Sunday, 22 January 2017
John Stott points out that in the Sermon on the Mount we have depicted the life of repentance that Jesus had already called his listeners towards. Throughout the sermon Jesus will contrast his followers from those who adopt the outlook of the Pharisees and those who follow the ideas of pagan philosophers, both of which were common at that time. Similarly, his teachings in this sermon can be contrasted with all religious and psychological ideas for self-improvement that abound in our culture.
We are familiar with the Beatitudes, although sometimes familiarity can hide from us the radical nature of what Jesus says about his followers. Yet it is obvious from what he says that it should be easy to identify his followers because they will be very different from everyone else. Moreover we can see that they are also rich with regard to the future. It is also the case that Jesus, when he preached this sermon, merely listed the different details, which points to the fact that they can be understood easily.
There are two questions that arise from the Beatitudes. The first is, what character traits should we admire? The second is, what does it mean to be blessed? Regarding the first, we can ask ourselves what ingredients go into the mix of producing a balanced spiritual person? And regarding the second, we can ask where we will enjoy the blessings described by Jesus here?
There are different ways of summarising the Beatitudes. We could say that here we have the basics of a real believer, the balance of a real believer, and the blessings of a real believer. Or we could consider them as the contrast between members of the two kingdoms, the challenges of living in the kingdom, and the consummation of life in the kingdom.
What is a kingdom member like?
The Saviour is not making suggestions here when he outlines the character of his people. Nor is he describing only those who have made more progress than others. Rather he is listing the qualities that marks each of them. So what does he say about them?
What does he mean when he says that each of his followers is blessed? The word can be translated as ‘happy’, although that would be inappropriate here because Jesus is not speaking about their inner emotional attitude when he says that they are blessed. Of course, he does mention some inner attitudes and outlooks of his followers, but what makes them blessed is the divine response and blessings that he will give to them in the future.
The first feature that he mentions is poor in spirit. Such an attitude is similar to humility in outcome, and it probably is the root of which humility is the fruit. Jesus does not mean a person who is self-demeaning, who pretends that he or she cannot do anything. Instead the poor in spirit have realised that they have no resources within themselves in order to serve God. Yet every person has a mind and certain talents. Why can they not serve God since they have such helps? The answer is that sin has affected all of them. The person who is poor in spirit realises that he is a sinner and that his sin makes him poor in numerous ways. Instead of being wise, he knows his sin can make him act foolishly. Instead of being humble, he knows his sin can lead him to self-promotion. The poor in spirit realise that they are creatures dependent on God and are called to be his servants. But they realise that they have no resources in themselves.
The second feature is mourning. Mourning does not mean the absence of joy because later Jesus commands his followers to be joyful. Instead, mourning is a response to something that is wrong, and the wrong that saddens them is sin, whether in themselves or in others. Sin defiles and destroys, and is going to lead people to hell. A member of the kingdom takes seriously the presence of sin. I recall reading a biography of a man who was involved in city mission work in New York. All I remember from the book is one statement that the worker was overheard to say by a man who came across him weeping. The worker was speaking to God and his words were, ‘O Lord, the sin of this city is breaking my heart.’
The third feature is gentleness, but it is not a weak gentleness. Gentleness is usually revealed when a person responds to a difficult situation. It is connected to kindness, to appreciation of the other person, to restraint and to not acting selfishly.
Fourth, each member of the kingdom longs for righteousness. Given that they have already been justified, the righteousness here is not a desire to have the imputed righteousness of Jesus. Instead, the desire is based on that fact. They long for a world in which there will be nothing but righteousness, and the evidence that they have this desire is that they live righteously now. Jesus will describe features of this practical righteousness later in the sermon, but we can say that real righteousness flows from an inner desire to practice the commandments of God.
Fifth, the followers of the King are marked by mercy. We often link mercy with the divine response to our confession of sin when God shows mercy to those who do so in the sense of receiving pardon. Yet mercy is a bigger concept than that because it extends to showing compassion in all kinds of ways. Jesus is saying that his followers will show compassion to those in need, whether that need is spiritual or physical.
Sixth, the members of the kingdom are marked by purity of heart. Jesus cannot mean a sinless heart, because if he did there would not be any members in his kingdom on earth. Instead, he is describing a sanctified heart, one that is marked by the features that he has already mentioned. It has been pointed out by commentators that a good word that explains purity of heart is sincerity. There is no hypocrisy. Instead, the individual is consistently genuine. He is not deceitful.
