, Mary stayed, witnessing his trial and sentencing by Pilate. She watched her Saviour die on the cross and helped prepare his body for burial. On the first day after the Jewish Sabbath, it was Mary who was at the tomb earliest in the morning to witness the greatest event in world history.

Imagine her grief as she stood outside the tomb (John 20:11). Imagine her confusion as she saw the ‘gardener’ and asked where he had put the body. Imagine her excitement when she finally saw Jesus for who He was: Her “Rabboni”! And imagine her astonishment when she heard him calling her to be the first messenger of the good news!

An unlikely missionary

In spite of her history and her gender, Jesus called Mary Magdalene to be his first ambassador after his resurrection. It was a scandalous honour in their patriarchal society, but after her personal encounter with the living Jesus, Mary needed no further convincing. She believed Jesus when he said, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ (John 20:17). Those were radical, reassuring words to hear from the King of kings.

Mary was bubbling over with joy as rushed to obey Jesus’s first mandate to go and tell her brothers the good news. She may not have been a leader or one of the twelve, but she was a woman with a mission! And she had just heard that she was God’s own daughter, as surely as Jesus was God’s own Son!

She heard Him call her name

At first, Mary is confused about who Jesus is, but Jesus points her in the right direction with his questions, “Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Jesus’s questions are full of tenderness and patience. They are personal and probing questions designed to help her discover the truth. That is exactly how Jesus deals with us as we grapple with the truth of who He is. He does not try to confound or hide from us.

Then Jesus comes to her and tenderly calls her name, “Mary.” That’s when Mary recognizes him. Her doubt and confusion give way to jubilation and affection for her Saviour. Just as Jesus had said, “His sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:3-4).

Is this your experience this Easter? Are you fully convinced that Jesus is alive today? Do you know Christ in a personal relationship, as Mary did? Do you know that He has spoken to you in the Bible, and are you eager to go and tell others the good news found in its pages?

Beyond evidence

I could give you all the arguments why the resurrection actually happened. I could spend many pages writing about the missing body, the secure stone weighing 2 tons and the Roman guards outside the empty tomb. I could tell you about the eleven separate occasions when Jesus was seen alive (including 500 people at the same time), and throw in the evidence of the cowardly disciples who became brave evangelists, willing to die for their belief in the risen Jesus. I could tell you about Jesus’ skeptical brother James, and Paul the stubborn persecutor of Christianity, who both became grace-filled preachers who suffered and died for the truth of the resurrection. As an erstwhile lawyer, I love hard evidence!

But instead, I’ll leave with you this simple story of a weeping woman, who heard Jesus call her name. Don’t let this season pass you by without grasping hold of the person at the centre of Easter. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus as her own Christ, her risen Lamb of God, her Saviour, her Lord and King. This same risen, reigning Jesus calls you by name and has made himself known to you. He asks you the most important question you can hear this Easter, “Who is it you are looking for?”

Can you say, with Mary, “I have seen the Lord!”

P.S Happy Resurrection Sunday!

Here’s a read-aloud poem to lighten your hearts during this sombre season:

How the Virus Stole Easter
By Kristi Bothur
(With a nod to Dr. Seuss)

Twas late in ‘19 when the virus began
Bringing chaos and fear to all people, each land.
People were sick, hospitals full,
Doctors overwhelmed, no one in school.

As winter gave way to the promise of spring,
The virus raged on, touching peasant and king.
People hid in their homes from the enemy unseen.
They YouTubed and Zoomed, social-distanced, and cleaned.

April approached and churches were closed.
“There won’t be an Easter,” the world supposed.
“There won’t be church services, and egg hunts are out.
No reason for new dresses when we can’t go about.”

Holy Week started, as bleak as the rest.
The world was focused on masks and on tests.
“Easter can’t happen this year,” it proclaimed.
“Online and at home, it just won’t be the same.”

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the days came and went.
The virus pressed on; it just would not relent.
The world woke Sunday and nothing had changed.
The virus still menaced, the people, estranged.

“Pooh pooh to the saints,” the world was grumbling.
“They’re finding out now that no Easter is coming.
“They’re just waking up! We know just what they’ll do!
Their mouths will hang open a minute or two,
And then all the saints will all cry boo-hoo.

“That noise,” said the world, “will be something to hear.”
So it paused and the world put a hand to its ear.

And it did hear a sound coming through all the skies.
It started down low, then it started to rise.
But the sound wasn’t depressed.
Why, this sound was triumphant!

It couldn’t be so!
But it grew with abundance!
The world stared around, popping its eyes.
Then it shook! What it saw was a shocking surprise!

Every saint in every nation, the tall and the small,
Was celebrating Jesus in spite of it all!
It hadn’t stopped Easter from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the world with its life quite stuck in quarantine
Stood puzzling and puzzling.
“Just how can it be?”
“It came without bonnets, it came without bunnies,
It came without egg hunts, cantatas, or money.”

Then the world thought of something it hadn’t before.
“Maybe Easter,” it thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Easter, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

And what happened then?
Well….the story’s not done.
What will YOU do?
Will you share with that one
Or two or more people needing hope in this night?
Will you share the source of your life in this fight?

The churches are empty – but so is the tomb,
And Jesus is victor over death, doom, and gloom.
So this year at Easter, let this be our prayer,
As the virus still rages all around, everywhere.

May the world see hope when it looks at God’s people.
May the world see the church is not a building or steeple.
May the world find Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection,
May the world find Joy in a time of dejection.
May 2020 be known as the year of survival,
But not only that –
Let it start a revival.

Amen!

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

God-forsaken resizedOne of the worst aspects of the COVID-19 outbreak in Bergamo, Italy, is that thousands of its victims died alone, without the comfort of loved ones at their bedside. Regardless of culture or religion, the world has been forced to discard ancient rituals to say goodbye to the dying, to honour the dead and comfort the bereaved, for fear of spreading the virus further. But on this Easter Friday, Christians can know that we will never experience the horrific separation that Christ suffered as he gasped for breath on the cross. As our substitute, Jesus was weighed down, not only by his own broken body, but by the burden of sin he never committed. Christ became a curse for us (Gal 3:13) and emptied the cup of God’s wrath. Enveloped by darkness from noon until 3pm on the Friday of Passover, Jesus owned King David’s cry in Psalm 22:

 ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matt 27:45-46Ps 22:1a).

“Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest (Ps 22:1-2).

Jesus’s cry of true abandonment gave voice to an immense spiritual grief. It eclipsed all other griefs, as the perfect Son bore the wrath of His beloved Father against every loathsome sin committed in the world. For the first time in all eternity, the righteous Judge of all the earth turned his face away from his beloved Son. He shut the door in Jesus’s face, to open the door to forgiven sinners.

Let’s go back to the Psalm that Jesus meditated on as he hung on the cross. Read Psalm 22 through on your own, then keep the text in front of you as we massage its truth into our hearts:

Despised by the people

“But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him…”

The Psalmist clearly had his own enemies and personal torment. But David was also a prophet, inspired by the Holy Spirit to describe an infinitely more profound anguish to be suffered by one of his descendants (1 Peter 1:10-11).

Jesus knew more than any man what it is to be abandoned and despised. Judas betrayed him and his friends deserted him. Even Peter denied him. Then there were the three nighttime trials and the brutal flogging. The Chief Priests didn’t care that Judas had betrayed innocent blood (Matt 27:4). Nor did Pilate and Herod care that Jesus was guiltless (Matt 27:182426Luke 23:41415). Everyone knew Christ was innocent and that the trials were a complete mockery of justice. Yet, they continued to bay for blood while Pilate washed his hands.

