1 John 2:7-8

John emphasised the written word. “I write to you.” In fact, John writes “I write to you,” twice in verses 7-11, and six times in verses 12-14.

This emphasis is throughout the Bible.

Christians are essentially people of a book, or a collection of books. It is from the Bible alone that we now receive the Gospel. John, Peter, Matthew, Paul and the others are in the presence of their Lord. We know truth about Jesus because of the things that they have written down.

The teachings of the early apostles and prophets come to us only in their writings. We are not to rely for information about Jesus on voices that we might hear in our heads. We are not to rely on oral traditions that are not already written down for us in the Bible. We are not to receive anything from people claiming to be new apostles with new revelations of the Spirit. We are not to submit blindly to mere human authority of any kind. We have God’s word written. This alone is our standard of faith and practice — from it alone do we learn what we are to believe and do as God’s people.

These thoughts prepare us to consider verses 7-8, where we are given something to believe.

“Brothers, I do not write to you a new commandment, but an old one, which you have possessed from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard from the beginning. Again, I do write to you a new commandment which (neuter) is true in him and in you.”

The commandment that John seeks to enforce here is not the 10 commandments. John had been referring to the 10 commandments in the previous verses, but now he is writing about something else.

An old commandment and a new commandment are one commandment. The commandment is the Gospel message. This is the word or message that John says Christians have heard from the beginning. 1 John 1:1-3 and John:12:50 — his commandment is eternal life.

Gospel is an imperative — a command. It reveals God’s will for our salvation in Christ Jesus.  In another place, Peter said:

“There is salvation in no other, neither is there any other name under heaven that is given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

The gospel is a command to repent — to stop resisting God and to trust Christ.

  • Mark 1:14 — The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel.
  • Acts 2:38 — Repent and be baptised
  • Acts 16:30-31 — Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved
  • Acts 17:30 — Now God commands all people everywhere to repent (and believe gospel)

The gospel is old, in so far as it is not new to these people. They have heard it from the beginning. It is old in so far as it did not originate with them, but had long been declared to the world since Genesis 3:15.

  • Gen 3:15 – one will be born to put right what Adam made wrong
  • Gen 12 – one will be born who will bless every nation
  • Ps 32 – the blessing will be the forgiveness of sins
  • Isa 53 – the death of the one who is born to bless will bring forgiveness into effect. He will die for others.
  • Ps 16 – the one who died for our sins will rise again from the dead
  • Jer 31:33 – the forgiveness will be applied to sinners by a new birth

It is new, in so far as it can never go out of date, and must never be thought of as yesterday’s news. It must always be refreshed in our thinking and affections

  • 1 Cor. 15:1-4
  • 2 Peter 1:12-15
  • 1 John 1 and 2

Jesus Christ is the true light. This light shines in the Gospel message. “He is the true light” John 1:9 “The darkness is passing and the true light already shines”. 1 John 2:8.

This Gospel is true in him.

  • The Lord Jesus Christ made the gospel of forgiveness of sins true by bringing it into effect. By his good life and his death in our place he has himself made propitiation for our sins.
  • He has dealt decisively with our darkness — our rebellion, our lawlessness, our ignorance, our selfishness. By his death on the cross and by his resurrection, he has defeated sin, death and Satan.
  • He who is truth guarantees the truth of the good news of forgiveness and our reconciliation with God.

The Gospel is true in us

  • if we are born again by the holy spirit, that is
  • If we have turned from the darkness of our sinful rebellion and have come to the light (john 3:19-21), that is,
  • if we trust Jesus Christ as he is offered in the gospel, and
  • if we remain in him — persevere in the faith. If we keep on trusting in spite of circumstances.

This, in brief, is what we are to believe. We are to trust ourselves to this gospel and rely on Jesus Christ. This is walking in the light, as Jesus himself said (John 12:35-36).

Relief for troubled hearts

John 14:1-11

Our Lord Jesus Christ  does not want people to be troubled. He wants us to be free from trouble.

There are many different things that trouble different people. Some people are troubled by clutter (the random stuff that we collect over the years), other people can’t live without clutter and they are troubled by the thought of losing it. Some people are troubled my cats, others are troubled if there are no cats around.

This passage is not about those sorts of troubles. As serious as those other troubles might be, they tend to be individual troubles affecting different people differently.

The trouble that Jesus is talking about is the trouble that we experience because of unbelief, particularly because we do not trust Jesus Christ as he is offered in the gospel.

The Lord Jesus wants people to be free of this most serious of troubles.

