Reflection day 41- born again
From Paul Barton, one of our church workers
John 3 – 1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’
3 Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’
4 ‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’
5 Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’
Today is our firstborn’s 11th birthday. Josiah entered the world on a Monday 11 years ago. He was born at 17:39. We will always remember his birth as he did not want to come out. It was a looong labour and an eventful entrance to the world. We are so thankful for the precious gift he was and still is to us.
Those of us who are Christians can recognise that at some point we have been born again in a spiritual sense. For some you can pinpoint the date, time and year and for others it was over a gradual period. Either way you can look back and see you have been born again.
Sometimes the phrase “born again” has negative associations. I was talking with a family in our village the other week and the mother in the family said that one of her friends was one of those “born again Christians”. I explained that in reality all true Christians are born again.
Nicodemus struggled with this spiritual concept when Jesus told him that he must be born again to enter into the kingdom of God, v3 & 7. Nicodemus seemed to lack a full understanding of who Jesus was. He addressed Jesus only as a rabbi—a teacher, v2. Nicodemus did understand that Jesus was sent by God and that the signs or miracles that Jesus performed showed that to be true. That is, no one could “perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him” (v2).
Jesus’ words in today’s passage indicate that being born again is required of all who want to become citizens of God’s kingdom (vs 3 & 5).
Being born again refers to a spiritual change. This is evident from Jesus’ saying that to be born again is equivalent to being born of the Spirit (vs. 3 & 5). The spiritual change required is no minor change but a complete transformation (‘a new creation’ – 2 Cor. 5:17) . The need to be born again indicates that one must be granted a brand-new nature. A new person has to be created in place of the old. This refers to regeneration, the act whereby God changes us at the very root of our being so that we can believe. John Calvin comments, “By the phrase born again is expressed not the correction of one part, but the renovation of the whole nature.” It is not a makeover but a complete takeover.
This passage teaches us that no one is born a Christian. We must preach the gospel to all people, even professing Christians, because through the preaching of the gospel God regenerates His elect.
We should be thankful to our heavenly Father that we have be born again into the kingdom of God. Daily putting on the clothes of Christ and resisting in His power the desires of the flesh. Salvation is a gift from God to us and the Spirit will complete His work of salvation in all God has chosen. Let us be faithful in witness and trust the Spirit to complete His work in those we love and hold dear to our hearts.
Reflection day 42- How long?
‘My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long?’ (Psalm 6:3)
As we enter the seventh week of lockdown we are surely asking, ‘How long?’ In fact, for some, it’s not so much a question as a cry. They are desperately lonely, they feel trapped, the hospital treatment they urgently need has been postponed, their business is being damaged, perhaps irreparably. When will they see their nearest and dearest again? ‘How long?’
It is reassuring to hear this cry uttered numerous times in the Psalms and in other places in the Bible.
1. That believers were sure that God was in sovereign control. They knew he could end this. Above all the activities of ‘nature’ or human beings God was ruling. The question was, ‘Why are you waiting?’ ‘Why do you delay?’
2. They also knew that they could speak to God, set their problems before him, reason and remonstrate with him. They believed they could plead with God and they believed God heard their pleas. They did not take matters into their own hands; they prayed.
It is not irreverent or faithless to cry to God, ‘How long?’ In his parable of the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8) Jesus speaks about ‘his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night’ for justice. Jesus himself, ‘offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.’ (Hebrews 5:8)
But two further reflections:
Reading these cries should also move us to cry out for others.
In Revelation, for example, we hear the martyrs cry out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ (6:10)
I am not being persecuted and in fact I feel reasonably well and am still being paid to do my work. Others are suffering far greater hardships. They are poor, wondering where the next meal will come from, how they can afford medical care. Some are in prison. Some have seen their loved ones violently murdered. In Britain 200,000 babies are aborted each year. ‘How long?’ Let’s pray this for others, not only ourselves.
Finally, we should note how often God also cries out, ‘How long?’
“How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” God asked Pharaoh (Ex 16:3). ‘How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?’ he asked the Israelites (Ex 10:28). ‘Throw out your calf-idol, Samaria! My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of purity?’ (Hosea 8:5). Jesus asked, ‘You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?’ (Matthew 17:17).
