New every morning – Lamentations 3:19-26

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19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

Lamentations 3:19-26

New every morning

What would you expect when you come to read a book entitled ‘Lamentations’?  Surely it will be nothing but doom and gloom?  You would be partly right – there is much in the book about God’s judgment, but that is not the whole story.  There is also light and gospel hope.

Lamentations was written during the lowest point in the history of Judah – when the nation had been destroyed by the Babylonians and many of the people taken into exile.  The root cause of the disaster was the sin of the people and so they had no-one to blame but themselves.  There are, however, precious words of hope in the midst of the darkness, words that still speak to us today.  Let’s consider together Lamentations 3:19-26 New every morning.

1. The depths of despair

The tone of the first part of the chapter is one of unrelieved gloom.  Here is a man in the depths: ‘made me walk in darkness’ (v2), ‘He has walled me in’ (v7).  The description is vivid.  Even prayer seems futile ‘he shuts out my prayer’ (v8).  The writer (probably Jeremiah) speaks not only for himself, but for the people – ‘we’ (v22), ‘us’ (v40).  The whole nation is passing through the darkness.  Jerusalem has been destroyed and the land laid waste by the Babylonians.  It was the worst time in the nation’s history, hence the reference to ‘the bitterness and the gall’ (v19).

The reason for this suffering is that ‘we have sinned and rebelled’ (v42).  The people of Judah have broken covenant with the Lord and have been serving other gods, and so are now reaping the consequences.  The Babylonians are God’s instruments of judgment.

How can this apply to us in our troubled world, especially in the midst of the coronavirus crisis?  We know it is in God’s hands and is fulfilling his purpose.  The situation is certainly a reminder that we live in a fallen world which is suffering the consequences of human sin.  Surely the Lord is reminding the nations of the consequences of conducting their affairs without reference to him and his law.  We must, however, not fall into the error of Job’s comforters and attribute suffering to God’s judgment on particular individuals.  We are all called to look at our lives and ask if there are things amiss, sins that have crept in, which need to be repented of and forgiven.  God is summoning us all to take stock in the light of his Word.

2. The reason for hope

The prayer of v19ff marks a profound change of mood.  Note v21 ‘this I call to mind and therefore I have hope’.  Light dawns as he focuses attention on the nature of God.  This is what the psalmist does in Psalm 42:6 ‘My soul is downcast within me, therefore I will remember you’.  The danger is that when our soul is downcast, we turn away from the Lord.

When we recognise our sin, we need to focus not on ourselves but on the Lord.  Looking inwards will never change the situation.  All we will see is our sin.  We need to meditate on what the Lord is like, otherwise we will simply go round in a depressing circle.

The key for Jeremiah is ‘great is your faithfulness’ (v23).  That is the ground for his hope – solid ground because God does not change.  He has taken his people into covenant with himself, a relationship not based on their worthiness or effort to be good.  Although they have been unfaithful to their covenant commitment, he remains faithful to his promises ‘for he cannot disown himself’ (2 Timothy 2:13).  We cannot fathom God’s amazing covenant love to us.  Here is our hope, in the Lord alone, because he has not changed since Jeremiah’s day.

3. The answer we need

Note v22, where we read of ‘the Lord’s great love’.  Here is the covenant love of God that forgives sinners when we are spiritually dead and helpless.  His love provided the Substitute we need to bear the consequences of sin.  God ‘gave his only begotten Son’ (John 3:16).  This verse takes us forward to Christ who died ‘the righteous for the unrighteous’ (1 Peter 3:18), not waiting for us to be ‘good enough’ (which is an impossibility anyway).  It was in love that Christ laid down his life for us, and so the Lord’s ‘compassions never fail’ (v22).

Here is sympathetic love and kindness for the helpless.  The Lord Jesus Christ has felt the full power of temptation, without ever sinning.  We have fresh evidence of that love daily – God’s compassions ‘are new every morning’ (v23).  What wonderful reassurance.  It is often in the darkness of the night that our troubles most weigh upon us and seem at their worst.  Here is the encouragement that the dawn will come and bring fresh experiences of God’s love.

That is what we need to hear.  There is still forgiving grace to be found in the Lord when we have failed him.  Satan will try to convince us otherwise, telling us that God must have stopped loving us if we are enduring such a hard time.  We have God’s assurance in a text such as 1 John 1:9 ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins’.  He forgives the repentant.  His promises will not fail, whatever our feelings tell us.  We are to listen to God’s Word, not to our hearts, or to the lies of Satan.

4. The proper response

So what are we to do?  As so often in the Bible, the proper response is described as waiting: ‘I will wait for him’ (v24), ‘it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord’ (v26).  We wait for the Lord’s help and cleansing, the things that we really need.  That does not imply that we are passive or inactive.  There is to be repentance and confession – ‘We have sinned and rebelled’ (v42).  We wait with a sense of anticipation, knowing that he will answer.  We do not give in to despair, but we are to rely on the Lord for the grace we need.  He alone is able to save and forgiveness must come from the God we have offended.  That’s why Jeremiah can say, ‘The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him’ (v25).  We must go to the place where the answer is to be found.

When we understand that he is a gracious, covenant-keeping God, that encourages us to make him ‘my portion’ (v24).  He will never fail us, never betray our trust in him.  The key question is – can you say with Jeremiah, ‘The Lord is my portion’?  

David McKay

How to be right with God – Luke 18:9-14

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The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14 (NIV)

How to be right with God

Some diseases and weaknesses run in families, from heart conditions to baldness. The same can be true of moral and spiritual character.  J C Ryle said, ‘We are all naturally self-righteous.  It is the family disease of all the children of Adam’.  Sin is rooted in pride and the exaltation of self.  God is displaced from his rightful position.  Luke 18:9-14 is a parable Jesus told to some who were confident of their own righteousness (v9).  From the two men described, we learn a vital lesson in today’s devotional, Luke 18:9-14 How to be right with God.

1. Two men

We must try to set aside our familiarity with this parable, especially regarding whom we are to admire.  How would Jesus’ audience hear it?  They would hear it in a very different way from us.  Their expectations of these two men would be almost the opposite of ours (and remember, we know how the parable ends).  To the original hearers, Jesus’ parables were often surprising, even shocking.  This one is no exception.  Consider these two men:

(i) The Pharisee: a pillar of the religious establishment.  The Pharisee movement may have had its origins in those who resisted foreign oppressors and their false religion in the period between the Testaments.  They had a history of courageous defence of religious orthodoxy.  The name ‘Pharisees’ may mean ‘pure ones’ and they were certainly very particular about ritual purity.  In Mark 7:3-4 they are said to wash themselves scrupulously and also the vessels they used.  Their obsession was with keeping the Law of Moses.  Many scribes would be Pharisees, from whom the highest standard of conduct would be expected.

