Psalm 91

This Psalm is about God’s favour and protection toward a particular individual. The Psalm is addressed to a solitary male person. This favour and protection comes to that person in a confessedly dangerous world. All sorts of things threaten this individual’s life – disease, secret enemies, open war.

The Most High, the God of heaven and earth, pledges his safety, and the human being described here trusts God in the midst of great danger and risk. This person will pass through it all safely.

This is not a Psalm by a crazy person who has no grip on reality. This Psalm tells it like it is. It is our job to think carefully about the promises made here and to understand them in the light of all that the Bible tells us.

The key to this Psalm is the first verse. The Psalmist says this:

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High, will abide in under the shadow of the Almighty.

The word ‘secret place’ or ‘shelter’ suggests a hiding place, and safe haven, one that is not known or understood by the enemy.  Again, the word ‘shadow’ implies protection. If the Almighty is covering you, you are safe.

Looking at the situation in another way, one may say that the safety experienced by this person is a cause of wonder and confusion to his enemies.

  • How can this person be calm in such situations?
  • How can this person remain alive in such situations?

Let me say up front that the only way a person can be safe like this is if that person is in a good relationship with God. To be in a good relationship with God, one must be completely free of sin.

Our God, we are told, loves the righteous but hates the wicked (Ps 11:5 and 7).

That would seem to place people like us in a very uncomfortable place. We are not good people. We have broken God’s law. We have sinned.

So, is God making fun of us in this Psalm?

No. The one that this Psalm refers to, that particular individual, is our Lord Jesus Christ.

He is the good man who is under the special protection of the Almighty, and He is the hope of sinners. This Psalm is pointing us to Christ. And because it points us to Christ, it makes clear that this Psalm is not promising a trouble-free life here and now.

Some well-meaning but mistaken Christians will tell you that for the Christian, faith will remove all our problems in this present world. No money problems, no health issues, no family break down, no worries. They might also tell you that, if you suffer any of these things, there is something wrong with your faith.

But, if I am correct in saying that Jesus is the person referred to in this Psalm, then this idea — that the truly faithful person is trouble-free in this life — must be regarded as non-sense.

Verse 2 says (and it is ultimately our Lord Jesus speaking)

I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust!’

Jesus Christ perfectly trusted his father. He perfectly obeyed as man. This was one of the reasons why Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became a human being. So he could live a truly good life to replace our bad lives. But he came to do more.

Jesus, the perfectly good and faithful Son of God, suffered in this life more than any other human being. He was betrayed; he was beaten, he was deprived of justice, he was nailed to a Roman cross and he died. All this happened to the good and faithful Jesus.

If anyone were to receive the absolute protection promised in this Psalm, it would have been Jesus.

The point of the Psalm is that Jesus really did receive that absolute protection.  But is was hidden from the sight of his enemies. They thought that God had abandoned Jesus. They thought that all the things that Jesus suffered proved that God did not love him.

But they were wrong. Let’s look at v. 3-4

For He (the LORD) delivers you from the trap of the trapper, and from the deadly pestilence (disease). He will cover you with His feathers, and you will trust under His wings. His truth is a shield and buckler.

Jesus was betrayed, he suffered and died, but God raised Jesus from the dead because Jesus really was good. Ultimately, none of the things that Jesus suffered changed his relationship with his father. Through all that suffering Jesus knew that God was with him.

How did Jesus know this? Because none of the things he suffered was a surprise to him (Isaiah 53 and Ps 16). Jesus came to suffer and die and rise again for the salvation of his people according to the scriptures (1 Cor. 15).

Now Jesus is alive and free of suffering forever.

But what about the feathers? Remember the secret place. There was in the old testament system, a very secret place in the temple. In this secret place was a gold covered box, and at each end of that box were statues of two angels. The wings of these angels overshadowed a plate on the top of the box, and the plate was called the mercy-seat.

On a special day, once a year, the high priest would take the blood of a bull that had been killed and sprinkle that blood over the mercy-seat under the wings. This was to symbolise the fact that God forgives sins by means of the death of a substitute. The bull was regarded as dying in the place of people who deserved to die.

This was done in secret. None but the high priest could go into the secret place, and he could only go there once a year and he had to go with the blood of the substitute or he would die.

