Easter Services

Monday 19th April 2011

Call to Worship:  Psalm 139.23, 24. 

23Search me, O God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

Bible Passage:  Romans 8.1-8. 

1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.  3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

5Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.  6The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7the sinful mind is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.  8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

***   ***   ***

Meditation

In Romans 5, we read;

1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 

The word “justification” refers to a legal declaration of “not guilty.”  Paul explains that this declaration (by God) has come to us through “faith.”  And, what is more, he tells us “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  What this tells us is that, before the death of Christ was applied to us, we were God’s enemies: we were unable to know complete peace because our estrangement from God was always lurking in the background of our minds; and, in fact, we were subject to God’s wrath.  The Bible makes plain the truth that God hates sin and, as such, He hates sinners. 

The oft-quoted statement that God loves everybody equally, quite simply, is not true.  If you have any doubt about how seriously God regards sin, simply look to the Cross.  If you doubt He hates sin and sinners, consider the words of Jesus to those who did not live their lives in devotion and subjugation to Him as the King, as any reading of the complete message of the Bible makes quite clear. 

With regard to this last point, Paul goes on to say, 9Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  10For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!  11Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” 

It is important to have these thoughts well impressed on our minds if we are to gain the most from meditation on Romans 8.  The hub of the meaning of Romans 5 can be summed up in Paul’s words, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  …we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Through Jesus, we have:

  • peace with God;
  • we stand in a state of grace before God and are, thereby, not condemned along with the rest of the world;
  • we can live a life of rejoicing because we have been reconciled to God – which is a complete reversal of the situation we were in before Christ’s death was applied to us – in other words, we are no longer God’s hated enemies, but His beloved children. 

Let’s now move on to consider the first part of Romans 8. 

***   ***   ***

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says, 30For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  31It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  [Hebrews 10.30f; NIV] 

Do you think that the non-Christian world wants to hear this portion of God’s Word?  I don’t.  How often have you heard non-Christians, or nominal Christians for that matter, quote the words from John’s First Epistle, “God is love”?  They cling to this statement like a drowning man to a lifeline. 

Now it is true that God has a general love for all mankind – the kind of love, as the Bible expresses it, that … causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” [Matthew 5.45b; NIV].

But, God reserves His special love for His elect only.  When non-believers come to the time of judgement, they will find – to their horror – that the lifeline they had clung to is not attached to anything solid.  They were just as much adrift as if there was no line there at all. 

The Christian, on the other hand, can cling to this statement with assurance, because the God of glory who does, indeed, love them has done all that is necessary for their salvation.  For the Christian, this is a lifeline indeed!

1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 

The important thing we need to recognise here the fact that we are not “condemned” along with the rest of the non-Christian world.  9For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  [1 Thessalonians 5.9; NIV]  In other words, on the Day of Judgement the whole world will stand before God the Judge and will be judged by the Law of God - which they have rejected.  They will also be judged equally on their relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ – whom they equally reject, or merely pay lip-service to believing in.  Jesus who fulfilled the Law in His body and paid the “wages” of sin (which is death) on behalf of his people – the ones the Father has given to Him.  Because Christians are, by definition, in the right relationship with the law-keeping Jesus; and because they also have the gift of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit they, therefore, have no need to fear this Day. 

God, as a result of what theologians have called Justification, says Christians are in a right relationship with Him – a relationship of having been declared “not guilty” by God because they have unquestionably placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  “Justification” is a legal term that means – even though we are sinners – God has declared us “not guilty” on the grounds of what Jesus has done on our behalf. 

This is should provide us with a great sense of assurance and peace.  We need have no fear of the Day of Judgement

***   ***   ***

3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

Can you say of yourself – or, of anyone else you know – that you have totally fulfilled and obeyed the Law of God?  Of course, the answer is an emphatic “No!”

Because of the weakness of our sinful human flesh, we find it impossible to obey God’s Law and since in word, thought and deed, we break God’s Law daily, we find it is weakened by our weakness – weakened to the point of being unable to save us through our obedience to it.  The Law offers salvation to no one, because no one is strong enough to obey it fully.  And even one slip-up makes us guilty before God and, thereby, subject to His righteous anger and condemnation. 

But, recognising the weakness of our flesh, God came to this world in the flesh – the God/Man Jesus.  And so it was that in human flesh, the sinlessness of Jesus totally fulfilled the Law.  Paul refers to Jesus here in His role as our High Priest who offered Himself - the spotless Lamb of God – as a sacrifice on our behalf.  Through this “sin offering” the requirement of the Law was fully satisfied. 

Paul can say with authority and truth, And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” 

Jesus removed from us the power sin had over us.  We no longer stand condemned of sin because Jesus was our substitute on the Cross where He offered up His life. 

In addition, by having God’s Holy Spirit living within us, we can call upon Him and, through His guidance, can acknowledge Jesus as our Saviour and, consequently, we can be considered by God as being sinless through our being “in Jesus.” 

***   ***   ***

5Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.  6The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7the sinful mind is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.  8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

 

Life lived according to:

Natural Desires[1]

Spiritual Desires[2]

Hostile to God and cannot please Him. 

Love God. 

Live sensual, law-breaking lives. 

Have their sins forgiven. 

Condemned to death (physical and spiritual). 

Have eternal life and peace with God. 

The table in your handout sets out the comparison between what it means to live either of the two types of life open to mankind – and there are only two ways of living: for God or against Him.  It could be abbreviated by saying that the person who lives a life led by the Holy Spirit receives the blessings of Psalm 1.  Those who live according to their inherited natural human desires receive the curses as set out in the same Psalm. 

1Blessed is the man

who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked

or stand in the way of sinners

or sit in the seat of mockers.

2But his delight is in the law of the Lord,

and on his law he meditates day and night.

3He is like a tree planted by streams of water,

which yields its fruit in season

and whose leaf does not wither.

Whatever he does prospers.

4Not so the wicked!

They are like chaff

that the wind blows away.

5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will perish.  [Psalm 1; NIV]

It is no good for the non-Christian to say that they live a “good” life in accord with human standards, because goodness is defined by God, not man.  By definition, man’s standards are not God’s; they do not perfectly match God’s Law, and cannot please God: 7the sinful mind is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.  8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”

Again, the non-Christian finds himself without hope of salvation until he comes to accept Jesus for who He is.  A life lived by worldly standards is not enough to satisfy God. 

The Christian, however, finds himself in the exact opposite situation.  They obtain salvation through the self-sacrifice of Jesus on their behalf.  This why Paul can say, “the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.”

1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set [them] free from the law of sin and death.”  With Jesus as our saviour, we need fear no thing and nobody – even the Day of Judgement!

***   ***   ***

When you return home tonight, or in the morning, take time to meditate upon these verses and upon the guide-questions at the end of your sheets. 