These disciples of Jesus had a serious faith problem. They had been called to follow Jesus, they had followed him through three years of his teaching ministry, they professed their loyalty to him, but they did not yet trust him as they needed to trust.

When our Lord Jesus said to them, “Do not let your heart be troubled, believe (trust) in God and trust in me,” he was addressing a serious lack of faith in these men.

As yet, they did not trust his words, they did not know Jesus as they should have known him, and they were most uncomfortable about the message of his impending death and resurrection.

These words were spoken to the disciples during or just after the last supper, where Jesus had spoken explicitly of his imminent betrayal and death. These coming events, he told them, were necessary so that human sin could be forgiven.

He had said at that last meal that the bread represented his body broken for them, and that the cup represented his blood shed for them – this indicated that his death was essential for their salvation. His death was to deal with their sins.

This was at least the fourth recorded occasion when Jesus spoke to his disciples about the necessity of his death. How did his disciples react to this message?

Each time they became troubled and they quickly changed the subject.

Most often, they changed the subject to a discussion as to which of them would be the greatest in the coming kingdom of God. They wanted to skip the cross and go straight to the glory.

In this they agreed with the Devil, who suggested the very some policy to Jesus in his temptation.

Jesus’ reply to Satan and to Peter was the same — get behind me Satan, that is, get out of my way. In Matthew 18, Jesus told these disciples that unless they were converted — changed — there was no way that they could enter the kingdom of God.

Again the disciples did not believe Jesus when he pointed out the desperate natured of their sinfulness.

When he told them that one would betray him and that the rest of them would abandon him, they did not believe him. Peter explicitly contradicted Jesus and declared that he instead would willingly die with him. We know how badly that turned out.

In this passage, Jesus speaks to his disciples in stunning ways. When Philip asks to be shown the Father, Jesus said, Have I been with you so long, and you do not know me?

“If you (plural) had known me, you would have also known the Father.” V.7

These men who had been with Jesus over three years did not really know Jesus. This is most significant. In chapter 17 of John’s gospel, Jesus said that eternal life was to know the Father and the one (Jesus) whom the Father had sent.

At this point in time, these disciples were not converted. They were not Christians. As yet, they were merely disciples — leaners — and pretty inattentive ones at that.

But they understood enough to be troubled by Jesus’ words regarding his betrayal and death. They were troubled that Jesus had pointed out their sin.

To alleviate this trouble of heart, this same trouble that they all felt, Jesus said:

“Let not your heart be troubled. Trust God and trust me. In my Father’s house there many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you.”

What the disciples needed to do was to trust Jesus. To receive his words and believe that he knows best, that Jesus is both God and man, and that his death and resurrection are essential if they were to be reconciled to God.

“Trust God and trust me” — These are not two distinct statements, but the second particularises the first (v.7). Jesus is identifying himself as God. He reaffirms this in vs. 7ff.

In my Father’s household there are many mansions. This means the was lots of room in God’s household already!

“I go to prepare a place” — Jesus was not going somewhere to make more room. As Jesus says, there is already plenty of room. Rather, he was going to make disciples fit for one of those places. Remember Matt 18.

The preparation that Jesus was speaking of was the same death that Jesus had spoken of and which had troubled his disciples so much.

Jesus death was the issue. By it the innocence Jesus took legal responsibility for the wrong doing of all his people. In fact, without Jesus taking responsibility for our sin, there was no way he could have died. The word of God says “the soul that sins shall die.” Jesus died because he bore the sins of other people. He willingly became their substitute.

The principle of a substitute dying in the place of a sinner is reinforced throughout the Old Testament in the temple services.  Jesus would be the fulfilment of those temple sacrifices (John 2:19)

By his death, he finished condemnation for his people.

The fact that Jesus rose from the dead is the great confirmation of this truth. If even one sin of his people remained unpaid for, Jesus would not have risen from the dead. But Christ is risen (14:19).

So he could say that, if he goes (to the cross), he will come again and receive (take) them to himself. Here Jesus again speaks of his death and resurrection, but adds the effect that his death and resurrection will have on these men.

He will take them to himself. (Like prisoners taken in battle, like a husband taking a wife.)

Jesus takes his people to himself

  1. In regeneration by the Spirit of God – changing their minds, wills and attitudes by the new birth.
  2. At death they enter his immediate presence.
  3. In the last day he will take them to new heavens and new earth.

So that where Jesus is, those who trust him will be also.

In vs. 5 and 6, Thomas tells Jesus that he doesn’t know where Jesus is going, and he cannot know the way. Jesus answer shows that the “where” and the “way” are intimately related.