(ii) The tax collector: his name and the job he did were regarded with revulsion by the Jews.  He was employed by the Romans, who farmed out tax collecting to ‘tax farmers’ who in turn employed men like this one.  Their aim was to gather as much tax as the market could stand since people did not really know what they owed.  Any money collected above what the Romans required went into the collector’s pocket.  They were known for greed and dishonesty and were regarded as traitors working for the occupying power, Rome.  From such a man Jesus’ hearers would automatically expect the worst.

2. Two prayers

The hearers’ expectations are immediately challenged when the men begin to pray:

(i) The Pharisee: he stands up (v11) – the usual posture for prayer, but Jesus knew his hypocritical desire for public attention.  In Matthew 6:5 Jesus describes Pharisees as ‘hypocrites’ who love standing to pray in prominent positions ‘to be seen by men’.  Very significant is the statement that he ‘prayed about himself’ (or we might even say ‘to himself’).  Though he addresses God, his thoughts never go beyond himself.  What seems to be a prayer of thanksgiving, beginning ‘God I thank you’, is in truth a ‘prayer’ of self-congratulation.  He is a striking example of the kind of person against whom Jesus told this parable.  He was among those ‘who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else’ (v9).  The Pharisee was confident on two grounds:

First, he is not outwardly wicked.  He compares himself with those whose sins were open and public – ‘robbers, evildoers, adulterers’ (v11).  He deals only with what is outward and visible.  He never touches the issue of his heart which is hard and closed to God.  It is always tempting to compare ourselves with obvious sinners, with whom we think we compare well, forgetting God looks on the heart.  To the Pharisee, the tax collector was the lowest of the low: ‘even like this tax collector’.  He despises him utterly.

Second, he performs acts of exceptional piety, going beyond the Law’s requirements.  Instead of the required annual fasting, he fasts ‘twice a week’ (v12), and he tithes all his income, not just the portion specified in the Law.  In doing more than is required, he believes he is building credit with God.  He believes God is pleased with his spiritual state.  It is dangerously easy to forget or ignore Galatians 2:16 ‘a man is not justified by the works of the law’.  We must never forget we cannot be justified by any amount of religious activity or any number of good works.  These can never pay the debt of our sin or place God under obligation to bless us.

(ii) The tax collector: in total contrast to the Pharisee, he ‘stood at a distance’ (v13).  He did not dare to approach God’s holy presence.  His attention is on a holy God, resulting in a profound sense of sin.  He is like Isaiah, whose response to God’s holy presence was to say, ‘Woe is me!’ (Isaiah 6:5).  The tax collector dares claim nothing.  He ‘would not even look up to heaven’, but beats his breast in sorrow for his sins (v13).  Ashamed of his sin, he is desperate for forgiveness.

His words are crucial.  Literally he cries, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner’ – a heart-cry for salvation.  His own sin stands out so clearly, there is no attempt to console himself with the failings of others.  This is true repentance – claiming no merit, making no excuses.  He casts himself on God’s mercy, without any reservation.  He pleads, (literally) ‘God, be propitiated towards me’.  He recognises that sin requires atonement and a price has to be paid for forgiveness.  There is hope, however.   He is standing at the place of sacrifice in the Temple, where sin offerings were made.  Those sacrifices point to Christ the sin-bearer, whom God ‘made to be sin for us’ (2 Corinthians 5:21).  The tax collector is in the place where forgiveness is to be found.  If we are to be saved, we must come to the same place.  It is the righteousness of Christ crucified that is needed, not any supposed righteousness of our own.

3. Two results

The real shock comes in v14.  People may have seen nothing wrong with the Pharisee’s prayer, but God’s verdict is the only one that matters.  Jesus’ listeners would be shocked to hear that the tax collector is the one who is ‘justified’.  That means that he was declared righteous in God’s sight, his sins forgiven, a new life granted.  This is possible because at the cross Christ the Substitute paid the price for the sins of his people.  It is the work of God’s sovereign grace, received by faith.  The tax collector is ‘justified’, then and there, and will always remain so.  The Pharisee, far from being right with God, still bears all his sins, without repentance or any sense of need, believing he is righteous.  Jesus drives the lesson home in v14 – we must humble ourselves to seek salvation by God’s grace, truly repenting of sin.  The tax collector found a gracious God who justifies sinners on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice.

David McKay

The Returning Saviour – Colossians 3:1-4

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Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4

The Returning Saviour

When Jesus was ascending into heaven, two angels assured his disciples, ‘This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’ (Acts 1:11).  Christians are looking forward to the return of Christ at the time decreed by God the Father.  Perhaps we allow the world’s mockery of the idea of Christ’s return to rob us of the joy and consolation we should have from this great certainty.  Our hope is centred on Christ and today we consider his Second Coming in Colossians 3:1-4  The Returning Saviour.

1. Our union with Christ

The most basic way of describing salvation is union with Christ in his death and resurrection.  When Christ died and rose again, the Bible tells us that those sinners given to him by the Father in eternity in principle died and rose spiritually with him.  This spiritual death and resurrection become our actual experience at our conversion.  Thus in v3 Paul tells us, ‘you died’ – that is a single, decisive event.  So too in 2:20 we read, ‘you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world’.  When we believe in Christ there is a radical, once-for-all break with our spiritual past of deadness and bondage to sin.

The same language of death and resurrection is used by Paul elsewhere.  Thus we read in Romans 6:4-5 ‘We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death…If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.’  Also Galatians 2:20 ‘I have been crucified with Christ…Christ lives in me’.  It is amazing language.  That is how Christians ought to think of themselves.

A total spiritual change has taken place – we have gone from death to life.  We are united to Christ in his death and resurrection.  Paul says, ‘your life is now hidden with Christ in God’ (v3).  We occupy a totally secure positon.  This fact is invisible to the world and is often misunderstood.  The believer has a wholly new perspective, set out in Galatians 2:20 ‘the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God’.  Christ and his will are central.  All we do is for his glory.  Our aim is to reflect his likeness.

