Monday, December 31, 2012

The greatest love of all

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13
If we were to try to describe God’s love, we need look no further than Jesus dying on the cross for the sin of the world (Rom. 5:8). Jesus was the ultimate example of someone who put others’ needs first before His own. And this is the kind of love that we should be showing to one another – and not just to other believers, but to everybody.
On two occasions recently, I had the opportunity to dramatically inconvenience myself in order to help someone else. In one case it was accommodating a family of five in my two-bedroom home for a weekend. In the other it was trading places with a colleague who couldn’t get a seat on a flight but had been placed on standby for the following morning, while I had a seat on a flight leaving that night. In both cases I had a decision to make, and in both cases God worked things out so that the inconvenience didn’t happen (the family stayed elsewhere, and when we enquired about swapping the flights, a seat was available for my colleague to travel that night also).
But even thinking about this, I am challenged: would I have done the same thing for someone I didn’t know? Or for somebody I knew, but didn’t like? Yet Jesus died for those who hated Him, for those who would reject His offer, for thse who wouldn’t believe, as well as those who would. Not everybody appreciated what He did, but He did it anyway. Are we willing to show this kind of love to other people?

Sunday, December 30, 2012


“He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15:2
John 15 contains the well-known ‘vine and branches’ discourse. Jesus states that He is the vine, we are the branches. We need to be connected to the vine to produce fruit. God wants us to be fruitful – to demonstrate His qualities in our lives. Here we see the way God treats us in two opposite scenarios: one where we are not bearing any fruit, and one where we are.
If we are not bearing fruit, we will be ‘cut off’. This does not mean we will lose our salvation – after all, we are still attached to the vine. Rather, God has ways of disciplining us, cutting off the pleasures of sin that we are following after instead of following the Lord whole-heartedly. He does this in order to teach us how we should be living in Christ. He will cut off those areas of our lives that are unproductive.
On the other hand, branches that are producing fruit are pruned. The Greek word here means ‘cleaned’. After the fruit has been produced, the branches are pruned back so that in the next season they may grow back stronger and able to produce even more fruit than the first year. If this pruning did not take place, the branch would become hard and woody, and eventually become less productive. Pruning can be painful. For instance, if you’ve always been quite active in ministry in your church, it can be painful to have to take a back seat for a while. But this is God’s way of pruning, so that you can have more time to seek Him and have the sap of the Holy Spirit run deeper through your life, so that when your next season of ministry comes around, you will be even more fruitful in it. This has happened to me a number of times. There is the initial excitement of getting involved, but after a few years ministry becomes a chore. The pruning is painful, but we need to learn to see it as a time of preparation for the next thing God has for us. Don’t despise it; recognise it as God’s way of producing more fruit in your life in the long-term.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The prince of this world

“I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on Me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what My Father has commanded Me.” John 14:30-31
Jesus uses the phrase ‘the prince of this world’ here, and it is worth taking some time to understand what it means, and what the implications are. It is used also in John 12:31 and John 16:11. The title ‘prince’ is also used of angels (e.g. Michael, Dan. 10:13, Dan. 10:21, Dan. 12:1) and evil powers (Dan. 10:13, Dan. 10:20, Matt. 9:34, Matt. 12:24). Jesus Himself is also called a prince (Acts 5:31, Isa. 9:6). We also see the title ‘ruler of the kingdom of the air’ (Eph. 2:2). This, and the title ‘prince of this world’, both refer to Satan.
Satan is the prince of the world. He is the one who rules over it, and has done so even since Adam sinned and handed over the reins. But the good news is that Satan will not rule over the world forever. Jesus will depose him, and reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.
At the time Jesus spoke these words, the cross was imminent. This was the great showdown God prophesied to the serpent in the Garden of Eden: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel” (Gen. 3:15). In the same act, the heel of Christ was struck by the serpent, and the head of the serpent was crushed by Christ. Satan did not overpower Jesus by his own power, but because Jesus allowed him to – and this was out of His obedience to the Father. Now, if we are in Christ, he has no power over us either, unless we allow him.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ask Me for anything

“You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it.” John 14:14
Many people read this verse and think Jesus is offering a blank cheque. ‘Ask Me for a Porsche, and I’ll give it to you,’ or ‘Ask Me for the winning lottery numbers,’ or ‘Ask Me for the perfect husband.’ But we know from the rest of the Scriptures that this is not what Jesus is referring to. We must ask with the right motives (James 4:3). In his epistle, John tells us, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14, emphasis added). Jesus also said, “And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father” (John 14:13).
The key to receiving what we ask for is to ask according to God’s will, in order that He may be glorified when that prayer is answered. While on the one hand it means that our prayer for a Porsche probably won’t be answered, our prayers to become more godly, to show more of God’s love to other people, to be more attuned to people’s needs, to get closer to God – these kinds of prayers will be answered, because they are God’s will and will result in Him being glorified. Jesus also said, “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7). The key to godliness is not a noble eightfold path, or pilgrimage, or self-flagellation. If we desire to be more godly, we only have to ask.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The easy way, or the right way