Some matters to meditate upon:

  • Are you confident that you have God’s Holy Spirit in you?  Why?
  • Do you feel in your heart the assurance of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ?  If not, then reread vv. 1-4.  As you read them, concentrate upon the import of v. 1.  Then reread v. 11.
  • Of what importance, then, is the Law to you?  Do you need to obey it in the future, or can you live as you (i.e. your natural human instincts) please?  As you meditate upon this, consider vv. 6-8 and vv. 9-11.  Consider also, John 3.3, Romans 6.4, 11 and 7.4. 
  • What is the relevance of: “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering”

 

 



[1]That is, the natural, fallen, sinful nature of unsaved mankind.

[2]“Spiritual Desires” means desires inspired by the Holy Spirit, not man’s spirit. 

 

Tuesday 19th April 2011

Call to Worship:  Psalm 9.7-10.

7The Lord reigns forever;

he has established his throne for judgment.

8He will judge the world in righteousness;

he will govern the peoples with justice.

9The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,

a stronghold in times of trouble.            

10Those who know your name will trust in you,

for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

Bible Passage:  Romans 8.9-17

9You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.  And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.  10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.  11And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

12Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it.  13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.[1]And by him we cry, “Abba,[2] Father.”  16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Meditation

Last night we considered the standing of people before God’s Law.  The upshot of it all was that anyone who depends on perfectly fulfilling God’s Law in their life was doomed to disappointment.  One single infraction of the Law is enough to condemn.  And, since no one – apart from Jesus – can keep the law perfectly, all stand condemned before God’s throne of Judgement.  All, that is, except those for whom Jesus died and in whom the Holy Spirit lives. 

For we Christians, we ended the night on a high point when we recognised the full meaning of Paul’s opening statement in Romans 8: 1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set [them] free from the law of sin and death.”  With Jesus as our Saviour, we need fear no thing and nobody – even the Day of Judgement!

Verses 6-8 of Romans 8 state: 6The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7the sinful mind is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.  8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”  This is a desperate situation for those who do not know Jesus as their Saviour. 

But, for those of us who do know Jesus as our Saviour, Paul moves on

***   ***   ***

9You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.  And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.  10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.  11And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

Paul sets the Christian apart from the rest of mankind.  He does this, quite simply, because God does.  In God’s eyes – and it is God alone who matters here – there are only two types of people:  those who belong to Him and those who belong to Satan. 

There are two leaders of mankind: God and Satan.  Some have the holy, true, loving, almighty God as their heavenly Father; the majority, sadly, have as their father, the “father of lies” – Satan.  One father gives life to his children; one gives them death.  I will leave you to name in your minds which is which. 

The first two sentences in this paragraph set out an important fact for Christians - those controlled by the Spirit.  We are called upon to reject our “natural” human instincts and take up a new way of life: not according to our human nature, but according to the urgings of the Spirit.  We are, in biblical terms, to die to the old way of living and live to a new way of life (i.e. be “born again”).  “Born Again Christians” get bad press in today’s world.  I can remember my brother saying to my parents when he heard I was entering the ministry, that he hoped I would not be a “Born Again Christian!”

What he, and many other people (including some Christians) do not seem to know is that there is only one kind of Christian, and that is the “Born Again Christian.”  When Jesus raised this matter with Nicodemus, He didn’t say being “born again” was an option for His followers, He stated quite emphatically, “You MUST be born again.”  Without being “born again”, Jesus said, we won’t even see the kingdom of God, let alone enter into it. 

So what does this mean for Christians?  What does this mean for you?  It is something we all need to think about.  Have we been “born again”, or are we no different than we were before we knew Jesus?  If we are no different, doesn’t it mean that we have some readjusting to do in our lives? 

This might sound difficult, but this is not as hard as it first seems, because God provides the means by which we can do this – His Holy Spirit dwelling within us.  When Paul says, And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ”the corollary is that those who belong to Christ (i.e. Christians) do have the Holy Spirit – and His presence should be life-changing.  What we need to do is to allow the Holy Spirit to take control of our lives, not the conflicting influences of the world. 

Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase of the Bible, called The Message, expresses it this way, “But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him.  …—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms.”

Jesus lives within us through His Spirit and this means that we have the power of Jesus on tap whenever we need Him.  Remember His words to the disciples: I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”  [John 14.18; NIV]  Jesus said this in the context of the promised coming of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus calls “another counsellor.”

Paul then says, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”

This passage is more important than it may appear when we first read it.  This passage makes a wonderful promise.  It could be stated as: because God raised Jesus from the dead, we have the seed of eternal life in our mortal bodies here and now, and we have the assurance of eternal life.  This is a typical “yet but not yet” statement that we find in many places in the Bible.  We as good as have eternal life now, but we will not receive the actuality until we die physically.  This, however, in no way diminishes the truth. 

***   ***   ***

12Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it.  13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 

The words translated “obligation” is, literally, “debt.”  No matter how hard we try, no one remains totally debt-free.  We may avoid credit cards; we may avoid bank loans; we may avoid mortgages, but still we are not debt-free. 

We will soon commemorate ANZAC Day when we recognise the debt we owe to those who offered their lives for our freedom.  As we grow and mature, we owe a debt to our parents who nurtured us; we owe a debt to those who taught us facts and the right way to live.  But, our supreme debt; our supreme obligation is to God for all He has done for us. 

In his commentary on Romans, John Stott says,

Paul’s argument seems to be this: if the indwelling Spirit has given us life, which he has (your spirit is alive, 10), we cannot possibly live according to the flesh, since that way lies death.  How can we possess life and court death simultaneously?  Such an inconsistency between who we are and how we behave is unthinkable, even ludicrous.  No, we are in debt to the indwelling Spirit of life to live out our God-given life and to put to death everything which threatens it or is incompatible with it.  [STOTT, John; BST, The Message of Romans, 2004; p. 227]

Again, I would like to quote Peterson’s paraphrase: So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent.  There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all.  The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life.  God’s Spirit beckons.  There are things to do and places to go!”

Gets it in a nutshell – if a bit jingoisticly – doesn’t it.  “… we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent.”  All we have achieved by trying to do-it-ourselves when it comes to satisfying God is to fall far short.  No, our obligation is to live the Spirit-life, the one that has already achieved for us all we need for salvation. 

***   ***   ***

15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Jesus once said, 34“I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  35Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

This is the point that Paul is making here.  Non-Christians think that, by doing things their own way, they are displaying their freedom from constraints.  But is this so?  Is there very much variety in the way people sin?  Drunkenness is all but universal; violence on the screen, in the papers and, especially it seems these days, on the playing field.  This violence is then carried over into private lives as people emulate their ‘heroes.’  They don’t display their freedom to ignore what the thugs on the screen and on the field do – they emulate them.  Is this freedom? 