How accurate and ironic is the taunt of Ps 22:8“He trusts in the Lord, let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him”. It was an echo of the insults hurled at Jesus by the soldiers who crucified him (Matt 27:27-3139-40); the Jewish leaders who rejected Him as Messiah (Matt 27:41-42) and the robbers who were crucified with him (Matt 27:44).

The irony was lost on those too blinded by the Enemy to see that their insults were prophetic declarations that Jesus was indeed the promised Saviour-King he claimed to be.

Surrounded by enemies

“Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me

16 For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me” (Ps 22:6-812-1316).

David’s lament and prayer for deliverance from his enemies hinted at a far more sinister and supernatural predator that has stalked God’s image-bearers since Eden. Until Eve’s seed would finally crush Satan’s head (Gen 3:15).

As Eve’s promised descendant, Jesus was at the centre of this cosmic war. Enemies hunted him like savage animals, even when he was a baby (Matt 2:16). Even while he prayed and fasted in the desert (Matt 4:1). Even after he healed the sick, cast out demons and announced a message of hope (Matt 12:1424Luke 4:29). Behind human agents, Satan plotted to destroy Jesus throughout his short life (John 8:44). Even in his dying hours, Satan continued to tempt Jesus to leave the cross and save himself (Luke 23:35-37). Yet, Christ loved us enough to stay— to save sinners instead of himself. He even prayed for his executioners (Luke 23:34).

Poured out like water

“I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment” (Ps 22:14-18).

Here’s why I trust the Bible is truly God’s word. There is nothing in David’s life that could align with this peculiar omnibus of torture. Psalm 22 is not an expression of psychological suffering or physical sickness, but a detailed account of execution by crucifixion. Yet, crucifixion was only invented by the Persians in 300BC and used by the Romans a thousand years after David.

Think of Christ’s nail-pierced hands and feet. Intense dehydration from his all-night ordeal, the labored march to Calvary and six hours of hanging in the sun. Gloating onlookers staring and spitting as he hung naked, at eye level. Bones jerked out of joint as he became too weak to support himself and as the cross fell to the ground. His clothes divided by gambling soldiers. It’s all in Psalm 22:14-18.

David’s lonely lament describes in vivid detail the darkness and despair of that first Easter Friday, as Christ pleads for God’s presence and rescue (Ps 22:19-20Heb 5:7). There is nothing stoic or detached about our Saviour as he carried out his mission to become sin for us. Being “poured out like water” runs much deeper than physical agony. It points to the spiritual desolation Christ experienced when God withdrew his familiar presence. His Father turned his face away, because He could not look upon sin. And his Son was riddled with sin on the cross. Our sin.

Stand in awe of him!

But suddenly, without warning, the song of desolation turns to joy halfway through verse 21. Good Friday is not just a cry of separation and agony. It is ultimately a song of rescue and praise!

“You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!”

David describes the party a Jewish person would throw when God answered his prayer of deliverance (Ps 22:19-21). It’s the kind of bash we hope to have for our son who turned 21 yesterday while in lockdown!

The guests at this lavish celebration sing songs of praise to God, whose face is no longer hidden from the forsaken one (Ps 22:24). It’s like a royal gala, with guests from many nations and families who join together to worship the King and serve him in posterity. It’s a sumptuous banquet, bursting with life, food and satisfaction (Ps 22:2225-26). Best of all, this never-ending feast is the hope of a ‘people yet unborn,’ who proclaim Christ’s righteousness! That’s us, the Church of Christ— and our children and future generations who come to love Christ as their own!

He has done it!

But why do we get to be guests at this party of all parties? The reason is that “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was not the final word. After three hours of darkness, Jesus drew his final breath and cried his last words of victory,

“It is finished!”

God did not need three days to fully atone for sin. The price for sin was paid and the fellowship with God was restored. Everything needed for the salvation of sinners and of this sin-cursed creation, was completed on the cross. That’s why the Psalmist’s final cry is,

“He has done it!” (Ps 22:31)

It’s a victory song that comes into even sharper focus when Christ rises from the tomb on Sunday morning, ascends into heaven 40 days later, and reigns as King forever (Acts 2:31).

Let’s not be slow to believe!

I told you at the start what distresses me most about this COVID-19 pandemic. But the best story I’ve heard was that of a 93- year old man who recovered from the virus in an Italian hospital. When asked to pay for the ventilator, the old man started crying. He told the doctors, “I cry because I’ve been breathing God’s air for 93 years but I never paid for it. Do you know how much I owe God? I didn’t thank him for that before.”

God has indeed given us life and lungs, and Coronavirus has made us all too aware of this free and fragile gift (Acts 17:28). But God has also given us the free gift of His Son, who gave up his own breath, so that those who believe in him will live forever (John 19:30John 3:16-18). If you are a Christian, you have the promise of God’s presence forever.

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him” (1 Thess 5:9-10).

No matter how alone you may sometimes feel, actively press yourself against Jesus, who is not afraid to call you his brother or sister (Heb 2:12). Good Friday confirms that there is nothing in life or death that can separate you from God’s love in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:38393439). But it is also a sober reminder that the worst separation is not the kind the world has seen in recent weeks. Far worse is the ultimate separation, when Christ gathers the nations before his throne and finally closes the door of his grace (Matt 25:10-1331323441Acts 17:31). It is this ultimate separation that only Christ can bridge. Let us not be slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken and the gospels have confirmed! “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26Luke 24:44).

As you remember the meaning of Good Friday, listen to this Song by Andrew Peterson. He reminds us that on the Sabbath after Jesus died, God rested from his salvation work. That’s why sinners can rest from ours too. “It is finished! He has done it!”

Who touched me?

Who touched me? resized

By Rosie Moore.

In last Sunday’s sermon, Roydon Frost described faith as the beggar’s bowl by which we receive the gift of God. It’s a perfect picture of the three desperate people who came to Jesus for redemption in Mark chapter 5: A man tormented by so many demons that he was chained up and left to wander alone among the tombs. A woman with a chronic bleeding disease that left her ceremonially unclean, isolated and bankrupt. And the distraught father of a dying daughter. Yet, the Lord Jesus reached out to these two daughters and a son, and made them completely whole and well. By his touch, Christ became unclean and brought health to the sick, cleansing to the unclean, and life to the dead. He literally gave them their lives back.

These three interactions have really strengthened me in my faith this week. They’ve helped me remember that in these days of social distancing and isolation, there’s one person we must not stay away from and there’s one touch we all desperately need. It’s the touch of the Lord Jesus.

Please read the whole of Mark 5 on your own. We’ll focus today on Mark 5:24-34:

So Jesus went with him (Jairus, the synagogue ruler). A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. 30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

“If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed”

The story of the hemorrhaging woman is wedged between the redemption of Legion (the demoniac), and Jairus’s little daughter, who is on death’s door. In fact, Jesus is on his way to the synagogue leader’s house to attend to the girl, while the teeming crowd is pushing and shoving to catch sight of the healer. Like keen fans, they’re hungry for a piece of the action.

The bleeding woman was in the crowd, but she wasn’t just a sign seeker. For as long as Jairus’s little daughter had been alive (12 years), this woman had been hemorrhaging from a disease. Not only was it physically crippling, but it was also humiliating and isolating. She was permanently unclean, which meant that her family couldn’t eat the food she cooked, couldn’t sit on the chair she sat on, or sit around the table with her at meals. They couldn’t even touch or hug her, without becoming unclean themselves (Lev 15:25-31). She wasn’t even able to worship with God’s people in the synagogue.

For a Jewish woman, can you imagine this extreme form of social distancing? This woman had been isolated, not for 21 days, but for twelve long years, and there was no prospect of healing. She had spent all her money on human help and was now bankrupt. She grew worse every day and her great suffering touched every part of her — physically, emotionally and spiritually. We all know the story, but let’s not miss the details of this outcast’s pain, as she pushed through the crowd to the famous Jewish Rabbi. Her desperation and determination overtook her shame and fear.