Suffering has been called God’s megaphone. If, in pleasure, we take no notice of him, then he will seek our attention in pain. In the mist of all that’s happening, how long until people realise they need to turn to God in repentance and believe in his Son, Jesus Christ, the Saviour he has sent. Is this something you yourself may even need to do today?
Reflection day 43- ‘my times are in your hands’
‘Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.’
‘But I trust in you, Lord;
I say, ‘You are my God.’
My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.’
When we are in the hands of God we are ‘in good hands’, indeed the best hands. Although David in Psalm 31 praises God for not giving him into the hands of his enemies (v8), it was still to the words of this Psalm that Jesus turned in faith on the cross as he approached death, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ (Luke 23:46) He knew beyond death lay Paradise and Resurrection and entrusted himself into the hands of his wise and loving Father. Stephen said something similar as he died (Acts 7:59) and so have many Christians since. In life and death it is a wonderful comfort to know that our times are in God’s hands.
One of the finest hymns on providence in our hymnbook is by a German, Georg Neumark. It was beautifully translated into our English version by Catherine Winkworth and begins, ‘Leave God to order all thy ways’.
What moved Neumark to write the hymn? Neumark was born in 1621 in Thuringia in central Germany, the son of a cloth dealer. In 1641 he was on his way to enrol at the University of Konigsberg when he and his colleagues were attacked by a band of highwaymen who robbed him of all he had except his prayer book and a little money sewed in his clothes. He tried to find employment in the nearby cities but failed so he went to Kiel where he found a friend in the senior pastor, Nicolaus Becker, a man from his hometown in Thuringia. Becker was able to find him employment as a tutor in a wealthy family. The opportunity was unexpected, ‘as if fallen from heaven,’ and as an expression of gratitude to God for his compassion and grace Neumark wrote this hymn. It soon became popular all over Germany and was originally entitled, ‘A hymn of consolation. That God will care for and preserve His own in His own time.’ The verse of Scripture that headed up the hymn was from Psalm 55:22, ‘Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you.’
Leave God to order all thy ways,
And hope in him whate’er betide;
Thou’lt find him in the evil days
Thy all-sufficient strength and guide;
Who trusts in God’s unchanging love
Builds on the rock that naught can move.
Only thy restless heart keep still,
And wait in cheerful hope, content
To take whate’er his gracious will,
His all-discerning love, hath sent;
Nor doubt our inmost wants are known
To him who chose us for his own.
Sing, pray, and swerve not from his ways,
But do thine own part faithfully;
Trust his rich promises of grace,
So shall they be fulfilled in thee;
God never yet forsook at need
The soul that trusted him indeed.
Reflection day 44- Intercession
‘As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.’ (1 Sam 12:23)
If it is our responsibility, dare we say our duty, to pray for others, it is also our privilege. Through praying for others we ourselves will certainly be blessed.
That we have a responsibility to pray for others is clear from the great examples we have in Scripture, for example Abraham praying for Sodom (Gen 18:22-33) or Moses for the Israelites (Ex 32&33). Examples from the Old Testament could be multiplied. The Lord Jesus was of course a man of prayer. The night before his crucifixion he might have been wholly absorbed with his own sufferings. In fact, his prayers extended well beyond himself to his disciples and those others who would in time believe in him (John 17). We know that Paul often opens his letters with prayers for the recipients. ‘For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.’ (Col 1:9) We can use Paul’s prayers as pointers to what we should be praying about for other Christians.
We are exhorted to pray for all sorts of people. ‘I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.’ (1 Tim 2:1-2) Paul, with his particular responsibility to share the gospel, frequently asks personally for the prayers of others. ‘Brothers and sisters, pray for us.’ (1 Thes 5:25) Leaders in society, Christian ministers and missionaries should frequently be in our prayers. We are, naturally, to pray for our friends but also to pray for our enemies (Mat 5:44).
It has often been noted that praying for someone else will increase our love for them. Jealousy, resentment and bitterness drain away and compassion and loving concern spring up in their place. Furthermore, the Bible assures us again and again that God hears and answers prayer. Through prayer armies have been turned back and the dead raised to life. Jesus prayed for Peter’s restoration and Stephen, as he died, prayed for his persecutors among whom was the fanatical Saul of Tarsus.