Through Jesus, however, we are set free from all this.  Through Him, we are free to enjoy the blessings of God; through Jesus we are freed from fear of what follows death, because for us there is no condemnation.  Isn’t this true freedom? 

As God’s children, we are co-heirs with Jesus of everything.  We will receive, as He did, resurrection; we will, as He does, share in glory; we will, as He did, enter into Heaven and enjoy all the peace, love, freedom and splendour of that glorious place. 

It is through the indwelling Holy Spirit that this assurance comes.  Not only is His presence assurance in itself (cf. v. 9), but His presence so works in our lives that He guides us into an understanding of that assurance as we read the Word of God. 

In an old commentary (dated 1881!), I garnered the following statement relating to verse 17: “Here St. Paul reasons onward from the primary fact, witnessed to by the Spirit, of the Christian’s sonship.  He has in view now, more than ever yet in the Epistle, the hope of eternal Glory, when in the fullest sense the saints shall possess the kingdom of God.  This possession he views as an Inheritance by virtue of Birth into the Family of God.”  He goes on to say that we are joint-heirs with Christ, “The Divine and Human Eldest Brother.”

John Stott even goes so far as to say, “It is possible … that the inheritance Paul has in mind is not something God intends to bestow on us but God himself.”

What a glorious privilege is ours as a result of that first Easter.  So far, we have seen that:

  • We are freed from fear of standing condemned before God; 
  • We are freed from the law of sin and death; 
  • We have a Saviour who came in human flesh to REDEEM those who, because of their human flesh cannot redeem themselves; 
  • We have a Saviour through whom we are JUSTIFIED – declared “not guilty” by God himself; 
  • We carry in ourselves - even now -  the seed of eternal life; 
  • We have become God’s adopted children, and co-heirs with Jesus. 

We may be somewhat shocked to see in amongst all these wondrous benefits that accrue to the Christian – to the child of God -  a phrase that seems to jar with what we have heard: if indeed we share in his sufferings.”  What does Paul mean here? 

Jesus, right from the start has been open and honest about what the future holds for those who follow Him.  He tells of the wonderful blessings which will be ours, but He does not encourage us to look at life through rose-coloured lenses.  He also points out unpalatable truths to us: truths that must be an embarrassment to the “health and wealth’ preachers that seem to so abound today. 

Jesus reminds us that, in amongst these wonderful things that are ours, there is also that fact that, if He was rejected, we, if we are faithful followers, should expect to be rejected too.  At the time Paul wrote this Letter, Christians were being mercilessly persecuted throughout the Roman Empire and so Paul was no doubt encouraging them to withstand the suffering they were enduring.  It is also pertinent today as militant atheism is rampaging around the world and into the living rooms of ordinary people. 

Where atheists cannot win points based on facts, they take on the person.  As it is known in football, they take on the man and not the ball.  But Jesus has told us this will be.  What is happening here is that we are were sharing persecution with Jesus, just as He shared humanity with us.  Jesus suffered much; and we should expect no less for ourselves than to share in the sufferings He endured. 

The fact is that those who oppose the sin in this sinful world must expect opposition and subsequent suffering.  This is because we are highlighting the world’s wickedness, depravity and its estrangement from God, His will, His way and His Law.  The world doesn’t want to hear this, and the best way to not hear it is to shut us up in any way possible.  In some overseas countries, Christians are shut up – literally – by imprisonment, even death.  In the so-called “civilised” and “free” west, we are shut up by censorship; biased legislation; discrimination and ridicule. 

In America – “the home of the brave and the land of the free” – the country that has “In God we trust’ stamped on its money, it is illegal in many places to pray in public. 

But, this suffering will not destroy us, if we hold tight to the Holy Spirit.  On the night of His betrayal, Jesus said to his disciples, 33“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  [John 16.33; NIV]

What this passage tells us is that we have a new life to live – a life controlled not by our human flesh in its fallen nature, but a new Spirit-led life that has brought us up out of the state of enmity with God into a state of adopted sonship where, as sons, we have become joint heirs with out Saviour Jesus. 

 

 

***   ***   ***

Paul Barnett, in his commentary on Romans has a study section after each chapter.  In it he asks some searching questions.  Two I think we would all do well to ponder are:

  • Am I actively “putting to death” the “deeds of the flesh”? 
  • Have I identified the “suffering of this present time”?

***   ***   ***

Some matters to meditate upon:

  • What does this passage mean to you: “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you”
  • “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—.”  As you look back on your life, what have been the obligations you held to be paramount in your life? 

As you look towards the future, what do you think your obligations should be? 



[1]Or adoption

[2]Aramaic for Father

 

Wednesday 20th April 2011

Call to Worship:  Psalm 9.1, 2, 7-10

1I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart;

I will tell of all your wonders.

2I will be glad and rejoice in you;

I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

7The Lord reigns forever;

he has established his throne for judgment.

8He will judge the world in righteousness;

he will govern the peoples with justice.

9The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,

a stronghold in times of trouble.

10Those who know your name will trust in you,

for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

Bible Passage:  Romans 8.18-27

18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that[1]the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  24For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what he already has?  25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

Meditation

“Are we there yet?”  How often have you heard these words from kids in the back seat of your car?  This question could be regarded as being behind the topic of tonight’s meditation on Romans 8: “Are we there yet?”

We have so much promised to us; we have so much to look forward to; there is so much that we don’t enjoy in this life; there are so many things that upset us; there are so many people who are against us.  It seems only natural that we ask, “Are we there yet?”

The interesting thing about tonight’s meditation is that not only do we ask this question, but the whole of creation asks it along with us – at least metaphorically. 

***   ***   ***

18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 

This is why we ask this question.  We don’t want to suffer, we want to share in the glory that is promised to us. 

We finished last time with the somewhat disturbing statement by Paul, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”  We concluded that Paul was likely to be encouraging the readers of his Letter to “keep the faith” in the face of ruthless persecution.  But we also recognised that we, as followers of Jesus, should expect to share in His rejection and sufferings, just as He was willing to share in our humanity – yet remained without sin - in order to be an acceptable “sin offering.”

We may not suffer the same degree of persecution as did the Christians of that time, but we are far from being acceptable to  and accepted by the world because we stand in diametric opposition to the standard world view.  As such, the world wants us to be quiet whenever we point out its depravity.  When the world cannot counter our points with clarity and logic, it turns on us and attacks us personally. 

How often do you hear or read of Christians being denigrated as ignorant muddle headed fools?  How often as they said to be so weak that they need to cling to an imaginary God in order to get through life?  People seem to think that it is OK to say anything derogatory about Christians, but when Christians try to point out the foolishness of the non-Christian world, they are told to shut up and keep their opinions to themselves. 