“They say to the seers, ‘See no more visions!’ and to the prophets, ‘Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions.’” Isaiah 30:10
Imagine if you went to the doctor for a check-up, and he or she told you, ‘Everything is fine – you couldn’t be more healthy.’ But in actual fact, you have three weeks to live. What would you think? Would you thank the doctor for their kind words? No – you would be angry because they didn’t tell you the truth. Sure, the news may come as a shock to you, but at least it allows you to prepare and do something about it.
When it comes to telling people the gospel, many of us are too afraid to mention words like ‘sin’ and ‘hell’ because we don’t like to be confrontational. We think people will be angry at us for telling them they will spend eternity in hell if they have not believed in Jesus for salvation. They may well be angry, but if the Holy Spirit is convicting their hearts, it will be at the situation that they are in, not at you as the messenger per se, so long as you have told them the truth in love.
People don’t want to hear the truth of God because it would mean they would have to do something, to change their lifestyle of sin. Paul wrote to Timothy, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim. 4:3). Even after becoming a Christian, there are some hard lessons that we need to learn if we want to grow in the Lord. There are certain things that we may have liberty to do, which we need to give up in order to have more time to spend with the Lord. There are often two ways for us to choose from in a situation: the right way, and the easy way – and they are usually not the same.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The world's view of God

“You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, ‘He did not make me’? Can the pot say of the potter, ‘He knows nothing’?” Isaiah 29:16
It really irks me hearing people say things like ‘God is just a figment of man’s imagination’, or ‘Santa Claus, God, the Tooth Fairy, whatever – they’re all imaginary friends’, or people calling God ‘sky-daddy’ or ‘the man upstairs who’s not really there’. As if these statements were not blasphemous enough, they are usually said with an air of pompous superiority. But God is not made up by people. He is the one who made people. He is the one who holds our lives in our hand and gives us the breath with which people curse Him.
Then there are people who accept the idea of the existence of God, but they have an erroneous view of Him. They think He is waiting with glee for them to mess up, so that He can smite them with a bolt of lightning or some such punishment. Or they think He doesn’t care, because after all they are just one of billions of people in the world and not very important in the grand scheme of things. They think that God has human attributes: that He gets jealous and throws tantrums if He doesn’t get His own way. But this could not be further from the truth. God created us and He loves us. He wants us to be with Him for all eternity, free from the power of sin – that’s why He sent His Son to earth to die in our place. God is not like us. He doesn’t seek revenge; He is just and fair and holy. He doesn’t have favourites; He loves us all. God is not like man, but through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can become like Him. God lives on a higher plane than us, and the amazing thing is that He has invited us to join Him.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy birthday Jesus!

“Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11
Celebrating a birthday is a wonderful time for a family to come together and remember how it all began for that person. We might celebrate with presents, cards, a special meal, a cake. Isn’t it interesting how at Christmas time, families come together and have presents, cards, a special meal, a cake – yet the guest of honour is so often absent.
Let’s take some time this Christmas to think about the circumstances around Jesus’ birth: how His heavily pregnant mother had to travel for several days to get from Nazareth to Bethlehem, how when she and Joseph arrived in the town no-one had any room for them, so they ended up sleeping with the animals, how they were visited by shepherds, how Anna and Simeon prophesied over the child when they went to visit the temple for the prescribed offerings. Jesus’ birth as a human happened in the ordinary way – just as each one of us was also born. Yet the birth of that baby in the middle of the night in that tiny town in Israel set in motion a chain of events that changed the course of history forever. By the time Jesus’ life on earth was over and He ascended to the Father, the power of sin over the human race had been destroyed. The way for man to be reconciled with God, impassable for so long, was now wide open. At Christmas we remember the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ – God’s gift to all of mankind.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The stone

“So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.” Isaiah 28:16
In Old Testament imagery, a rock or a stone is a common picture of Jesus Christ. Paul writes about the rock that was struck by Moses in the desert and provided water for the people to drink, saying, “and that rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). Elsewhere he writes of Christ as the foundation stone (1 Cor. 3:11). Peter writes about the living stone (1 Pet. 2:4). Jesus referred to Himself as the stone the builders rejected which had become the capstone (Matt. 21:42-44, see also Acts 4:10-12, 1 Pet. 2:7).
Here we see a stone laid in Zion, the city of God. It has been tested and proven to be strong. Jesus was tested at the cross, and proved Himself to be faithful and obedient to the Father’s will. We can trust Him completely with our lives, knowing that He will lead us to eternal salvation. He is the foundation stone for our faith. If we place our trust in Him, we will never be shaken (Matt. 7:24-27).
Jesus is also called ‘a precious cornerstone’. He is the foundation for us not only as individuals but also collectively as the church. The purpose of a cornerstone is to ensure that the building is straight on all sides, so that it is strong and true. It is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Eph. 2:20-22). All true believers are part of the body of Christ, the church. Are you doing your part?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The gospel: A simple message