The people of God knew about this symbolic act only because of the description of it in the writings of Moses. It was the word of God that told them of their defence – the sacrifice for sin that set them free from the death that they deserved.

The temple act foretold of the work of Jesus Christ.

The innocent bull that was killed pointed to the innocent Jesus who would die for his people. The mercy-seat indicated the propitiation of the sins of God’s people — that the death of Jesus did all that was necessary to deal with sin and its just punishment. It indicated that peace with God is restored, and righteousness imputed to the sinner.

The mercy-seat, under the wings of the angels, was that safe, secret place. Just as the work of Jesus assures those who trust him, that their sins are forgiven and they are regarded by God to be good people.

Those who trust Jesus are under his absolute protection. Nothing that happens to a Christian in this life, whether it is sickness, poverty, war, famine, the attack of secret enemies, can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8).

Christians suffer all the common ills that come from living in a world blighted by sin. But we have a sure and perfect protection in Christ. He will keep his children until they meet him in heaven. When Christians die, they die in the knowledge that Jesus will raise them to life on the day of Judgment and declare them not guilty.

This hidden, unseen protection is for those who trust Jesus, vs. 5-8:

You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day; of the pestilence that walks in the darkness, or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right-hand; but it will not approach you. You will look on with your eyes, and see the recompense of the wicked.

Because Christ has saved forever those who come to him by faith, Christians can meet and endure the troubles of this life with confidence. We might lose everything here and now and know that we are kept by Jesus for a good eternity. Paul says that the sufferings of this present age cannot compare to the good that God has in store for his people (Rom. 8:18).

But this safety only comes to a person on God’s terms.

Christ will protect his people, but He will also see the recompense – the judgment  — of his enemies. Those who do not trust Christ will fall on the day of Judgment. To face God without the righteousness of Christ is to be condemned for sin and to receive recompense, that is, the punishment that sinners deserve for their sin – eternal separation from God’s favourable presence.

But, if you trust the Lord Jesus Christ there is certain hope, v.10:

For you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, even the Most High, you dwelling place, no evil will befall you, nor will any plague come near your tent.

Because of Christ, those who trust him may regard these promises as coming to themselves.

This is perfectly reasonable because Jesus is both God and man. As God he is the LORD, and as man he became the propitiation for our sins. As God and man he is the saviour of his people.

As we trust Jesus we enter the secret place of the most High, and come under the shadow of the Almighty.

If anyone trusts Jesus Christ, that person is regarded by God as a righteous person simply because of Christ. Christ has established for them a new relationship with God.

Jesus Christ is the secret place of safety for Christians.

Just so that we will remember it, the Psalmist repeats the reason for the Christian’s hope in versus 11-13:

For He (the LORD) will give his angels charge concerning you, to keep you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, lest you strike you foot against a stone.You will tread upon the lion and snake, the young lion and the serpent you will trample down.

These verses do not mean that the Christian becomes a super hero. They refer to the work of Christ for the Christian.

You might recall that the Devil, in his tempting of the Lord Jesus, quoted part of this Psalm. He tried to make Jesus to do something foolish. That attempt failed, but what Jesus came to do did not fail. He came to deal with a snake and a lion.

In Genesis 3:15, after Adam had disobeyed and brought sin and death upon himself and the world, God promised a saviour who would crush the head of the Devil (who had taken the form of a snake) yet he would wound his own heel in the possess.

The idea is that when Jesus came to live and die and rise for the salvation of his people, at the same time he destroyed the work of the evil one. When Jesus died on the cross, and rose again, he crushed the head of Satan. He defeated both Satan and death.

Peter refers to the Devil as a Lion, prowling and seeking whom he might eat. For the Christian, the Devil is a beaten enemy. Satan cannot break the relationship that Jesus has established between himself and the Christian. Because Jesus died and rose, every Christian is eternally safe.

This is confirmed in the last few verses:

Because he (Jesus) has loved me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known my name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him, and honour him. With long life I will satisfy him, and let him behold my salvation.

Only Jesus has lived the perfectly good life, and he alone faithfully and fully relied upon his Heavenly Father. He deserved to be honoured by the Father, and, after he suffered for the sins of his people, he deserved to be raised from the dead. He has, as man, un-losable eternal life.