The truth of the matter is that suffering and glory go together in our being – just as it did with Jesus.  Peter says, 10And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  11To him be the power for ever and ever.  Amen.”  [1 Peter 5.10f; NIV]  As John Stott says, “So the sufferings and the glory are married; they cannot be divorced.  They are welded; they cannot be broken apart.”  [STOTT, John; BST, The Message of Romans, 2004; p. 237]  Suffering and glory are the halves of the “yet, but not yet” nature of the Christian faith. 

But the reality is that the sufferings we must endure cannot even begin to be compared with the glory in store for us.  It really doesn’t matter what the world throws at us – it can even take away our life – because God has things stored up for us that will more than compensate.  We will consider this more fully when we come to verses 28-39 tomorrow night. 

***   ***   ***

19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 

Why is “the creation subject to frustration”?  The answer lays all the way back in Genesis.  There we read,

17To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;

through painful toil you will eat of it

all the days of your life.

18It will produce thorns and thistles for you,

and you will eat the plants of the field.

19By the sweat of your brow

you will eat your food

until you return to the ground,

since from it you were taken;

for dust you are

and to dust you will return.”  [Genesis 3.17ff; NIV]

What we see here is that the curse placed on Adam is effected through, as Paul expresses it, the frustration of creation: “by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food.”  The non-cooperation of creation is the nature of the curse on man.  Creation is frustrated; it is not as it was at the time of creation when God declared on the sixth day that it was “very good.”  And so it is that mankind must struggle against creation in order to live – and this struggle is a lifelong thing – there is no letup. 

As we look around we see clear evidence of this.  The earth is not as abundant as it should be; flood, fire, drought, earthquake, tsunamis and the rest all combine to frustrate creation and make it less productive and impossible to tame.  In a sense, creation has become man’s enemy! 

And this is not only because it was frustrated as a result of the first sin in Eden.  There is much debate at present about “climate change’ and the part man plays in it.  I am no scientist and am unable to come to terms with the conflicting views put forth by scientists as to how much of a part man plays in all this.  But I think we must all admit that mankind does play at least some part in it, because mankind continues to live sinfully. 

Rather than working with nature, man exploits it.  He destroys whole forests; he pumps toxic gasses into the atmosphere; he explodes atomic devices both on and under the ground.  None of this can be seen as being beneficial to the climate.  And so, through both original and continuing sin, creation groans in its frustration. 

But the situation is not hopeless, despite what some scientists would have us believe.  Because Paul tells us that creation groans in hope 21that [it] will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”  The assured hope that we have that everything will turn out for our good under God’s providence, applies to creation as well.  Since it was frustrated by the sin of man, so, when God’s children eventual attain the fullness of re-creation and glorification, creation itself will experience recreation. 

We all inherit ‘Original Sin” from our federal head – Adam.  When he sinned, he passed down the sinful nature to those descended from him – right down to you and me.  But, just as we all are sinners through being descended from Adam, so those who have the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour, inherit through Him salvation and forgiveness of sin. 

Because creation was frustrated by the entry of sin into the world through the sin of our federal head, Adam, so it will not be released from that frustration until we are finally and totally recreated.  When man fell, creation fell along with him.  And so it is that creation will only be liberated when God’s children are fully liberated from the body of sin they now inherit.  Creations frustration came through man’s sin; creations liberation will come about when man is liberated. 

This final liberation is described by John in the Book of Revelation.  John says,

1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2down the middle of the great street of the city.  On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, … 3No longer will there be any curse.  [Rev. 221ff; NIV]

The time John is speaking of here is contemporaneous with what he said in Revelation 21,

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, ….  2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, ….  3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  4He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  [Rev. 21.1ff; NIV]

John was not the first to tell of this time.  Jesus spoke of the new birth of the world at His return in Matthew 19.28, where He speaks of “the renewal of all things”; Peter writes of the restoration of all things in Acts 3.19, 21; and, here, Paul speaks of the liberation of all things – and in Ephesians 1.10 and Colossians 1.20, he speaks of the reconciling of all things.  And, as we have seen,  John, in Revelation, speaks of the new Heaven and new earth (Rev. 21, 22). 

Having beenfrustrated by God as a result of man’s sin, creation awaits the full restoration of God’s people so that it, too, will be fully restored.

***   ***   ***

23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  24For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what he already has?  25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

By the expression, “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit” Paul could possibly be referring to the firstfruits of the harvest being a pledge that there will be a full harvest to follow.  He could also be referring to the Feast of Weeks which celebrated the firstfruits.  It is interesting to note that this festival is called “Pentecost” in Greek.  It was at Pentecost that the Holy Spirit was poured out upon believers. 

We are God’s adopted sons (as Paul has already stated), but we have not yet received the final state of that adoption by being welcomed into the “family home” – Heaven. 

And we shall be restored.  Though at present we groan – as does creation – the time will come when all will be worked through and the fullness of God’s blessings will be ours.  At present we live with a ‘yet-but-not-yet” tension, but, in God’s timing, that tension will be removed. 

It can be likened to the experience of a child eagerly awaiting the time when he can open his Christmas presents.  They are there – right under the tree; the child can see them; he may even know what is inside the wrapping; but he has to wait until Christmas morning.  Haven’t we all heard children groaning, “Can’t I have it now?”  It’s another of the childish exclamations of frustration like, “Are we there yet?”

But we – even though we are adults - are the same.  As we await the final, total fulfilment of our salvation we, like creation – and like an impatient, frustrated little child- groan as we suffer incapacities and decay. 

But we have an additional reason to groan: the existence of sin has not yet been totally eradicated from our being.  Consequently, we do not behave as we should, or would like.  Paul provides a wonderful demonstration of this fact in his own life as we will see soon.  In relation to the groaning of humanity, Stott makes a great point when he says, “[s]ome Christians, however, grin too much (they seem to have no place in their theology for pain) and groan too little.”

***   ***   ***

26In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

But, our state of continuing imperfection does not – as with unregenerate mankind – isolate us from God.  Though we remain sinners, we are forgiven sinners, 1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”  Even though we have not yet attained the fullness of perfection that we should, the fact that Jesus died for us is enough to carry us over the line.  Through Him we are, as we saw the other night, declared to be “not guilty.”  We don’t as yet have perfection, but we are assured it will come. 

But, we do have the Spirit to help us through this intermediate time.  He strengthens us in our continuing weakness – even to the extent of taking prayers we cannot formulate into words to God.  Because of the indwelling Holy Spirit, our desires are in alignment with God’s will.  We may not always live out those desires, but that does not keep us in isolation from God.  Through the Spirit’s influence – if we hear and heed Him, we become more Christ-like every day – but we won’t attain perfection until we cast off this mortal body of ours. 