“Who is it he is trying to teach? To whom is he explaining his message? To children weaned from their milk, to those just taken from the breast? For it is: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there.” Isaiah 28:9-10
This verse refers to the ridicule that the prophet Isaiah was receiving from his countrymen concerning the message he had been given from God to tell them. They ridiculed him for it being too simple, and only fit for children. For them, it was only about what to do and keeping rules. (The actual Hebrew here is sav lasav sav lasav, kav lakav kav lakav - mimicking baby talk.)
Similarly, there are people today who ridicule the gospel for it being too simple. They can’t understand how we can be saved by something God has done, without us having to do anything more than believe. They read the Bible and come away thinking, “It’s just a whole bunch of ‘Thou shalt’s and ‘Thou shalt not’s.”
The difference for an unsaved person reading the Bible and a Christian reading the Bible, is that the Christian has the benefit of the Holy Spirit illuminating the word of God to them. The unsaved person does not have this, and so the words on the page are just that - sav lasav sav lasav, kav lakav, kav lakav. I have found that there is very little to be gained from debating with an unsaved person as to the validity and power of the word of God. If they say they don’t believe it, there is little you can say that will make them change their mind. Instead, we need to pray that the Holy Spirit would open their eyes, that they would come to faith in Christ and be able to read the Scriptures in the light of their Author. It is true that the gospel is simple. It has to be, because otherwise there would be an intellectual barrier preventing some people from being able to be saved. If we needed a measure of intellect to understand the gospel, it would give us opportunity to boast because we had figured it out. The gospel is simple enough that a little child can understand it and believe in Jesus. And it is so simple that it confuses the minds of many great intellects of the world. “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him” (1 Cor. 1:27-29).

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Judas' true colours

“[Judas] did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” John 12:6
Today we’re going to look at the character of Judas Iscariot – a name that has become synonymous for ‘traitor’. Judas was a common name at the time, but not any more.
It would seem that none of the other disciples suspected Judas as a traitor or a thief. When Jesus announced at the Last Supper that one of them would betray Him, they all asked Him if it was them. Nobody, it seemed, suspected Judas. Judas was a city boy, from Kerioth in Judah (hence, ‘Iscariot’), whereas most of the other disciples were from the Galilee area. This was probably the reason why he was entrusted with the group’s finances, being more familiar with money than the fishermen in the group.
Here John notes that Judas was a thief and used to help himself to the money bag. John would not have known this at the time, but it had been discovered by the time he wrote his gospel in around 90 AD. Judas was obsessed with money. When he saw Mary’s generosity at giving up her dowry to bless Jesus, he only saw the money involved.
I think it’s fair to say that Judas was not a true disciple. He never called Jesus ‘Lord’, but only ‘Rabbi’. Why did Jesus choose him as one of the Twelve, then? I can think of a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Scriptures had prophesied that Messiah would be betrayed (John 13:18, Ps. 41:9). This does not mean that Judas had no choice in the matter. Secondly, Judas gave testimony as to the innocence of Jesus (Matt. 27:3-4). He had lived with, eaten with, listened to, and watched Jesus for nearly four years, and not once in that time had he seen Jesus sin.
It is the same in Christianity today. There are people who appear to be disciples, who have ulterior motives – often involving money. It’s not too late for them to repent and serve the Lord in spirit and truth. But if they don’t, then like Judas, one day their true colours will be shown for what they really are.

Friday, December 21, 2012

When Christians are an embarrassment

“May those who hope in You not be disgraced because of me, O Lord, the Lord Almighty; may those who seek You not be put to shame because of me, O God of Israel.” Psalm 69:6
I don’t know about you, but when I see people on TV doing strange things and justifying their behaviour by saying, ‘I’m doing this because I’m a Christian’ – whether it’s walking down the street with banners condemning everyone to hell, or holding hands and gazing up at the sky with glazed looks because they are convinced that today is the day of Jesus’ second coming, or liberal churches putting up sacrilegious and blasphemous billboards to ‘spark debate’ in a community – I feel mightily embarrassed. These people are ridiculed by the world, and rightly so. Unfortunately, those of us who are Christians who don’t do these things, are usually lumped in together with the ‘redneck’ ‘Bible thumping’ ‘fundamentalist’ ‘fanatics’.
I can’t do much about the behaviour of those people I see on TV. But I can take time to examine myself and my own behaviour. We often think about whether we are a good example of a Christian to non-believers. But equally important is to think about whether we are a good example to believers. Does my behaviour edify other Christians, or does it embarrass them? If I am being persecuted, is it because I am living a life of righteousness that silently highlights people’s sin, or is it because I do weird things worthy of being made fun of? Am I disgracing the name of Christ among my brothers and sisters by anything I am doing?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Everything we have comes from God