Finally, remember that the Lord Jesus in heaven continues to pray for his people (Romans 8:34, Heb 7:25). To pray for others is to be truly Christlike.
We certainly ought to pray for ourselves but may God teach us to intercede for others too.
Reflection day 45- ‘You are not alone’
From David Mortimer, one of our church elders
Please read Daniel chapter 3
Last Friday we looked at the way that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stood firm under intense pressure from the most powerful king in the known world at that time, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. They had refused to bow down to a colossal idol, because doing so would thereby dishonour Almighty God. As the result of their stand, they were sentenced to a horrific death in a fiery furnace. Humanly speaking, that was the end for them – cut off ahead of their time, because of what many people would have regarded as a misguided desire to cling to their principles. They were willing to lose their lives rather than betray their God – a very real challenge facing many Christians today. Are we ready to face such challenges?
Nebuchadnezzar was enraged by such defiance, and ordered that the furnace be made as hot as was practically possible – so much so that when the soldiers threw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the furnace they themselves were killed by the flames. But what of the three followers of the God of Israel? Had they suffered the same fate? Not at all! These three men, who had been tied up with strong ropes, were seen by a startled Nebuchadnezzar to be walking around in the fire, unbound – not only that, there was a fourth person with them, who looked ‘like a son of the gods’, according to the king.
The three men were not alone – most commentators agree that they had been joined by the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ in the fire. He was keeping them safe, watching over them, even in the fiercest trial. There is the Son of God with them in the fire, and he is there to protect every hair on the heads of His people. Wesley wrote: ‘Those who suffer for Christ, have his gracious presence with them in their sufferings, even in the fiery furnace, even in the valley of the shadow of death, and therefore need fear no evil’. We are not alone, however difficult our circumstances.
Nebuchadnezzar could not believe his eyes; he ordered that the men, who he now recognises as ‘servants of the Most High God’, come out from the furnace. They do so, and the assembled crowd of officials and other potentates, gather round them. What an amazing sight – these men are still alive and, incredibly, have suffered no harm, with no physical injury of any kind, and no lingering smell of the fire upon them. What has happened here? This goes way beyond human understanding, something supernatural. The onlookers would have been in a state of shock and utter bewilderment.
Incredibly, under God’s direction, the pagan King Nebuchadnezzar speaks words of truth – he acknowledges that ‘the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’ has rescued them from certain death, by sending His angel. Nebuchadnezzar refers to their trust in the Lord, even if it meant death. What he has just witnessed has made a great impression on him, and he gives a special status to ‘the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’. Standing firm for the Lord can be an incredible witness to others, and can bring blessing to them.
Nebuchadnezzar stopped short of acknowledging Him as the only true God though, and it would take the events described in chapter 4 for Nebuchadnezzar to be truly humbled. Maybe someone reading today is like that – you know God is powerful, that He works in the lives of, and for the benefit of, His people, but you don’t know Him as your own personal Saviour. That’s an extremely dangerous state to be in; come to Him today, asking for forgiveness and salvation, and the promise is that He will hear you.
Reflection day 46- body life
Our sister Doreen passed away on Thursday morning after many years of chronic illness and suffering. What is the condition of a believer after death? Although the New Testament can speak of death as ‘falling asleep’ or ‘sleep’ (e.g. Acts 7:60, 1 Cor 15:5:6,20, 1 Thes 4:13-14) it is clear that the spirit of a Christian passes immediately into the presence of the Lord. Jesus said to the dying robber (or revolutionary), ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’ (Luke 23:43) Paul said, ‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain… I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far… ‘ (Philippians 1:21,23) A Christian who dies does not continue to exist in some comatosed condition but consciously enjoys the presence of his Lord and Saviour Christ.