Seventh, a true disciple of Jesus is a lover of peace, but not just in the sense of enjoying a peaceful environment. In addition, he goes into situations where peace does not exist, and does so with the aim of bringing the peace of God into those situations. He is active with his peace-making. I suppose this involves bringing the gospel of peace to those who are separated from God by their sins. And it includes sorting out situations of contention. The implication is that the followers themselves don’t cause the problem to happen.
Lastly, Jesus mentions that the subjects of the kingdom will be persecuted because of their priorities revealed in their lifestyles. There is no merit in being persecuted because we are obnoxious or proud or insistent on our own rights. But when we are opposed because of our commitment to the Bible’s requirements, we are on the road that brings many blessings into our experience.
As we think about those eight features of the character of each member of the kingdom, it should not be difficult to work out that they describe Christlikeness. It would be helpful if we went through each and observed how they were seen in the life of Jesus. He was humble, he was the man of sorrows, he was gentle, he loved righteousness, he was merciful, he was sincere, he delighted in making peace, and he was opposed and ultimately killed. The original disciples would become like this by spending time with Jesus and imitating him. The same goes for us.
The blessings of the kingdom
The poor in spirit are said to have the kingdom. Those who realise that they are nothing and have nothing are described as those who have a real status and innumerable resources. Jesus says that the kingdom belongs to them, a reminder that in his kingdom everyone is made a king. Whatever they need at any time can be supplied. Paul reminded the Philippians that God could meet all their needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
The mournful are assured of comfort. As we know, this was the name that Jesus used of the Holy Spirit in his work in the hearts of his people. He comforts them regarding their own sin by stressing the promises of forgiveness and he comforts them regarding the presence of sin by assuring them that one day in the future they will live eternally in a sinless location.
The gentle are promised that they will inherit everything (what more could someone have than the earth?). In this life, it is the graspers who often get something. They may get what they want, but they cannot keep it forever. In contrast, the gentle will be given the restored Paradise by God and they will have it as their inheritance forever. They will be heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus of the eternal world.
Those who long for righteousness will be satisfied when they reach the world of glory, a world in which nothing unrighteous will ever be thought, said or done. It is almost impossible for us to imagine that kind of world. Yet Peter says that ‘according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells’ (2 Pet. 3:13).
The merciful are assured that they will receive mercy from God. We are not accustomed to thinking of believers as those who will receive mercy from God in the future. Onesiphorus showed practical aspects of mercy to Paul by looking for him diligently in Rome. Paul’s response was ‘May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me – may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day! – and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus’ (2 Tim. 2:16-18). Mercy is the unworthy receiving what they did not deserve. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, the sheep showed mercy to various people in need, and the verdict on the Day of Judgement was linked to that mercy.
The pure in heart will be given insight into who God is. People are divided regarding what kind of sight is meant here because we are told elsewhere that God is invisible. Some suggest that what is meant is that we will see Jesus physically and in that way we will see God. Such an experience will occur for God’s people and it is certainly true that the Saviour will instruct the redeemed about God. In whatever way it will happen, we are reminded that the primary experience of glory is interacting with God. Maybe the important word is ‘see’, which implies the willingness to look. In the eternal world we will be taken up with God.
The peacemakers will be regarded as being like God. Obviously peace-making will not take place in the eternal world. Neither God nor believers will engage in it. But in the period before the end, both God and his people will do so. The Lord desires peace with sinners through the gospel and he desires peace within the church as well. Evangelism is peace-making, and believers engage in it whenever they speak about Jesus. Churches are intended to be places of peace.
There are three ways in which believers are said to belong to God’s family. One is regeneration which describes the new life they are given; a second is adoption which refers to the status they have been given; and the third is likeness or transformation. The third one is the evidence of the first one – new life brings desires for peace.
The persecuted are assured that they possess the resources of the kingdom. It is possible for people to be in trouble for various reasons which may not be connected to righteousness. For example, some Christians may decide to get involved in a political movement that may lead to problems for them. Their political opinions are their own choice and may be no more righteous than the alternatives. The blessing here is only for those who are persecuted for following the ways of God. Whatever they lose now because of their commitment to the kingdom, they cannot lose what is kept for them in heaven.