“Lord, You establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished You have done for us.” Isaiah 26:12
The chapter in the book of Isaiah from which this verse comes describes how the Israelites would praise God for delivering them from their enemies. They acknowledge that God is the one who brought about deliverance and gave them victory – it was nothing they themselves had done.
We can often forget to acknowledge God’s hand in our own lives, and we would do well to acknowledge God’s influence just as Isaiah spoke about here. If you think about it, all that we have done and achieved is only because God has given us the opportunity and the ability to do those things – be it excelling at sport, receiving education, landing a job, finding your spouse, earning wages, participating in activities, and so on. Moses warned the Israelites, “But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant, which He swore to your forefathers, as it is today” (Deut. 8:18). Job and Solomon both wrote about how we come into the world with nothing, and leave the world with nothing (Job 1:21, Eccl. 5:15). Let us always remember that God is the one who has given us the abilities and talents that we have, and that He is the one who gives us the opportunities to use them. He is the one who provides for us, and He is the one who deserves all our glory and all our praise.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Being steadfast

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3
The word ‘steadfast’ here is the Hebrew samak, meaning ‘to lean upon’ or ‘to be propped up’. It conveys the sense of putting all your weight upon something. If our mind is steadfast on God, it means we have made a conscious, unwavering decision to trust God and follow Him no matter what. We have made up our mind, and no-one can compel us to change it. A deep-seated faith like this is absolutely necessary for us to stand in the midst of the storms that life throws at us. And although those storms will come, if our mind is steadfast in holding onto the fact that God is in control, we will have the peace that only comes from Him.
If you are in need of peace of mind today, look to God as the one who protects you and provides for you. Cling to Him like you would cling to a life raft in the sea. He is always watching over you, and He will never let you go.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Jesus was in control

“No-one takes it [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authoirty to take it up again. This command I received from My Father.” John 10:18
Here in John 10 we see Jesus expressing His understanding of His mission to earth: He had been sent by His Father to give His life for the sin of the world. He understood that His death would happen in a very precise way. Jesus knew that He would not be beheaded, or stoned, or torn to pieces by an angry mob. He would be crucified, as it had been prophesied hundreds of years before (c.f. Ps. 22:16). This meant that He would be subject to the Gentile Roman powers, since the usual Jewish method of executing someone was stoning. Even on the cross, Jesus did not just die, but He was the one who dismissed His own spirit (Luke 23:46).
There are several times in the gospels where it is recorded that the crowd tried to kill Jesus (see Matt. 26:4-5, Mark 11:18, Luke 13:31, Luke 19:47, Luke 4:29-30, John 5:18, John 7:1, John 7:30, John 7:44, John 8:20, John 8:59, John 10:31, John 10:39, John 11:53, etc.). Yet they did not succeed until the day that Jesus allowed them to arrest Him, try Him, condemn Him, and crucify Him. Jesus was the one in control of His death – and of His resurrection. And the comforting thing is, He is also in control of our lives (John 10:28).

Monday, December 17, 2012

Healing a man born blind

“As He went along, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’” John 9:1-2
In the time of Jesus, there wasn’t the welfare system that we have in Western society today, where someone with a disability such as blindness can receive financial help from the government. In those days, if you had a disability, you would usually be reduced to begging on the street and hoping that people would take pity on you and help you out. In places like Jerusalem, there were busy places where such people congregated. It was not unusual to see people sitting beside the road, begging. It was easy for the disciples to look at this man born blind and use his misery to ask Jesus a theological question that had been bugging them: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
There were two schools of thought, both stemming from the notion that if bad things happened to you, it was the result of some previous sin. For a man who was born blind, this posed a difficulty. Some rabbis taught that a person could sin while in the womb. Others taught that parents’ sin could be passed to their children (despite Ezek. 18:20 and other passages).
Jesus answers that neither is the case (John 9:3), but, He says, “so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). The man and his parents were not more wicked sinners than anyone else. But God had a special plan for this man, and it involved him being blind for a time so that he might be healed. The work of God would open this man’s eyes, and through that healing the man became a great witness to others (see the rest of John 9).
If you have some disability, or know someone who does, take heart: God allows these things to happen for a reason, and all these reasons have a common factor: that He might be glorified through it. I don’t know how, or when, He will do it; but we can rest assured that He knows what He is doing.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