That is, however, not the ultimate hope of the NT or the Bible. God created a physical world and human beings are bodily creatures. That wasn’t a mistake. The NT looks forward to a time when the earth is radically purified and renewed. It speaks of a future bodily resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus was the first example of this, a preview of what God would do in the future. He is ‘the firstfruits’ of a great harvest (1 Cor 15:20). We might find it hard to conceive of this. This present world may prove to be more like a picture or model of that future world. That world will be far more real. Nevertheless we do look forward to a physical world. And we will not drift around like smoke or clouds. We ourselves will be bodily creatures. God made us to be like that. If God saved our spirits but not our bodies that would only be half a salvation. He will reverse all that was undone through the fall.
Understanding that we are really meant to be bodily creatures has important implications now.
Sure, we don’t mollycoddle our bodies because we know that, though they will decline, they will be renewed. On the other hand we are to care for them. God is not indifferent to what we do with our bodies. We are not to misuse or abuse them as though that doesn’t matter to God and makes no difference for us. A healthy diet, exercise, sleep, chastity or faithfulness in marriage are important. We are to honour God in our bodies. (1 Cor 6:20)
We also need to appreciate how much bodily sickness can affect our minds and feelings. Doreen’s body was weak and she was often nauseous, breathless, or in severe pain. She was for a long time on levels of morphine that would swiftly kill you or me. She was practically bed-bound for much of her later life, perhaps just able to sit out in a chair for a few hours. She was absolutely dependent on others for help day by day for all the time we have known her. Sometimes Doreen had irrational thoughts and feelings. She could feel fearful, neglected or deliberately slighted. She could be frustrated and upset. We need to make allowances for the effects of pain and medication on a person’s thoughts and feelings.
But that makes the prospect of receiving renewed bodies in which we are healthy and fit, free from pain, never in need of pain killers or antibiotics or catheters or whatever, sweeter still. Even in her distress Doreen continued to testify to her faith in Christ. She recalled verses she’d learned by heart long ago. She prayed. She spoke of how, when she was suffering, she would think about how much more Christ suffered for her. Doreen has not been able to join us at church for many years. But we trust that (even though her spirit is already with the Lord Jesus) she will one day stand physically with that great multitude that no one can count, humbly, lovingly and energetically worshipping God and the Lamb.
Reflection day 47- The friend who sticks closer than a brother
While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him to find strength in God. (1 Samuel 23:15-16)
David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God. (1 Samuel 30:6)
The friendship of David and Saul’s son Jonathan is one of the most beautiful we read of in Scripture. Indeed the friendship of David and Jonathan seems to have been deeper than that experienced by David with his several wives (2 Sam 1:26).
We think too of Daniel’s three friends with those strange Babylonian names, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He once shared with them a problem of great gravity and urgency and implored them ‘to plead for mercy from the God of heaven.’ (Dan 2:18) We can ask our friends to pray with us and for us.
Jesus had friends. ‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister [Mary] and Lazarus.’ (John 11:5) His disciples were friends. Simon Peter, James and John were his special friends and John the closest friend of all. (Mark 5:37,9:2, 14:33; John 13:23)
We enjoy walks and jokes with friends but the best friends, like Jonathan, point us to God. Jonathan helped David to ‘find strength in God.’ We should ask God for such friends and seek to be such friends to others.
We’re reminded of Christian and his friends Faithful and, later, Hopeful in Pilgrim’s Progress. If one sometimes inadvertently led the other astray, in general, they were an immense blessing to one another on their journey to heaven, ‘the celestial city’.
And yet in Ziklag David seemed to be without friends. While David and his men were away, raiders had seized their wives, children, livestock and other possessions and burned what was left to the ground. When David and his men discovered the smoking ruins of their camp his men soon began to blame David. They were contemplating killing him. And Jonathan was far away.
And yet we read, ‘David found strength in the Lord his God.’ His wives had been abducted, his men had turned on him and his closest friend on earth was absent but David found the love and power of God gave him fresh courage.
We are reminded of Jesus in Gethsemane. Peter, James and John failed him but his Father did not. Jesus rose from prayer with renewed determination and strength.
Paul had many friends but he tells Timothy, ‘At my first defence, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength…’ (2 Tim 4:16-17) Here he is surely referring to the Lord Jesus.
‘What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear,’ wrote Joseph Scriven at a time of great sorrow.