A member of the kingdom is a changed person on the inside. His behaviour flows from within. He has learned that he has no resources in himself, but that he has ample resources in God. In other kingdoms, the changes are external because no one has the power to change the hearts of the subjects. It is the opposite in the kingdom of God. The poor in spirit, that is those who have nothing in themselves, mourn over sin, are gentle, are hungry for righteousness, are merciful, are sincere in heart, love peace and remain this when they are persecuted. This is the consistent character that they have.
The members of the kingdom realise that there is a present and a future experience of it. Some details can only be done in the present (such as peace-making) whereas the fullness of the blessings can only be known in the future aspect of the kingdom. They use some of its resources now, receive some comfort now, experience mercy now, long for righteousness now. Yet it will be in the new heavens and new earth that fullness will be known, that comfort will be unsurpassable, that they will have their inheritance, that they will see God and experience his incredible mercy.-->
Sunday, 15 January 2017
This statement by Paul is one of five faithful sayings contained in the Pastoral epistles. These statements may have been sayings that the early Christians used to summarise what they believed about important doctrines. They cover a variety of important concerns of the Christian faith.
Paul here is giving his testimony to his friend Timothy. Timothy had been sent to Ephesus by Paul to deal with some issues in the church there. Part of the problem there was false teaching connected to wrong uses of the law. The law is designed to show that we are sinners, unable to keep it. But merely preaching the law in such a way is pointless unless it is also accompanied by the gospel.
The Law at Work
What kind of person is produced by preaching the law without the gospel? Paul would say that he, before his conversion, was such a person. His attempts to keep the law had turned him into a self-righteous Pharisee, and in his case had led him into opposing the kingdom of Jesus. Although he did not realise it at the time, his self-righteousness had turned him into a blasphemer, a persecutor of God’s people, and a violent man. Obviously, his experience of the law was not one that flowed from divine grace at work in his heart.
It is important to recognise that self-righteousness does not always produce those responses. Sometimes, it can develop into good activities and such people can have a wide range of good works. Yet there is one common feature that they share with the likes of Saul of Tarsus and that is they are convinced that they can do very well without grace. They imagine that they can obey God’s requirements, even if all the information they have is connected to what God has written on their hearts by nature.
The obvious problem with such people is that they have not used the law in a correct way. As long as they are detached from God, the purpose of the law is to highlight their inability to keep any of it adequately rather than to be a guide to keep some of it externally. While it is good for societies to have standards that are similar to what God requires, we should not forget that the main purpose of the law is to show that we are sinners in thought, word and deed.
We can easily see why this is the case. The law has to do this because we need to see what is wrong with us before we apply to Jesus for mercy. Yet we need to avoid stereotyping what a person under conviction of sin looks like. If the purpose of the law is to create the realisation that something is wrong with us, then the realisation may show itself in a variety of ways.
A person under conviction of sin may be brought there because he is frustrated that he is not consistent in attempting to live a good life. He or she may be brought under conviction of sin because they become conscious that they do not love their neighbour as they should. The point is that the law of God, whether in the Ten Commandments or in the law written in our hearts by nature, does its work and points out to us our need of salvation from sin in ourselves.
A convicted sinner
What does a convicted sinner look like? How do we know if we are such an individual? Paul tells us the answer when he describes himself as the chief of sinners, or the foremost sinner. Was that literally true of Paul? He was a cruel person before his conversion, but there have been plenty individuals in history who have done much worse than Paul.
So why did he conclude that he was the worst sinner? Maybe he thought about his privileges that he had abused. After all, he had been brought up in a family that served God. He had been sent by his family to study under one of the best religious teachers in Israel. As a devout Jew, he would have read about the descriptions of the Messiah, and he had refused to link them with Jesus.
Or perhaps he had observed the amazing responses of believers like Stephen, the martyr whose death Paul had supervised. Whatever else he would have seen in Stephen as he died, Paul would have observed Stephen’s incredible expression of neighbourly love when he asked God not to lay the sin of murdering him against those who were doing it. In all likelihood Paul had never prayed for an enemy in his life, yet he heard Stephen do so. Did it cross the mind of Paul that such a response was truly incredible?
Paul may have had those things, but something else was needed before he would confess that he was the chief of sinners. In addition to what he had done, Paul also realised what he could do. All the sins that he had committed against Jesus had not satisfied his intense desire to commit even more. That was his intention when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. Jesus met a man who had committed great sins and who intended to commit many more.