God's grace

“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face shine upon us – Selah – that Your ways may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.” Psalm 67:1-2
Ps. 67:1 is reminiscent of the priestly blessing that Aaron was instructed to pronounce upon the children of Israel in Num. 6:24-26 – “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.” This is a three-fold blessing, reminding us of the tri-unity of the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). It reminds us of God’s blessings and protection, His favour and grace, His watchful eye over our lives and His peace. All of these are wonderful attributes of God to meditate on. God has indeed blessed us greatly, and shown us immense grace – blessings we don’t deserve – especially in sending His own Son to earth to die in our place for our sins.
Then we see the word ‘Selah’, which occurs frequently in the Psalms and indicates a connection between two thoughts. The connection is that God’s blessings upon our lives would lead to His way of salvation being known among all nations.
God doesn’t just bless us for our own sakes, but so we might be a blessing and a witness to others. When people can see the grace and peace that we have in our lives because of our relationship with God, an inner strength that can withstand any storm that life throws at us, they will take notice and want to know how we are able to keep going. That’s our opportunity to share with them what God has done in our lives, and how we are now living for Him.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The woman caught in adultery

“[They] said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do You say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him.” John 8:4-6
Many times we see the Pharisees asking Jesus a theological question in order to trap Him. Here they bring Him a woman whom they say they caught in the act of adultery. This was a violation of the seventh of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:14) and was punishable by death according to the Mosaic Law (Lev. 20:10). However, at this time, the Roman authorities had taken away the Jews’ right to execute capital punishment. Here is the trap: if Jesus said, ‘No, she should not be stoned,’ they would accuse Him of breaking God’s Law. If He said, ‘Yes, she should be stoned,’ they would go to the Romans and say that Jesus was breaking Rome’s law. (A similar instance is seen here in Matt. 22 where the Pharisees ask Him whether it is right to pay taxes to Caesar or not.)
There is another clue that tells us this is a trap. If the woman had indeed been caught ‘in the act’ of adultery, the Law required that both the man and the woman be brought and put to death (Lev. 20:10). It has been suggested that the man was one of the Pharisees.
Jesus avoids the trap completely. He bends down and starts writing on the ground, and when they press Him for an answer, He responded, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). We don’t know what He was writing, but it caused them one by one to leave. It has been suggested that He was writing down their sins. Alwyn Wall points out that the proper translation of Jesus’ words is ‘If any of you is without this same sin.’ Perhaps Jesus was writing down names, places, dates... In any case, they all leave and Jesus pronounces to the woman that she is not condemned. He tells her, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11) – acknowledging that she was guilty, but giving her a second chance.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Having hang-ups about Jesus

“Others said, ‘He is the Christ.’ Still others asked, ‘How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?’ Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.” John 7:41-43
We see from the Scriptures that there was a lot of controversy amongst the people concerning Jesus’ identity. At one point, Jesus asked His disciples who people were saying He was, and there were suggestions of John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets (Matt. 16:13-14). Here we see some people saying they thought Jesus was the Christ (or Messiah – ‘Christ’ is from the Greek, ‘Messiah’ is from the Hebrew; both mean ‘anointed one’). But others disagreed, because in their eyes Jesus didn’t fit the description. He had a Galilean accent; they expected Christ to be a leader from the line of David. They knew from the Scriptures that Christ was supposed to come from Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2). This carpenter from Galilee was not the rabbi from Bethlehem they had in mind.
But Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem, as the Scriptures foretold. He was of the line of David, as prophesied. These hang-ups that the people had about Him could be rationally explained.
It is the same today. Many people have hang-ups about God, Jesus, or the Bible that prevent them from coming to faith in Christ. They will say, ‘The Trinity makes no sense to me; I can’t believe in God because I don’t understand it.’ Or, ‘I can’t believe in a God who allows bad things to happen to good people.’ These things can be explained from the Scriptures, if people would be willing to listen. However, those who say these things usually do so as an excuse not to believe – it’s not because they can’t believe; it’s because they don’t want to. There is a big difference.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

God doesn't reject anyone

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away.” John 6:37
This verse should bring us great comfort. Many times we can feel unworthy to approach God – and rightly so, because He is perfect and we have broken His Law. We are without excuse, and if it were not for the blood of Jesus Christ, we could only expect the punishment of death for our sins (Rom. 3:23). But Jesus came to bridge the gap between mankind and God, and now the way is open for anyone who would come. God will not drive anyone away who wants to come to Him. If someone you know feels as if they are being rejected by God, know that it is not God who is rejecting them, but Satan trying to prevent them from coming. One of the primary works of the Holy Spirit in the lives of unbelievers today is drawing them to Christ. God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). He will not reject anyone.
In this verse we can also see the two sides of the predestination-free will coin. “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me” – those who have been predestined. No-one can be saved unless they have first been drawn to Christ (John 6:44). “and whoever comes to Me” – by their own free will. The Holy Spirit draws us to Christ, but we must also respond to that drawing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