Paul, in chapter 7 of Romans, articulates the paradox of redeemed people who cannot do what they know they should do,

15I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  … 18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  … 24What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  25Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

All is not lost – even though at times we are tempted to despair as we find ourselves groaning because of our frustration caused by continual sin, and frustration due to our impatience to see all come right.  We still have God’s Holy Spirit, and He helps us along the tortured and temptation-strewn walk of life. 

We are saved; we will attain perfection; we will re-enter Paradise – the heavenly Jerusalem, which is really a re-creation of the original earthly paradise, Eden.  And when we do, we will take creation along with us. 

***   ***   ***

First of all, another question from Paul Barnett’s commentary on Romans:

  • Am I straining forward to become a child of God in all its fullness?

***   ***   ***

Some matters to meditate upon:

  • Do you feel frustrated as a result of the “yet-but-not-yet” state of your salvation?  If so, consider Romans 8.26, 27 and the last two chapters of Revelation. 
  • Do you find yourself groaning?  What is it that makes you groan?  Are you afraid that your groanings might be construed as being the same as the Israelites in the Wilderness wanderings?  As you work through this matter, consider, again, vv. 26, 27. 
  • Are you content enough to wait in hope for the future revelation of your recreation?  Do you sometimes wish that God would hurry up about it all?  Consider, as you meditate on God’s seeming delay, the words of 2 Peter 3 (especially verse 9).

 



[1]Or subjected it in hope.  For

 

 

Thursday 21 st April 2011

 

Call to Worship:  Psalm 2. 

1Why do the nations conspire

and the peoples plot in vain?

2The kings of the earth take their stand

and the rulers gather together

against the Lord

and against his Anointed One.

3“Let us break their chains,” they say,

“and throw off their fetters.”

4The One enthroned in heaven laughs;

the Lord scoffs at them.

5Then he rebukes them in his anger

and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,

6“I have installed my King

on Zion, my holy hill.”

7I will proclaim the decree of the Lord:

He said to me, “You are my Son;

today I have become your Father.

8Ask of me,

and I will make the nations your inheritance,

the ends of the earth your possession.

9You will rule them with an iron sceptre;

you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

10Therefore, you kings, be wise;

be warned, you rulers of the earth.

11Serve the Lord with fear

and rejoice with trembling.

12Kiss the Son, lest he be angry

and you be destroyed in your way,

for his wrath can flare up in a moment.

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Bible Reading:  Romans 8.28-39. 

28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31What, then, shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  32He 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?  33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?  It is God who justifies.  34Who is he that condemns?  Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  36As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

***   ***   ***

Meditation:

Tonight, we come to the end of our journey through Romans 8.  What we will be looking at tonight is the culmination of the chapter – that to which it has been leading.  Over the past three nights, we have seen the following:

  1. There is now no condemnation for the Christian – we are freed from the power of sin over our lives; 
  2. All of our disobedience to God’s law is forgiven; 
  3. This was achieved by Jesus came in human flesh to be the sinless Lamb of God.  In His sinless humanity and the offering up of His body, He has redeemed us from the wages of sin which is death.  He has paid the penalty we owe God for our sinfulness, and the Father, therefore, has declared us to be “not guilty” in His eyes.  Jesus has also turned aside God’s white hot anger from us (which is called “propitiation” by theologians and many old translations of the Bible); 
  4. As a result of all this we have an “obligation” to cast off the old way of living (i.e. die to sin), and to live in accordance with the guidance of the Holy Spirit who is God’s gift, given to live in us and to strengthen and direct us (i.e. we are to be “born again”); 
  5. The time will come when all the sufferings and tensions we endure in this life (as a result of sin still living in us and as a result of the persecution we suffer from an evil world) will end and we – along with the rest of creation – will be recreated in the New Eden – Heaven; 
  6. The fullness of our adoption as sons of God will come to us when we inherit what is ours as joint-heirs with Jesus.

We now move on to tonight’s final section of this chapter. 

***   ***   ***

28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 

What we note first of all here – and it is something we must carry with us always – is that all of this happens as a result of God’s grace, not our merit, nor as a consequence of our so-called good works.  Imagine what it would be like if we were dependant upon ourselves for salvation.  Do you really think you could ever do enough to satisfy God and earn His declaration of “not guilty?” 

Thankfully, it is God who does it all because it is only God who is powerful enough and holy enough to do it and it is only God who is faithful enough and who can be relied upon to achieve what we need. 

Because God has declared us “not guilty”, we know that everything that happens to us in life is for our good.  Even suffering and persecution are for our good as Paul says in Romans 5:

3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope.  5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Suffering makes us grow in faith and in dependence upon God. 

God has a purpose in mind for us, and He will ensure that what He wills will come to fruition.  What is it that God has in mind for us?  I would think it is the following:

  1. To claim Jesus as our Saviour; 
  2. To become more and more Christ-like – thereby perfectly restoring the image of God in us that was defaced by The Fall; 
  3. To pay supreme homage to God (just as Jesus did) through His indwelling Holy Spirit; 
  4. To be recreated by God so that we are fit to enter the New Jerusalem, which will be for us the New Eden – that which was forfeited by The Fall; 

God has left nothing to chance.  There is no way that He would let Jesus die in vain.  Because our salvation is not down to us, but comes wholly from God, we can be assured that, because He loves His Son, what Jesus did on the Cross will become a reality in our lives. 

Can you really imagine God sending His beloved Son into the world in human flesh; allowing Him to be humiliated, lied about, whipped, ridiculed, spat upon and murdered and then leave things in such a way that the whole world might reject Him and His death?  Do you think that God would allow the Christ-event to have all been in vain?  That would be a strange type of love wouldn’t it? 

But, because of His love for His Son, God did not leave things to chance.  He ensured that Jesus would be glorified by bringing innumerable people to salvation.  And we are those people – despite our unworthiness! 

God knew us before we were born; He predestined us to become Christ-like; therefore, we have become brothers of Christ and co-heirs with Him.  God has called us out of the world to live for Him.  Having predestined us to be His children, God made it a reality by calling us into His family and giving us glory in line with the glory that belongs to our Divine Brother, Jesus. 

***   ***   ***

31What, then, shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  32He 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?  33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?  It is God who justifies.  34Who is he that condemns?  Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  36As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

Paul now brings his statements to a close with some amazing assurances for the Christian.  He boldly asks, who can stand against us; who can condemn us?

We have been purchased by a treasure beyond measure.  What on earth; in the heavens; indeed in all of creation could possibly – either individually or corporately – be of greater value than the eternal Son of God?  Think on it for a moment. 

As we saw above, Jesus was such a precious gift and is so beloved of the Father, that God would never allow accusations against us to take us from His strong, yet gentle hands. 

Jesus, on that First Good Friday, died so that we can live.  Through His death, we have access to God through the covenant of grace. 