Is that not how each of us is before we meet Jesus? We have participated in sinful activities and intend to get involved in many more. It is not possible for us to commit every sin, but that does not mean that we do not want to commit as many as we can. That is what I was like when I met Jesus. I was a sinner wanting to engage in more sins, but he stepped in and changed my outlook.
Why did Paul say he was the chief of sinners? It was not because he was comparing himself with other people. Instead, he made the statement because the Holy Spirit had revealed to him what kind of person he really was. When the Spirit convinces an individual of his sin, he stops focussing on the sins of other people.
What does Jesus show towards those he will convict?
Paul discovered that all his actions had been committed against Jesus. The apostle discovered that was the case when Jesus spoke to him on the road to Damascus. Every action he had taken against the followers of Jesus – all the thoughts and words as well – had been against Jesus personally. Obviously, his sins were more directly against Jesus because they affected Christians to whom Jesus was united. Yet we can also say that our sins are against Jesus because we know the gospel and what it offers.
Paul points out that Jesus was very patient with him while he was engaging in his sinful activities. The apostle says that Jesus showed perfect patience. Perhaps here we see an instance of Paul’s understanding of his sinfulness even as a Christian. In many ways, Paul was an exceptionally patient man as he served the churches. Yet because he was not sinless, there would have been times when his patience would have been thin. But he knew One who had exhibited perfect patience and that was Jesus.
What feature is necessary for perfect patience? One answer might me strong resolve where we persist in an attitude or action despite wanting to give up. Yet we can see how that is not perfect patience – it is imperfect patience because it is not always the outflow of love. With regard to Jesus, there was strong love for Paul even when he was committing great sins.
The salvation he provided
Paul reminds Timothy that Jesus came from another place into our world. The other place was heaven, the place of perfection, the location of holiness, the abode of angels, the destiny of the redeemed when they die. So Jesus came to the opposite kind of world from where he had been. This world is tainted by sin everywhere. The fact that Jesus was willing to come to our world shows the incredible degree of love that he had for sinners like Saul of Tarsus.
Moreover, he came on a specific mission of salvation, which was to save sinners. He did not come to make them salvable, in the sense that none would benefit from what he did. Instead he came to secure salvation. The provision of salvation is connected to deliverance from sin and involved paying its penalty, overcoming its power and removing its presence for and in those who accept the offer of mercy in the gospel. The salvation Jesus accomplished is totally successful in all those who trust in him, and eventually will involve a number than no one can count.
Paul believed that this salvation was the answer to the spiritual needs of every person, which was why he wrote it was worthy of all acceptation. It is such a great salvation, able to deal with the problems caused by sin in every person. He had such incredible confidence in the Gospel that if every person believed it they would all receive great blessings. It did not matter who heard it, they would experience the rich grace of full forgiveness for their sins and the promise of life in glory in the world to come.
The meaning of salvation is said by Paul to be eternal life. Such life is endless, yet it is also very full of grace. Paul had begun to taste some of its features in this life, items such as peace and joy flowing into his soul from the heavenly fountain that is Jesus himself. But such were only foretastes of the incredible fullness that awaits those who trust in Jesus.
Paul makes the point that divine grace through the gospel came in copious amounts – he says that it overflowed. It expressed itself in faith and love. How would faith show itself copiously? I would say that it means that Paul’s faith trusted completely in Jesus, that he now regarded Jesus as the only possible Saviour. Obviously, his faith would become more informed as time went by. Yet from the start his hope and confidence were in Jesus.
Similarly, the love Paul now had for Jesus was supreme in his heart. As a changed man, Paul would now love those whom he had never loved before, whoever they were. The man who was marked by hatred became a person marked by great love. As a person of love, his supreme affections were given to Jesus and the Saviour possessed the apostle’s heart.
The outcome of praise
Paul pens a doxology in verse 17. Obviously, it expresses his heartfelt adoration to the One who had provided salvation. His focus is on God the Father and he lists several details that are unique to him as divine. There are incredible truths about God listed here, which would be good for us to meditate on. But here they are the response of Paul to the One who sent his Son into the world to save sinners. Such an expression of grace deserves eternal praise from sinners, even from those who regard themselves as the worst.