2. The glory of Christ

This whole epistle emphasises the glory of Christ.  Hence v1 speaks of ‘Christ…seated on the right hand of God’, the place of supreme exaltation.  This is the fulfilment of Psalm 110:1 ‘Sit at my right hand’, the Father speaking to the Son.  Christ’s present position is the result of his atoning work and so Paul writes in Philippians 2:9 ‘Therefore God highly exalted him’.  The full price of redemption has been paid, hence the reward of glory is bestowed.  No longer is the glory of Christ veiled as it was on earth.  His seat at the Father’s right hand is also one of supreme authority – Ephesians 1:21-22 describes it as ‘far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given…God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church’.

At the God-appointed end of history, that glory will be revealed to every creature – ‘every eye will see him’ (Revelation 1:7).  There will be no concealment – ‘When Christ…appears’ (v4).  Biblical images emphasise the radiance and glory of the One coming to complete the salvation of his people and judge unbelievers.  He ‘will come back again’ – the promise is in Acts 1:11.  It is a day believers can look forward to with anticipation, not trepidation.  We will meet our Saviour face to face.

3. The glory of believers

At present Christians are being transformed into Christ’s image by the Holy Spirit – ‘from glory to glory’, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18.  We are aware of how we fall short and we long for perfection.  By the Lord’s power one day the transformation will be completed.  We are told in v4 ‘When Christ…appears, then you also will appear with him in glory’.  For believers the best really is yet to come, when Christ completes his work.

Salvation includes the body, hence the certainty of resurrection.  The fullest description is in 1 Corinthians 15, including the assurance, ‘we shall be changed’ (v52).  We will be given ‘glorious bodies’ like Christ’s, as Philippians 3:21 tells us.  We will have bodies suited to life in the age to come, in the new heavens and the new earth.

Believers will share in the glory of their Saviour.  Note 1 John 3:2 ‘we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’.  His image will be perfectly formed in us.  We will be free from all sin, beyond the reach of temptation and the possibility of falling.  The process will finally be complete.  All the efforts of Satan will have come to nothing.  There is much about this we cannot now know, but what we do know should stir our sense of anticipation.  This is what awaits every child of God since ‘no-one can snatch them out of my hand’ (John 10:28).  We will be as like the Saviour as it is possible to be.

This is not revealed to us for abstract speculation or argument.  It leads to practical results.

4. The responsibility of believers

The final glory we anticipate should shape the way we live now.  It is not just a matter of some event in the distant future.  Note ‘Christ, who is your life’ (v4).  He is the source and sustainer of our spiritual life and the one who means everything to us.  Hence we are commanded (literally) ‘keep seeking the things above’ (v1).  We are also told, ‘Set your minds on things above’ (v2).  The focus of our thinking, desiring and willing must be Christ and the things relating to his kingdom, the things revealed to us in the Bible.  Christ commands us in Matthew 6:33 ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’.  That will decisively shape who we are and how we live.

We are to apply the fact of Christ’s lordship to the realities of everyday life.  We fill our minds with whatever is ‘true…noble…lovely…admirable’ (Philippians 4:8).  We are to do all for his glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).  Far from cutting us off from real life, this provides our motivation for living real life for Christ.  We live godly lives in the present because we will share Christ’s glory in the future.  May our hope rejoice your heart today.

David McKay

God’s Gracious Covenant , Leviticus 26:12

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12 I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.

Leviticus 26:12

God’s gracious covenant

The Bible in one sense is a library of 66 books, but in a deeper sense, it is one book, given to us by God.  Some themes stand out particularly prominently in Scripture and serve to hold it all together.  One of these is covenant, which occurs all the way through the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament.  God tells us that he is a covenant God.  This is a word used to describe the relationship between God and his people.  It is actually not a difficult theological word – its basic meaning is clear in the verse we are looking at today – Leviticus 26:12 God’s gracious covenant.

1. The provision of grace

It is vital to understand that in the relationship between God and his people it is God who takes the initiative.  Note the context of the promises of this chapter.  We read in v13 ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt’.  The Lord is reminding them that he set them free and then gave them his law.  The same pattern is evident in Exodus 20:1-2 at the beginning of the Ten Commandments.  The Lord stresses that liberation from bondage preceded the giving of the law.  It is the same in Leviticus 26.  Liberation from bondage is the context for the call for obedience in v3, and that is followed by the promises of blessing for the obedient and of curses on the disobedient.

The whole covenant rests on what God has done.  At a level deeper than the social and political liberation Israel had experienced, the covenant relates to the change of heart and life that is involved in the experience of salvation.  There has to be such a change if the covenant is to be a living relationship.  All sinners, both Jews and Gentiles, are ‘dead in…transgressions and sins’ as Paul puts it in Ephesians 2:1.  Salvation is impossible unless God takes the initiative.  Only God’s grace, his undeserved favour, can bring such sinners into covenant with himself.  That is why it is called ‘The Covenant of Grace’.

Notice what Jesus says in Luke 22:20, at the Last Supper: ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood’.  By his sacrifice on the cross, foreshadowed by the Old Testament sacrifices, he has taken the burden of his people’s sins on himself and has redeemed them.  The price of redemption has been paid by Christ and so Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:7 ‘In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins’.

2. The promise of fellowship

The covenant establishes a warm personal relationship between the Lord and his people.  It is a measure of the greatness of his grace.  He is not a distant God.  He says, ‘I will put my dwelling place among you…I will walk among you’ (v11-12).  God’s walking among his people recalls Eden before the Fall.  God walked with Adam and Eve, but fellowship was lost through man’s sin.  Now God graciously restores the covenant that was broken.

It should never cease to amaze us that this infinitely great and holy God should seek fellowship with us and should make it possible at such a cost.  ‘How great is the love that the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God’ (1 John 3:1).  In the Covenant of Grace God gives himself to us.  He promises, ‘I will be your God’.  We can never exhaust the meaning of those words, but in the full light of the person and work of Christ, we can understand it so much more clearly.  He will be to us everything that we need.  Not only does he save us from sin, he indwells us by the Holy Spirit, enabling us to serve him, and he remakes us progressively in the image of Christ.  All of our spiritual life and growth flow from our covenant relationship with the Lord.

God’s covenant people have real living fellowship with him.  As we use the means of grace, especially Bible study and prayer, we grow in the knowledge of him.  As Jesus tells us in John 17:3 ‘this is eternal life – that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’.  We are addressed by him in Scripture and we address him in prayer.  We are the objects of his infinite love and we respond with a growing love for him.  ‘We love’, we are told in 1 John 4:19, ‘because he first loved us’.