The Lord Jesus did all that he did, and suffered all that he suffered, to bring sinners like us back to  God. As a person trusts Jesus Christ, the secret safety — the presently unseen safety — belongs to that person.

To be in Christ is to be in the secret place of the Most High, and to be under the protection of the Almighty.

Are you afraid of life? Are you afraid of death?

Coming to Jesus won’t make your life trouble-free here and now.

As a Christian you might suffer more than the common troubles of life, but Christ has promised that there is plenty of space in his father’s house. He has prepared a place for any who will come to him. If it were not so, he would have told us.

If you trust yourself to Christ you might suffer the loss of all sorts of things, but you will never be separated from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. With him is eternal life.

Not all disciples are Christians

Just to be clear from the beginning, this post is not about how disciples of Plato are not Christians. Nor is it about the fact that disciples of Islam or Buddha or Hinduism are not Christians. I intend discussing the proposition that being a disciple (the term means ‘learner’ or ‘student’) of Jesus Christ does not necessarily mean a person is a Christian.

Why should I bother with such a topic? Mainly because the Bible bothers with the topic.

In the first few verses of Matthew 18, we have the disciples of Jesus asking him which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Our Lord Jesus replies by setting a child before them and saying. ‘l tell you the truth, unless you be converted (changed), and become like children, you will in no way enter the kingdom of heaven.’

In this statement, Jesus is not simply telling Christians to be humble if they wish to be great, nor is he saying that humility itself is greatness.

In fact, this is a ‘Nicodemus’ moment. These disciples were told that they were being presumptuous. They were wondering which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven in the mistaken belief that they were already within the kingdom. Jesus words indicate that things were not as the disciples imagined.

He said. ‘unless you be converted, and became like children, you will in no way enter the kingdom of heaven’. They thought they were in, but Jesus — the one who would know — said, ‘No, you are not yet in the kingdom of heaven. You must be changed.’ This looks all the world like the statement that Jesus made to Nicodemus. ‘Unless you are born again, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.’

Jesus is no respecter of persons. The same condition applies to all. These students of Jesus were not yet Christians, or, if you prefer, they were not yet saved people. They did not see themselves as weak and dependent. As yet, they were not born again.

There is, I think, sufficient corroborating evidence from Matthew and the other gospels to show that while the twelve were disciples, they had not yet received the gift of saving faith.

In Matthew 16:17, for example, Peter declares his faith that Jesus is the Christ. the Son of God. This conviction he received from the father. True enough, but notice what happens next. Jesus tells his disciples that he must be betrayed to the religious leaders, be condemned, die, and then rise from the dead.

This message, which is the Gospel, Peter utterly rejects at this time. This is no small matter. Jesus declares that Peter’s thinking is aligned with that of Satan. The evil one had suggested that Jesus might gain the kingdom without dying on the cross, and Peter thought that he could be in the kingdom as Jesus’ associate without the cross. Despite his faith in Jesus as the ‘Christ’, Peter at this stage rejected the idea that he needed saving. Jesus, however, knew how necessary it was. It is more than likely that Peter thought of Jesus as just a divine teacher/king who would establish an eternal kingdom for nice people like Peter.

You might notice that every time Jesus mentioned his going to Jerusalem to die, the disciples avoided those opportunities to ask what he meant, and often they changed the subject to ‘which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 17:22-23 & 18:1-4, Matthew 20:17-21, Luke 22:14-24). Even up to the point of Jesus’ death (and, it seems, even until they saw him alive again after he had suffered), the disciples exhibit clear signs that they were yet to receive the gift of regeneration. Except for Judas, the eleven did eventually come to trust Jesus Christ as he intended, but this required the powerful work of the Holy Spirit before it could happen.

We need to be sure, if we are disciples of Christ, that our only hope is Jesus’ life, death and resurrection on our behalf. We have been warned not to be presumptuous. We must see our great need of Christ’s saving work, and of our equally great need to be born again, if we are to have a part in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Psalm 130 (part 1)

I like to think of Psalm 130 as a Christmas Psalm. I mean, like Ps. 2, 8, 40 and 139, it looks forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The title of this psalm tells us that it was sung by the Israelites as they walked up the mountain road towards the temple in Jerusalem. It is a song of ascents — a song for going up. This title gives us a context for the Psalm.

In going up to the temple in Jerusalem, the Israelites were responding to things that God had already commanded in his word:

The Israelites were to go to the temple at least three times a year.