Perhaps this woman was emboldened to touch Jesus’ clothes by something she’d heard about Him. Perhaps she’d heard that from His touch, lepers were fully cleansed (Matt 8:3Mark 1:41Luke 5:13). The blind received instant sight and the mute could speak (Matt 9:2920:34Mark 8:22Mark 7:33). The sick were healed by touching Jesus as he walked by (Matt 14:36Mark 6:56). Perhaps the woman was also superstitious and believed that there was something magical about Jesus’s robe.

Luke adds that she just touched the fringe or edge of Jesus’s garment. It was a silent thought and a tentative action, but enough faith for Jesus to instantly stop the chronic flow of blood and reverse the ravages of her disease. She was perfectly healthy and clean again. And all it took was a finger of faith brushing Jesus’s robe. No more, no less.

A finger of faith

Isn’t it encouraging that Jesus didn’t treat this woman as a nuisance or distraction as he made his way to Jairus’s house? She wasn’t just an unclean “God-botherer”! Rather, Jesus responded instantly to the transfer of his healing power, and stopped to ask, “Who touched my clothes?” He wouldn’t let the woman experience physical healing without a heart-to-heart encounter with the living God. Christ refuses to be a miracle-dispenser. That’s when the woman, “knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth”.

Telling him the whole truth

What I love most is Jesus’s loaded response to the truth of her messy life:

“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Those words were even more soothing balm than her physical healing. Jesus was pleased by her small gesture of faith. He even called her ‘daughter’, the first and only time Jesus gave a woman this title.

The woman had held out her empty begging bowl, and Jesus had filled it with wholeness and health, so generously and so mercifully.

“Talitha Koum!”

It’s the same with the other much younger ‘daughter’ in this story. Jairus’s little girl is dead by now and the mourners are crowding around the synagogue ruler’s house. Yet, Jesus reaches out to take the corpse’s cold hand in his own, knowing that touching a dead body would defile Him (Numbers 5). The sinless Messiah touches a second unclean daughter that day, and commands her, “Little girl, I say unto you, arise!” Immediately the little girl gets up, walks around and eats a meal as proof of life!

A posture of faith and a gift of grace

All three people in Mark 5 refused to keep their distance from Jesus, but held out their begging bowls to receive his gift of life. They approached Christ with a posture of faith, which unleashed radical restoration:

When Legion saw Jesus from a distance, “he ran and fell on his knees in front of Jesus”. He came to Jesus in torment and self-hatred, naked and chained, with not a shred of dignity left. But he left Jesus fully dressed, in his right mind, and ready to follow His Saviour (Mark 5:61518).

The hemorrhaging woman slunk up to Jesus, shamed by her indignity, uncleanness and isolation, but went home with her head held high, in peace, freedom and wholeness (Mark 5:3334).

The father of the dying girl fell at Jesus’ feet and pleaded earnestly with him to touch his daughter and save her (Mark 5:22-23). Jesus met a cold corpse and a house of mourning, but left the family with life and joy.

But Jesus’s gift to these three desperadoes was just a sample of a much greater cosmic healing. His miracles were pointing to the cross, where the Lord Himself would soon be bound and abandoned. He would suffer torment and indignity, and would bleed to death, to call us God’s sons and daughters. He would become unclean and shunned by His Father, to restore us to peace with our Father. Christ’s willingness not to distance himself from humanity would come at great cost, but his ‘touch’ would reverse sin’s curse— even the curse of death. The only way to receive this gift of grace is to hold out our empty begging bowls of faith, like Legion, like the woman, like Jairus.

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom 3:22-2425).

Our begging bowl of faith

In mulling over these stories, I wondered what the begging bowl of faith looks like for us now, 2000 years later, when we are no longer able to physically reach out and touch the Saviour.

The Bible teaches clearly that Christian faith is not looking for holy relics or seeking signs and mystical experiences. Nor is it amazement at Jesus’ miracles, like the crowds of teeming fans who surrounded Him. Faith is not just believing and confessing that Jesus is Lord, as even the demons do that.

A great way to hold out our begging bowl of faith is simply to pray to be forgiven, cleansed and restored. It may sound undramatic and ordinary after such spectacular miracles, but prayer is how we call out to the Lord for what we need (2 Chron 7:14Ps 38:18Luke 11:4). And Jesus said it’s the way we commune with Him in a deep, daily, ongoing relationship (Matt 6:56Matt 7:9-11). Thank the Lord that Jesus’ touch is not a once-off event, but a perpetual supply of grace to those brought low by suffering, grief and their own sin.

“To pray is to accept that we are, and always will be, wholly dependent on God for everything. Prayer is awe, intimacy, struggle—yet the way to reality. There is nothing more important, or harder, or richer, or more life-altering. There is absolutely nothing so great as prayer” (Timothy Keller).

To pray in faith is simply to recognize who our Saviour is, and to tell him the whole truth about ourselves and those we love, just like the woman did (Mark 5:33). It is admitting that we are beyond human help, like Jairus and another desperate father who cried out on behalf of his demon-possessed son, “Take pity on us and help us…I believe, help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:2224).

To pray in faith is real and uncontrived, like the many raw prayers recorded in the Psalms: “Be gracious to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord heal me, for my bones are in agony, Turn O Lord and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love (Ps 6:2-4). Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble” (Ps 10:1)? Holding out faith’s begging bowl is letting go of pretences and simply telling Jesus the whole truth.

Restoration Day

Finally, this story reminds me that for us who follow the Lord Jesus, the new life that came to us when we became a new creation will one day be complete. We will see heaven standing open and Jesus dressed in a robe dipped in blood, on which is written “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Rev 19:13-16). Our own robes will be washed white as snow because of the death of Christ on our behalf (Rev 7:14Rev 19:8). It will be the voice of Jesus that will wake up all God’s sons and daughters when He calls us to life in His kingdom. Somehow, He will transform our lowly bodies to be fit for the new heavens and new earth (Phil 3:20-21). And on that day, we will finally be able to reach out and touch our Saviour (1 John 3:21 Thess 4:17). That’s the power of the cross! And what a day that will be!


Are we safe in our houses?

Lockdown resizedBy Rosie Moore.

“Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by.” Isaiah 26:20.

In this series titled Big Questions, we’ve been looking at questions from the Bible. You can stop paging through your Bible, as this week’s big question isn’t there! It’s just a question from inside my own head as I read and re-read the many Watsapp messages applying Isaiah 26:20 directly to our nation in lockdown until the end of Passover on 16th April. When I see a verse in splendid isolation, I like to read what comes before and after the little gem to make sure that it actually says what I thought it said! Without context, it’s tempting to make myself the centre of the text and miss the depth of God’s message for all time. This week, as I allowed verse 20 to take its place within the whole chapter, against the backdrop of the rest of the Bible, I began to see that this little verse is indeed God’s word to His people, but in a far richer sense than I first imagined. Now that you’ve stocked up on all your supplies and are finally able to take a breath, I’d urge you to read chapter 26 slowly on your own. I will highlight extracts and draw out the main themes of the text, before considering how these apply to our own state of emergency.

Two cities

Isaiah 26 is essentially a song about two cities. The first is the strong city that God himself has made for all His people. Its gates are always open to its righteous citizens who keep faith. Salvation itself is the city’s walls of defence. There is safety, protection and privilege for those who live within its walls:

“In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:

We have a strong city;
God makes salvation
its walls and ramparts.
Open the gates
that the righteous nation may enter,
the nation that keeps faith” (Isa 26:1-2).