3. The privilege of belonging

We are told in Genesis 1:27 that we are made in the image of God. What does that mean?  The God who reveals himself in the Bible is a Trinity, one God in three Persons, a community.  As those who are made in the image of this God, we are made for community.  It is a denial of our basic nature to live an isolated, solitary life.  Human beings find community in various ways, especially in families, but we find that the craving of the human heart for community satisfied above all in this covenant relationship with the Lord.  That is what we were created to experience.  He promises in this verse, ‘you will be my people’.  He gathers his people into a community, a body.  In the Old Testament, this took the form of the nation of Israel and in the New Testament, it takes the form of the international body of the church.  Together they form one community – as Paul writes in Galatians 3:29 ‘If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise’.

As members of this community, we have a place of service.  The nature of our service is stated in 1 Peter 2:9 ‘that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light’.  All our work, however seemingly unimportant, is to be done for his glory.  That includes telling others about him and what he has done to save sinners.  Such privileges, of course, entail responsibilities.  Our responsibilities include in particular the pursuit of holiness.  ‘Be holy because I am holy’ is the Lord’s command in 1 Peter 1:16.  That holiness is expressed in the obedience described in v3 ‘If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands’.  Because we have received his grace, we do not find the Lord’s commands a burden.  In fact, we show our love for the Lord by obedience.  ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments, Jesus tells us in John 14:15.

In this warm, loving covenant fellowship with the Lord and with his people we find life as he made us to live it.  This is the only path to the fulfilment that every person seeks.  And it is not just for this world.  This fellowship will be enjoyed in full in heaven and in the new creation, when Christ returns.  In Revelation 21:3 we read, ‘he will live with them.  They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God’.

David McKay

Four great facts about salvation – Ephesians 2:8-9

video can be found here

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

When somebody is in a difficult situation – maybe financial, or emotional, or of some other kind – family and friends will offer a helping hand if they can.  Their efforts added to what the person himself can do may be enough to see him through the crisis.  Those offering help would expect the person to do as much as he can to help himself.  Then the combined effort will be sufficient.

Often people think that that is how salvation works.  They believe that as sinners we can’t do enough to save ourselves – we need help from God.  They think that we do the best we can and God makes up the shortfall.  The Bible presents a very different view of salvation, as we see in today’s passage Ephesians 2:8-9 Four great facts about salvation.

1. It is by grace

Verse 8 begins ‘For it is by grace you have been saved’.  The word ‘for’ shows that this statement is the conclusion to be drawn from what Paul says in verses 1-7 about the transformation that God has wrought in his people.  He has brought them from being ‘dead in…transgressions’ (v1) to being ‘alive with Christ’ (v5) and he has ‘seated [them] in heavenly realms in Christ Jesus’ (v6).  They have been saved from the guilt and power of sin.

Paul now stresses that this salvation is entirely the work of God from start to finish.  He is sovereign in saving sinners – they do not save themselves.  The same basic principle is stated in Jonah 2:9 ‘Salvation comes from the Lord’.  We find it throughout the Bible.

The key term is ‘grace’.  This is a vital word to understand.  Grace is the love and favor of God shown to the wretched, to the sinful, to those who deserve his righteous condemnation.  It is a love that is determined by nothing in its objects.  It is purely the fruit of God’s own nature.  Psalm 86:15 says, ‘you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God’.  In view of our plight as sinners, this is our only hope.  The gospel is good news because it is a message of God’s grace to helpless sinners like you and me, a grace that saves the undeserving.

2. It is through faith

We need to understand clearly that salvation is not automatic.  It is received only by those who have faith.  This ‘faith’ is not some vague religious feeling or attitude.  The Bible means something very specific by ‘faith’.  Note Acts 16:31 ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’.  Paul is telling us that there is one proper object of saving faith- Christ crucified and risen.  It is the object of faith that gives it its saving power.

Biblical faith requires knowledge of the person and work of Christ.  It also entails assent to the Bible’s explanation of what he accomplished, but it also demands personal trust in Christ as Saviour and Lord.  That’s why in the Bible we have the language of believing ‘on’ or ‘in’ Christ.  It is like leaning our entire weight on him.  Personal trust in him is essential.

What is the result of believing in Christ?  In Romans 5:1 Paul says that we are ‘justified through faith’.  That means we are declared righteous in God’s sight.  Christ is ‘our righteousness’ according to 1 Corinthians 1:30.  His righteousness, in his life of perfect obedience to God’s law and his death on the cross, is counted as ours.

Notice that salvation is ‘through’ faith, not ‘on account of’ it.  Faith is not a contribution we make to salvation.  It is ‘instrumental’, merely the channel God uses to convey salvation to us.  It is like holding out our empty hands for God to fill them.  We must never lose sight of the role faith plays and so become proud of our believing or think that it earns blessing.

3. It is God’s gift

Paul drives home the crucial lesson in verse 8: ‘this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God’.  He could be referring to faith or to the whole of salvation as a gift – it comes to the same thing in the end.  God does not grant salvation as if it were a wage we earn or a debt he owes us.  Calling it a ‘gift’ stresses he is under no obligation to us.

The gift is entirely free to us, but in fact, it had to be paid for.  The gospel tells us that our salvation has been fully paid for.  The only one who could pay the price as our Substitute was the Lord Jesus Christ, one who is both God and man.  By his perfect obedience to the Father in both his life and his death, Christ paid the price fully.  As 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us, ‘God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us’.  The whole burden of our sin and guilt was carried by the Saviour in our place.  Jesus ‘gave his life a ransom for many’, as he himself puts it in Mark 10:45.

Notice that Paul says, ‘you have been saved’.  It’s a perfect tense in the original language, used of something that has already happened and whose effects continue.  Although our full enjoyment of salvation lies ahead in glory, we now have full, permanent possession of salvation and it cannot be lost.  That’s a truth that’s full of assurance and comfort for us.

4. It is not by works

Paul stresses salvation is by grace alone: ‘not from yourselves…not by works’ he writes in verses 8 and 9.  We need to stress this.  We are not saved by a mixture of grace and works – that would destroy the element of grace.  That is the error the Reformers had to combat.  They were correct to affirm that we are saved by grace alone.  We cannot and we need not add anything of our own to salvation.  Nothing we could do is able to supplement God’s grace

Our efforts have nothing to contribute, and grace and works are mutually exclusive principles.  All our efforts are covered by ‘works’, including even religious activities.  Salvation does not begin with God’s grace and then continue by our works.  It is tragic when some Christians live as if God’s grace forgave their past sins, but now they have to maintain salvation by obeying God well enough.  That really denies the power of God’s grace.