Where was Jesus going? To the cross. Remember, Jesus had spoken of this to the disciples at least four times.

What is the way? Only Jesus brings sinners to God. He is the way. He opened the way to God by his own actions.

“I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father but by me.”

Jesus is the narrow way. “Narrow” because he is the only way back to good relations with our Creator.

Jesus is trustworthy because he not only tells the truth, but he is the one who establishes truth.

Jesus also gives life as the creator and sustainer of all things, but most particularly as saviour. By his resurrection from the dead he shows that sin (which brings death) has had its condemnation completed in him.

For this reason, Jesus has the right and ability to raise those who trust him from the dead.

Is your heart troubles by your own sin? Are you troubled by the message of the gospel, that Jesus had to die if sin and death were to be defeated? Are you afraid to die?

Jesus meant it when he said, “Do not let you heart be troubled. Trust in God and trust in me.”

Our Lord Jesus has made sinners fit for a place in His Father’s household by his good life, by his death in our place, and by his resurrection from the dead.

If you trust him as he is presented to you in the gospel, you can know that he has done this for you.

Jesus said of himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”

The way to the Father is open through faith in Jesus Christ. Trust him.

The Rev. Fredrick William Robertson

Fredrick William Robertson (1816-1853) was a famous preacher in England during the nineteenth century. The people of Brighton flocked to his Sunday services. He was very popular, but his message was not the Gospel of Jesus. His whole aim in life seemed to be to subvert the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

 Why do I bother with this long dead enemy of the cross? Because a biography and appreciation appears in a modern collection entitled, Fifty People every Christian should know. He is represented in this well-meaning volume as a faithful Christian and an encouragement to those who want to follow Jesus. l have nothing to say against the author of the book, except that he took too much at face value from a nineteenth-century biography – the only contemporary biography – which was written by a person who seems to have had the same unhappy disposition as the Rev. F. W. Robertson.

 One good thing that this book, Fifty People, does is to urge us to read Robertson’s sermons carefully. A good sermon to start with, in my opinion, would be one entitled,  ‘Caiaphas’s view of Vicarious Suffering‘. Here, very clearly, Robertson reveals his hatred for the Gospel that Jesus and his apostles preached.

 I mean ‘hatred’. Robertson went to considerable trouble to misrepresent the Gospel as it really is, and to substitute a non-Gospel of his own creating. The teaching that our Lord Jesus Christ took on humanity (became a man) in order to take responsibility for the sins of his people – to die in their place, taking the punishment for their sins – was for Roberson the evil teaching of Caiaphas. Caiaphas was the high Priest in the year Jesus was arrested and killed. He had suggested that it would be better to kill Jesus than for the Romans to destroy the nation of Israel. For Robertson, the message about Christ’s deliberate act of mercy in dying on the cross for his people was a selfish message like the one that Caiaphas promoted.

So what did Robertson substitute for the gospel? His idea of Jesus dying for sinners was this: Jesus suffered – bore the sins of people – only in the sense that he was treated badly by bad people. Their bad  attitude and actions toward this good man caused him to suffer. Jesus’ death was represented as an accident. Robertson imagined Jesus went to his death in the same way as an innocent person might walk absent-mindedly into the spinning wheel of steam machinery. Jesus dared to be good in a bad world and met with unintended consequences, his death on a cross.

 How does this help sinners like us? Robertson implied that this example of innocent suffering would inspire us to live good lives too. And as we meet with suffering as a result, that suffering would be the means of purifying us even as Jesus was pure. In this view, Jesus is no Saviour. He is merely an example to follow. Sinners like us would be left to do the impossible; to meet the high standard set by Jesus through our own efforts.

Even a superficial reading of Luke 9, or its parallel passages in Matthew and Mark, will show how deliberate our Lord Jesus was in foretelling his future rejection and death, and how insistent he was in  asserting its absolute necessity. Again, in that garden on the night of his arrest, Jesus prayed that, if possible, the ‘cup’ might pass from him. The cup was the cup of God’s anger at our sin. The Old Testament spoke of the cup of God’s wrath which the wicked must drink in judgment. Jesus knew that if sinners like us were to be saved, he would have to drink this cup of judgment for his people. He had come to save them in this way, and he did it willingly and deliberately. This is the message of God’s mercy and love given in the Bible, yet it was the message that the Rev. F. W. Robertson hated. I’d  rather believe Jesus than the Rev. F. W. Robertson.

You call that a miracle?