Preached on 15/1/2015
Sunday, 8 January 2017
Matthew has described the anointing of the King with the Holy Spirit when he was baptised by John in the River Jordan. The anointing with the Spirit was required for the next stage in the earthly life of the Saviour, which was the three years of his public ministry when he would show by his word and actions that he was the promised Messiah. Before the anointing took place, Jesus had experienced the blessing of the Spirit in other ways as we can see from the way Luke, in his Gospel, describes how Jesus grew in favour with God and man.
The anointing of Jesus with the Holy Spirit, we can say, was predicted, personal, peaceful and powerful. It had been predicted in the Old Testament, in a passage such as Isaiah 11 that describes how the Spirit would function in the ministry of the Saviour; it was obviously a personal experience for Jesus, and that in many ways – assurance from the Father, equipping for the task, and other ways; the effect of the anointing would be peace, illustrated by the Spirit descending on Jesus like a dove, with this peace being procured by Jesus when on the cross and provided by him to those who would receive him as their Saviour; and it would mean displays of power, especially as revealed through miracles that he performed. It would also involve conflict with the enemies of our souls.
In this chapter, Matthew mentions four details that marked the onset of Jesus’ public ministry, his campaign. First, he engaged in a period of conflict with his most powerful opponent, the devil; second, he returned to Galilee and began preaching; third, he chose certain people to be his disciples; and, fourth, he took them with him on a preaching tour. We can see that he engaged in the first one by himself, and we will focus on it in this sermon.
Before the temptations
This period of temptation took place in the Judean desert, which was where John had baptised Jesus. What is surprising about it is that the temptations were not instigated by the devil as if he was engaged in trying to defeat the Saviour immediately and remove him as a threat. Instead, the devil is on the defensive, not the offensive. The situation is not that Jesus went into the desert for a time of communion with God and was interrupted by the devil. It is true that Jesus had communion with his Father during that time, but the reason he went to the desert was to engage in spiritual warfare.
Matthew points out that it was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into this experience (Mark uses a far stronger word to describe the way the Spirit led Jesus into the desert). It was part of the divine purpose for the Saviour. The calling that he had was one in which he would destroy the works of the devil, and we can see that he started to do so from the onset of his public ministry. Obviously, the conflict was intentional as far as Jesus was concerned. He was not led reluctantly into the battlefield of the desert.
How would Jesus have entered into this engagement with the devil? It was an expression of his dedication to do the will of God – after all, he was the servant of the Lord, and he fulfilled each stage of the journey with diligence. I suspect there was also an element of discovery because such direct contact with the devil would not have happened often, if at all, before this time. The Saviour found himself alongside the presence of evil and it would have appalled him.
Moreover, the experience was very intense for Jesus because he ensured that he was in a proper state for the battle. This is why he fasted for forty days. We know from elsewhere in the New Testament that Jesus was tempted by the devil throughout the whole period. Yet there was clearly a focus on the three temptations that took place towards the end of the period. It is not too difficult for us to work out that if Jesus had to be ready for such trials, and he was sinless, so how much more do we have to be ready as sinners!
How did fasting for forty days help? In itself, fasting is of no benefit in a spiritual sense. Instead, fasting creates time for preparation. We can easily imagine that a lot of time in the desert could be taken up looking for food. Jesus devoted all of the time to spending it with God. His prayers would have been very earnest throughout all that period. Probably he was meditating on the Old Testament, maybe in the Book of Deuteronomy, because he quotes from it three times when the three specific temptations come.
Clearly there is a contrast here between the circumstances in which the first Adam met the devil and his temptations and in which the last Adam met him. The first Adam was tempted in beautiful surroundings, in the Garden of Eden, in a place of great beauty. He was surrounded by fruit to eat. Jesus, the last Adam, was in the desert, in a place that depicted the effects of the curse made after Adam and Eve fell, with nothing to eat.
There may also be a contrast between Jesus and the children of Israel. The latter experienced God’s powerful intervention at the Exodus and then went into the desert and fell into temptations laid by the devil. In contrast, Jesus after his experience of blessing at his baptism went into the desert and resisted all temptations that came his way.
Enduring the temptations
As we look at what the devil did at this time, we see that he is audacious. He dares to tempt the Son of God and in the process dares to misquote the Word of God. In addition, the devil has alternative temptations if the first does not achieve his desires – for all we know, he may have had more than three ready to use, but if he did he was prevented from using them by the authoritative word of the Saviour. His aim was to bring down the Son of God by getting him to sin against his Father. And we must note that the devil was allowed to tempt the Son of God.