The truth about salvation by grace through faith in Christ is humbling.  But it is also so liberating.  We are free from the burden of trying to earn our salvation.  If you have not received that salvation from the Lord, let me urge you to trust in Christ as your Saviour today.

David McKay

Prevailing Prayer – Luke 11:5-13

link to the video is here

Prevailing Prayer

One area of the Christian life where we experience most struggle and defeat is undoubtedly that of prayer.  It may seem that nothing could be easier than talking to God, yet often when we come to pray we find ourselves lethargic and uninterested, with our attention wandering.  There may be various reasons for this, including tiredness or anxiety, but above all, it indicates our lack of sanctification.  It is certainly a point where Satan will be especially active in attacking us.  If prayer is a powerful weapon in our spiritual warfare, his attacks should not surprise us.

The Lord, however, graciously gives us all kinds of encouragements to stimulate our praying.  John Calvin said, ‘There is nothing better to stir us to make our prayers, than a firm assurance that we shall succeed in them’.  The Lord Jesus provides the kind of assurance we need in our passage today.  Let’s look at Luke 11:5-13 Prevailing Prayer.

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity[a] he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for[b] a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Luke 11:5-13 (NIV)

1. A parable (v.5-8)

After providing an example of the content of prayer in what we now call ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ (v1-4), Jesus uses a vivid story to illustrate the right attitude to prayer – ‘the parable of the friend at midnight’.  The situation is easy to visualise: ‘a friend of mine on a journey has come to me’ (v6).  Travel would take place at night to avoid the heat, so the host is caught totally unawares by his visitor – ‘I have nothing to set before him’.  We can imagine the reaction of the sleeping friend.  Most of us would say, ‘Don’t bother me’ (v7).  He doesn’t want the trouble of waking his family, who would probably be sharing the room with him, preparing food for the visitor, and generally being burdened.  But the friend at the door will not give up.  He stretches friendship to the limit, and beyond, yet he succeeds.  As v8 says, ‘not…because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness (or shamelessness) he will get up’.

What is Jesus’ lesson here?  He argues from the less to the greater – if a human friend in such circumstances would give ‘as much as he needs’ (v8), how much more will our heavenly Father do so?  Consider the comparison Jesus is making: our relationship with the Father is richer and deeper; there is no night with God and he never sleeps or makes excuses; we are not asking on behalf of strangers, but we are his children, fully known and loved by him; our needs are not small (like the ‘three loaves of bread in v5) but are very great, both physically and spiritually; the Father gives great promises to encourage our asking.  He offers no self-interested excuses for not responding.

On all these grounds we can come and expect a positive answer.  We can be bold, not letting anything deter us.  That does not encourage in us an attitude of presumption or a demanding spirit.  Our praying relates to our needs, not to our selfish wants.  Keeping that in mind, we have everything in our favour when we approach the Lord in prayer.

2. A promise (v.9-10)

Building on his parable, Jesus gives us direct encouragement to prayer.  Notice that the commands ‘Ask…seek…knock…’ are continuous tenses, indicating persistent asking and repeated coming to the Lord with our needs, We do not come with the ‘meaningless repetition’ of Matthew 6:7, but we are to come every time we have a need, with no limit to our requests.

Ask’ implies humility and a consciousness of need.  We have to set aside our pride, unlike the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:10-13, who actually asked for nothing.  Asking implies faith in a God who can and will answer.  Without faith, prayer is an empty ritual.

Seek’ implies action, doing what we can to gain what we seek.  We are not to be passive as the means of answer may be at hand.  Above all we should seek a deeper knowledge of the Lord, making use of Bible study along with our praying.

Knock’ – there needs to be perseverance until the door is opened.  We are often commanded to persevere in prayer: we should ‘always pray and not give up (Luke 18:1), ‘Be faithful in prayer’ (Romans 12:12).  God sometimes delays in order to stimulate our prayers.

When we obey these commands we meet with a 3-fold promise – ‘will be given…will find…will be opened’ (v9).  These promises are full of encouragement for Christians.  The response will exactly meet our need, and the Lord knows that need perfectly.  It is not a blank cheque so that we ask for anything we think we would like.  In I John 5:14 we read, ‘if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us’.  That is vitally important.  How do we know what his will is?  Sometimes we not sure, but the closer we are to God, the better we understand his will, and so we know better how to pray.  Verse 10 is a great promise to all who come in this way: ‘everyone who asks receives…’  Every Christian can testify to the many ways in which the Lord has kept his promises regarding answering prayer.

3. A pattern (v.11-13)

To clinch the argument Jesus again argues from the less to the greater.  He uses a very homely image that everyone can identify with – ‘Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish…?’ (v11).  Any good parent wants to provide the best for his child.  When asked for what the child needs (bread, fish, egg), he will not provide what is useless (stone) or potentially harmful (snake, scorpion).  A parent’s love moves Him to give what is best for the child.  Verse 13 provides the application of the illustration to our praying.

Human love is inevitably limited and imperfect, even in the best of us.  Jesus mentions ‘though you are evil’ to take account of our imperfection, yet we ‘know how to give good gifts’.  He then makes the comparison with our perfectly loving and all-knowing Father.  Hence he asks, ‘How much more will your Father in heaven give…?’  Already he has given the greatest gift: ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’ (Romans 8:32).  In particular, Jesus mentions that he will ‘give the Holy Spirit’ to those who ask him’.  Does it surprise you that Jesus speaks particularly about the gift of the Holy Spirit?  The Spirit is, in fact, the chief gift bestowed on the Lord’s people, the one through whom all other provision flows.  We should above all be praying for more of the ministry of the Spirit in our lives.

Based on the nature of our heavenly Father and the rich promises he has made, we can be sure of the perfect answer to our prayers and have the strongest encouragement to give ourselves to prayer.  No matter what our circumstances, we can engage in the ministry of prayer.  We may be locked down, but our prayers can circle the world, a world in the palm of the Lord’s hand.

Rev David McKay

God’s gifts of grace and peace, 1 Corinthians 1:3

Video is available here

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:1-3

God’s gifts of grace and peace

We are living in a very challenging time, with a disease which has brought a large part of the world to a standstill, world leaders very perplexed about the best policies to pursue to deal with this crisis and many people facing an extremely uncertain future.  Who could have imagined even a short time ago that we would be living through such days?

As Christians, however, we have resources from the Lord that enable us to face such challenges.  Today we are thinking about God’s provision for us as we consider the words Paul uses to greet believers in 1 Corinthians 1:3 ‘God’s gifts of grace and peace’.