But the alternative is a lofty city of human pride and self-sufficiency. Its inhabitants will be humbled and its useless walls will be demolished and levelled to dust. The bricks and mortar of this proud city are no protection at all, and the feet of the poor will trample down the symbols of their oppression:

“He humbles those who dwell on high,
he lays the lofty city low;
he levels it to the ground
and casts it down to the dust.
Feet trample it down—
the feet of the oppressed,
the footsteps of the poor” (Isa 26:5-6).

Isaiah 26 is a song of trust, praise and meditation for God’s people, but it also asks each one of us which city we call home.

Double peace

Wedged between the two cities is one of the most encouraging promises that God’s people can hear in times of turmoil:

“You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal (Isa 26:3-4).

In the Hebrew, “perfect peace” is a double peace that comes to those who are devoted to God and firmly fix their eyes on Him under all circumstances. It is a steady and stable attitude that rests on his unchanging love and mighty power, unshaken by surrounding chaos.

Profound peace from God is nothing like the transitory peace that comes through the Headspace app on our cellphone, a session of yoga or a long walk on the beach. It’s not based on circumstances or state of mind, but on the eternal Rock (Phil 4:7Isa 26:4).

The waiting room

Throughout Isaiah’s prophecy, he is moving between the present (700BC) and the future. While the prophet is pointing to God’s glorious future, he never forgets the harsh realities for God’s people living on earth now. Verses 7-21 describes that present waiting room:

It’s a time when many people happily receive God’s benefits, but reject God himself and continue to do evil. They refuse to learn from God’s grace or his warnings (Isa 26:10). It’s a time when some people are blind to the hand of God in their lives (Isa 26:11), and when other gods rule instead of the One True Lord (Isa 26:13). It’s a time when God’s people are longing for redemption and groaning in distress, discipline and disgrace (Isa 26:916-18).

But at the same time, it’s also a world where God always makes a level path for the righteous (Isa 26:7). It’s a time when God’s faithful people wait and yearn for His name and His renown, rather than seeking their own fame. It’s an opportunity for God’s people to walk in faith and obedience (Isa 26:8-9). The waiting room is a world where God establishes peace for his people and grows them into a commonwealth that glorifies His name (Isa 26:15). Best of all, it’s a world where the dead will live again:

“But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead (Isa 26:19).

It’s into this great tension that God speaks the poignant word that’s been shared all week on social media:

“Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by” (Isa 26:20).

It’s a truly amazing instruction, which is just as relevant for God’s waiting people today. But does this verse promise that God will keep us safe in our houses until the end of Passover, when the COVID threat has passed us by?

Hide yourselves for a little

It’s impossible to understand what this verse promises us today without looking through the lens of what happened in Egypt 1750 years before Isaiah was born: Isaiah 26:20 is a vivid picture of the first Passover night when the angel of death passed over the Israelite houses whose doors were marked by the blood of the lambs. The parallels are unmistakeable.

When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down (Isa 26:20).

At this first Passover in Egypt, God’s people literally hid themselves in their homes for the night until He led them safely out of slavery to their promised country.

But God’s word to His waiting people today must also be seen through the lens of what Jesus did on the cross at Passover in 33AD. Isaiah’s song longs for redemption, but God did indeed come to earth to bring redemption! He came in the form of His Son, the Passover Lamb that we remember at Easter, whose blood hides us from the wrath of God. This season of Lent is the time to marvel at this great peace that the Lord accomplished for us, just as Isaiah foretold (Isa 26:12). And it is the only basis for the perfect peace described in Isaiah 26:3-4.

The gospel tells us that anyone can enjoy the safety of the strong city of God, but we must trust in the salvation God Himself has provided. It is Jesus’s righteousness, and not our own, that makes us a “righteous” nation (Isa 26:7;2). Only His salvation forms our “walls” of protection (Isa 26:1). Jesus is the Lord of all the earth (Isa 26:13) and in Him the dead will rise again (Isa 26:19).

Jesus is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s song and He is the only safehouse that exists in this world.

The only safehouse

Our true safety depends on which passport we hold and to which city we belong. That is the primary message of Isaiah 26. But what does exactly does Isaiah 26 promise the people of God in our current lockdown, as we wait for COVID to pass?

Let’s think beyond our ‘safe’ middle class houses for a moment and imagine what it’s like to be God’s faithful people working in hospitals and ICU’s, pharmacies, old age homes, in the streets and the supermarkets, risking their lives to bring the viral pandemic under control. They are being sent out of their homes to protect the vulnerable. Imagine for a moment God’s people who are homeless, split from families or hooked up to a respirator fighting for their lives. The reality is that many of God’s faithful people don’t have “safe houses” to lock themselves into. But does that mean that they’re not secure or protected by God? Does that mean that they cannot “wait and hide themselves for a little” during this pandemic, or any other disaster?

Of course not! Scripture shows us that the image of hiding in our houses is a metaphor, (although very apt and sensible counsel for our time). Our hiding as Christians entails trusting that, for a little while, we suffer grief in all kinds of trials, our faith will be refined and prove genuine (1 Peter 1:6-7). It is believing that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor 4:17). Our waiting includes longing with all of creation for the earth’s final redemption (Romans 8:18-27Isa 26:16-21), as well as praying with hope in the promises of God’s word. But it also means acting lovingly for the good of others who need our help (Micah 6:8), caring not just for our own families, safe in our own homes, but for our neighbours too. Wherever we are and whatever we face in the coming weeks, we can give thanks and rejoice, because our hope, protection and safety are rooted in God’s good purposes (1 Thess 5:16-18Rom 8:28-30).

So, in answer to our big question, Are we safe in our houses? the answer is Yes and No. Staying home is the best way to flatten the curve of coronavirus in our nation, but not even Buckingham Palace was a safe place for Prince Charles! And more importantly, no one is safe from the incurable virus of sin which infects us all, not from the outside, but from the inside of every human heart. No amount of social distancing can save us. The only cure for this deadly virus is the vaccine God has provided. Jesus is the Passover Lamb that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

Lockdown over this Easter period is a good time to unite as families and a nation, to reflect on how broken our world really is and how much we need a Saviour. It’s a good time for Christians to remember that we’re just campers here (1 Peter 2:11), citizens of a heavenly city with solid foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb 11:10). There is only one “safe house” to lock down in, and that is the house built on the Rock (Matt 7:24-27Luke 6:47-49). Jesus himself told us how this is done:

“Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

Building on the Rock

My friends, this song of Isaiah has been a great blessing to me this week. Whether you know Christ in a personal way or not, the current State of Emergency asks us all some urgent questions. Let none of us be like those who will not learn that we’re beyond human help (Isa 26:10-11). I appeal to you to humbly ponder these questions and lock down in prayer:

  1. To what city do you belong —God’s safe city, or a flimsy city built on money, self-righteousness and pride?
  2. Do you experience the peace of a steadfast mind (Isa 26:3-4)?
  3. What are your heart’s desires (Isa 26:9)? Do you long for Christ’s salvation to reach the ends of the world? Do you yearn for His return to bring final redemption to our world? Do you live for God’s renown (Isa 26:8)? Or do you just hope for immediate relief from COVID-19 and safety in this world?

Prayer based on 1 Peter 1:3-6:

We praise you, God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Thank you that in your great mercy, you have given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We take safety and hope in an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for us. Protect our nation, protect our homes, especially the most vulnerable among us. Thank you that through our faith in Jesus, we are shielded by your power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. Keep us faithful as we wait in our houses for our true home, and give us grace to hide ourselves in you.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Do you not care that we are perishing?