The devil devised three powerful temptations. Probably he used the forty days to come up with them. We can see his craftiness in each of them, and each of them was designed to lead Jesus into specific sins. This is a reminder that the battle being fought was not so much about physical things, but about the state of the Saviour’s heart and the priorities that marked his life. The devil was attempting to change the devotion of Jesus to his Father’s business.
The nature of the temptations may surprise us because each of the things with which Jesus was tempted can be classified as good to some extent. It is good to eat food, it is good to have angelic protection in times of danger, and it was right that Jesus should receive universal power. Of course, the devil twisted each of them for a wrong purpose. Yet we should notice that good things can be used by the devil in temptation. Jesus was tempted with regard to his appetite, to the promise of receiving the kingdom, and to anticipation of divine help.
It has been pointed out that the three temptations are linked to the sonship of Jesus which had been declared at the baptism when the Father spoke from heaven. The devil began by attempting to get Jesus to prove that he was the Son of God. Then the devil suggested to Jesus that he do something dramatic to show that he was the Son of God. Thirdly, he promised to give to Jesus the inheritance that belonged to him as the Son.
It is likely that the devil imagined the three temptations were his most effective arrows. In the first one, he tempted Jesus to use his position and abilities to meet his needs in a wrong manner. We could say that the temptation was to use his divine nature to help his human nature. The need was hunger, the suggested activity was an act of creation, but the aim was to do the desire of the devil rather than of the heavenly Father.
The second temptation laid bare the heart of the devil and the heart of Jesus and revealed the stark contrast between them. Inside the devil’s heart was grotesque sinful ambition that can only be described as blasphemy – he wanted a divine being to bow to him. It was an expression of pride. He did not have the authority to give anything of the world to Jesus – Jesus is the heir of all things appointed by the Father. In contrast, Jesus revealed his authority by dismissing the devil and also reminded him of his duty as a mere creature, which was to worship God alone. That is the devil’s responsibility, but there was and is nothing in his heart that would lead him to do so. Here he was experiencing a foretaste of the judgement he will yet receive from the Saviour on the Great Day.
In the third temptation, the devil tempted Jesus to perform a spectacular stunt at the temple through which all the people would see that the angels would help him. The devil misquoted a verse from a psalm, but it is interesting that he realised the psalm applied to Jesus. The temptation was to use the Word of God to justify a foolish act rather than an act of faith.
We can see from the answers of Jesus that they were straightforward, scriptural and suitable. The straightforwardness is seen in the simplicity of his answers, nothing complicated. His use of the scriptures is obvious, but it is also obvious that he knew the Bible. And his use of them is suitable in that he only used verses that were relevant to the situation.
Looking at the experience of these temptations, we can see three important truths. First, they show us the reality of his humanity. As God, he could not be tempted, but as the One who was also man he could. Second, they reveal that temptation can be resisted perfectly by Jesus without the slightest interest in considering what was offered, even if they were a path to promotion. Third, they point to the representative nature of what he was doing when he endured them – he was doing what we failed to do in Adam, and he was doing so on our behalf. The desert is a good place for us, because there we triumphed with Christ.
The sequel to the temptations
Jesus won a great victory. He revealed that he could overcome the enemy by obedience to the will of God. We have to remember that such a triumph had never been known before. Unlike us, Jesus could not be tempted from the inside and there was nothing in him that found the temptations attractive. Eden had become a terrible place because of Adam’s failure to resist temptation. It was the place of defeat, even although a promise was given that a Deliverer would come. Now he had and the desert became the field of victory.
Jesus experienced the comfort of heaven when angels came to minister to him. Heaven recognised the dignity of his person. Here was the banquet after the battle. There never had been such an event before. The disgust he felt at the presence of evil turned into delight at the presence of sinlessness expressed in the holy angels. A foretaste of restored paradise was given. The One had come who would reverse the curse and transform the universe. In the desert, holy songs were sung.
First, the obvious one is that Jesus is stronger than the devil. Our Champion not only won this battle, he was never defeated in any battle by our enemy. It was success all the way, even although it was a severe conflict.
