Category Archives: Christ’s sufficiency

Gathering clouds…

The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!..”

(John 1.29)

Moses said to them, “Go..and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood…and put some on the door-frame…When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the door -frame and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.

(Exodus 12.21-23)

Jesus took the twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be turned over to the Gentiles. They will  mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

(Luke 18.31-34)

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves. ..those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins….But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God..because by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those  who are being made holy.

(Hebrews 10.1, 3, 12&14)

As a boy growing up in a Jewish family, Jesus would have celebrated the Passover many times before the night in Jerusalem when he shared that final meal with his disciples. Do you ever wonder at what stage he began to discern that it was to be his privilege and pain to become the ultimate Passover lamb, The One who would die once and for all, so that God’s wrath against sin might be turned away from all who accepted the offered sacrifice?

The only scriptures he had were those of what we call our Old Testament, and that in itself should encourage us as 21st century believers to take those books seriously. In them, Jesus found mapped out the path which he was to take – as he reminds his disciples when he says that he is going to Jerusalem so that all that the prophets had written about him should be fulfilled. In the book of Genesis, he found the first promise of the coming saviour, and the assurance even then that suffering would be involved. In the story of Abraham and the covenant promises, he found that God’s blessing was intended for all the peoples of the earth. In the miraculous Exodus narrative, he found the decisive image of a sacrifice to avert destruction, and later a whole structure of temple worship which demonstrated that the wrath of a holy God against sin could not simply be set aside; that there was a price which must be paid; and it was a blood price.

I grew up in churches where the Old and New Testaments were held together, taught together, and I am so thankful for that heritage, which means that the oldest stories are full of symbolism, fore-shadowing what was to come, and that all through the wandering, rebellion, exile and restoration, the fine line of God’s faithful promise can be discerned.

As Jesus approached Jerusalem for this last time, after all these years of celebrating Passover in peace, he knew that his time was come, that there would never again be any need for sacrifice of lambs or any other beast in the temple, after his body had been broken and his blood poured out. These days were the culmination of centuries of God at work in his people, they were the centrepoint of time and the object of all His Father’s loving plan.  If the angels and heavenly beings had been “on the edge of their seats” at his birth, how much more were the host now intent upon the drama of the coming days? What weight of expectation lay upon those human shoulders, and coloured all the thought and actions of the son of Mary?

As we approach the season of Easter, and remember particularly – and fittingly – all the events of that last week of Jesus’ earthly life, I am humbled and drawn once again to worship this God-made-man, in his incredible love for humankind, and his complete submission to his Father’s will.

Worthy, worthy is the Lamb, all praise and glory to the One who walked unwaveringly into death, that we might live!

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I just wanna be a… sheep!

Help us, O God of our salvation! Help us for the glory of your name. Save us and forgive our sins for the honour of your name…Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will thank you forever and ever, praising your greatness from generation to generation.

(Psalm 79.9&13)

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need…

(Psalm 23)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep……I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. …My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.

(John 10.11,14&15,27-30)

One of God’s many gifts to his children, are the rest of his children! How often are you comforted, encouraged, inspired or helpfully chastened and challenged by other believers? Recently, a friend challenged me to think again about a passage and a concept with which I am so familiar that I realise I had stopped thinking about it! I think it is one of the traps into which long-time believers can easily fall, failing to register the depth of meaning in a passage because we think we understand and have already grasped all it has for us..Praise God, that he doesn’t leave us to our foolishness, but stirs us up to look again, to seek to learn again – old lessons for a new time of life, or new lessons altogether!

The gospel of John contains several passages in which Jesus refers to his people as sheep, and himself as shepherd, building on an image used in the Old Testament by the psalmists and prophets where the people of Israel are God’s flock, and most famously where David rejoices in having the Lord God as his shepherd. Sheep and the whole business of shepherding was as familiar to Jesus’ audience as our own daily routines are to us. The character of sheep, and the necessary qualifications of a good shepherd were  widely understood, so that when Jesus used these things in his teaching, everyone could grasp the message.

We – as sheep who have gone astray, vulnerable and foolish, needing care and protection – have in Christ the ideal and perfect Shepherd for our souls. His love for us – the love which took him to Calvary on our behalf – has shown the value which is placed upon us, a price beyond imagining. He knows us, not merely about us as statistics, but an intimate understanding and delighting in, which mirrors the joyous communion within the Trinity. How hard we find it to let this truth sink deeply into our understanding, to let it inform our thinking about God, and about ourselves as his beloved and chosen people!