  • They were to come with an acceptable sacrifice, one that God had prescribed.
  • They were to bring the sacrifice to the priests whom God had appointed.
  • The priests were to perform the sacrifices in the place and in the manner that God had command by Moses.

God had required these things to be done so that people might know that He is the God who forgives sin.

But, unless a person acknowledges the reality of their own guilt before God, a message of mercy is not welcome. Rather than being a reason for joy it is a cause of offence.

If it were not for the mercy of God coming to us and bringing conviction of our own wrong doing, we would think that our bad behaviour and bad attitudes were ok, and regard the message of mercy as an offence against our good character.

This Psalm reveals the attitude of one who is rightly convinced and convicted of his sin.

Out of the depths, I cry to you, Lord

Lord hear my voice, let you ears be attentive to my pleading voice

If you should mark iniquity, Lord, who could stand.

The depths do not refer to

  • the valley out of which the Psalmist is climbing, nor
  • the depth of his feelings or sincerity, nor
  • his deep spirituality. He is not saying, ‘I’m a deep person, Lord’.

The Psalmist is confessing the depth of his sinfulness and acknowledges that his wrong doing should exclude him from fellowship with the Lord.

More than this, he acknowledges that his sin ought to bring him to judgment and condemnation.

 “If you should mark iniquity (sin), Lord, who could stand.”

If God should call him (us) to account, if the Lord were to recount to him (us) the record of his (our) words, thoughts and actions, he (we) would have no hope. God is Holy. He cannot look favourably upon sin or the sinner.

As the Lord said by Isaiah, “The one who sins shall die.”

Yet the Psalmist calls to the Lord. While he is painfully aware that he has offended his God, he does not despair.

The temple helps us understand why there is no despair in his voice.

Everything about the old testament temple tells us that the wrong-doer (us) is on the outside — excluded by our sin — with no right to come before our creator in our own name.

Our only hope comes in the way that God was happy to supply. This one way was represented in the temple. God appointed a mediator — the high priest — who once a year would make atonement for the sins of the people. An animal was killed in the place of the sinful nation of Israel. The sacrificial beast had to meet God’s specifications — no faults, a perfect specimen. The animal had to be killed and burned when and where God said. The way to God is narrow and the temple service shows us this.

(continued in part 2)

Psalm 130 (part 2)

(continued from part 1)

The way is narrow, but it gives hope to the hopeless.

 ‘But there is forgiveness with you, so you may be feared.’

 God forgives the wrong-doer on the basis of the death of a suitable substitute. That’s the picture presented by the Old Testament temple service. The sinner is freely admitted to the favour of a holy God by the way that God himself supplies.

The work of saving is taken out of our hands. God provides all that is required. The sinner may (indicates permission) now fear God, because God has provided forgiveness.

The fear spoken of is not terror, but rather the word fear refers to an attitude of reverence and respect for God. Our attitude to our creator undergoes a great change because of his mercy.

We may worship him because our offence is removed and we are reconciled to our God. We may worship him because we now want to worship him.

 I wait for God, my soul waits, and in his word I do hope.

 Waiting on God means to live in the light of his statements that are given to us in the Bible. Our hope in the Lord, if it is to be a hope that is not disappointed, must be grounded upon what the Lord has told us. This makes the Bible most necessary.

In fact, we can know nothing reliable about the Lord Jesus except for the things that we read in the Bible. Jesus himself said that he must fulfil everything written about him in the Scriptures. The Jesus we are to trust is the one shown to us in the Bible.

But I think even more than this is meant in the idea of waiting for the Lord. The image given is that of the night watchman. His job was to walk the defensive walls of the city and watch for danger. In the dark, the enemy might attack or traitors might betray the city. The dark was a place of danger. What the watchman wished for was the coming of day. For light to come. For the safety of daylight.

In a similar way, these old testament Christians were waiting — looking forward to — the coming of light. For the Lord to come and save them from the darkness and danger of their sin.

Hope in the Lord, for with him is mercy and abundant redemption

He himself will redeem Israel from all his iniquity

 Jehovah himself will come and save/redeem.

So, the Lord has come. Our Lord Jesus is the one the Psalmist longed for.