Boat in distress resized Panic and fear are natural responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, as our cellphones alert us to  every advance of the viral storm on our borders, neighbourhoods and homes. Scientists estimate that between 40% and 80% of our population will be affected by the Coronavirus. But it is good to remind ourselves that we are not the pivot of history and our storm is not unique. Many plagues have stalked the planet before ours: In 260AD, Smallpox killed a third of the Roman Empire, and in 251AD a form of measles wreaked havoc on the world. In 1347 the Black Death wiped out 20 million people over five years. Then came the Plague of 1527, and a massive Cholera outbreak in London in 1854. The Spanish flu of 1918 killed over 50 million of those who managed to survive World War 1, and only five years ago, Ebola claimed 11 000 lives. Even now, billions of desert locusts are swarming in East Africa, posing a huge threat to the region’s food security.

Where is God in these great storms? Does He even care? To the naked eye, it may appear that God is powerless, asleep or indifferent to our world, if He exists at all.

These thoughts are implicit in the question that Jesus’s own disciples asked Him as they watched furious waves breaking over their fragile fishing boat: “Don’t you care that we are perishing?”

It was a personal and urgent question, since Jesus was fast asleep in the boat while they were baling water and fighting the storm. The miracle worker who’d just healed a paralytic, seemed detached and impassive to their plight. Or was He?

Today’s text is Mark 4:35-41.

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Storms reveal faith and fear

“For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:18).

The disciples already knew that Jesus was a powerful rabbi who taught with authority, healed the sick and cast out evil spirits with a word. They’d seen Jesus forgive the sins of a paralysed man and restore his atrophied muscles. Jesus had already shown them that he was powerful, good and wise. He was starting to reverse the chaotic effects of sin and sickness.

Yet, while the waves were breaking over their own boat, threatening to sink it, the disciples were confronted with an x-ray of their unbelief (Mark 4:40). At this stage, they did not fully grasp who Jesus was and what His Kingdom meant. Three questions in this brief story reveal their troubled hearts:

Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” They accuse Jesus of indifference.

Why are you so afraid?” Jesus gently questions their panicked response.

Do you still have no faith?” Jesus probes deeper to the root of their fear.

We may know more than the disciples did on this terrifying day, but even as Christians, storms scan our hearts like giant x-ray machines and confront us with these same questions. Fear and faith are always vying for control. It’s easy to say that Jesus is the ruler of the universe generally, but it’s harder to trust him personally when the earth is moving under us. It’s easier to believe what we see with our eyes, than trust in the invisible Creator, who neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps 121:3-5). It takes faith to trust in things not seen when the winds and waves are in our face (Heb 11:1). Storms test and grow genuine faith in Jesus.

Storms blast away our illusions of security. They expose the truth of our weak bodies, our volatile stock markets and fragile mortality. That’s exactly what the Coronavirus is doing. Apart from the immediate threat of illness, COVID-19 will have dramatic economic effects on families and communities in the coming months, perhaps years. Like believers in every storm, we are challenged to exercise our faith by caring for our neighbours’ needs and demonstrating what we believe about God’s unseen Kingdom. God’s greatest treasures are often hidden in our most difficult storms.

As clergyman James A. Aughley wrote: “As a weak limb grows stronger by exercise, so will your faith be strengthened by the very efforts you make in stretching it out towards things unseen.

Storms reveal Christ

There’s a fourth crucial question in our story. In the calm after the storm, the even more terrified disciples ask each other: “Who is this then, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” The storm forces them to question who Jesus really is and whether they can surrender their lives to him. The answer holds the key to this story.

In fact, the answer comes a chapter later from the lips of a demon-possessed hermit living among the tombs, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus Son of the Most High God?” (Mark 5:7).

The story of Jesus calming the storm is a dramatic preview of who Christ is and why He came to earth: He talks to the ferocious, life-threatening storm as if it’s a yap-dog. He literally orders the furious storm to shut up and sit down, and it obeys! Even the wild waves are tamed. It’s no wonder the disciples were even more afraid in the calm than the storm! They glimpsed the invisible Kingdom of God and sensed the presence of the King in the boat with them.

The disciples may have joined the dots more quickly than us. They knew the Old Testament symbols of turbulent waters and surging seas were pictures of spiritual and political forces that are hostile to God. When Jesus said, “Be still”, He revealed himself as God of heaven and earth, and declared war on His enemies. By overturning the forces of evil and chaos on the lake, he showed Himself to be “God of our salvation and the hope of all the ends of the earth:”

“O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas…
who stills the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples,
so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs (Ps 65:5-8).

O Lord God of hosts,
who is mighty as you are, O Lord,
with your faithfulness all around you?
You rule the raging of the sea;
when its waves rise, you still them…
you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm. The heavens and earth are mine” (Ps 89:8-11).

In stilling the storm, Jesus showcased his invisible kingdom and His identity as King.

Don’t you care that we are perishing?

But even if Jesus rules the winds and the waves, it is still legitimate to ask if He cares. A King can be powerful, but not care for his subjects at all. Jesus answered that question himself:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

The disciples’ question is full of dramatic irony. They believed that drowning that day was the worst fate they could face. Physical death was their idea of ‘perishing,’ as they watched their lives flash before them. Yet, this scene on Lake Galilee was just a drop in the ocean of what Christ would soon do to save the world from truly perishing:

To ‘perish’ is to be utterly consumed by the final, furious storm of God’s judgment against our sin (Rev 6:16). Since only Jesus can atone for sins, our only safe place is in the boat with Him. Just as Noah’s family was safe in the Ark when the Flood came, Jesus is the only and ultimate shelter from an infinitely more desperate death than drowning (Matt 24:37-39). Only those who believe in Him will be delivered when the storm of God’s wrath comes.

Jesus proved how much He cared. We only have to hear his prayer in Gethsemane, see his mutilated body on the cross, and listen to his cry of being God-forsaken, to know for sure that our faith in Jesus is well-founded. If that’s not proof that He cares, what will it take?

Let not your hearts be troubled

Jesus woke from his sleep of death to bring peace to our sinful, dysfunctional hearts. That’s the greatest miracle of all for those who put their trust in Him! And at the right time, the Lord will restore His disordered, furious, wild, turbulent and groaning creation, just as He stilled the winds and waves (Joel 2:25-26Isa 65:25Acts 3:21Rev 21:4-5).

Be still for a moment and imagine that lake after the ferocious storm. Focus on the invisible person of Christ and his unseen Kingdom. Let him tame our our worries and fears as we make them obedient to his power and love:

In every storm, we can be sure that Jesus does care for us. The Lord never slumbers or sleeps, even if it appears that way (Ps 121:41 Peter 5:7). If we’re in Christ, He’ll be in the boat with us by His Spirit, even when we die.

As we wash our hands and hunker down in our homes, we need to take this opportunity to anchor ourselves and our families in what we know is true, rather than being tossed about by every new case of COVID-19 and the uncertain future. We need to resist sensationalism and hysteria, because exercising faith means looking beyond what’s seen with the naked eye (2 Cor 4:18). Faith is seeing ourselves as a pinprick in the big storyline of Scripture: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration. And faith means living now, not in fear and bewilderment, but in wisdom and the certain knowledge of what God is doing to redeem a people for himself and restore all of his Creation. Practical faith is making Jesus our secure hiding place by believing His Word and praying to him. It’s finding creative ways to care for each other as Jesus cares for us, and being always ready to give a reason for our hope in the rock-solid Kingdom of God– especially on social media! It’s the unseen things that must shape our values, our responses and everyday priorities. That’s how faith will win over fear. And that’s how our hearts will not be troubled.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

Laura Story asks the question of God: “What if blessings come through rain drops? What if the rain, the storms, the hardest nights–are your mercies in disguise?”