By the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, we are increasingly able to recognise the voice of our truth-telling beloved Shepherd, to discern the false voices which might beguile us away from him, and to reject them. That Spirit is also the guarantee of his gift to us, the gift of eternal life, which is the hope of all who trust in Christ – every straying, tired, despairing, or wilful sheep has a place in the Shepherd’s heart and he will not give up on any who truly call him Lord.

Finally, we are safe, and can have absolute assurance of the grasp which Christ has upon us. It is almost as though Jesus were gently boasting here, in the manner of a child..’my Dad is so much stronger than anyone else!!’ But in this case, it is no idle boast, but an earnest reassurance from our Good Shepherd that we need have no fear about our eternal security. I wonder if Paul was remembering these words of Jesus when he wrote this:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?..No despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8.35-39)

I am content to be a sheep; to accept my foolishness and utter need of constant care from a shepherd who has demonstrated such love for me and promised such a future. And I am thankful for other members of the flock who do so much to help me to hear his voice more clearly, and to follow him more nearly!

Making holes in the dark…

In the beginning was the Word..In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it… When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said,”I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

(John 1.1,4&5; 8.12)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness, ” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

(2 Corinthians 4.6)

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

(Matthew 5.14-16)

By choosing to celebrate Christmas at the darkest time of the year (for dwellers in the northern hemisphere), the church has been able to explore so many ways in which the description of Christ as the “Light of the World” is a powerful and transforming one. When one lives for weeks with less than 7 hours of daylight, and much of that heavily shrouded in clouds and rain, the presence of light is a precious gift, and one for which we are profoundly thankful. Truly, it takes the darkness to make us appreciate light fully, and in particular to see how every pinprick shows up clearly – think of the old children’s hymn which speak of that bright distinctiveness – Jesus bids us shine, with a pure clear light, like a little candle burning in the night. No one is disqualified from their part in the witness of the church to the source of all brightness, Jesus himself, the light of the world.

We are called not to reflect the light – like mirrors, which have no power within them – but to shine with light, like torches, lanterns, or candles. So the light must dwell within us first! Jesus calls us to be the light of the world, even as he has taken that title upon himself – is that not amazing?! Paul in his letter to the Corinthians tries to explain what the light is – the knowledge of the glory of God, which was so full and complete in Christ, that he could say to his disciples, “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father”.

It is as we learn to know God, to worship and appreciate him in all his glory, that we will shine more and more brightly in the world – making things visible, illuminating what is true and real, showing the need for salvation and the loving God who offers it freely in Christ. The sanctifying, transforming work of the Holy Spirit in our lives scrubs away those things which obscure the light and prevent it from shining – the selfishness, the fear, the grudging and bitter resentments which can build up. And it is God himself who gives us the light, as well as making us fit to shine for him! It is not by good deeds that we obtain light, rather that one of the ways in which the light is seen is by the godly things we are prompted to do and be in our world.

Here is the challenge for us; are we shining like this? Are we so afraid of the reaction of our dark world that we try to hide the light of Christ dwelling within us, and let it out only when we are in a safe Christian environment? We don’t need candles or torches when we are bathed in sunlight, but when night has fallen, when there are no windows in the room, when the trees crowd so thick overhead that light is blotted out.

We are to shine with Christ-light in those places, where there is darkness, so that the prisoners can see, so that freedom can be obtained by those who are in despair… As we have received, so let us give – freely, abundantly, joyfully.

What a gift we have to celebrate this Christmas time – light not only for our own lives, but for all who need it! May God in his great mercy continue to make us more like Christ, so that we might bear that light of the knowledge of his glory into the world which needs it so badly…

And is it really possible?

If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it – you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked – well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.

(Romans 4)

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is. He’s the father of our master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ.

Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the cross, we’re a free people – free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making.

(Ephesians 1)

Both taken from the Message, the New Testament in contemporary language.

Five hundred years ago, a theological fire raged across Europe, one which left relations between church and state in tatters, and transformed culture and social life for ever in many nations of the north. The varied rumblings and outbreaks of discontent with the established Roman church found a focus in the life and work of Martin Luther, and in 1517, he publicly appealed for a debate on the many areas where he believed reform was needed.

The failure of the church authorities to engage in this debate saw Luther push to clarify the proper relations of scripture and state, priest and people, and having once begun to rely on the scriptures for his guidance, he found more and more reasons to protest against the status quo. This ‘protestant’ movement against the claim of supreme authority by the pope over the understanding and interpretation of the bible was to set intellectual life free in Europe, empowering and encouraging enquiry and personal enlightenment.