1. Grace

The first element in Paul’s greeting is ‘Grace…to you’.  He carefully specifies the source of that grace: ‘from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’.  The greeting is set in a clearly and powerfully theological context.  This is not something that the world experiences.  God is immediately at the heart of how Paul addresses believers.  The apostle is not simply expressing conventional good wishes as any letter writer would do – he is speaking about spiritual realities that relate to the people of God and go to the heart of who we are.

Paul begins with the fundamental fact of our Christian identity – we are those who have received grace ‘from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’.  Notice here:

God’s attitude. 

What do we mean by the word ‘grace’?  Fundamentally grace is the love and favour of God shown to sinners contrary to what they deserve.  It is undeserved, unmerited favour is shown to those who deserved judgment and condemnation because of their sins.

Without compromising his perfect holiness, God shows throughout Scripture that he is a God of grace.  In Exodus 34:6 he says that he is ‘the compassionate and gracious God’.  We find the same truth in the New Testament, where Christ is described as ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).  God is characterised by grace to the unworthy.

Whilst there is a grace shown to all men, providing this-worldly blessings, (what we call ‘common grace’), grace chiefly relates to sin and salvation.  It is bound up with the love of God, since ‘God is love’ according to 1 John 4:8.  Grace is the attitude of God to his people in the face of their sin, and so if we do not understand the nature of sin as an offence against a holy God, we will not understand the nature of grace and we will not appreciate how wonderful it is.  It was in grace that God ‘chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world’ (Ephesians 1:4) and provided all we need for salvation.

God’s action. 

All of Paul’s discussion of grace is centred on Christ.  Already we have touched on this.  Grace leads to divine action – saving action since sinners need salvation.  Note Paul’s words in Titus 2:11 ‘the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men’.  It is in Christ that this grace has appeared, it has taken visible form in the Son of God coming into this world for our salvation.

The supreme expression of grace is the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ.  It is his work that provides full salvation for the objects of God’s grace.  Hence ‘it is by grace you have been saved’ (Ephesians 2:8).  Apart from God’s grace we would be lost eternally.  The very centre of the gospel is God’s grace to sinners in Christ.

It is vital to remember that not only does salvation begin in grace – it also must continue by the same grace.  God’s grace enables spiritual growth in Christ’s likeness and also enables spiritual service.  Grace cleanses us from sin when we fail and come to God in repentance.  It is God’s grace that keeps us connected to Christ.  That is why Paul wishes believers ‘grace’ – we need it daily and we always will.

2. Peace

God’s grace provides a multitude of blessings for the Lord’s people.  One of the greatest is ‘peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’.  This is a profoundly spiritual peace.  Peace in biblical language is far more than the absence of strife – it is the fulness of blessing that we enjoy in the family of God.  Note 2 things here:

A permanent possession. 

We have a wonderful statement in Romans 5:1 ‘since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’.  Through the gracious action of God in Jesus Christ, our relationship to God has changed fundamentally and forever.  As sinners ‘we were God’s enemies’ (Romans 5:10), but the sacrifice of Christ has satisfied the righteous requirements of a holy God and turned aside his wrath.  Thus Christ is, as John puts it in 1 John 2:2, ‘the propitiation for our sins’.  God’s enmity towards us is ended and we are at peace with him.

This is a truth we need to hold on to.  Satan will try to shake our confidence in it, reminding us of our sins and asking how such a person could be a real Christian.  We must remember that in Christ we have and always will have peace with God.  That is Christ’s accomplishment and so cannot be lost even by our repeated sins.  We remain ‘children of God’ (1 John 3:1).  God will not and cannot reverse his verdict on his people.

A present provision. 

Peace with God is always a fact, but our experience of it varies.  It can come and go.  Sometimes we do not feel at peace with God:

perhaps because of our sins we lose our peace and it is replaced by fear

perhaps because of our circumstances – in hard and testing times we may lose our sense of peace with God.  We may even wonder if he has turned against us.

That is when we need to recapture the experience of ‘the peace of God which transcends all understanding’ (Philippians 4:7) – that is why Paul includes it as a wish for believers in his greeting here.  It is a very precious blessing.

How may we recapture our sense of peace?  One obvious requirement is avoidance of sin, which robs us of our peace.  On the positive side, we must use the means of grace God provides so that we grow closer to the Lord.  Notice how Philippians 4:6 puts peace in the context of ‘prayer and petition with thanksgiving’.  Worship, prayer, meditating on God’s Word, fellowship with believers – we need all of these sources of strength.

Peace is a precious blessing that we seek for ourselves and for all God’s people.  In the midst of difficult and trying times, may we know that peace which the world cannot give or take from us.

Habakkuk 3:16-19, Rejoicing in Adversity

video available here

16 I heard and my heart pounded,
    my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
    and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
    to come on the nation invading us.
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.
For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

Habakkuk 3:16-19

Habakkuk the prophet was given a really hard message to deliver.  Because of Israel’s sins, the Lord was sending the pagan Babylonians to devastate their land.  Habakkuk struggled to understand how a holy God could use such unholy people to do his will.  God assured the prophet he would also judge the Babylonians for their wickedness, but it was a hard message to accept and hard to preach.  Tough times lay ahead, but at the end of his book, Habakkuk shows us how a believer is to face testing times such as those we are living through.  Let’s look at Habakkuk 3:16-19.

1. Waiting upon God

In the first part of chapter 3 Habakkuk thinks about the greatness of God and the way in which he has judged evil in the past.  That gives him encouragement, yet as he thinks of what he and Israel are going to have to endure in the near future, he is almost overwhelmed.  His language is very vivid: ‘my heart pounded…my legs trembled’ (v16).  He is rendered almost helpless by fear.  The storm is coming and he can imagine something of what it will be like.

It is good to realise that even a prophet may feel overwhelmed by what God is doing.  He is a man of flesh and blood, just like us.  He is not some cold, unfeeling person, immune to the trials that he and others have to pass through.  He trembles in fear.  At one time or another, we all face such situations, times when we feel we are at the end of our resources and cannot cope.  We may well be fearful about the future, especially in these very uncertain times.  We can identify with Habakkuk.

But notice too he says, ‘I will wait patiently for the day of calamity’ (v16).  He had resources to meet the trials, and we can have the same help in our times of need.

2. Rejoicing in God

In verses 17 and 18 we have a testimony to the power of faith in a fearful man.  Habakkuk is able to overcome his fears because of the strength provided by his God-given faith.  For this reason, he will be able to rejoice, even in the deepest adversity.