  • Matthew 1:21; “You will call his name Jesus, (the LORD saves) because he will save his people from their sins.”
  • Luke 2:10-11; “Today, in the city of David, is born to you a saviour, who is Christ the LORD.”
  • John 2; Jesus said, ‘You destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days.’ (The narrow way has to do with who Jesus is and what he has done.)
  • John 14; Jesus said, I am the way….

To redeem is to buy back. It is related to the old practice of paying a ransom to recover soldiers captured in war. It means to pay the necessary price to regain what was lost.

What did Jehovah-Jesus do to redeem? He knew the depth of our sinfulness when he took responsibility for it on the cross. He could say with the Psalmist, ‘Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord’. He also experienced the reality that the one who bears sin cannot stand in the judgment of God. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!’ is what Jesus cried from the cross. He — the sinless one — died because of our sin. God did not spare his own son, but delivered him up for us all, as Paul says. He rose again after he had made propitiation for the sins of his people.

The Lord’s redemption is abundant. No supplement is needed. There is nothing that we can do or need to do in order to complete the work of Jesus Christ.

He himself has done it.

  • Jesus’ perfectly good life replaces the miserably bad lives of his people:
  • His death is regarded by God as the death we deserve. There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
  • His resurrection from the dead provides righteousness for his people.

The redemption that Jesus provides is abundant, full, free and forever. The plea of the psalmist, all his concerns and hopes are met and satisfied in the life, death and rising of Jesus Christ.

The Psalms are not about me, two. Who is a hero?

A little while back I suggested that Psalm 3 was about the Lord’s anointed, who was King David, and that it is ultimately about the Lord Jesus Christ. I said that Psalm 3 is not about us, but is a comfort to us because of the one to whom the Psalm points.

Many years ago I heard a chorus that was meant for Christians to sing in worship. It went something like this:

I can run through a troop, leap over a wall (hallelujah, hallelujah) [x 2]

There is now no condemnation, Jesus is the rock of my salvation,

I can run through a troop, leap over a wall (hallelujah, hallelujah).

Many of the words of this chorus come from Psalm 18:29, which is from a Psalm by King David, who was celebrating the way God had saved him from all his enemies, and from Saul.

The implication of this chorus (but not of the Psalm) is that because Jesus has saved a Christian, the Christian somehow is able to run through a mob of soldiers, leap over city walls and bend a bow of bronze. In fact, the song (whether intentionally or not) is saying that the Christian becomes some sort of hero, or as the Bible referred to them, a mighty man.

This inference is just not correct. The song is the song of one mighty man, David, and about King David’s greater son, Jesus Christ.

Another verse of this chorus particularly indicates this. Somewhere it said something like ‘by my God I can bend a bow of bronze’ (compare Ps 18:34).

Bronze-bow-bending was indicative of mighty men, and extraordinary mighty men at that.

For example, in the Indian poem, The Ramayana (ca. 900 BC), Rama is a prince who wants to marry Sita, the daughter of a famous King, Janaka. In order to choose from among the many suitors, the father of the intended bride required the suitors to prove themselves worthy. They were to do this by bending the bronze bow of Shiva. (The bending of a bow was necessary in order to place a bow-string on it, and then to be able to draw the string back to shoot arrows). None of the suitors had succeeded until Rama came along. Rama “proudly strung the bow Of RUDRA which the kings had tried in vain. Drew the cord with force resistless till the weapon snapped in twain!” Rama was a bona fide mighty man. He was the only one of the suitors who could bend that bow of bronze.

Again, the story of Odysseus (ca. 900 BC) refers to the bow that he left at home while going off to besiege the city of Troy. While he was away, the local men at home thought that one them should marry Odysseus’ wife and claim his property too. Penelope said that she was waiting for her husband to return, but after twenty years it seemed that he was not coming back. Yet Penelope still stalled for time. She said that she would marry the man who could bend Odysseus’ bow. They all tried and failed; all except one. That one was Odysseus himself who had just returned in disguise.  “Odysseus, when he had taken it up and examined it all over, strung it as easily as a skilled bard strings a new peg of his lyre.” He then used that bow to slaughter all those men who had been harassing his wife for twenty years. Odysseus was a bona fide mighty man. He was the only one who could bend that bow of bronze.