God can do a lot, with a little

“Another of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’” John 6:8-9
In John’s account of how Jesus fed over 5,000 people with just a small boy’s lunch, we see some interesting points that are not included in the other gospels (Matt. 14, Mark 6, Luke 9).
Firstly, we see that Jesus’ question about providing food for the people was directed to Philip. John also says, “He asked this only to test him, for He already had in mind what He was going to do” (John 6:6). Jesus was giving Philip an opportunity to prove his faith. But Philip could not see beyond the natural. He exclaimed, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (John 6:7).
Enter Andrew, who had found a small boy who had some food. First he announces, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish,” – but then he too expresses doubt: “but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:9).
There is comfort here for us. Jesus took that small amount of food, and turned it into a feast for over 5,000 people. He also took the small amount of faith that Andrew had expressed, and demonstrated that He was able to provide for the needs of all. Elsewhere, Jesus said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matt. 17:20). Even if we only have a little faith, God can use it for great things. Even if we only have a small amount of talent, or time, or resources, if we give them to God, He can use them to accomplish great things that we would never have believed possible. So the lesson is clear: be generous when you give to Him!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


“Hear me, O God, as I voice my complaint; protect my life from the threat of the enemy.” Psalm 64:1
We all complain. Nobody’s life is perfect, nobody can say that everything goes their way all of the time. Everyone has problems, and it’s up to us how to deal with them – and this is what shapes our character.
David wrote this psalm, probably during a time when he was on the run, either from Saul or from Absalom. He had been falsely accused (Ps. 64:3) and his life had been placed in danger. He and the men with him were under constant threat of attack. Now imagine what would have happened to the morale in the camp if David had complained to his men about how he felt and what was happening to him. They would have quickly become sick and tired of hearing him, and left him to wallow in self-pity.
This is how other people can feel about us if we are constantly complaining – not necessarily about them, but even just to them about life in general. It is immensely draining listening to someone complain. So let’s try not to be people who complain to others. It is ok to complain, to voice your frustrations, but do it to God, not to other people. Let Him know how you are feeling – and let Him lift you up.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Trusting in God

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2
There are many benefits in being a Christian; for me perhaps the greatest day-to-day blessing is the peace that I have, knowing I can trust God in all things. I don’t need to fear or worry about anything, because He has everything under control. Trust takes time to develop, and God is constantly stretching us just that little bit more, so that our faith will grow from strength to strength. For you it might be health issues, or the threat of losing your job. It might be a rift in your family, or some chaotic event that turns your life upside-down. But no matter what happens, God will be there. If we are truly trusting in Him, we don’t need to worry about or fear anything. He is our strength – the power within us that enables us to keep going. He is our song – the joy and praise within us that gives us hope for the future (in eternity, if not also in this life). He is our salvation, and is becoming our salvation. He has provided for us to be saved through the death and resurrection of His Son, and He is continually sanctifying us, purifying us for heaven. Our relationship with the Lord should be what defines us. It shouldn’t just be a part of our lives, something that we do; it should be the primary characteristic of who we are.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Talking with the Samaritan woman

“The Samaritan woman said to Him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can You ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)” John 4:9
In Israel in Jesus’ time, as in many places today, there were certain groups or types of people that you simply didn’t associate with. Jews did not associate with Samaritans (the ‘half-Jews’ who were products of the northern kingdom of Israel who had been taken into captivity in Assyria and forced to integrate with other races). Men did not associate with women who were not related to them. You didn’t associate with lepers, or befriend tax-collectors.
Yet Jesus showed no partiality on the basis of someone’s race, gender, or social standing. He talked with this Samaritan woman – whom even the other people in her own town avoided, because of her having had multiple husbands. He taught her the truths of God, just as He taught His own disciples. He gave her the same opportunity to believe in Him that He gives to you and I today.
I don’t know about you, but I constantly need reminding of this fact: Every person is important to God. We might look out over a crowd of people, or pass by them in the street, and think nothing of it. But God knows each one of those people: their name, their family situation, what is troubling them, what He has planned for them. Each person is created in the image of God and they are precious to Him. If we are to represent Him faithfully, we should act like Jesus and not show partiality to anyone, but treat everyone with respect. Everyone needs to hear the gospel, so that they might believe and be saved!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Three things about God