First of all the prophet faces up to the worst that may happen – ‘Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vine…’ (v17).  He depicts the worst situation imaginable since the fig, vine and olive were staple crops for the Israelites.  If these fail, there will be no food and no income.  The same applies to the flocks and herds he mentions.  It is a picture of economic disaster followed inevitably by famine, and probably starvation and death.  All of this could happen as a result of the Babylonian invasion.  It may not turn out to be as bad as this, but Habakkuk considers the ‘worst-case scenario’.  He does not buoy himself up with false hopes, telling himself ‘it could never happen’.  The hope that God’s people have in dire situations is not some kind of psychological trick, pretending that things will not really be too serious.  As we face a very uncertain future, in both the short term and the long term, we need something better than telling ourselves the worst will not happen to us.

Notice that Habakkuk’s rejoicing is ‘in the Lord’, it is ‘in God my Saviour’ (v18).  That is crucial.  He rejoices in the Lord who keeps His Covenant of Grace with his people in all generations.  However bad circumstances may become, the Lord will not forsake his people, and on both the personal and the national scale his purpose will be worked out for his glory.  Whatever Habakkuk himself may be called to suffer, he is assured that God will be at work in the situation.  For that reason he can not only accept whatever comes – he can rejoice and praise God.

By faith in the Lord, we too can rejoice even in adversity.  We do not know what God in his providence will bring to anyone of us.  It may include suffering, sickness, or even death.  Just because we are the Lord’s people, we are not spared all the hard experiences of life.  We can, however, be assured of his direction of events according to his wise and loving plan, and we can thank him for that knowledge.  This is not ‘keeping a stiff upper lip, nor is it self-deception: it is trust in the God who has saved us by Christ’s redeeming work, and who has committed himself to us in covenant grace.  Only the child of God can respond to crises in this way.

3. Strengthened by God

Habakkuk has not finished yet.  In v19 he makes another great assertion of confidence in the Lord: ‘The sovereign Lord is my strength’.  It lifts him above the present crisis and lets him see beyond it to the fulfilment of God’s purpose.  He is confident that God will give him the necessary strength to endure the test that is coming.  He uses the image of the deer – ‘he makes my feet like the feet of a deer’ – an animal proverbial for its speed and agility.  In v16 his feet were faltering, his legs were trembling, but now the Lord enables him to be sure-footed.  The fearful arrival of the Babylonians will not cause the prophet to stumble in doubt concerning the goodness of God’s plan.

At the end of the verse, Habakkuk expresses firm assurance in the Lord: ‘he enables me to go on the heights’.  His language suggests a degree of control over his situation – looking down on the trials from high ground.  He is also expressing his freedom from fear – if he stands on the high ground, he does not need to hide.  In difficult times it can be very tempting to try and hide from the struggles that confront us.  It may seem safer, but it is misguided.

Habakkuk has found the secret of true strength.  It lies not in self-confidence, but rather in trusting the Lord.  That is why he is confident of coming through his trials with his faith intact.

Here is a lesson every believer needs to learn.  Salvation begins with abandoning trust in ourselves and turning to Christ.  That is how we are then to live the Christian life – depending on the Lord’s strength.  Only thus can we face testing times.  Whatever comes to us – whether fear, anxiety, illness, loss or some other hard experience – we can face it with confidence in the God who gives us all the strength we need.  As the Apostle Paul learned, his strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).  May we know that strength in these testing days.

David McKay

1 Corinthians 15:3-8, 12-20 “Christ is risen!”

video is here

1 Corinthians 15:3-8, 12-20

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Christ is Risen!

Does the resurrection matter?  It might seem that it doesn’t. A recent survey of over 2000 adults (commissioned by the BBC) found that 25% of those who would call themselves ‘Christians’ do not believe in the resurrection of Christ, against 31% who believe the Bible’s account ‘word for word’.  Among ‘active’ Christians (who attend a service at least once a month) 57% believe in the resurrection. Of all those surveyed, 50% do not believe in the resurrection. Perhaps it really is a matter of opinion, and not that important.

The attitude of the Apostle Paul was very different.  He writes in 1 Corinthians 15:14 ‘if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith’.  In fact, the resurrection of Christ is crucial to Christianity – a dead Christ means an empty and futile religion.  Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15 and remind ourselves that ‘Christ is risen!’

1. Did he rise?

The whole of the New Testament, including all 4 Gospels, answers ‘Yes!’  The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is overwhelming (however you explain it).  There is no doubt he died on the cross – the Romans made no mistakes about things like that – and equally there is no doubt that on the third day he rose again.

All the Gospels contain accounts of the empty tomb – it is an essential part of their message.  To suggest that despairing, defeated disciples could or would steal his body and pretend he had risen is incredible.  If the authorities had still had the body, they would have produced it and snuffed out the Christian movement at its very beginning.

Notice what Paul says in v5-7 – he provides a list of post-resurrection appearances of the Saviour – to ‘Peter…the Twelve…more than 500 of the brothers at the same time…James…all the apostles…me’.  It is impossible that this could be some kind of psychological hallucination or delusion. Many of the witnesses were still alive when Paul wrote and could be consulted. Our conclusion must be – he has risen!

2. What did he achieve?

Accepting that Christ really did rise, we now ask – what does his resurrection mean?  What did it accomplish? The New Testament clearly leads us to view the resurrection as a victory.  It is a victory in 3 ways:

  1. Victory over sin: Note v3 ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures’.  In fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament, Christ in his death took the sin of all who would ever believe in him, along with the punishment they deserve.  All that our sin deserves from a holy God has been taken by Christ. In 1 Peter 3:18 we read, ‘Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’.  God’s Son was a willing sacrifice. All we need in order to be forgiven is provided in him. The resurrection proves that the full payment has been made.
  1.  Victory over Satan: It is sin that gives Satan power over sinners.  If our sin is dealt with, Satan’s claim on believers is destroyed.  Jesus’ death on the cross, therefore, includes victory over Satan. The first gospel promise is in Genesis 3:15 the promise that the ‘seed’ of the woman will crush the head of the serpent – the promise has been fulfilled in Christ’s defeat of Satan at the cross and the empty tomb.  In Colossians 2:15 Paul writes of how God ‘having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross’. The resurrection is the guarantee that Christ really won the victory.  Satan’s dominion over believers is broken.
  1.  Victory over death: Death is ‘the last enemy’ (v26).  It is a fearful thing for most people, but the empty tomb is proof that Christ has conquered death.  Death exists because of sin – the sin of Adam (v21) that we inherit.  Christ has dealt with sin and so, in the words of Peter in Acts 2:24, ‘it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him’.  Those who belong to Christ will share in his victory – he is the firstfruits (v20), and at his return, the very presence of death will be abolished (v26).