On the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant in His blood.  This was the Last Supper, which has come down to us as the Lord’s Supper.  Later that same night He was betrayed into the hands of evil men; brought before a mock trial; tortured and ridiculed; condemned to death; and the next day, He was crucified.  Having given His most precious possession for us, is it conceivable that God would withhold anything good from us? 

Again, Paul highlights the fact that there is now no condemnation for the Christian.  Who could ever do such a thing against those whom God Himself has declared to be righteous in His eyes?  Even the most powerful adversary we have – Satan himself - were he to come before God’s Throne as he did in relation to Job, what could he accuse us of? 

Even if he could come up with some trumped up charge, we have – sitting at the right hand side of God the Father – an Advocate who would present our case to the Father, and His advocacy, because it would be centred on what He has done for us, would merely confirm the judgement of “not guilty.” 

And Jesus is not simply our Advocate, He is, as John Wesley put it, the “Lover of our soul.”  Jesus loves us – this we know, because the Bible tells us so.  If He didn’t love us, He would not have died for us.  No matter how much we are persecuted; no matter what trials are set before us by this wicked world; no matter what deprivations of human comfort or even necessities we have to endure; not even if our life is threatened or taken, will Jesus ever let us out of His hands - because He loves us.  Nothing can destroy the bond of love that unites us to Him. 

Paul then goes on to quote from Psalm 44.  This Psalm is a lament from the people arising from the fact that they had been overrun by their enemies and had become a laughingstock.  What perplexed them was that, in the past, such things had happened as a result of their disobedience and rejection of God.  But here they are being persecuted because they had remained faithful to God. 

There can be little doubt that Paul quotes this Psalm here because it reflects the situation of the Christian in the world.  We can be all but assured of persecution if we remain true to God.  In fact a Christian who, at some time or another, doesn’t experience persecution for their faith should question themselves as to how steadfastly they are living the Christian life and how effectively they are proclaiming the Word of God. 

***   ***   ***

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[1]neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing will defeat us because Jesus – the Brother who loves us – has, on our behalf, defeated the power of forces of evil in our lives. 

And so it is that Paul ends chapter 8 with the wonderful words of affirmation that are so treasured by Christians,

38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[2] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Having saved us, God will never let us go. 

***   ***   ***

Before we move on to the Table of the Lord Jesus Christ, I need to say something more. 

I have said that Romans 5.1-11 is the overarching reading to be considered as we meditate upon chapter 8.  I feel I have to explain why this is so and now that we have been through chapter 8 it is time to draw it all together. 

The statement at the start of Romans 8 was, Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Paul says that no one or no thing can, because we are secure in Christ. 

Romans 5 gives us the assurance we need to rest peacefully in the comfort of this fact. 

Think for a moment about who it was that Jesus died for; what type of person was it?  Did He die for those who were righteous and upright?  Did He die for those who were strong willed enough to take a stand and defend His cause?  Did He die for those who had proved themselves worthy of Him by the way they lived, what they achieved and how others regarded them? 

Of course, it was for none of these reasons.  What did Jesus Himself say?  He said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  [Mark 2.17; NIV]

Paul expounds on this wonderfully when he says, 6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  …  God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

So, if Jesus died for us whilst we were still trapped in the mire of sin, what charge can be brought against us to separate us from Him?  It is sin that separates people from God, but Jesus died for us “while we were still sinners.”  To put it another way, it was for our sins that he died; it was so that we could be declared to be justified, declared “not guilty’ by God. 

Through His death, Jesus redeemed us from sin.  Through His death, Jesus turned God’s white hot anger away from us.  It was because we were in sin, ungodly and powerless, that Jesus came and died.  If this is the case – and it is – how could further accusations against us change us from the situation before we were saved?  What, in addition to the sins we have been saved from, could we be accused of?  

All such an accusation would do would be to validate the reason Jesus died for us, not give Him a reason to reject us!

We are who we are, and because we are who we are, Jesus died in our place.  No one can make us out to be more sinful than God knows we are.  So nothing can be said that will change our status before God.  We are sinners, be we are sinners who have been forgiven; saved from the effect of our sins; declared by God to be “not guilty” in and through the actions of Jesus; redeemed from the penalty of death that should have been ours; and the righteous wrath of God - that He had every right to bear against us - has been deflected. 

We have received justification, redemption and propitiation because Jesus has been offered on our behalf – and that offering was enough. 

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

***   ***   ***

Tonight, only questions by Paul Barnett from his commentary on Romans:

  • Have I faced up to the reality of the depth of my own sinfulness; 
  • Have I really grasped the depth of the grace of God for my justification before Him; 
  • Have I reflected deeply on Jesus as the obedient man and upon his love for the lost; 
  • Am I straining forward to become a child of God in all its fullness; 

Am I comforted by the “invincible determination of God?” 



[1]Or nor heavenly rulers

[2]Or nor heavenly rulers

 

Friday 21st April 2011

Call to Worship:  Psalm 22.1-5, 14-18, 27-31 - The Psalm of the Cross. 

1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

so far from the words of my groaning?

2O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

by night, and am not silent.

3Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;

you are the praise of Israel.

4In you our fathers put their trust;

they trusted and you delivered them.

5They cried to you and were saved;

in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

14I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint.

My heart has turned to wax;

it has melted away within me.

15My strength is dried up like a potsherd,

and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;

you lay me in the dust of death.

16Dogs have surrounded me;

a band of evil men has encircled me,

they have pierced my hands and my feet.

17I can count all my bones;

people stare and gloat over me.

18They divide my garments among them

and cast lots for my clothing.

27All the ends of the earth

will remember and turn to the Lord,

and all the families of the nations

will bow down before him,

28for dominion belongs to the Lord

and he rules over the nations.

29All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;

all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—

those who cannot keep themselves alive.

30Posterity will serve him;

future generations will be told about the Lord.

31They will proclaim his righteousness

to a people yet unborn—

for he has done it.

1st Bible Reading:  Matthew 27.11-31. 

11Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.

12When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer.  13Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?”  14But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.

15Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd.  16At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas.  17So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”  18For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.

19While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”

20But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

21“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.

“Barabbas,” they answered.

22“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?”  Pilate asked.

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

23“Why?  What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

24When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd.  “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said.  “It is your responsibility!”

25All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”

26Then he released Barabbas to them.  But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

27Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him.  28They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head.  They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him.  “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said.  30They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.  31After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him.  Then they led him away to crucify him.

1st Meditation

Prior to this reading much has happened.  Jesus and His disciples had gathered in the Upper Room to celebrate Passover.  But this was no normal Passover dinner because Jesus invested it with deeper meaning.  The Jewish Passover commemorated the Angel of Death “passing over” the homes of the Jewish exiles in Egypt as it went on and slaughtered the firstborn of the Egyptians. 