Paul and Barnabas were early Christian missionaries to Cyprus. In Paphos they were called by the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, because he wanted to hear the word of God from them. One problem, though, was a fellow called Elymas (or Bar Jesus). He was a false prophet who’d gained influence with the proconsul by claiming to be a magician. We are told in Acts 13 that this Elymas opposed the missionaries and tried to turn the proconsul from receiving their message. At this point, Paul used what some might call impolite language, but he was moved by the Holy Spirit to use it. He publicly identified Elymas as one ‘full of deceit and fraud’, as a ‘son of the devil’ and as an ‘enemy of righteousness’. Paul said these things because they were true. Paul then told Elymas that the Lord had his hand on him and he would be blind for a while. What Paul said immediately happened to Elymas.

Now, the proconsul heard and saw all this and believed the message, but his belief did not result from amazement or fear inspired by the miraculous blinding of Elymas. Now, there is no doubt that the temporary silencing of the false prophet was scary. It was fit to cause sudden fear. I’m sure Elymas was terrified. But it was not this that amazed the proconsul. The Roman official was bowled over by the teaching of the Lord. Why might that be? Well, the Romans had gods for everything, and the main purpose of worship was to prevent the gods from zapping the Romans for any offence or mistake that they might have made. The Roman sacrifices were pre-emptive or reparatory attempts to ward off the anger of gods who were not into showing mercy.

The message that Paul brought, the word of the Lord, was utterly unexpected. What Sergius Paulus had expected was to be told of a new thing that Sergius Paulus had to do to appease yet another god. What Paul told him was that God had acted to fix what we had done wrong, and God’s acting was done for people like us (Romans 5:6-8), who were utterly opposed to all righteousness, sons of the devil and full of fraud and deceit (compare Ps.14 and Romans 3:9-18). In fact, Paul had told the proconsul about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God, and how this doing and dying and rising of Jesus alone saves completely those who trust themselves to his mercy. This was something new; something undreamed of; unimaginable. It was not the miracle of blinding, but the miracle of grace that amazed the proconsul. It should continually amaze us too, but don’t only be amazed. Trust yourself to this Jesus.

With, Against, Without …. a supposal

Hard questions don’t always have answers. I was asked a hard question the other day, and my initial answer was essentially, “Who knows?” Then, on second thoughts, I made a suggestion for my friend to think about. Here is the question and my thoughts.

The question was about people who have died and yet had never met a Christian, or read the Bible or heard about Jesus in some ordinary way — are they necessarily lost?

For me, the question needs a context.

Firstly, it seems to imply that somehow God’s providence is unfair — unfair that people who have never heard of Jesus should be condemned. This thinking seems to ignore the reality spelled out in Psalms 14 and 53, and Romans 2 and 3 (as well as other places in the Bible) that there are no good guys on this planet. Jesus came to people who are justly condemned for sin. If God were to leave us in that condition, who are we to complain? We’d have no just complaint, anyway.

Another thing that this question seems not to have considered is what the Bible says about the attitude of sinful people to the message of Jesus. We, as sinners, are by nature opposed to good news. Without the extraordinary gift of ‘new birth’, or regeneration, no one can be a fan of Jesus or his message. ‘He came to his own [people], but they did not receive him’ (John 1). For anyone to become a Christian, a powerful and gracious (unlooked-for, unearned, undeserved) work of the Holy Spirit is needed (John 3). In short, everyone’s position is impossibly bad until God acts in mercy and love. We know, because of what the Bible says, that God does act in that way. Jesus does bring people back to God; he does give repentance to his people; he does restore them as dearly love children of God.

A last point, for context, is something that the Bible makes very clear:– no one is saved without faith in Jesus Christ.

So my tentative answer to the question is like this: God is free to work regarding his salvation with means, against means, or without means.

What do I mean? I refer to an old term, ‘means of salvation’. These are things that God ordinarily uses to bring the message of Jesus Christ to people. A ‘means of salvation’ might be someone who tells another about Jesus, or the Bible itself, which holds all we need to know about the good news of Jesus. Prayer also is a means of salvation, as is going to church and hearing the gospel there.

God may work ‘with means’. The Holy Spirit can and does use ‘means’ to inform people of Jesus and to bring some to faith by giving them new birth. The Philippian gaoler in Acts 16 is an example of this. Paul tells the man and his family about Jesus, and he believes with his whole household. This is the ordinary way that people come to faith and are saved. Telling others about Jesus is the responsibility of the church and individual Christians. We have good news, and we must not keep it to ourselves.