Second, it is not a sin to be tempted, but it can be the occasion when God tests our commitment. This was the case with Jesus. We must remember that we are not tested because God doubts progress, but because he delights in progress.
Third, Jesus understands the full power of temptation, so is able to sympathise with his people when they are tempted. The one who knows the power of temptation is not the one who gives in, even if it takes a while to do so. Instead, it is the person who resists temptation who knows how powerful it is. For us, it is good to know that Jesus understands, even more than fellow Christians who have been severely tested.
Fourth, there is the necessity of feeding our souls on the Word of God. This is what Jesus did, and he is our example.
Preached on 8/1/2017
Paul had been involved in the early days of the church in Corinth. The Book of Acts informs us that the Lord had given special encouragement to Paul concerning the certainty of converts in that city that was notorious for the range of its sins. Over a period of a few months, while Paul was there, many were converted and he saw with his own eyes the faithfulness of God. Some of them were prejudiced Jews, others were pagan Gentiles, but through the gospel they discovered the way of salvation.
Conversion is the commencement of many things in the Christian life. We can approach it from various viewpoints. At conversion, we discover that there is a golden chain of salvation that is summarised by becoming right with God, joining his family, enjoying his favour, going to be with him when we die, and eventually sharing in the resurrection to glory. That is looking forward, but we can also look back the way and discover that the chain had no beginning. This process can be looked at from our perspective as sinners and when we do we will discover the range of blessings that we have. Or we can consider it from God’s viewpoint, as it were, and when we do we discover details about him. Paul does that here as he thinks about the faithfulness of God towards those in Corinth who had believed in Jesus.
Right away we can see two benefits that Paul had personally because of the faithfulness of God. The first is connected to his practice of prayer because the passage we read is actually Paul’s thankfulness for the believers in Corinth. Thinking about God’s faithfulness was a stimulus to Paul’s prayers. He could picture many of them as he prayed about them, and the memory of them brought back to his mind the days when he and they experienced the blessings of the faithful God.
The second benefit concerns the state of the Corinthian church at the time Paul wrote the letter. When we make our way through it, we discover that the church was facing lots of problems with regard to doctrine and practice. Yet Paul is thankful for them and hopeful about them, and the reason why he is of that mind is connected to the faithfulness of God. I would suggest that we all need to make this connection in order to stimulate our prayer lives and to possess confidence about the commitment of people to the Saviour.
Faithfulness when we start
Paul thanked God for the grace that was given to them in Christ Jesus. The phrase ‘in Christ Jesus’ is Paul’s way of saying that they were united to Jesus in a spiritual way. Their actual experience of this union began when they were converted, and at that time God was faithful to them. We can think of this aspect of faithfulness by recalling what was offered to them in the gospel. The great blessing that was given to each of them was the forgiveness of all their sins.
The Corinthians, like us, were guilty of many sins and of all kinds of sin. Only God knows the full number and the range of them. Yet he had assured them through the gospel that they would be forgiven them all if they repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus. Many of the Corinthians had done so and discovered that the Lord was faithful to his promises about pardon.
It is important to stress the necessity of repentance as well as of faith in Jesus. There is a sense in which it is easy to trust in Jesus. But we have to remember that when we believe in Jesus, it is not a case of sinless angels believing in him. Instead it is sinful humans who believe in Jesus, and their faith in him is always accompanied by repentance. Repentance is regret of our sins, it includes confession of them, and it involves separation from a life of sin. Repentance contains aspirations for a life of new obedience. Without it, faith is not genuine.
In our spiritual journey, it is important to ask God constantly for a spirit of repentance. Such an outlook is the best evidence of conversion. It does not mean that a person is morbid, because a penitent person knows that God is faithful to the promises of forgiveness that he has made in the gospel. Indeed, engaging in such repentance is a way of retaining assurance that we have been forgiven by God and that our record in heaven is clear.
God is faithful in giving the Holy Spirit
We may look at these verses and wonder where the Holy Spirit is mentioned. His name is not there, but the signs of his presence are referred to by Paul. One of the signs come under the description of gifts. Paul says that these gifts were a confirmation from heaven that his message had been blessed by God. We should observe that Paul says that those gifts are expressions of God’s riches. The apostle divides them into two types – speech and knowledge. By speech, he includes abilities to speak publicly and privately about the things of God. We could say that God has ensured that his people will hear explanations of the will of God in different ways. By knowledge, he means abilities, such as wisdom, understanding, and truthfulness, that would enable them to speak accurately about the message of salvation. The point that Paul is making is that the faithfulness of God to his people is revealed in this ongoing provision by him to ensure their ongoing spiritual growth.