So, when David (ca. 900 BC) refers to his bending of a bow of bronze, he was referring to himself as a mighty man, the Christ, the Lord’s anointed. It was something that he did.

And David is a ‘type’ or ‘picture’ of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is that great prince who stood up for his people (c/f Daniel 12:1) and defeated sin, death and Satan by his death on the cross and by his resurrection. Jesus Christ is the Mighty One, who alone could (metaphorically) bend-the-bow that was to be the means of our salvation. None other could do it. By his life and death and rising again, he has defeated his enemies and won his bride, the church of Christ.

Bad Guys go to heaven… Luke 23:32-43.

A number of movies for kids have the following plot line: — the one who is the bad guy at the beginning of the story becoming the good guy at the end – Darth Vader, Mega Mind, Shrek, Wreck-it-Ralph.

This passage from Luke is not like that. The bad guy who asks to be remembered by Jesus was still a bad guy at the end of verse 43. All that had changed (and it is a big change) was his relationship with God. The change was not due to anything in the bad guy. The change was all because of the only good guy in the story, the Lord Jesus Christ. What Jesus did on the cross saved the bad guy.

Firstly, the guy was really bad. He is described by Matthew and Mark as a robber. The Greek word implies he was a thug. He was not a sneak thief. He was not a scammer. He was the type of guy who’d hide behind a tree waiting for you to pass, and then hit you over the head with a brick, take all you had, and then leave you for dead.

His philosophy of life was

  • get what you can for yourself
  • other people are to be used as a way getting for yourself.
  • this a normal way of life
  • God is just like me. (The other bad guy even said as much, thinking that the ‘real’ Christ must be out to serve himself – ‘if you are the Christ, save yourself’.)

Sadly, such attitudes are not rare. Advertisers depend on people being like this. “The most important person in the world is you” is the sort of line they use to get you to buy … whatever.

Secondly, this bad guy came to see things in a very different way while he was hanging on a cross. It was not fear of death, nor the pain that brought him to his new way of thinking. The other bad guy was unmoved by these things. What changed this bad guy was the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit who applied the Gospel of Jesus to him in an effective way.

How did he hear the Gospel? He heard it from the mockers.

What did the mockers about Jesus?

“He saved others….”

This was undeniably true. Even Jesus’ enemies admitted it. Jesus raised dead people to life. He gave sight to blind people, restored the ability to walk to lame people. No doubt Jesus ‘saved others’.

“Save yourself, if you are the Christ, the chosen of God.”

The word ‘Christ’ means ‘anointed one’ – a king, a prophet, a priest. A person of great authority. The saviour of God’s people. This is joined to the fact that ‘Jesus saved others’.

The bad guy had also heard Jesus ask his father to forgive bad people – those who had nailed him to a cross. The Christ, the king and saviour, the one who saved others, also forgives.

How does one of the bad guys react to this information?

  1. He stops mocking
  2. He respects God
  3. He admits, for the first time, that he is a bad guy who deserves a bad guy’s end.
  4. He sees that Jesus is a good guy – He has done nothing out of place.
  5. He believes Jesus is the Christ who saves others.
  6. He asks for mercy

This is faith; faith that comes from the work of the Holy Spirit. The bad guy believed that the one who was in the same mess as he was could and would save him – not from crucifixion, but from the Judgment of God. Against hope, in hope, he believed.

Jesus’ replied as follows: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”.

Jesus makes an oath ‘Amen’ – true! – you will be with me.

Jesus was not in the habit of jollying people along. If he has bad news, he would tell it like it is.

The rich young ruler was sent away sad, the hopeful followers were told it would be tough, and Paul was told how much he would suffer for the sake of Christ.

But to this self-confessed bad guy, Jesus says, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’

Paradise is a Persian word for a garden. The hanging gardens of Babylon were, we are told, built by the king for his wife. It was a refreshing place in a desert, a place of safety and comfort. It was built for the one the king loved.

Jesus told his disciples that it was necessary for him to go away (via the cross) to prepare a place for them. Into that place, this bad guy would enter immediately upon his death.

Until his death, he was still a bad guy – but a saved-by-grace bad guy. After his death, he was made perfect in righteousness (for Jesus’ sake) and is now no longer a sinner. He no longer experiences guilt or shame or pain. No more tears. He is in paradise with Jesus.

How do we respond to the message of Jesus?