God may work ‘against means’. For reasons of his own, the Spirit may, and in some cases does, choose not to bring people to faith despite all the means available to them. Judas is a case in point. He had heard the message from the best of messengers, Jesus himself. He saw all the amazing things Jesus did, and yet he would not believe Jesus or trust him. The Bible says that God shows mercy to whom he wills, and some he hardens by simply leaving them to their own sinful ways and desires.

God may and does work ‘without means’. In the first two ways in which God uses means, we might see the effect in some way. We tell someone about Jesus, and they come to faith or they don’t, and they make their inner response to the Holy Spirit plain to us in one way or another. But when God works without means, we are not observers. We cannot know about particular cases. But the Bible does indicate that, at times, for his own glory, God does bring people to faith ‘without means’.

Abram (later Abraham) is a clear example of God working ‘without means’. We are told that he was a worshipper of false gods in Ur, but then the God of Glory appeared (made himself known) to Abram. There were no mission societies in Ur, no copies of the Bible, no prayer groups or tracts. God himself acted in kingly love. He brought Abram to faith in the Christ to come; to trust the message that a child of his own would bless the world. It was revealed to Abram that Jesus would come, ‘Abraham saw my day,’ said Jesus, ‘and was glad.’ All this happened to Abraham without ordinary means.

This shows that there is real hope for those outside of the reach of ‘ordinary means’. God may and does bring people to faith in Jesus Christ, even when we cannot communicate the message to them — even when we cannot see any response to the message. It is no harder for God to do this than to bring to faith a person who has heard all the preaching and has read the Bible from cover to cover. You see, by his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus Christ has saved his people from their sins no matter who they are or what their situation might be. The Holy Spirit will most certainly bring each of them to faith in Jesus at His own time.

When does God work ‘without means’? Whenever he likes. For whom does he do this? For whomever he wills. Can we know about particular cases (outside of the examples given in his word)?  No.

The fact that God does work without means is for our comfort in times when hard questions come to us. This truth is not to allow the church or Christians avoid responsibility. We must use all the means that God has given to us for making Jesus known.  He will bring the results according to his own will.

Dead in Adam, alive in Christ — Romans 5

The apostle Paul had previously written in this letter about the gospel – the good news – that comes to people who had rebelled against their creator, and of the ugliness and universality of human sin and death (chap 1). He has also written of the absolute failure of all people to keep God’s law, whether Jew or Gentile (chap 2 and 3), and of God’s free mercy that comes to people by means of faith – by trusting the promise of God regarding His Son, Jesus Christ; what he has done in the place of sinners for sinners (Chap 4).

This Jesus, Paul tells us, lived, died and rose again to reconcile to God (justifying) those who trust Christ (Chap 5a). Paul now goes on to show how this work had to be done by Christ and none other. It is a recap with a twist.

To begin with, we need to know that sin is not a just a feeling of guilt; it is a reality. Sin is, as John tells us, a transgression or breaking of God’s law. From sin comes death as the judicial punishment for breaking God’s law. This death is not just a separation of soul from body, but it is ultimately a great separation from our God, the creator and sustainer of everything. So death must be seen as spiritual as well as physical. Again, death is as universal as sin. All have sinned, so all will die. Death is what sin deserves.

In this section of Romans 5, sin is not referring to our personal wrong doings. Rather, it refers to that one sin of Adam, the first man, and its consequences. By this one sin of Adam, he and all of us were made subject to death, both physical and spiritual death.

Adam sinned against a law that existed before the law of Moses. He was told that “of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die.” Adam rebelled against this law, and his sin was imputed [regarded as belonging] to all his children. The condemnation of Adam’s sin passed from parent to child. Adam acted as our representative. In the matter of this law of Genesis 2 it was Adam alone who would keep it or not. As he failed, so we failed in him. Our behaviour ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is irrelevant in as far as the imputation of Adam’s sin is concerned. All people are under the same condemnation, since we are all regarded by God as guilty of Adam’s law breaking.

Our natural tendency to do wrong (disobey God) is a symptom of this reality. We personally agree with Adam. By birth we are IN ADAM. We are followers of him. The first man, Adam, represented us all. His success would have been ours too. His failure is surely ours as well.

Paul gives us the hint as to where this is going. Adam was the representative of all people. Christ, the one who was promised (Gen 3:15) is the second Adam who also represents His people. The principle of one acting for many is a Bible idea. For example, the story of David and Goliath in the Old Testament. If David wins the fight, Israel wins. If David had lost, Israel would have lost.