The other way by which God reveals his faithfulness through the work of the Spirit occurs when Paul says that God will sustain his people. Of course, he sustains them by the indwelling Spirit, but what methods does he use? One is that he enables believers to help one another make progress in the Christian life. They are to encourage one another by sharing with each other the blessings of comfort that they have received from God. No doubt, he sustains them in other ways as well by bringing to their minds promises from the Bible or by secretly strengthening their resolve. The point is that the faithful God sustains his people. And the faithfulness is seen in the length of time it involves – to the end.
God will be faithful at the return of Jesus
Paul brings into the range of God’s faithfulness what will happen when Jesus returns. It will be an incredible day because everyone will discover who Jesus is – he will be revealed. One of the details that will be revealed is that Jesus is the Judge of all. Even in everyday life it is an important event if a judge is involved in it. But the greatest of all such events will be the universal judgement. Unlike earthly courts, the Judge on that occasion will have all the evidence before him. The evidence concerning each person will be all that they have thought, said or done.
It is obviously very solemn to think of such an event. When Paul says that believers will be guiltless he does not mean that their sins will be ignored. The New Testament is very clear that sins of believers have consequences regarding loss of rewards. Yet the amazing fact is that they will be pardoned on the Day of Judgement. Our confession of faith says that they shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted. The reason why they will be pardoned is because the debt has been paid by the Judge when he was on the cross.
We can imagine a scene where one criminal gets pardoned; we can even imagine a scene where a number of people get pardoned, such as those who may have participated in a rebellion. Yet we know that on such occasions, no punishment has been endured and no penalty has been paid. In a sense, justice turns a blind eye to the situation. That is not a picture of what will happen on the Day of Judgement. On that occasion, a number that no one can count will be declared blameless, but they will have this legal status because the penalty of their sins has been paid. This will be an incredible wonder to see and to share in. Each one will have different sins, but each will have the same degree of pardon.
This will be due to the faithfulness of God. Sometimes the thought lurks in our minds that while God has forgiven us now he may change his mind in the future and decide that we shall not be pardoned. Believers will discover that such a fear was groundless. All of them will be pardoned for ever. Of course, all the glory will be given to the Judge.
God will be faithful to his calling
Paul points out that all believers have been called into fellowship with the Son of God. They were called through the gospel and entered into this relationship when they trusted in Jesus. The relationship is one of sharing, except in the relationship only one of them has anything to give, and he is Jesus. In contrast, they are empty-handed sinners. This remains the case throughout the entirety of their Christian lives. All the blessings that they have come to them through Jesus. He is the source of all that they have in a spiritual sense. How long will this relationship last? It does not come to an end when believers die because they go to heaven and experience more of the heavenly treasures. Nor will it come to an end on the Day of Judgement because they will be invited to enjoy the kingdom prepared for them. Whose kingdom is it? It is the kingdom of Jesus. They will share the blessings of his domain throughout the eternal ages. This privilege will never come to an end. And it will theirs always because of the faithfulness of God.
We have been thinking about the faithfulness of God and we can recap what we have observed about it and make some applications. First, we should remind ourselves that God is faithful to the promises in the gospel about pardoning those who repent of their sins and trust in Jesus. We can imitate God by reminding one another of those promises.
Second, we noted the way that God shows his faithfulness by giving the Spirit to his people so that they know what to say and think about the faith. We should imitate Paul by giving thanks for one another to God. In addition, we should thank the Lord for sustaining his people in numerous ways.
Third, we looked ahead to the great Day of Judgement and observed that believers shall be declared judicially blameless because the Judge, Jesus, has already paid the penalty for their sins, and God will be faithful to that great transaction made on the cross. One application of this is that when we see the faults of Christians, we should think of the acquittal on the Day of Judgement.
Fourth, Paul reminded the Corinthians that they had been called permanently into the fellowship of Jesus Christ. They are going to share his inheritance for ever because of the faithfulness of God.
How good is the God we adore,
our faithful, unchangeable Friend,
whose love is as great as his power,
and knows neither measure nor end!
Preached on 8/1/2017