1 John 1 — the real Gospel

1 john 1 is a fighting chapter. The apostle, moved by the Holy Spirit, is setting out some important truths about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  You see, there was a group infiltrating the church with another gospel, which was not good news at all. Gnosticism, which predated the earthly work of Jesus Christ, was modifying the Gospel message to fits its own ideas.

Basically, Gnosticism said we need secret knowledge. Without this insider knowledge — that Gnosticism only shared with worthy people — you cannot reach God. Gnosticism said that ‘spirit’ was good, but ‘material’ was bad. In this misunderstanding of reality, there is a real problem with the person and work of Jesus Christ, and a real problem with how we are to respond to Him.

If spirit is good, but matter is bad, then our Lord Jesus cannot be both God and a human being in one person. He was either not really God, or not really a man. If he was only God, then he just appeared to be a man (Docetism). If he was only a man, then the Christ ‘spirit’ simply possessed him for a time, perhaps from his baptism until just before his death on cross (Cerinthianism).

This is how preconceived ideas get in the way of vital truth. Our Saviour must be both true God and true man in one person (as the whole Bible teaches) or we have no Saviour. Jesus was man so He could live a good life as a human being. He was man so He could die. As God, what Jesus did He could do for us as our substitute. His good life can replace our bad lives because He is God as well as man. In His death He could take responsibility for our sins because He is God as well as man.

Because Gnosticism seriously messes with the Gospel message, it could not help but maintain ungodly lives in those who followed its teaching. If spirit is good and material is bad, then the human body is a big problem. Either one decided that the body is bad, so let it indulge its true nature, and be a bad as it liked (but the spirit will remain pure through the secret knowledge), OR if the body is bad, then it must be held in check by strict asceticism — denying the body good things that God had created to be enjoyed.

So what does John do about it. He wrote to the church and reminds us that:

  • the Gospel (that which was from the beginning) is not secret. The Scriptures from Genesis 3:15 have been pointing to one who would come to put right what Adam made wrong.
  • the apostles heard the Gospel message from Jesus and saw it happen — the life, death and resurrection of the Son of God – (that which we have heard, seen, observed and handled).
    • They observed the Lord at close quarters during three years
    • They heard from His own lips that His death was for the forgiveness of sins; that His death was to save many.
    • They were invited to touch Jesus after His resurrection to test for themselves that He had bone and fresh and was not a ghost.
    • the gospel is not secret business, but has been preached and published from the beginning. The apostles have declared it to us.
    • this really human saviour is also, at the same time, God. He is the word of life, the eternal life that was with the Father. The one who is eternal life is God. The one who is God was there in front of the apostles – they heard, saw, observed and touched this one.

Then John tells us that God is not like us. The Gospel message tells us that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. Light refers to life, purity, true knowledge. Ps 50 tells us that some in the church thought that God was just like them, and they were just fine the way they were. John says no. We need serious rescuing. We are in darkness (death, ignorance, lostness) until God in Christ brings us to a  new mind; to new birth. We will not come to the light (to Christ) before this happens, because our deeds are evil (John 3:17ff).

John gives us a little diagnostic. If we were to say, ‘We have fellowship with God, yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not do truth.’

John does not mean by ‘walking in darkness’ that we do bad things. Here he means, if we are not relying upon the real Saviour, the one who is both God and man in one person who for our salvation lived and died and rose again to deal personally and completely with our sin and rebellion, then we are still in darkness. We are not Christians; we are not born again.

But, if we walk in the Light (trust Jesus Christ as he is offered in the Gospel) … the blood (death) of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to make us clean from our unrighteousness.

You see, Christians are sinners. We wrong our God and Saviour every day, but Jesus IS the saviour of his people. He is their righteousness. We are utterly dependent upon Him.

He is faithful. He has dealt with His people’s sins and will never forget it. We can rely on Him.

He is just. He has fulfilled the law, both its requirements of holiness and its judgement of death to the sinner. He has acted as our substitute according to the law and has saved His people according to strict justice.

This Gospel is a public message. It is not a secret. It comes to bad people. It comes so bad people might have joy. It comes so that bad people might have fellowship with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.

John reminded us of all these things so that we might not sin (the one who has this hope aims to keep God’s commandments), but if we do sin (and we will), we have an advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous.

Amen.