Adam and Jesus Christ, the second Adam, are the same, but different. The first Adam sinned.  Death, which is the necessary judgement upon sin, came upon all people without distinction because their father and ‘head’, Adam, sinned. The second Adam, Jesus Christ, lived his good life as a replacement for the bad lives of his people, and he died the death that his people deserve to die. The life that his people receive by faith comes because of Christ’s substitute life and death. It comes by grace, the unmerited, unlooked-for, unexpected mercy from the God we had all offended.

This mercy comes to us by Grace through Faith; to all who trust Jesus Christ. As surely as the first is true (that is, death came to all by Adam’s sin), so all the more sure and true is the eternal life that comes by the gift of the righteous one, Jesus Christ. Just as Christ is risen, never to die again, so too are his people brought to everlasting life by the new birth. By this new birth, people become Christians and followers of Jesus.

This passage must be read in the light of previous chapters of Romans. We are all under sin – Adam’s and our own — so no one can plead their own righteousness or goodness. The Law of Moses (written on our hearts but ignored) came not as a fix-it for sinners. It is not a do-it-yourself instruction book that sinners can use to make themselves right with God.  The law, for an un-reconciled person, comes to convince us of our sinful condition and to show the absolute necessity of the work of Jesus in our place. We must come to him by faith if we are to be at peace with God.

Now, a righteousness apart from the Law of Moses is revealed in Jesus Christ. Just as the doing of Adam brought everyone into a state of sin and death, so the doing of Jesus Christ brings his people from death into a state of life and righteousness. Just as the sin of Adam was imputed to us and we became sinners as a result of Adam’s sin, so to, as a result of Christ’s good life and replacement death, we are declared to be good on the basis of Christ’s doing, not our own. We didn’t do anything to become sinners, but simply followed our head, Adam, who bought sin and death to us. In the same way, Christians didn’t do anything to become the children of God. Their head, Jesus Christ brought his righteousness and redemption to his people, and gave it to them for free. Just to say, Romans Chapter 6 takes up the theme that “imputation leads to imitation”. The law that once condemned in Adam, becomes a our friend in Christ.

Is being offensive always wrong?

There are some people in the world who seem to enjoy offending others. I won’t give you any examples, as you probably know some of these sorts of people yourselves. People at work cause offense, people on the radio or television, or people with YouTube channels or blogs, or something called ‘facebook’ or ‘twitter’…. I don’t think it is good to set out deliberately to offend people — that is, to have ‘offending people’ as your main reason for acting or speaking in certain ways. That sort of attitude is nasty. Giving offence in that sense is wrong.

Nevertheless, I do think that ‘taking offence’ can have its own problems. I mean, sometimes the truth can be offensive. By ‘truth’ I mean objective ‘outside-of-me’ reality; true-truth. And true-truth is particularly offensive to people who are wedded to the idea that ‘truth’ is what they make it to be. When people decide what is ‘ok’ for themselves; when people create their own moral universe (or choose for themselves one of many moral ‘universes’), true-truth will be terribly offensive to them.

Thinking about my last paragraph, and what the Bible say about human-beings in general, it seems to me that every human being (except Jesus Christ) has a problem with true-truth.

Jesus Christ, the only person ever to live a completely good life, could not help causing offence, but the fault was not his. The fault was with those who were offended by him.

Jesus did not come into the world to cause offense; rather he came deliberately to save his people from their sins. In this context, we might say that ‘sin’ is the practical out-workings of the attitude that we have a right to determine our own moral universe.

Jesus’ impeccably good life is a standing condemnation (there, I said it) of our habitually bad lives. When he spoke about our self-righteous religiosity (our determination to make of our own moral universes whatever we might want them to be), we are offended. We can’t help it. We don’t like our sins being labelled for what they really are. We are offended by the idea that we have wronged our Creator. We are offended by the truth that we actually have a Creator. We are offended by the idea that we need to be saved from ourselves and that the Creator (the one we offend by our sin) is the only one who can save us.

As a race, our thinking is completely messed up. But contrary to theories ancient and modern, education will not fix our poor thinking. Only grace will. By this I mean only the work of our Creator who came to us in the person of Jesus Christ can and will save. His work on behalf of sinful people alone saves them from sin and its unpleasant consequence.

When Jesus lived his sinless life, he lived it to replace the bad lives of sinners. When Jesus died on a cross — unjustly condemned by sinners as if he were the worse of sinners — he took the place of sinners who were justly condemned. He took their punishment for them. When Jesus came back to life from the dead, he showed that his life was in fact blameless, and he showed that the sins of sinners, which he bore, now no longer condemn. He paid their debt for them.