What Luther found in the pages of the bible transformed his life, from that of a pious but desperate monk, unable to find any assurance of salvation despite a life of rigorous labour and upright conduct, to a confident, humble and passionate believer in the salvation freely and solely offered through the death of Jesus Christ. When Luther finally saw that all of the demands of God’s holiness or righteousness upon his life  had been met in Jesus’ sacrifice, and that it was God’s love gift to him received simply by faith, he wrote that it was as though the doors of paradise swung open to welcome him. The prospect before him was too beautiful to be true, and yet it was!

It was this which drove Luther in his work to translate the bible from Latin – unintelligible to his fellow-Germans – into their own language; to write books and pamphlets explaining the true means of salvation and sweeping away the confusion caused by false teaching; to teach and nurture other teachers in turn who could preach and bring this light to their congregations. In his defence before the emperor, accused of heresy and in danger of his life, he would say that he was “captive” to the word, and incapable of speaking of anything else, or of covering up what he found there.

In recalling with thankfulness the ways in which God used Luther and his fellow reformers – with all their flaws, and failings – am I guilty of forgetting what a wonderful thing it is that they restored to us in simple beautiful clarity?

We rest on the authority of Scripture, as God’s revelation of himself to us, and specifically the revelation of Jesus Christ as God incarnate. We trust solely in the atoning death of Christ to deal with the wrath of a holy God, accepting that of ourselves we are powerless to change our fate. We rejoice to receive solely by faith the power of that sacrifice, by which the holy God declares us to be clean, put right with him, and destined to share eternity with him. All has been done as a result of God’s grace, nothing is required of us but faith, and all the glory goes to God.

The door is open wide, the voice of love calls to me saying “Come child, hurry and be at home with me”, will I hesitate? Will I reject the price that was paid?

God grant that a fire may burn in our hearts too, as in Luther’s heart when he found the truth, so that we long to share the message and see others set free by our God, who has done all for love of us..

And yet I dare to enter…

And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, “In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength.” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.

(Isaiah 45.21-24)

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel…Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

(Hebrews 12.22-24,28&29)

One of the pitfalls of having spent my entire life within a christian community, is that so many of the phrases we use and read are so familiar – I stop seeing them, stop noticing how bold and audacious they are!

And then God in his goodness gives my mind a nudge, the Spirit opens my eyes and ears, and suddenly I see it afresh. That happened with the little phrase from Isaiah, “And there is no God but me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none but me.”

To the mind of sophisticated 21st century humankind, that statement is outrageous, arrogant, or ludicrous – depending on one’s viewpoint. As a follower of Jesus in Scotland in 2017, I am in the minority, regarded by many as deluded and foolish, by some as dangerous in my commitment to my faith. The notion that there is a God is mocked by many, and others would argue that all faith systems lead to the same place, so that all “gods” are equal.

Where do I stand? I am made uneasy by the strength and vehemence of the secularists, as they denounce my faith and my God. I am dumb in the presence of articulate intellects, mocking all that I hold dear, and dragging away the foundations of my world. I cannot defeat clever speech, nor do I desire to mock others for their beliefs – mockery is no way to gain respect or a hearing for my own belief.

When I am conscious of being under assault, I fling myself back at the foot of the cross – that great pivotal point in history, when God declared that He would not be mocked by sin, and that the devil would not have lasting dominion over God’s creation.

I believe in an historical Jesus, God-incarnate walking the earth, working steadily towards the unveiling of an unparalleled act of divine intervention. Who else has a God who is utterly holy, just and pure – a searing brilliance that our polluted minds cannot being to imagine – and YET who is full of mercy and love, and chooses to reconcile his love and his justice in order that He might be re-united with his unfaithful people?

There is truly NO God like this, and all our philosophies and science, all the pride of  man in his thinking and discovering has uncovered nothing as beautiful and life-changing as this God in his act of reconciliation through Jesus death on the cross.

I would rather be a fool for Christ, than considered wise by men; would rather remain on the fringes of society as a faithful follower, than enjoy popular success without my Lord. He has opened the way for me – even me, so broken and flawed by sin – to enter the presence of this righteous God, and not to enter as one dreading well-earned punishment, but rather as a beloved child.

What does it matter to me if men mock? My eternal fate is not in their hands, but safe in the hands that bled for me, the hands that are raised to intercede for me, the hands that extend to welcome me with love into my Father’s presence. He is mighty and glorious indeed, and worthy of reverent praise, but because Jesus died, I dare to run to him, to cling and call him Father. In his house, I am at rest and safe, and nothing can drag me from his arms.

