The disciples thought they were going to die, on the Sea of Galilee in ‘a furious storm’ (Matthew 8:24). Indeed ‘the boat was being swamped’ (Luke 8:23). They are at the end of their resources, but they do turn to Jesus. We hear their panic in Mark 4:38 ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ In the middle of the storm Jesus sleeps on a cushion (Mark 4:38). What do we learn about Jesus from this? Consider Matthew 8:24 Jesus slept.
24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” 26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. 27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
Matthew 8:24-27 (NIV)
1. An evidence of humanity
Jesus slept because he needs sleep. He experienced the same kind of human needs as any of us, including tiredness (John 4:6) and thirst (John 19:28). The range of human experience is shared by Jesus. What we read here provides clear evidence of Jesus’ humanity. What the Son of God has taken into union with his divine nature is human nature in its entirety – a body and a soul, with the sole exception of sin. It is human nature just like ours. As we defend the deity of Christ, we must equally vigorously defend his humanity. Early heretics such as the Docetists were influenced by Greek thought and could not conceive of deity in union with humanity. The church from the outset understood the importance of the Lord’s human nature. Hebrews 2:17 tells us that ‘he had to be made like his brothers in every way’ in order to provide salvation – human sin must be dealt with by a human Saviour, who is also fully God. We must not forget that as Jesus slept in the boat (according to his human nature) he also reigned over the entire universe (according to his divine nature) – as stated in Hebrews 1:3.
2. A testimony of faith
Jesus sleeps soundly in the midst of the storm. Note his response to the disciples’ panic – ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ (v26). He sees that the issue at stake is faith (or their lack of it). Jesus’ sleeping in the storm is a testimony of faith. This is apparent in the psalms, which we can take as being all messianic: Jesus is the primary speaker. Thus we apply Psalm 23:1 first to him –he says, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’, expressing faith in his Father’s loving care for him and provision for him in all circumstances. This trust was what Satan chiefly attacked in the temptations (Matthew 4:1ff). The Saviour also speaks in Psalm 4:8 ‘I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.’
3. An example to follow
Jesus according to his human nature is the exemplar of the godly life his people are to live. We see in him what a Spirit-empowered human life is to look like. In his sleeping in the storm there are lessons for us:
(i) Our humanity: we are creatures with limitations, including bodies that need rest. It is foolish to disregard the proper care of the bodies that God has given us, suggesting we are wiser than the Creator. Note Psalm 127:2 ‘he grants sleep to those he loves’.
(ii) Our faith: trust in the Lord is a great source of security and peace. This is not a guarantee of sound sleep but the believer trusting in the Lord is freed from many burdens and anxieties that others bear. Psalm 4:8 ‘I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.’ That should be our prayerful desire and aim, even in trials.
We are bombarded from all sides by words – especially with the advent of the internet and social media. The big question is – which words are worthy of our attention? Which words should we believe? Generally, we have to ask – do we trust the source? This challenge was posed right at the beginning of human history – Genesis 3:1 ‘Did God really say…?’
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” 4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
1. The temptation we encounter
Genesis 3 provides a historical record of Satan’s temptation of our first parents. What happens concerns two individual human beings, although as our representative, Adam’s actions also concern all of us. Satan however uses the same method to attack God’s people in all ages, so we are to learn from this account what to expect. Satan begins with a question designed to provoke questions on Eve’s part (v1). The aim is to get Eve to evaluate God’s word critically – is his prohibition reasonable or fair? Eve exaggerates the prohibition – ‘you must not touch it’ (v3). Satan then progresses to an outright denial of the truthfulness of God’s word – ‘You will not surely die’ (v4). Is the God who gave the word to be trusted? Often we face the same basic temptation – do we trust the word of God, even when it goes against what we desire, or it is difficult to understand, or it is questioned by ‘experts’, or it is mocked in society around us. We may be tempted to question God’s word in Scripture.
2. The choice we must make
The word of God and the word of Satan present 2 rival interpretations of reality. The whole of a person’s life is involved in this contest. Which interpretation will we believe and act upon? We have two ‘words’ offering diametrically opposed ‘world and life views’ – which one will guide us?
(i) The word of the Creator: given by authoritative revelation. This provides the standard for all the big issues – how we can have accurate knowledge, how we are to understand our true identity, and how we are to conduct our lives.
(ii) The word of the rebel: Satan opposes God’s truth in every way possible. He is ‘a liar and the father of lies’ (John 8:44). His rival word is a false interpretation of reality.