John Newton also wrote a fine hymn in which he reflected on the love of Jesus. I’ll leave you with the first two verses:
One there is, above all others,
well deserves the name of Friend;
his is love beyond a brother’s,
costly, free, and knows no end.
They who once his kindness prove
find it everlasting love.
Which of all our friends, to save us,
could or would have shed his blood?
But our Jesus died to have us
reconciled in him to God.
This was boundless love indeed;
Jesus is a Friend in need.
Reflection day 48- a godly legacy
From Paul Barton, one of our church workers
2020 was the year that many sports fans had been waiting for. The 2020 Summer Olympics, commonly known as Tokyo 2020, was fast approaching. 206 nations were expected to be involved. 339 events in 33 sports (50 disciplines). One of those disciplines is 4x100m relay race. The runners on the track run as fast as they can, to the best of their ability, staying in their lane for 100m, and they have to pass the baton on to the next runner in line. Team GB has not had great success in the past at the Olympics or in the World Championships. We can all think back to when we have seen the baton dropped or fumbled during the transfer.
Passing the baton in the relay race is like a Christian leaving a legacy after we die. Brothers and sisters, leaving a legacy behind means fulfilling the purpose(s) of God during our God given time here on Earth, for your generation and for the generations to come, according to God’s sovereign will.
The Bible is full of many Biblical characters who have left behind good examples for us to follow. Moses was faithful in God’s whole house (Numbers 12:7 and Hebrews 3:2 & 5). Samuel even as a child ministering before God was considered faithful (1 Samuel 2:26, 1 Samuel 3:1-20 and Jeremiah 15:1). Hannah’s willing sacrifice in obedience (1 Sam 1:11, 20, 26-28, 1 Peter 2:5). She gave up Samuel willingly, rejoiced about it, and the Lord blessed her greatly (5 more children (1 Sam 2:18-21)). Daniel was found faithful even when his enemies tried to find some charge against him, but no error or fault was found in him (Daniel 6:4).
Lydia a new convert was obedient to baptism (Acts 16:11-15, 40, Romans 6:3-7) and offered her home in hospitality to Paul and Timothy (Acts 16:14-15).
What about us saints? What sort of legacy are we going to leave behind? Ecclesiastes 12:13 embodies an ideal legacy. Solomon summing up life says, “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” (KJV) In other words – “The whole purpose of mankind is to fear God and to do what He wants us to do, nothing more and nothing less”.
A legacy of fearing God and doing His will is the life every Christian should live. Love the Lord with all that you have. When you love God, you will fear Him and obey His words. It also becomes easier for you to love others as well. Give Him the best. The only way you can know Him is to spend time with Him in the Word and in prayer. Be thankful to Him for everything.
Our Saviour, Jesus Christ who is the son of the most high God, covers all our failings and faults. He left a remarkable legacy of conquering sin and defeating death through His resurrection to eternal life; so that whoever believes and follows Him will not perish but have eternal life.
The apostle Paul reflects upon his Christian walk and says I have – “fought the good fight,” “finished the race,” and “kept the faith.” The best legacy is when God acknowledges you and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I doubt if we can find anything better than this.
Reflection day 49- When it’s right to be intolerant
‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.’ (Jesus – Matthew 23:27-28)
‘I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!’ (Paul – Galatians 1:6-8)
Please allow me, today, one reflection in a different vein from most, for two reasons:
In Romans 14, which we began considering last Sunday, the apostle Paul stresses that there are some things which genuine Christians will disagree about. There are matters which are of little importance in the end. Christians are to beware for this reason of judgmental attitudes and to seek to accommodate one another. Today I want to emphasise that, nevertheless, there are truths and practices we must earnestly contend for and, equally, there are falsehoods and wicked practices we must strenuously contend against.
Second, it is particularly important for us to remember this because we live in a society which celebrates ‘tolerance’. The meaning of tolerance has, however, significantly shifted over the decades. Whereas it used to mean a readiness to bear with those who, perhaps fiercely, disagreed with you (and, perhaps, with whom you fiercely disagreed) without resorting to violence or slander, today ‘tolerance’ seems to mean accepting that what everyone says is true, right and good. We are thus under special temptation in the church to tolerate what in the past would have been regarded as heresy or ungodly behaviour.