And then you take my breath away..

This world, green and blue, suspended in one of countless galaxies, so small and insignificant, yet so large as to contain the lives and ambitions of billions of people. This world, teeming with life and yet existing only because of an exquisite balance, which you uphold Lord my God; daily and hourly you decree that we should continue.

All our boasted scientific knowledge only reveals to us more about your creating genius, leaving us more to marvel at and a humbling sense of the responsibility you gave us in putting all this into our hands as your stewards. How unworthy we have proved to be of that great trust, squandering your riches; destroying your creatures; polluting the air, the water and the land.

And not only have we abused the bounty of nature, but one another too. Our failure to see that every human creature bears the imprint of a heavenly Father’s nature, reflects – however imperfectly – his character, has brought untold misery and suffering upon our race.

We are deserving of judgement and destruction – indeed, we are perhaps hastening the day by our own actions! We have rejected you, rejected the idea of ourselves as subjects, and grabbed selfishly at some pseudo-lordship of our own.

Oh God, in your holiness and utter ‘otherness’, we are so completely cut off from you, rebellion against you is in our very bones, and we cannot overcome it of our own efforts. What hope do we have?

Of ourselves….none.

And into that void, you speak.

Into our despair, our rebellion, our darkness, there came a voice, a man, who said “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

And you took our rebellion, our shame and guilt, and he bore it away, so that we are free for the first time. Free from the stranglehold of sin on our lives, free to see and taste, smell and touch, hear and speak of all your goodness and love to us. 

Such love: selfless, sacrificial, soul-searing and saving.

Your love,

takes my breath away.

Tell me again..please?

Therefore, I will always remind you about these things – even though you already know them and are standing firm in the truth you have been taught. And it is only right that I should keep on reminding you as long as I live….For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendour with our own eyes….because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets.

I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Saviour commanded through your apostles.

(2 Peter 1.12,16,19 &3.2)

Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the good news I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this good news that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you…I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the scriptures said.

(1 Corinthians 15. 1,3&4)

 Our world in these early years of the twenty-first century is driven by rapid change – population growth; expanding economies; transforming technologies. We in the prosperous and stable European nations enjoy an unprecedented standard of living and are swept along in the current of constant innovation which drives our economies and personal lives. Every few years, we replace appliances, cars and pieces of furniture, and obsolescence is built in to much of what we use,  we accept it cannot last for long. We are increasingly driven by novelty, the lure of the new and different. It was ever thus, humanity is easily bored, but the pace of change today is breath-taking.

Do we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking about faith in this way, as if there ought to be some innovations by now, some new and exciting insights and teaching which will render much of our tradition obsolete? Well, perhaps there is a case for arguing that much which is traditional is no longer helpful, but actually obscures the gospel, and it could therefore be set aside. But, there is a foundation of truth upon which our faith must rest if it is to have any validity at all, and that foundation remains today as it was when the apostles wrote about it two thousand years ago..

We believe in a God who became human, lived a perfect life, died the death of a sinner, and was raised to new life, ascending into heaven where all those who accept his death in their place will also be received. It can be reduced to the simplest of statements, as the children’s hymn puts it, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so..”

There is sufficient profound theology behind this truth to occupy the greatest minds; and yet it is clear enough to be understood and embraced by the youngest and simplest of us. And it does not change…this is what we believe, and without this, we are astray upon a sea of conjecture, tossed by fashionable philosophies, driven by ruthless atheists, and without any real grounds for hope. It is this truth which we need, more than anything else, to give us courage to face life, to face ourselves in all our weakness, failure and malice.

Jesus loves me – therefore I am of worth, I have value in God’s eyes and can hold my head high no matter what others say of me; Jesus loves me – and his death has dealt with all my sins, the past, present and future, I am forgiven and the burden of guilt has no weight for me: Jesus loves me – I want to live in a way that honours him and recognises that my life is no longer my own to waste; Jesus loves me – and that love is for all who will receive it, therefore I have good news to share with my world!

This old story, of Jesus and his love, is what I need to receive afresh every day of my life. It is as basic to my existence as the food I eat and the air I breathe. Without this story, I have no hope, and am at the mercy of my own sin, the wiles of the devil, and the power of evil in the world.

Praise God, in his infinite wisdom, that his great story of redemption is complete, that nothing need be added by all the cleverness of humanity to make it effective. There is no need to look for new versions of the good news of Jesus; the old story, the unchanging story, is never obsolete, always effective, and the only sure foundation of faith. Alleluia, and Amen!