“One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that You, O God, are strong, and that You, O Lord, are loving. Surely You will reward each person according to what he has done.” Psalm 62:11-12
In today’s verses David describes three primary attributes of God. He does so in poetic language, by saying ‘one thing... two things...’ (this construct is quite common in Proverbs, e.g. Prov. 30).
Firstly, God is strong. In fact, He is omnipotent – all-powerful. He can do anything. Nothing is impossible for Him. Because of this, we can rest assured that He is in control of all things.
Secondly, God is loving. Many people seem to think that God is different in the Old and New Testaments; in the Old Testament He is seen as judging people, while in the New Testament He is seen as loving people. But God’s love is seen in the Old Testament, just as His judgement is also seen in the New. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8). God’s love is what sets Him apart from other gods. The depths of God’s love are shown in how He allowed His only Son to die on the cross for our sins (Rom. 5:8).
Thirdly, God is just and fair. He rewards each person according to what they have done. If they have believed in Him, they receive salvation. If they have rejected Him, they receive condemnation. If they have not come to Him for forgiveness of sins, they will receive a fair punishment for those sins. If they have believed and performed good works with good motives, they will receive rewards (1 Cor. 3:12-13). God doesn’t punish the children for the sins of their fathers. He ensures each person receives what is fair based on how they lived.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Isaiah's children

“Here I am, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.” Isaiah 8:18
There are several people in the Bible who were told what to name their children, and Isaiah is one of them. Both of his sons had prophetic names. First there was Shear-Jashub (Isa. 7:3), which means ‘a remnant will return’. This is a theme throughout the book of Isaiah (Isa. 10:21) and indeed throughout the whole Bible. Isaiah was instructed by God to take his son Shear-Jashub to meet the king while the city was under attack from Rezin king of Aram and Pekah king of Israel. Imagine the impact that Isaiah would have had upon the king by introducing his son, ‘a remnant will return’. God still had His hand upon the nation of Judah; He would preserve a remnant even through seventy years of captivity.
Isaiah’s second son was called Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (Isa. 8:1-3). This name means ‘quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil’. He was named as a sign that within a few short years, the northern kingdom would be taken away into captivity in Assyria.
Isaiah’s own name means ‘Jah (a shortened version of Jehovah) has saved’. Every time Isaiah introduced himself and his sons, the people would be reminded of the messages: God would be their Saviour, their enemies would be defeated, and although they themselves would go into captivity later, God would ensure that a remnant would return.
There’s application here for us too. Our families ought to be witnesses to those around us of the reality of God. People should notice that we are different – not in a weird kind of way, but the love, joy, peace etc. that we have in the Lord.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Facing the battle

“Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered!! Listen, all you distant lands. Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand, for God is with us.” Isaiah 8:9-10
As we look back through history, both ancient and modern, we see that the nation of Israel has endured some pretty horrific battles – wars where she should have been obliterated many times over, fights where she was vastly outnumbered by her enemies. Yet the nation still exists today – and not only exists, but thrives. The only explanation for this is because God is on her side. The nations of the world can plot and scheme all they like; they can build up troops and weapons, but if they attack Israel, they will lose. God has a plan for the end times, and Israel is at the centre of that plan, not least of which because He longs for them to come to salvation.
While the church does not replace Israel in terms of receiving her blessings as a substitute, she can share in Israel’s blessings, by faith. One can look at the co-ordinated attacks by various anti-Christian groups, and wonder how the church can survive in today’s environment in certain cities and certain parts of the world. But the Bible promises that no weapon formed against us will prosper (Isa. 54:17) – be they physical or spiritual weapons. Throughout history, God has always ensured that at least a remnant of His people have survived. So if you are facing opposition today, don’t despair – God is with you, and He will bring you through.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Encountering God

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Isaiah 6:5
There’s no shortage of songs put out by Christian artists that go along the line of ‘I want to touch You, Lord, I want to see Your face’, but when we read in the Bible of people encountering God, their reaction is usually like that of Isaiah in today’s verse. When Isaiah saw God in His full glory, he didn’t sit there, overcome by warm fuzzy feelings. He was filled with the awareness of his own sin and his own unworthiness. Moses was told by God that he could not look at Him directly, because the discrepancy between God’s glory and Moses’ sin would cause Moses to die (Ex. 33:18-23). When Daniel and John saw the glory of God, they fell face down because all their strength was gone (Dan. 10:8-9, Rev. 1:17).
When we compare ourselves with other people, our sin doesn’t look so bad. We say to ourselves, ‘I’m a good person, because I don’t sin as much as that person.’ But other people are not the yardstick by which goodness is measured. God is good, and any of our sins, no matter how small, makes us unworthy in His sight. That is why He sent His Son to die, to take the punishment our sins deserve, so that one day we might be able to come into His presence and see His glory.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