Prayer

Lord God, thank you for caring enough that you left heaven and took the storm of judgement on our behalf on the cross. Thank you that your Word gives us many glimpses of your wonderful, eternal Kingdom, where you reign with peace, order and righteousness. Lord Jesus, keep our minds focussed on these unseen things as we navigate the challenging storm we face. Reassure our hearts that you are always with our loved ones and you care for us. Help us to look beyond ourselves to our neighbours who are physically vulnerable, or those who don’t know the peace only you can give. Teach us creative ways to love people even when we cannot make physical contact. May your invisible Kingdom govern our responses in the days ahead. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Did the Lord not make them one?

In last week’s big question (Have we not all one Father?) I wrote, “As a mirror reflects a face, our relationships reflect our religion”. If last week’s devotion was about living together as God’s sons and daughters, today’s is about living as the Bride of Christ. Once we grasp the ultimate Marriage to which all human marriages point, it should radically shape how we view marriage and romantic bonds. In the same text from Malachi, we’ll look at why faithfulness in marriage is such a big deal to God.

Malachi 2:10-16Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has been faithless, and a detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts! 13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

A consumer contract

Our social mentors on love, sex and marriage are training us in faithlessness. Our culture is not too different from Judah in 400BC. If TV is an indicator, it seems we’ve traded the solemn covenant of marriage for a frivolous game or consumer contract based on feelings, compatibility and self-expression. I’m thinking of shows like ‘The Bachelor/ette’, ‘Love is Blind’, ‘Married at First Sight’; ‘Say Yes to the dress’; ‘First dates’, ‘90 Day Fiancé’; ‘Love Island’, ‘Our Perfect Wedding’, ‘Boer Soek ‘n Vrou’, ‘Cheaters’, ‘Are you the one?’ and ‘Uyang’thanda Na’?

We’re obsessed with hunting down the perfect partner and arranging the perfect wedding, but no one is interested in what happens when the honeymoon is over! These series may be entertaining, but the inferences aren’t subtle: Dating and getting married is like picking out an outfit from the shopping mall. We can return or exchange it when it no longer suits our tastes. Customized vows are a celebration of how you feel about your partner at the altar, all decked out in white dress and tuxedo, but they’re as fluid as shifting sands. Falling in love, having sex and getting married appear to be no more than romantic games we play, while break-ups and divorces are the inevitable bruises we get along the way.

Like any transaction protected by the Consumer Protection Act, there’s the right to choose, to privacy, to a cooling-off period and the right to return defective goods and claim a full refund if they are “of inferior quality, unsafe or hazardous.” If Pete had married me on that basis in 1993, he would have returned me shortly after the wedding!

A covenant of one-ness

 Did the Lord not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?” (Mal 2:14-16).

But, Malachi understood that marriage is a sacred, one-flesh covenant. Marriage and sex are God’s idea, with no resemblance to the consumer contract the people of Judah have made it. After all, it was God Himself who presided over the first perfect wedding between a man and a woman in a perfect Garden. He is the same silent witness to every marriage thereafter (Mal 2:14). That first marriage was based on serious, permanent, exclusive promises. When their bodies came together in sexual intimacy, they were one flesh, “naked and unashamed,” with each other and before God (Gen 2:24-25). No walls, secrets or fear of rejection came between them. No performance or defect in husband or wife altered their union. What a beautiful picture of one-ness in every sense, spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual! It was not a contract based on feelings and convenience that Adam and Eve stepped into at the beginning of the world, but a covenant of lifelong companionship and committed love, regardless of feelings or circumstances. Marriage was designed for God’s glory and their good. Of course, everything changed when Adam and Eve rejected God’s order and sin came into the world, but Eden remains the prototype of what God intends marriage to be, and Jesus endorsed it (Mark 10:6-12).

We enter into the same covenant of faithful love when we make marriage vows to each other. Let these promises sink in for a moment:

“I take you to be my wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy law, in the presence of God I make this vow.”

Is this how we understand marriage and sex, or have we bought into the counterfeit version peddled by our culture?

Let no one separate

Jesus said, “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Mark 10:8-9).

Neither does the Bible allow us to separate our earthly marriage vows from our relationship with the Lord. Even our prayers may be hindered if we fail to honour our marriage partner (1 Peter 3:7).  That’s because we cannot separate earthly marriage from the great love story between God and His people. Human marriage was created to be a living, tangible image of that ultimate Covenant of faithful love between the Lord and His ‘treasured possession’ (Mal 3:17).

This interconnection explains Malachi’s outrage that Jewish men were marrying pagan women and rejecting their covenant wives. Three times he calls for faithfulness to the “wife of their youth” (Mal 2:1415b). Their adultery is living proof of their treachery to the Lord, who redeemed them as a people, loved them as a husband and longed to rejoice over them as a bridegroom over his bride (Isa 54:562: 5).

In fact, an entire book of the Bible personifies the Lord’s redemptive love towards his adulterous people, and it is written in the language of marriage:

I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. 20 I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord….The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes” (Hosea 2:19-203:1).

Judah had broken their relationship to God by looking for protection, fulfillment and pleasure in the arms of a foreign god, instead of returning to the one true God, the Lord who had always loved them (Mal 1:2).

Returning to the Groom

While it’s impossible to fully grasp the profound mystery of the ‘marriage’ between Christ and those who follow Him as Lord, we do know that Jesus described heaven as a wedding feast for God’s own Son and he invited everyone to come inside (Matt 22:2-13). We also know that Jesus himself is the Groom of the Old Testament and his bride is his people throughout history (Matt 9:15Mark 2:19Eph 5:2732). Like any loving husband, Jesus is jealous for our love and purity. He vows to present us spotless when He returns to take us home to live with him forever (Rev 19:7-9Rev 21:222:17). So it doesn’t matter whether we are single, married, divorced or widowed, every forgiven Christian is Christ’s treasured possession, his bride (1 Peter 2:9).

We can also be sure that we didn’t become Christ’s bride by performance, perfection or moral purity, but only because we responded in repentance to his greatest act of love towards us—his death on the cross. It was no commercial transaction, but a one-sided covenant of grace and forgiveness. All we had to do was repent, believe and receive his mercy (1 Peter 2:10).

Wearing the wedding clothes

We can be certain that God’s Son, our Bridegroom, is busy building a place in which his bride will live with him forever. Only the Bridegroom can provide the wedding dress of “fine linen, bright and clean” for the wedding supper (Revelation 19:7-9Matt 22:11-13). That’s why we need to confess our sin and ask to be cleansed and made one of his own.

For Christian couples, our marriages are dim pictures of what’s to come, but they are powerful drafts of how we make each other ready for the wedding supper of the Lamb. Are you playing an active part in the Lamb’s wedding preparations? If the Bridegroom returned today, would you and your spouse be ready?

If grace and repentance are required to attend God’s heavenly wedding, they are also the only way to live as husband and wife. Each time we break the one-ness of our covenant by being selfish, harsh or disloyal it is only genuine repentance and forgiveness that can redeem our bond. Reaching out to one another in grace and repentance can be hard and painful, but not nearly as miserable as an estranged marriage, or the anguish of divorce. Of course, there are Biblical concessions for divorce, but it should never be a first resort (Mark 10:5Matthew 19:91 Cor 7:15).

Guarding the spirit

Malachi warns us to guard our spirit, not just our actions. That’s because faithlessness begins in the heart and mind, and runs much deeper than cheating on your spouse (Matt 5:2228). Through pornography, anger or sulking we can break faith with our marriage partner, even if we don’t take a step out of the house. We are all guilty of faithlessness in one way or another.