In Eden we see human beings trying to occupy the place of God. Instead of submitting to the Creator and his word, Adam and Eve set themselves up as judges of truth. This refusal to accept our God-given position is the root of the sin that requires a Saviour.
3. The example we are to follow
Christ himself provides us with the perfect example of how we are to receive and use God’s Word. In his redemptive work, he is unique, but in his earthly life, he is our example. Note the statement in 1 John 1:6 ‘Whoever claims to live in [God] must walk as Jesus did’. Jesus’ fundamental commitment was to obey the divine Word – ‘your word is truth’ (John 17:17). Every part of the Saviour’s life was governed by the Word – ‘I have come to do your will, O God’ (Hebrews 10:7). This is clear in his response to Satan’s temptations – ‘it stands written’ (Matthew 4:4,7,10). We are to be imitators of him, with all our thinking and living to be done in joyful and loving submission to the Word of God.
As we exit lockdown and begin services of worship again, what should our thoughts be? We may experience all kinds of anxieties and concerns, but as Christians, our focus must surely be on the Lord. Much has changed, but he has not. Consider Psalm 115:12-13.
12 The Lord remembers us and will bless us: He will bless his people Israel, he will bless the house of Aaron, 13 he will bless those who fear the Lord— small and great alike.
Psalm 115:12-13 (NIV)
1. God has remembered
Our basic attitude is expressed in v1 ‘Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory’. The fundamental reason is ‘because of your love and your faithfulness’. These truths lie behind the statement of v12. The verb refers primarily to the past – ‘The Lord has remembered us’ (ESV). This then describes his fixed attitude and so NIV reads ‘The Lord remembers us’. When Scripture says that the Lord remembered, it is not merely referring to his having exhaustive information about us – it speaks of his saving action on our behalf. The Lord saves those he remembers. He could remember our sins, but instead, we have the language of grace: ‘I am he who blots out your transgressions…and remembers your sins no more’ (Isaiah 43:25). The name he uses is significant: ‘the Lord’, the God who makes a covenant of love with his people.
2. God will bless
The Lord’s remembering us in grace includes all the provision we require, yet he loves his people so much that he goes on to give rich promises: ‘The Lord…will bless us’ (v12). The future is always uncertain (as James 4:15 reminds us) and our present circumstances emphasise that uncertainty. If we focus on the uncertainties we will become worried, fearful or even depressed. The ultimate solution is to focus on the Lord. In the full light of the New Testament we see that all blessing comes through Christ whose redemptive work has made all necessary provision. Hence we have the promises of Philippians 4:19 and 2 Peter 1:3. Note 3 times, ‘He will bless’ – absolute assurance.
3. God is to be feared
The promise of blessing is only for ‘the house of Israel…the house of Aaron’ – God’s own people. The language of 1 Peter 2:9 shows that we can apply these words to ourselves as Christians (see also Galatians 3:29). As v13 shows, the blessing is for those ‘who fear the Lord’ – who love and reverence their heavenly Father. The blessing is for ‘small and great alike’ – the only qualification is godly fear for the Lord who saves us. With such an assurance those who fear the Lord can face whatever the future brings.
One of the most controversial doctrines of the Christian faith is election – the belief that God has chosen some for salvation and not others. ‘That’s not fair,’ many say. ‘Why doesn’t he choose everybody?’ is a frequent question. Some of the questions cannot be answered – we are, after all, dealing with an infinite God whose ways are often beyond our understanding. There are vital things about election that we can understand, however, because God has revealed them to us.
For the Christian, election is in fact a doctrine that is full of encouragement – a source of joy and thanksgiving, not a perplexing puzzle. Let’s consider some of these great truths as we turn to Ephesians 1:4 Chosen in Christ
1. The nature of election
In v3 Paul gives thanks to God the Father for ‘every spiritual blessing in Christ’. Salvation is rich and wonderful. Why do we receive such bounty? The answer is given in v4 ‘For he chose us in him…’ The origin of salvation is not in us but in the God who elects. Note 4 elements:
(i).It is sovereign. ‘he chose us’. The reference is to ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (v3). This does not exclude the Son and the Holy Spirit since all the persons of the Trinity are involved in all God’s works, but it is particularly the Father to whom election is ascribed.
By its very nature, this action is an exercise of sovereign authority. The Father selects, sets apart for himself, a certain group of people. From start to finish this is God’s work. It is a bestowing of grace – love to the utterly undeserving. It is something done freely by God, not conditioned in any way by the objects of his choice. This is underlined by Paul in Romans 8:29 ‘those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son’. There ‘foreknowledge’ indicates the inauguration of a relationship of redeeming love that will result in salvation.