For example almost fifty years ago at the annual assembly of a large (Baptist) denomination the Principal of a Bible College in that denomination said this: ‘I am not troubled or surprised that he (Jesus) doesn’t know everything or sometimes makes a mistake, or gets angry, or doesn’t have all the gifts, or betrays himself as a child of his time. However remarkable his life, I think I must stop short of saying categorically: Jesus is God. So first Jesus is a man like you and me, and second God is present or active in Jesus as he is present and active in us all.’
Although some called for this man to be dismissed, he retained his job. Although some left the denomination in protest, most remained. Such people think it is uncharitable to condemn the views or practices of others. But we need to ask ourselves these questions:
i) Is it charitable to this man to allow him to continue in serious error without challenging and remonstrating with him? Would that be for his eternal good?
ii) Is it charitable to those who listen? Doesn’t saying nothing mean that those who listen are left in confusion or error? Jesus said he was the Son of God, the one who had come down from heaven to earth, that he was ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14:6). His miracles and resurrection authenticated this. To allow confusion about Jesus’ identity is to risk directing someone to hell rather than heaven.
iii) Is it charitable to Jesus? ‘My Lord and my God, ‘ was the cry of Thomas (John 20:28). If we love Jesus surely we will want to defend his reputation and honour.
So, there are some differences in the convictions and behaviour of Christians we must with sensitivity accommodate within the church. There are other convictions and behaviour which we cannot because they are simply not Christian. They are not in any way consistent with what the Bible reveals, teaches or commands.
Jude (the half-brother of Jesus) writes, ‘Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a licence for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.’ (Jude 3&4)
There will be times when we too, if we are true Christians, will be compelled to contend for that same faith.
Reflection day 50- Well pleased
‘All the people took note and were pleased; indeed, everything the king did pleased them.’ (2 Samuel 3:36)
When Joab the commander of the army of Judah murdered Abner the commander of the army of Israel in the course of a family blood feud, David condemned what Joab had done. He wept for Abner, sung a lament and fasted. The people of Judah and Israel were pleased by David’s behaviour and, indeed, everything their brave young king did pleased them.
And so it was for a considerable time but not for ever. David sinned spectacularly when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and effectively murdered her husband Uriah and other loyal soldiers too. Later David’s son Absalom ‘stole the hearts of the people of Israel’ (2 Sam 15:6) and, though David was restored, he could still act foolishly.
Jesus is the promised Messiah God sent, the King of the Jews and indeed of all people. For much of his ministry Jesus was immensely popular with ordinary men and women. ‘People were overwhelmed with amazement. ‘He has done everything well,’ they said. ‘He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’’ (Mark 7:37) We think of his triumphal entry or of his subsequent teaching in Jerusalem: ‘The large crowd listened to him with delight.’ (Mk 12:37). But it was not universally or enduringly so. Jesus’ family considered him unhinged, his townsfolk took offence at this upstart, the religious leaders plotted to kill him. The people of Jerusalem turned against Jesus and cried, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Jesus died a torturous and shameful death.
In the end what matters, however, is not what pleases man but what pleases God. ‘But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.’ (2 Sam 11:27) In contrast God the Father said at Jesus’ baptism and again at his transfiguration ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ (Mk 1:11, 2 Peter 1:17) The cross was ultimately God’s plan not man’s. The love and obedience of Jesus culminated in his crucifixion. For this reason, God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to his right hand. He is ‘the ruler of the kings of the earth,’ and, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’ (Revelation 1:5, 19:16)
To his people now, everything that Jesus did and does pleases them. Other human leaders fail just like David. Royalty, politicians, yes, even Christian ministers fail us. But everything Jesus is and did and does pleases us – his humble birth, his submission to Joseph and Mary, his ministry, his miracles, his teachings, his resurrection, his present intercession for us. Even when afflicted we bow to his sovereign wisdom and love.
And of course, supremely he laid down his life for us. He did not shed innocent blood but shed his innocent blood for us, ‘the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.’ (1 Pet 3:18) The cry of heaven is eternally, ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!’ (Rev 5:12)
May that be our cry on earth too and may we ‘live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.’ (Col 1:10)