He knew what was in a man

“[Jesus] did not need man’s testimony about man, for He knew what was in a man.” John 2:25
This verse puzzled me for a long time – I didn’t understand what it meant, or what it was referring to. Like much of the gospel of John, it’s one of those things that I needed to mull over for quite a long time, but when the understanding came, it was worth it for the insight that was revealed.
We know that God knows us better than we know ourselves. In Psalm 139 we read, “You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O Lord” (Ps. 139:2-4).
The verse has two implications, which can be summed up as applying to mankind in general and to each person in particular.
Jesus didn’t need anyone to tell Him what it was like to be human. He experienced humanity to the utmost. We read in Hebrews, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
Secondly, Jesus didn’t need anyone to tell Him what someone else was thinking or what their motives were – He knew. In many cases their motives were selfish and superficial, only following Him because of His popularity and His ability to perform miracles (John 2:23). This was why John writes, “But Jesus would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all men” (John 2:24).
For some people, knowing that God knows everything about us, including our thoughts, scares them. But I find it immensely comforting – that the God of the universe should care that much about little old me!

Monday, December 3, 2012


“I long to dwell in Your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” Psalm 61:4
We don’t know what circumstances David was in when he penned these words in Psalm 61, but it could have described many situations in his life, when he was on the run from Saul and later from his own son Absalom. David knew all too well what it was like to be on the move, for his life to be in danger constantly, to not have a permanent place of refuge. But David came to realise that no matter what happened to him physically, he would always have God as a spiritual refuge.
Perhaps this describes how you feel today. Are you being hounded by someone or something? Do you feel as if they’re out to get you, through no fault of your own? Are you looking for a place to call home, where you can be safe and secure? Those things may not exist for you in this world, but you can be sure that God will always be there to protect you and give you shelter.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bringing disaster upon yourself

“The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves.” Isaiah 3:9
The Bible tells us, very clearly, over and over again, that disasters await those who parade their sin. As humans we can have different attitudes towards sin, and different ways that it can happen. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). We all have a sin nature, inherited from Adam. This sin nature separates us from God, and is our greatest weakness. The tendency of this sin nature, if we are faced with a choice to sin or not, is to sin. Then there are the specific sinful acts which result from us giving in to this sin nature. These may be accidental – we may not realise that we are sinning by doing something, but it only becomes apparent later. In the Old Testament these kinds of sins had provision for atonement through the guilt offering and the sin offering. These may be sins of commission or sins of omission – failing to do what is right. Then there is another type of sin: the sin that is deliberate. We know something is wrong, and yet we do it anyway. There was no provision in the Old Testament for forgiveness of these kinds of sins.
Isaiah speaks of people who go one step further than this: engaging in deliberate sin, not just to bring pleasure to themselves, but to parade it in front of others. I am noticing this more and more in today’s society. Things which wouldn’t have been mentioned a few decades ago, now feature on prime time TV. They are spoken of as ‘alternative lifestyles’ and protected by ‘freedom of speech’. A year or so ago someone I knew was telling a group of us how her 14-year-old daughter had lost her virginity only a couple of months before and was now regularly sleeping around with boys. She was laughing and had absolutely no shame in telling us this – nor did it seem she was planning on doing anything about it. It shocked me deeply at the time, and now reading this verse I can only think how these sorts of actions will only result in that girl – and mother – bringing disaster upon themselves. We all need to examine ourselves and see if there is any sin that we are holding onto and parading around, and deal with it.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Problems with modern Christianity

“You have abandoned Your people, the house of Jacob. They are full of superstitions from the East; they practise divination like the Philistines and clasp hands with pagans.” Isaiah 2:6
These words were written to the nation of Israel prior to their judgement in being sent into captivity, but they could equally well apply to Christianity at large today. The ecumenical and emergent church movements have a lot to answer for, having sacrificed Biblical truth on the altar of ‘tolerance for all’. It is scary to notice how many Eastern traditions and ideologies have made their way into the church today: the use of candles, chanting, and so on, seeking ‘inner peace’, ‘meditation’ being interpreted as seeking a trance-like state rather than the Biblical sense of ‘chewing over’ a passage of Scripture, and so forth. The Ecumenical movement prides itself on trying to marry up Christianity with other religions – as Isaiah said, to ‘clasp hands with pagans’. This movement teaches erroneous doctrine such as ‘Christians and Muslims all worship the same God’, and ‘there are many paths to heaven’. They teach about limbo and annihilation instead of the Biblical reality of hell. They liken the Holy Spirit to ‘the Force’ from Star Wars (which itself contains many underlying ideas from Hinduism). Some of them even suggest that God may be female!
It is no wonder then, that God has distanced Himself from these people. In their self-determined superior knowledge about spiritual things, they have rejected the God of the Bible and invented another god of their own making. Jesus’ instruction to us about these people is clear: “Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matt. 15:14). Israel’s judgement came to a head when they rejected God in favour of the gods of the nations surrounding them. It would seem that the same thing will happen to the church, one day (1 Pet. 4:17). We need to come back to the Bible as the basis of Christianity, the true foundation of our faith.