Jesus’ message is that anyone who trusts Him will be saved because those who trust him get the benefit of his good life, his death and his rising from the dead. A person who trusts Jesus is regarded by God as sinless. People who trust Jesus are regarded as having died for their sins and now have no case to answer. Those who trust Jesus will be raised to life again, never to die again, because Jesus is raised from the dead. In other words, because of Jesus, those who trust him don’t get what we all deserve but get what only Jesus deserves. In Jesus the love of God comes to sinful people like us.

Jesus is that one who gives sinners-like-us repentance. Repentance is a gracious gift from God. It is the change of mind we need. It enables us to see things as they really are; to see and embrace true-truth. It enables us to understand the good news about Jesus — who he is, what he has done, and what that means for us — and to trust ourselves to him. Jesus deals with our offence and cures our tendency to take offence at true-truth.

1 Peter 2: 13 – 24 (Part 1)

In this section of his letter, Peter talks about submission, and why it is what Christians ought to do.

Our submission to the Lord Jesus Christ is the reasonable response to his rescuing of us from sin and death. Once we were not the people of God. In fact we were his enemies and we were heading toward a well deserved judgement. But we were brought out of the darkness of our rebellious ways by the obedience of Christ. We were saved from death by the death and resurrection of Christ. Those who trust the Lord Jesus have every reason to love, serve and praise him.

Because the Lord Jesus is the ultimate authority in heaven and earth, because he predestined our situation in life — whether we are prime minister or tax payer, slave or free, boss or employee, married or single — we are to submit to him in whatever circumstance we might find ourselves. And we are to submit in appropriate ways for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The word ‘submit’ is an interesting one.

Literally it means to ‘arrange yourself under’, so it is an act of will. Again, part of the original Greek word gives us the word ‘tactics’, so submission also implies the use of our intelligence in submitting to authority. We are to submit to, bring ourselves into conformity with, every law made by an appropriate authority because our saviour wants us to do so.

The submission that Peter and the Holy Spirit urges us to show is not blind conformity. It is intelligent and willing obedience to lawful commands from Federal and State Parliaments down to local council by laws.

These ordinances include taxes, speed limits, court-orders, registrations, licenses and regulations (like swimming pool fences).

Why is this important?

One reasons is that our God is a God of order and peace. A peaceful and orderly society is a benefit. It is a good thing.  Nothing is more frustrating, debilitating and dangerous than chaos.

Now you might consider some laws and regulations very frustrating in themselves, but this doesn’t mean that the solution to your frustration is to ignore these laws. If everyone did that the problems and frustrations would just get so much worse.

You might remember the riots in the UK several months ago.  Some people believed an injustice had occurred. They were frustrated and took the law into their own hands. The result was that many more injustices occurred which led to much greater frustration, damage and loss.

There are systems in place in society to suggest and accomplish change. But these means of change are themselves the result of laws and regulations.

Another reason is the point Peter made in verse 12 of this chapter.  We are God’s people who are social outcasts — our faith makes us objects of suspicion. People regard our trusting of Jesus Christ to be offensive. Our confession is a message that people are wrong and will face terrible judgement. Christians believe that our only hope is that a man call Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead to save us because nothing else will. So people think of Christians as judgemental and weird.

Our good behaviour within the community, within society, is important because we must not give any ground for just criticism. We are to be careful not to give our Holy and Good Saviour a bad reputation by our bad behaviour. The only thing about us that should give offence, if offence is taken, must only be our following of Jesus Christ.

Peter actually says that our socially responsible behaviour is what God wills so that we ‘might silence the ignorance of unthinking people’.

Our public and private well-doing is to deal with prejudice. It is to correct the wrong thinking of the community. It might even get people thinking about our main message, which is not ‘moral behaviour’ but the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lord Jesus has made us free, but our freedom is from sin and death. It is not freedom from living responsibly in the world. We are not, Peter says, to use our Christian freedom as a ‘cover’, as a reason for bad or disrespectful behaviour. We are not to say, ‘Well, Jesus has set me free, so get out of my way! I’m not going to be restricted by you (insert name)’.

We need to know that the ‘king’, when Peter was writing his letter, was probably someone like Nero. Nero was a moral monster and probably certifiably mad, if the historian Suetonius can be believed. Yet Peter says we are to honour the king since the king or ruling party is established by God (c.f. Rom 13). In showing respect to the king we are ultimately showing respect to the God who, for his own good reasons, put that ‘king’ in power.