3. What does it mean for us?

  1. The answer to sin: Christ crucified and risen is the answer to our sin.  Note Matthew 1:21 ‘he will save his people from their sins’.  Having taken the burden of our sin, he saves us from the punishment due to us.  As Isaiah 53:5 tells us, he was pierced for our transgressions’.  There is now no punishment due to those who trust in Christ as Saviour.  We are righteous in God’s sight. Christ also saves us from the power of sin as day by day he gives us grace and strength to ‘walk in newness of life’ (Romans 6:4).
  1.  The answer to tragedy: In the resurrection, we have proof of Christ’s victory over all the forces that damage our lives and cause us pain.  The risen Christ is ‘head over everything for the church’ (Ephesians 1:22). All his power and authority are used for the benefit of his people.  Thus he gives us all the grace and help we need to face pain, loss, uncertainty, disappointment, bereavement. For the Christian, Satan is a defeated enemy and so we may, by the Lord’s strength, resist his attacks and temptations.  The Lord always says to us, ‘my grace is sufficient for you’ (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  1.  The answer to death: Those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ share in his victory over death.  As ‘the firstfruits’ (v20) he guarantees that the rest of the harvest will follow – ‘when he comes, those who belong to him’ as Paul puts it in v 23.  Having been raised from spiritual death at conversion, we will be raised from physical death at his return.  Our bodies share in salvation.  Although much must remain mysterious, we know Christ ‘will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body’ (Philippians 3:21).  There is nothing for us to fear in death. On account of Christ’s resurrection, Paul can ask triumphantly, ‘Where, O death, is your victory?’ (v55). We have a glorious hope in the risen Christ.

David McKay

Isaiah 26 ‘The peace of God’

Isaiah 26:3-4 The peace of God

In the current coronavirus crisis it is very difficult to feel at peace.  Almost everything has changed and not for the better. Even the sight of so many closed businesses is unsettling, and our city is like a ghost town.  Nobody knows when it will be any different. If you lack peace – if you are anxious, worried, afraid – all of life is affected. You are not able to focus on the important things, not able to give your best to any activity.  In the spiritual realm, a lack of peace hinders growth and service. How may we have true peace? The answer lies not in closing our eyes to hard reality, but rather in fixing them on the Lord, the one source of true peace. Isaiah ministered in troubled times, when there were many reasons for fear.  God’s provision, described in Isaiah 26:3-4, applies to every Christian.

1. An unwavering trust

This is mentioned first in these verses.  This is where we must begin. It sets out the one route to true peace.  Unless this description fits us, we will never enjoy this true peace of God.  The one ‘whose mind is steadfast’ is the one who ‘trusts in you’ (v3). This can be said only of the Christian.  The unbeliever does not trust in the Lord and so cannot have peace. To have peace we must begin with the total commitment of life to the Lord.

There has to be a looking away from ourselves, recognising the inadequacy of our resources to cope with the difficulties of life, beginning with the problem of our own sin.  The problem of our own sin can be addressed only by trusting in the Lord’s provision of salvation in Christ: ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved’ (Acts 16:31). Every other source will eventually disappoint us.

Even for the Christian, peace does not come automatically.  We need to be ‘steadfast’, a word that suggests leaning and depending on the Lord.  The whole ‘mind’ is involved – all our thinking, our values and our priorities are to be shaped by our relationship to the Lord, not by the attitudes of the world around us.  To be such a person we need to use the means of grace God has provided, especially prayer and Bible study. Particularly when we cannot meet as a congregation we must be careful not to neglect these sources of spiritual nourishment.  If we neglect our walk with the Lord, we will be like a ship in a storm with no anchor, tossed in all directions.

2. A perfect peace

To those who do rest only on the Lord there is a wonderful promise – ‘You will keep him in perfect peace’ (v3).  This is God-given peace, such as Jesus promises in John 14:27 ‘my peace I give you’. We can have peace because Christ has dealt with our sins and reconciled us to God – ‘he himself is our peace’ (Ephesians 2:14).

Peace in Scripture is far more than an absence of conflict.  ‘Shalom’ means ‘wholeness’, every part of life in godly order, in harmony with the Lord and reflecting his likeness.  Living ‘in the sunshine of God’s favour’ (as one writer puts it) we have a sense of safety and security, whatever life may bring to us, since we are in the Lord’s hands.

This is the spiritual peace of Philippians 4:7, guarding our hearts and minds (the very centre of life) when all around is turmoil.  Literally Isaiah says ‘peace, peace’ – repetition showing how comprehensive it is. Whatever anxieties and fears trouble us, the Lord has the answer.  This peace can be enjoyed in the midst of outward troubles. God will ‘guard’ – see the description of God as a fortress in v1. Surrounded by God’s love and power, no enemy can separate us from him or take our salvation.

3. A secure foundation

It is good to remind ourselves that our trust is in One who merits all our confidence – ‘the LORD is the Rock eternal’.  Isaiah uses the special covenant name for God – this is the God who has shown grace to the undeserving and who has made an unbreakable covenant with us.  He remains faithful despite our sins and failures.

The Rock ‘does not change like shifting shadows’ (James 1:17).  His care and his love for us never change. He is the source of strength we need to face trials.  He endures for ever and our trust in him is not just for time but for eternity. This relationship is full of warmth and love: ‘he is my mighty rock, my refuge’ (Psalm 62:7).

If we fail to trust him we lose our peace, but there is always the possibility of restoration through repentance.  When we stumble, he upholds us so that we do not finally fall away (Psalm 37:24). That is a great comfort when we are conscious of our weaknesses.

4. An urgent summons

‘Trust in the Lord for ever’ – there must be personal action if we are to experience this peace.  We look to the Lord, trust him in daily living, seek his power to live for his glory. We take the focus off ourselves and put it on the Lord.

We must be aware of the dangers of relying on the unreliable.  Although unbelievers may have useful insights into our problems, we are not to rely on them, but must seek help from the Lord and his people.  We should avoid the ‘broken cisterns’ (Jeremiah 2:13) of unbelieving worldviews. We seek the Lord’s help directly in prayer and also through the wisdom of his people.  If we follow the Lord’s direction, walking closely with him daily, we will know the peace that only the Christian can know, even amid restrictions, dangers and uncertainties.  How else can we face the challenges that confront us?

David McKay