To guard our marriage, we need to turn back to the ultimate Bridegroom over and over again to receive his mercy. Only when our hearts are devoted to Jesus, will we listen to him and value what matters to Him. Only He can make you a considerate husband who honours, protects and helps your wife to become all that God intends her to be (1 Peter 3:7Eph 5:27-32). Only reverence for Jesus can give a wife inner beauty and the grace to submit happily to her husband, even if he’s unbelieving or harsh (1 Peter 3:1-5). Only with Christ’s help can we raise children who love the Lord, as single or united parents. Only when a single person is faithful to Jesus as their Groom, can they be sexually steadfast and marry only a believer (1 Cor 7:392 Cor 6:14). It is only the ultimate Bridegroom who can knit a faithless man and woman together as spiritual companions, so that they nudge each other a step closer to Him every day. The kind of self-giving love needed to make our marriages beautiful, is unnatural to us and flows only from Christ who submitted to his Father, even to death, that we may be saved.

Like a garden, a nurtured marriage will grow and be fruitful, but left to itself, it will grow wild or die. If our faithless, wandering hearts are prone to think the grass is greener on the other side, let’s get busy watering our own garden.

P.S

The feature photograph is of my grandparents, Charles and Muriel Brand, who lived to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. I distinctly remember watching them in their kitchen at the end of their lives, Grandpa at the Magimix blending ingredients so my blind gran could serve her famous chicken liver paté. She was his megaphone at the dinner table when his deaf ears could no longer follow the conversation! Although my gran was an eccentric nutcase, my grandfather showed us what it means to delight in the wife of his youth. Apart from a four-year separation during World War 2, they cherished each other till death parted them at the age of 96, within five months of each other.

Excellent resource

Marriage Supper of the Lamb” is the last in a series by Timothy Keller which greatly refreshed Pete and my marriage. Listen to all 9 messages with your spouse or the person you hope to marry, so that you don’t settle for anything less than marriage as God intended. (Click here)

Have we not all one Father?

This is the first in a series titled “Big Questions.” I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but almost every page of the Bible is full of questions. Questions from man to God, questions from God to man, honest questions we dare not speak aloud, revealing and challenging questions. Over the coming weeks I hope to explore some of these big questions in their context. My prayer is that their answers will shape how we live out what we believe in real life. I do hope you’ll stay with us for this journey!

Today’s question, “Have we not all one Father?” is from Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament. In 430BC, the prophet Malachi fires four questions at the covenant people of God: “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?” Concerning marriage, he asks, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?” In our text, Malachi asks probing questions that are just as relevant to God’s people living in a faithless world today. He urges us to stop messing about with shows of religion, but to ‘guard ourselves in our spirit’ and honour our marriage partners and fellow believers. That is how we honour the Father who first loved us and joined us together in a covenant of adoption through his Son. As a mirror reflects a face, our relationships reflect our religion. There’s no way to divorce our relationship with God from our earthly relationships, especially the most unique and intimate union of all—Marriage. Let’s pray that we would live out our identity as children of God so that the truth of the gospel is visible in our relationships.

Malachi 2:10-16

10“Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?”  11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!

13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

One faithful Father

“I have loved you,” says the Lord…My covenant with Levi was one of life and peace (Mal 1:2Mal 2:5). That’s the launch pad of Malachi’s oracle to the people of Judah in 430BC and the backdrop of our text today. We cannot give a whole answer to Malachi’s question unless we look through the lens of God’s covenant with His people through Abraham, Moses…and the perfect and final Mediator—Jesus Christ.

Malachi is reminding Judah that Yahweh has been completely faithful and true to them. He has loved them with an everlasting love. He is no tyrant or killjoy. Instead, God’s rule brings life and freedom to those who live under it. It is a covenant designed to promote human flourishing, not to stifle expression. Malachi cuts through the smoke and mirrors of their empty religion to expose three ways in which the people have despised God’s love and shown contempt for His covenant of life and peace.

  1. They broke trust in their dealings with each other (Mal 2:10).
  2. They married women who didn’t believe in the one true God, cutting off a godly legacy for future generations (Mal 2:11-12).
  3. They were unfaithful to their wives, trading them in for more desirable pagan women (Mal 2:14-16).

Yet, all the while they worshipped God with tears and brought Him their half-hearted offerings. They expected their God to save and bless them, but lived as though they were not accountable to Him (Mal 2:13). This was like groundhog day—a repeated pattern of faithlessness, hypocrisy and idolatry throughout the Old Testament.

Yet, over and over again the Lord calls the faithless to return to Him and be healed. Through another prophet (Jeremiah), God likens Himself to a despised father and the rejected husband of a faithless wife:

“I said,
How I would set you among my sons,
and give you a pleasant land,
a heritage most beautiful of all nations.
And I thought you would call me, My Father,
and would not turn from following me.

20 Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband,
so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel,
declares the Lord…’”

22 “Return, O faithless sons;
I will heal your faithlessness.” (Jer 3:19)

Despite the faithlessness of Judah, Malachi foresees a day when the “sun of righteousness will come with healing in its wings” for those who fear God’s name. It’s the picture of God’s rule of life and peace being restored among his people and families being reconciled (Mal 4:2-5). Four hundred years after Malachi’s prophecy, the New Testament reveals God as Father, not of every person who is physically born, but those born again in Christ (John 1:13).We become sons and daughters of God when we know ourselves to be faithless, treacherous sinners and put our trust in the only faithful Son who ever lived—the Lord Jesus Christ. When He becomes our sin-bearer and master, we become Abraham’s seed, co-heirs bound together in God’s family forever (Gal 3:26Gal 4:5-7). It’s the covenant of adoption that allows us to call God “Abba! Father!” And it’s this covenant that is the bedrock of what it means to be a Christian in our relationships.

The covenant of adoption

J.I Packer describes the staggering implications of being a son or daughter of God:

“What is a Christian? The richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father….Do I, as a Christian, understand myself? Do I know my own real identity? My own real destiny? 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 or sister too…This is the Christian’s secret of a Christian life and of a God-honouring life.” (Knowing God).

My dad has handwritten Packer’s little manifesto for each of his grandchildren, to remind them of who they are, wherever they might be in the world. The covenant of adoption speaks radically to how we treat other believers (Mal 2:10) and how we see marriage (Mal 2:11-16).

God cares how we treat other believers

In the context of our adoption as God’s sons and daughters, being ‘faithless’ and ‘profaning the covenant’ is not just about lying or cheating one another, but also about failing to honour our spiritual siblings. There are many subtle attitudes and blatant behaviours that destroy family bonds and break faith between us. If the Church is Christ’s beloved Bride—then an insult towards a spiritual brother or sister is an injury to the Lord Himself. We’re a preview of God’s heavenly kingdom to the world around us, whether true or distorted. That’s why dismissive, disrespectful and scornful attitudes have no place amongst Christians, even if we disagree with each other.

On the flip side, we have the prototype of our Father and older brother to imitate in our dealings with each other: Faithful in care and mercy. Generous and interested in all that we do. Wise and available to help us. Patient with our weaknesses. Loyal friend and encouraging coach who sticks with us even when we mess up again and again. Father who disciplines us and runs towards us when others run away. Friend of faithless, unworthy sinners like ourselves. Our Father intends for this kind of faithful love to be the signature of his covenant children too (1 John 2:9-113:10-174:7).

As a parent, I know how much pleasure it gives me when my children treat each other with kindness, but I also know how it grieves me when they fight and refuse to say sorry or forgive. We’ve all seen how the actions and words of one child can greatly harm or help the whole family. Children give joy or grief to their parents by their attitude to one another. It’s the same in God’s covenant family.

If you and I think that we are eternally secure children of God, justified by faith alone, but we refuse to allow Jesus to rule over our human relationships, we must ask ourselves if we are showing the fruits of true repentance (Luke 3:8-11). Jesus himself asks us this in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar (Luke 16:19-31). The complacent Pharisees insisted that Abraham was their father, but Jesus replied, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did” (John 8:39).