Jesus took this Jewish festival and turned it into the Last Supper where He made the connection between the bread and wine of the Passover feast and His own body and blood.  Just as the Passover commemorated the “passing over” of the Angel of Death in Egypt, so the crucified body and shed blood of Jesus would bring new life to those who claim Him as their Lord and Saviour. 

He then led His disciples out into the Garden of Gethsemane where He resolutely committed Himself to the mission of God - which meant His agonising death on the Cross.  Judas, one of the Twelve, then came up to Him and betrayed Him with a kiss. 

He was then paraded before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, King Herod and finally back to Pilate again, which is where we began this morning’s reading. 

The means of betrayal – the kiss of one who was supposed to be His friend and disciple – is, to our minds, scandalous.  But, I wonder how often you have felt betrayed by a friend who you thought would stand by you, but who, instead, did something that brought trouble and heartache? 

I am sure that you, like me, can offer too many examples.  It is always hard when a friend betrays us, and it is hard to forget such times.  We remain hurt for a long time after the event – perhaps we never actually forget it and the friendship is soured forever. 

But, for a moment, I would like you to think of the times when YOU have betrayed a friend.  We might, on the spur of the moment, say we have never done such a thing.  But is this true?  It is easier to remember a hurt that another has inflicted on us than to remember a hurt we have inflicted on others. 

We can never see any justification for others hurting us, but we can all too easily justify ourselves when we hurt others.  For a hurt committed on us, there is never any justification, but our consciences need to find justification when we hurt others.  Think about it.  Is there someone you really need to get into contact with and apologise to for the way you have treated them?

And, what about the way you have treated Jesus?  Have you been as faithful to him as he has been to you?  Is it possible that you will have to make time to get on your knees and apologise to Him for the times you have betrayed Him by being a Peter and denying Him to others?  Have you really committed yourself to Jesus to the same degree as he has committed Himself to you? 

And, what about Barabbas?  Have there been times in your life when, like the Jews, you have chosen something unworthy over something worthy?  Have you, finding yourself caught up in the “mob rule” that is so influential, found yourself doing things you know you really ought not to be doing?  Have you chosen your Barabbases over Jesus too many times?

Have you found yourself, like the crowd, joining in with the rabble rousers and supporting something because everyone expects you to support it rather than it being worthy of your support. 

Do you find yourself falling into step with the latest “thing” simply because everyone else is doing it?  Do you find yourself believing in something – not because you have made a studied decision - but because it is the latest craze, the latest popularist movement that everyone is expected to sign on to? 

And, when you find yourself in a tight corner having to make a decision that could have long range consequences, do you find yourself washing your hands of it and passing the buck onto others?  Do you simply cave in because you are unwilling to make yourself unpopular with the mob? 

And what about the times when Jesus and His claims on the lives of people are being discussed?  When people poke fun at Jesus and those who follow Him, do you stand out from the crowd and defend Him; or do you join in the jesting to ensure that you remain a “closet Christian?”

These are all the types of things we see in this passage from Matthew. 

2nd Bible Reading:  Matthew 27.32-44. 

32As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.  33They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull).  34There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it.  35When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.[1]36And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.  37Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.  38Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.  39Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself!  Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”

41In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him.  42“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!  He’s the King of Israel!  Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.  43He trusts in God.  Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”  44In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

2nd Meditation

It is interesting to note the number of times Jesus says that we must take up our crosses and follow Him.  Here we meet the first person to do so – Simon of Cyrene.  Admittedly, Simon was press ganged into doing it rather than making a conscious choice to do so. 

But, what about you?  Are you willing to shoulder your cross and suffer for Jesus?  He has suffered for you; what have you surrendered for Him?  How willing are you to inconvenience yourself for Him?  What adjustments are you willing to make to your appointment diary for Jesus?

I don’t know about you, but the name “Calvary” is somewhat sanitised to my mind.  We hear of hospitals and churches called “Calvary Something.”  But, we never hear of a Golgotha Hospital.  I have never heard of a Golgotha Presbyterian Church. 

The name “Golgotha’ conveys terror to me.  I can easily talk about “Calvary”, but “Golgotha” chills me to the bone.  And so, perhaps, we should use the name “Golgotha” more frequently.  Its meaning “The Place of the Skull” sends chills up my spine.  Yet, this is the place they took Jesus to crucify Him.  Somehow, to me at least, thinking about Jesus dying on Golgotha makes the horror of the event more clear in my mind that thinking about dying on ‘Calvary.”  And we really need to catch some of the horror of what Jesus endured to attain our salvation. 

And, what about the death of Jesus.  What is it to you?  Is it an irrelevancy?  Is it something that happened so long ago that it doesn’t appear on your radar?  Is it just something you can pass by and make some derogatory remark about?  Or is it a reality that you feel you really need to come to terms with? 

3rd Bible Reading:  Matthew 27.45-56. 

45From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.  46About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi,[2] lama sabachthani?”  —which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[3]

47When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

48Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge.  He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink.  49The rest said, “Now leave him alone.  Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

50And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  The earth shook and the rocks split.  52The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.  53They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

54When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son[4] of God!”

55Many women were there, watching from a distance.  They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs.  56Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

3rd Meditation

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be totally separated from God? 

Or, are you one of those people who aren’t really concerned about your relationship with God?  It seems to me that – in the short term at least – it is only to the person who is not really concerned about their relationship with God that this question is irrelevant.  For those who do care, it is a question that stirs the soul. 

Yet, this is precisely what Jesus experienced at this point in time. 

Now, we need to get something straight here.  Although the turning away of the Father from His Son was real, in another sense, it was not Jesus whom the Father turned His back on.  This might sound contradictory, but bear with me. 

Why did Jesus go to the Cross?  Wasn’t it so He could bear our sins and, by dying for our sins, allow those sins to be forgiven?  So, when Jesus was on the Cross, He was totally covered by our sins – at least figuratively speaking.  But, the fact that we are speaking figuratively here doesn’t diminish the truth of what it is that we are speaking about. 

So, back to my point.  As He hung on the Cross, Jesus Himself was obliterated by the fact that he bore our sins there.  So, when God looked at the Cross, what did He see?  Did He see Jesus?  No, what the Father saw was our sin.  And so, you see, though Jesus experienced the sensation of having the Father deserting Him, it was not Jesus Himself that the Father turned from, but, rather, it was our sins that He turned His back on. 

Jesus endured this so that we could be forgiven.  Jesus suffered total isolation from His Father so that we can live intimately with Him.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be totally separated from God?  Well, it might be something to speculate about, but it is something we need never experience, because Jesus has experienced it for us. 

Final Meditation:

There is only one thing left to say, and it is in meditating on this one last thing that will affect your meditations on the rest.

What I want you to do for the rest of today is to reflect on God’s love. 

Have you ever thought of the cost to God of the offer of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ? 