(ii).It is personal. ‘he chose us’. Who is in view? This cannot be confined to Paul and his original readers. The whole description is cast in terms of the universal church and the reference is clearly to all believers. But the choice was exercised before they were believers. Indeed most of those to whom Paul refers had not yet been born. The biblical evidence forces us to conclude that it is sinners whom God has elected. This fits with Romans 5:8 ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’. This is the wonder of grace – it is for the unworthy.
God’s gracious election does not apply to a faceless multitude but to specific individuals. Those saved can delight in the personal love of God that they experience. Notice Paul’s reference in Galatians 2:20 to ‘the Son of God who loved me’. Election is not a cold, impersonal decree.
(iii). It is Christ-centred. ‘he chose us in him’. The identity of the one in whom we are chosen is clear from v3. It is in Christ. He is the foundation of election.
What does it mean to be chosen in Christ? We find in the New Testament clear evidence of a people being given to Christ in eternity. As he prays to the Father, he refers in John 17:6 to ‘those you have given me out of the world’. He says that he will ‘give eternal life to all those you have given him’ (v2). We also have a reference in Revelation 17:8 to names ‘written in the book of life from the creation of the world’.
For those given to him, the Son of God undertook to do all that is necessary for their salvation. In the plan of God laid before creation he took on the role of the Representative and Surety of his people – ‘he is the surety [or ‘guarantee’] of a better covenant’ (Hebrews 7:22). Christ assumes our debt of sin and at the cross discharges that debt fully. The whole of salvation centres on the person and work of Christ.
(iv). It is eternal. That is the significance of the words ‘before the creation of the world’. Before ‘time’ even existed, only the timeless God existed. Election is an eternal decree of God that is not dependent on any of his creatures. As a result, it is certain to be fulfilled. That is a great source of reassurance to his people. Our sins and failures, and there are many of them, do not thwart his purposes.
This statement also underlines the fact that election is not due to any merit in us. Think of the contrasting examples of Jacob and Esau: Romans 9:11 tells us that God chose Jacob ‘before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might stand’. Election is entirely by grace.
2. The purpose of election
Our all-wise God does all things for a purpose – nothing is random or by chance. We can therefore be sure that election is purposeful. The ultimate purpose of all of God’s works is the manifestation of his own glory. He does, however, also have other purposes in what he does. In this verse, Paul indicates what we could call the proximate purpose of election. He mentions two aspects of it:
(i). Holiness. ‘he chose us to be holy’. The outworking of the decree of election is the redemptive work of Christ which transforms those God chooses into holy people. We are changed from sinners into those who increasingly share in the holiness of God. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 ‘It is God’s will that you should be holy’. At conversion sinners are declared to be holy in God’s sight. That is the justification that changes our standing in relation to God’s law. Following on from that, sinners are throughout their lives made holy in thought, word and action. That is lifelong sanctification, the work of the Holy Spirit in us as we use the means of grace that God has provided. Ultimately, beyond this life, our holiness will be complete as we experience glorification. All this flows from election.
(ii). Fellowship. ‘in his sight’ or ‘in his presence’. This indicates that those who are made holy are also brought into personal fellowship with our gracious God. That is the supreme privilege conferred by election. We have living communion with the Lord. As John states in 1 John 1:3 ‘our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ’. As our holiness grows, so does the closeness of our fellowship. That is a great cause for thanksgiving and a stimulus to seek greater holiness, as we anticipate the day of perfection in glory.
The Transfiguration 2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) 7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” 8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.
‘I wish I had been there’. Are there events in the Bible that make you wish you had been there? Maybe the crossing of the Red Sea, the giving of the Law at Sinai, David defeating Goliath, or in the New Testament, the birth of Jesus or the raising of Lazarus? One of the most striking episodes in the Gospels, and one which left a deep imprint on the memories of those who were there, was the transfiguration of Jesus – what would it have been like to be there?
In Mark 9:1 Jesus speaks about some people not tasting death before they see ‘the kingdom of God come with power’. Immediately afterwards three disciples accompany him to the top of a high mountain and there see something of the glory of the King and his kingdom. Let’s consider Mark 9:2-10 The Saviour transfigured.
1. His transformation
During the whole of his ministry on earth Jesus appeared to be just like any other man. He grew up from a child and lived a normal human life, sharing our human nature with the sole exception of sin. Although he was the Son of God, nevertheless, as Paul says, ‘he emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men’ (Philippians 2:7). He veiled his divine glory for the period of his humiliation on earth. He never ceased for a moment, however, to be the perfect reflection of his Father. He was ‘the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being’ (Hebrews 1:3).