The Bible is not ambiguous about the ‘works’ that befit those who share a spiritual Father. Let’s meditate on some of them now as we respond to Malachi’s big question: “Have we not all one Father?

Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ (Ephesians 4:15).

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11).

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom (James 3:13).

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:24-25 NASB).

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near (Philippians 4:5).

Prayer based on Ephesians 4:2-6:

Our Father in heaven, help us to be humble and gentle like our older brother Jesus. Give us grace to be patient, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your great love for us. Help us to be led along together by the Holy Spirit and so be at peace with one another. Lord, remind us that we are all parts of one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. For us there is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and we all have the same God and Father who is over us all and in us all, and living through every part of us. In Jesus’ name and for His sake, Amen.

Next week’s devotion: Did He not make them one?

Please join us next week as we look at the second big issue from our text—Why marriage matters.

Disciples are witnesses

Every follower of Jesus is appointed and equipped to be His witness in the world. We’re witnesses even if we haven’t seen Christ’s miracles with our own eyes, heard his voice, touched His resurrected body or watched him ascend into heaven as King. If we call ourselves Christians, we are His witnesses, whether we like it or not. It’s just a matter of what kind of witness. Witnessing is not just for those original eye-witnesses in the first century or the few super-spiritual, extrovert Christians who lead our local church. Every believer whose mind has been opened by the Holy Spirit is a witness to the greatest true story of all time. No matter what our personality, the Holy Spirit will empower us to testify of what God has done through Christ. The great anomaly is that God’s Kingdom will advance in power to the ends of the earth through weak witnesses like ourselves. Let’s allow the Lord to show us a panorama of his global mission, so that we can take our place in it as faithful, Spirit-empowered witnesses. Today’s texts are from the end of Luke and beginning of Acts:

(Luke 24:45-49): Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

(Acts 1:3-8): After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Off with the blinkers!

The original eye-witnesses of the resurrection asked Jesus a reasonable question given their context: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:5)

It was a legitimate question given the fact that their minds had just been opened to see that Jesus was the long-awaited suffering Servant. What’s more, Christ had risen from the dead and said that they were on the verge of a great outpouring of the Spirit, as the prophets had promised (Micah 4:6-8Joel 2:28-32). Jesus’s Jewish disciples were desperately waiting for David’s King to free them from oppressive Roman rule, to gather and and restore Israel’s greatness. Surely that’s what the Spirit’s power was for? Perhaps Jesus was following the script after all!

But Jesus lifted their blinkers one inch at a time. There’s an overlap of 40 days at the end of Luke’s gospel and the beginning of Acts, between Jesus’s resurrection and his ascension. It must have been six weeks of stunning revelation as Jesus appeared to his disciples, ate with them and connected the Old Testament promises to His death and resurrection. He was opening the curtain to show them how the Kingdom of God would advance when He was no longer physically with them.

Jesus’ answer to their question is in Acts 1:8. It’s as though he takes them up a mountain and breaks open their narrow nationalistic perspective. He shows them a panorama of God’s vast Kingdom and its global mission which extends far beyond the borders of Jerusalem and the state of Israel. He won’t allow his disciples to speculate about the future unknowns, but rather tells them to get on with the certainty of building God’s kingdom in the meantime. This is the ‘known’ Jesus reveals: The Holy Spirit will empower them for Christ’s worldwide mission of proclaiming the gospel. The disciples are to be the true, restored Israel and a light for the Gentiles, so that God’s salvation might reach to the ends of the earth (the nations) as the Old Testament prophets had foreseen (Isa 49:6). This is exactly what those early witnesses did throughout the book of Acts, as thousands of Jews believed in David’s promised King, then Samaritans, a Roman centurion called Cornelius and his family, and complete outsiders like the Ethiopian eunuch and Gentiles. Just as Isaiah foretold (Acts 4:4Acts 8:510:34-3513:4715:1Isa 56:4)…

Seek first the Kingdom of God

If we are Christ’s disciples, we too must hear Jesus’ answer in verse 8! Like the disciples, we also love certainty and are prone to get caught up in useless questions of when and how Christ will return. We are exposed to many preachers and writers today who seem more obsessed about predicting the signs of the times than proclaiming the gospel clearly. They seldom speak about sin or our desperate need of a Saviour. Then there are the self-styled ‘anointed men of God’ who mimic the power of the Holy Spirit to extend their own petty kingdoms rather than Christ’s.

We too need to take off our personal blinkers and ask what it really means to be an emissary of Christ, before whom every knee will bow. Jesus reminds us that no one knows the day or hour when He will return as Judge and King of the whole world (Matt 24:36Mark 13:32). But His return and rule are certainties, and in the meantime we’re to let down our nets, sow the seed of the word, keep the oil burning in our lamps and work in his harvest fields— At home and across the world. Let’s take care not to get so caught up with our personal dreams and ambitions; our own church and nationalistic interests, or our personal hobbyhorses about the future, that we are oblivious to the many unreached people groups around the world. If Christ is Lord of all, we are first and foremost citizens of His eternal kingdom and His witnesses to the world.

“Clothed with power”

It’s not education, affluence or military strength that advances Christ’s kingdom to the ends of the earth, but power from on high. The disciples needed to wait for the Holy Spirit in the city of Jerusalem before they launched out into the nations (Luke 24:47). But when the Spirit’s power was poured out on them, the terrified, uneducated disciples became bold witnesses of the gospel. Steven died a brave, Christ-exulting death, and Saul the murderer became Paul the greatest missionary who ever lived. Over and over again, the apostles testified about Jesus to ordinary and great people (Acts 24:223:155:3210:3910:4113:31). The Holy Spirit convinced and convicted hearts, so that thousands bowed before the King of kings.

Even today, the Holy Spirit prepares hearts to accept the truth. He equips and leads Christ’s witnesses. He gives us deep confidence about who Jesus is and the courage to speak out and even suffer for our testimony. The Spirit still gives us grace, faith and irresistible words of wisdom, like He gave Steven. He still teaches us what to say when we are opposed and stumbling for words (Acts 6:5-8Luke 12:11-12). Without His power, our best efforts to witness will fail.

“You will be my witnesses”

A ‘witness’ is not just a convert, but a disciple who represents and speaks for Christ as King and Saviour to the world. Even though we live 2000 years later, we can still be truthful, Spirit-filled witnesses if we speak plainly about what we know about Jesus and what He means to us. One of the most credible witnesses in the Bible is the demon-possessed man called Legion, who was once naked, tormented by demons, homeless and lived among the tombs. After Jesus freed him, he sat at Christ’s feet, clothed and in his right mind. He begged to stay with His Saviour, but Jesus sent him out saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:39). That’s a lovely picture of an authentic witness! We too have a wealth of blessings in Christ to share with the whole city. Like Legion, we have experienced the mercy and grace of Jesus’s forgiveness. We now know His peace and love instead of alienation. The invisible God has revealed himself to us through His Son. We have a bridge to the Father through the cross of Jesus. What a wonderful testimony! If Jesus appointed Legion as his witness, surely we can be his witnesses too?

Prayer

Lord, help us to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and take the gospel to our neighbours, our city, our nation and the world. Clothe us with power from on high and teach us what to say when we’re given an opportunity. Show us where we can build a gospel oasis in our family, workplace, school, university and city. Root us deeply in serving our local church and make us holy, so that our lives always reflect our witness. Lord, may your kingdom come on earth! Give us a heart for your mission to the ends of the earth. Fill us with the wonder of your salvation and then lead us to become witnesses to the unreached people of our world. In the name of Jesus, our Saviour and King, Amen.