Have you ever thought how much God loves you to send His beloved Son to die in your place? 

Have you ever reflected upon how much Jesus loves you to be willing to endure what He endured on that first Good Friday? 

If you have never thought on these things, think on them now and see how your heart reacts to such unbridled love poured out on you. 

Closing Reading: Matthew 27.57-66. 

57As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus.  58Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him.  59Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock.  He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.  61Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

62The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.  63“Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’  64So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day.  Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead.  This last deception will be worse than the first.”

65“Take a guard,” Pilate answered.  “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.”  66So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.

But, three days later, the tomb was empty!



[1]A few late manuscripts lots that the word spoken by the prophet might be fulfilled: ``They divided my garments among themselves and cast lots for my clothing” (Psalm 22:18)

[2]Some manuscripts Eli, Eli

[3]Psalm 22:1

[4]Or a son

 

Sunday 24th April 2011

Call to Worship:  Psalm 118.15-24. 

15Shouts of joy and victory

resound in the tents of the righteous:

“The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!

16The Lord’s right hand is lifted high;

the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”

17I will not die but live,

and will proclaim what the Lord has done.

18The Lord has chastened me severely,

but he has not given me over to death.

19Open for me the gates of righteousness;

I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.

20This is the gate of the Lord

through which the righteous may enter.

21I will give you thanks, for you answered me;

you have become my salvation.

22The stone the builders rejected

has become the capstone;

23the Lord has done this,

and it is marvellous in our eyes.

24This is the day the Lord has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it.

1st Bible Reading:  Matthew 28.1-15. 

1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  4The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  6He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.  Come and see the place where he lay.  7Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.  There you will see him.’  Now I have told you.”

8So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  9Suddenly Jesus met them.  “Greetings,” he said.  They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.  10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.  Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

11While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.  12When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’  14If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”  15So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed.  And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

Meditation

It is often said that there is no real difference between religions – they are all the same, but the just use different roads to reach the top of the mountain.  Whilst this might sound very “P.C.” and nice, it simply is not the truth. 

Let’s just look at the three great monotheistic religions of the world: Judaism, Islam and Christianity.  I, like may people, have visited the Baha’i Temple at Commodore Heights.  Just inside the front door are three texts: a Jewish Scripture, a copy of the Koran and a Bible.  The inference is that they are all equally significant holy books and hence all carry equal value.  But, are they the same? 

The Jewish Scriptures don’t mention Jesus at all; the Koran does mention Him, but denies He is divine, that He rose from the tomb and holds Him as being inferior to Muhammad. 

What does the Christian Bible say about Jesus?  It says He was divine – the Second person of the One Triune God; it says that:

6Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

7but made himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

8And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.  [Philippians 2.6ff; NIV]

The Bible also says, as we have read today, that Jesus was raised by the Father from the Tomb.  How, then, can these three religions be the same when they differ so much about Jesus? 

So, each of us is faced with some momentous decisions.  Do we accept the “P. C.” attitude that flies in the face of facts; do we follow Judaism which doesn’t officially recognise Jesus; do we accept Islam that totally contradicts what the Bible says about Jesus?  Or, do we follow the nothingness of atheism or the non-committedness of agnosticism?  We must choose one position. 

But what about our passage.  What do you think about it? 

Let’s look at the guards first of all.  We are all aware of conspiracy theories.  Even those not alive in the ‘60’s are aware of conspiracy theories concerning the Moon landing; the death of JFK and the death of Marilyn Monroe, But here we have before us a 1st Century conspiracy theory.  To cover up the Resurrection, the spiritual leaders lied; conspired to hide the facts and bribed people to make sure that the facts were hushed up. 

Do you really believe the Moon landing didn’t take place? 

Do you really believe all the wild theories surrounding the JFK assassination? 

And what about the wild tales around Marilyn’s death? 

If these are so unlikely, why believe the cover up made by religious leaders who were trying to protect their hides? 

And then there were the women.  All Gospels have women as the first witnesses to the Resurrection.  Let me tell you that, if this were not a fact, then the Gospel writers would never have included it in their accounts because in those days the witness of a woman was worthless!  Unless it were true that women were the first to see the empty tomb, the Gospel writers would have written that men did!  The fact that they reported that women were the first to know adds credence to the fact that the Resurrection actually took place!

But there are more important things to think on than these here. 

Perhaps the most important are the words of the angel and the words of Jesus – which begin in exactly the same way, “Do not be afraid.”

Fear is something we all feel, and fear is something none of us like to feel.  These words give a great message to us today.  Just as the women didn’t need to fear, neither do we.  And why?  Simply because Jesus has been raised from the dead. 

What this wondrous event tells us is that everything Jesus did in His ministry on earth was acceptable to the Father.  He remained sinless – despite temptations we will never have to face up to; He perfectly said and did everything His Father wanted Him to say and do – even to the extent of being crucified on Golgotha! 

Because everything Jesus did was right, He was raised from death because He alone didn’t deserve it.  But, the most wonderful thing about all this is that His death has been taken and applied to us so that we, in Jesus, are no longer seen to be sinless in the eyes of the Father.  We are forgiven for all our sins; the debt we owed to God for our sins has been paid for us by Jesus; and the white hot anger of God that He burns upon those who are his enemies has been turned away from as and was poured out on Jesus as He hung on the Cross in our place. 

So, to us today, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”  We need not be afraid if we accept Him as our Saviour because He has done everything for us to ensure that we do not have to fear death and standing before the Judgement Throne because we have been declared “not guilty.”

Are you afraid?  Perhaps you need to look at the facts of Easter and, by accepting Jesus as your loving Saviour, put all your fears behind you. 

2nd Bible Reading:  Matthew 28.16-20. 

16Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Meditation

It is for good reason that this is at the end of Matthew‘s Gospel.  Because this is what the Christ-event ultimately is about – the freeing of people from all nations on earth from the fear of death and what happens after we die. 

We know it well as “The Great Commission.”  And, “The Great Commission” has meaning for you and me today; it was not just something said on a Galilean mountain for a small group of people. 

We are to take the Good News of Jesus out into the world.  We are to share it by the way we live and by the things we say.  Our lives are to display that we belong to Jesus and our words are to be used to introduce others to Him. 

Can you think of someone who took time out to tell you about Jesus?  How do you feel towards that person? 

Can you remember some of the things you were taught in Sunday School or in Scripture Classes at school – things that are still with you today?  How precious are those things?  How well have they stood by you throughout your life?

Can you think of someone who needs to know about Jesus?  Who is going to tell them?

“The Great Commission” is to direct us through life.  We are to live life fulfilling “The Great Commission.” 

“Do not be afraid”about going out of your way to tell others about Jesus; do not fear that you won’t be able to do it; remember, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

That is Jesus’ promise to you.