The eternal Word (John 1:1) came in servant form. On the mountain top, however, 3 disciples were privileged to see something of the radiance of the Son of God. On the mountain, away from the other disciples, the veil was partly drawn aside: ‘he was transfigured before them’ (v2). Each evangelist describes it in his own way. Mark says, ‘his clothes became dazzling white’ (v3), using the homely image of a bleacher. According to Luke, his clothes became ‘as bright as a flash of lightning’ (Luke 9:29). In Matthew’s account, ‘his face shone like the sun’ (Matthew 17:2). What the 3 disciples saw was almost beyond description.
The language used in the Gospels draws on the description of the ‘Ancient of Days’ in Daniel 7:9. It is the very glory of deity, an indication of Jesus’ true identity. Peter writes later that ‘we were eyewitnesses of his majesty’ (2 Peter 1:16). He is the eternal Son of God, sovereign and glorious. Here we have a foretaste of the glory to come at his resurrection and, ultimately, at the Last Day when he returns. The suffering and death of the Saviour should not blind us to his deity and glory. He is worthy of all of our worship and service.
2. His conversation
At the transfiguration, Jesus is not alone. As v4 tells us, ‘there appeared before them Elijah and Moses’. They represent the Prophets and the Law, summing up the whole of the Old Testament. Their presence at this crucial event is a visible token that what they spoke and wrote about is fulfilled in Jesus. They were permitted to appear with him and also they ‘were talking with Jesus’. Here is an indication of the reality and the closeness of the fellowship enjoyed in heaven, even before the final resurrection. That surely is encouraging knowledge for us to have.
What was the subject of their conversation? We are told in Luke 9:31 ‘They spoke about his departure which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem’. The focus is on Jesus’ death. Notice how it is described: it is (literally) ‘his exodus’. His leading the people of God out of the bondage of sin was foreshadowed in the bringing of Israel out of Egypt. In Jesus there is true liberation – as he says in John 8:36, ‘if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’. In him, God’s eternal plan of salvation is being brought to fulfilment. In his conversation with Elijah and Moses, there is a joyful anticipation of victory at the cross and the empty tomb.
3. His vindication
In v7 we are told ‘a cloud appeared and enveloped them’. It is a manifestation of the presence of God, as in the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites during the exodus. In it, God reveals himself yet at the same time veils himself. There is also a ‘voice’ (v7), again a reminder of the voice heard at the giving of the Law at Sinai (Exodus 24:16). The transfiguration recalls in so many ways God’s meeting with his people at Sinai, again at a mountain.
The voice of God speaks an authoritative word: ‘This is my Son whom I love’. The Father identifies with his Son, as he did at the beginning of his ministry, at his baptism (Mark 1:11). The words used signify ‘my only-beloved’. The unique eternal relationship between Father and Son has not been broken by the incarnation. The Father expresses his full approval and endorsement of the path that Jesus treads. The Son has successfully resisted all temptations to turn aside and he is now strengthened for his final walk to the cross. Thus the Saviour is given great encouragement by his Father at this vital moment. He will lay down his life for his people and will accomplish full salvation for them.
‘Listen to him’ is the Father’s command. Jesus is the authoritative Revealer and Redeemer. We must hear and obey him. The only proper response from us is to submit to his every word and trust in him for salvation.
4. His prohibition
It is no surprise that the 3 disciples are amazed, afraid and confused – who would not have been? As usual, Peter is the one who speaks, although ‘he did not know what to say’ (v6). He proposes putting up three shelters for Jesus, Elijah and Moses, perhaps to prolong this amazing experience. They have been the privileged recipients of a special revelation of the Lord’s glory and they are still struggling to grasp its significance. What does it tell them about Jesus’ identity and his mission? As yet they are not ready to put all the pieces together – only later, with the help of the Holy Spirit will they do so, and realise that he is the Messiah who has come to save.
If you have undergone some amazing experience, your first thought will probably be to tell someone else. The disciples’ natural reaction is certainly to try to tell others, probably beginning with the rest of the disciples. Jesus, however, ‘gave them orders not to tell anyone’ (v9). There is the danger of misunderstanding his true mission and raising expectations he will not fulfil. An end to the prohibition will come: ‘until the Son of Man had risen from the dead’. In the light of his completed atonement, the whole story can be told. We have the duty to proclaim the message of what Jesus has done to save sinners and how we have met with him in a life-changing way. We have seen his glory and look forward to the full revelation at his return.
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.
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’?
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector 9 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.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
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.
12 I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.
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 26:12God’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’.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Four great facts about salvation
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.