For this reason, we need to show respect. We might not like the Prime Minister or the Premier or the local police officer. That is irrelevant. We are to treat them with respect for the sake of their office. These people hold their office because God put them there, and they will hold that office until God removes them.

We are to submit to these powers for the same reason. We are to use our minds in doing this. We are to be tactical (not tricky, but wise) in our dealings with authority. For the most part, human laws do not require us to do anything that God forbids.

Only rarely do circumstances arise that require Christians to say ‘No’ to authority. Peter himself said ‘No’ to the ruling council in Jerusalem (Acts 4), when they told them not to speak of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ had told Peter to speak. Peter, in this particular, case was right to obey God rather than human beings. It is a rare example. Even laws that we don’t like are usually not the sort that call for civil disobedience.

To recap, Jesus did not save us so we could become rat-bags.

We are to treat all people with respect, to love our fellow Christian (even those who irk us), to give reverence to our God and to honour the Government and its representatives.

(continued in Part 2)

1 Peter 2: 13 – 24 (Part 2)

(continued from Part 1)

We are to treat all people with respect, to love our fellow Christian (even those who irk us), to give reverence to our God and to honour the Government and its representatives.

Why? Because ultimately we are God’s slaves. We have been bought with a price, the precious life of Jesus. He died to bring us back to God. He rose to give us new life and new attitudes. We serve him, in part, by aiming to be good citizens.

We are to submit to our employers as well.

The people to whom Peter wrote were not socially influential. Some of them might once have been employers, and some might once have been rich and powerful. But as outcasts and strangers because they had come to trust Jesus, some were now slaves and others were perhaps in jobs that just keep body and soul together.

A motive to do what the boss says might simply be to avoid a beating if you are a slave, or to keep the job that you need to survive, but this is not the motive that Peter urges on Christians.

Peter tells the household slaves to submit to their masters for Jesus’ sake, because ultimately we are slaves to the best of Masters, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Peter knows that some masters can be twisted, harsh, unthinking and uncaring. He knows that some masters mistreat their slaves even when the slaves are doing a good job.

Peter tells Christian slaves to submit to them and patiently bear the mistreatment.

But he goes even further.

Peter says it is better to be treated badly for doing good and taking that mistreatment patiently, than to keep doing the wrong thing and taking punishment patiently.

Why? We are to keep doing good while suffering wrong because we are to imitate Christ. We are not to keep doing wrong and taking punishment patiently, because our bad behaviour brings Christ into disrepute. We need to use our minds — to think of consequences beyond our own preferences.

We are to imitate the example – Christ’s ‘copy book’ — that Jesus has left for us.

The Greek word for ‘example’ literally means to ‘write under’. It refers to the way little children learn to write by copying the letters that someone else had written for them. They followed the example given. We are to see the pattern of the life of Jesus Christ, and do as he did. We might not always get it right (see the copybook above), but we are to make our best efforts for Jesus’ sake.

We are to follow in his footsteps – imitate his way of life (walking is a metaphor for living)

What did Jesus do? He…

  •  Did good
  • Did not speak deceptively
  • Did not bad-mouth those who abused him
  • Did not threaten (he has legions of angels at his command but did not use them in his own defence)
  • Committed his case to God who acts justly – (cf. Rom 12)

Christ suffered unjustly – the rulers killed an innocent man – but when he suffered, he suffered for our sins, so that when he died, he died our death for us. The injustice of Christ’s death came from sinful human reaction to his life of obedience to the God we hated. That is where the injustice lies.

God was not unjust in sending His Son to live and die and rise to save us. Those acts of God were not unjust, rather, they were merciful – a demonstration of God’s goodness to bad people. God himself made himself the legal surety for his people. He would pay their debt for them. What God did was just and kind. What we did to him was unjust, because Jesus did no wrong. He had no case to answer when he was accused. What we intended for evil, God intended for good.

When Jesus died for our sins, we died to sin in Him. Hebrews tells us that for the joy set before him, Jesus went to the cross for our sakes, despising the shame, so we might be saved. In suffering unjustly, the Lord Jesus submitted to the will of God and his submission brought about great good for undeserving people like us. When we submitt to unjust treatment, God intends good to come from it.

We were lost sheep, and our good shepherd came for us. He cares for us. He has brought us back to the God we had offend, and he brought us back forgiven and acceptable to our God.

For the sake of the cross of Christ, we are to live a life of submission to the circumstances God has placed us in. We do this so that Christ might be known as a God worth serving, as a God who saves bad people and changes their out-look on life (v.12).