An Amazing Beginning

“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has been made.”
John 1:1-3 (NIV)

“For in him all things were created:
things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,
whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities;
all things have been created through him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Colossians 1:16-17 (NIV)

The first book of the Christian Bible is the book of Genesis or the book of beginnings. In this book we read the answers to questions cosmologists ask such as, “How did the universe begin?” or “Why did the universe begin”. In the sacred pages of Holy Scripture we read the answers to these and other questions about the origin, the purpose, and the final destiny of the universe.

Arguably the most brilliant theoretical physicist of the twentieth century was Albert Einstein.

Though not believing in a personal God, The Saturday Evening Post, October 26, 1929, published George Sylvester Viereck’s interview with Albert Einstein. When asked “To what extent are you influenced by Christianity,” Einstein answered: “As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.” When asked “Have you read Emil Ludwig’s book on Jesus,” Einstein replied: “Emil Ludwig’s Jesus is shallow. Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrasemongers, however artful. No man can dispose of Christianity with a bon mot! (witty remark) When asked “You accept the historical existence of Jesus,” Einstein answered: “Unquestionably! No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”

Jesus is the One Who created everything that exists and did so for His pleasure. As we begin this month of December that includes the joyful theme of Christmas, I wish to take you through the Bible from Genesis to the Gospels and consider with you various prophecies concerning the One Who was to come as the Saviour of sinners.

Yes, Jesus really did come into the world of space and time as promised by the prophets and His life here is recorded by the four Gospels for us to read and to be “enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.”

Join me on this literary adventure in the pages of holy writ this month and learn afresh to find yourself lost in wonder, love and praise.

Free in Christ

Therefore, there is now no condemnation
for those who are in Christ Jesus,
because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit
who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
Romans 8:1-2 (NIV)

For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4 (NIV)

I was encouraged recently to read an article in a Christian magazine about how churches in the USA are reaching out to inmates in penitentiaries. A church will be given access to a prisoner and will visit, send letters and cards, and help them celebrate birthdays and Christmas. They are committed to helping the person when they are paroled by finding housing, helping them find employment and continuing to witness in various acts of love and, of course, helping them find a church home.

Our verses today speak to the privilege of every child of God concerning their salvation. What we all owe to our Creator is perfect and perpetual obedience to all He commands. None of us can possibly offer to God a sinless life and so we come under the condemnation of the law when it says (Ezekiel 18:4),

“The soul that sins shall die”

When we become Christians the righteousness of Christ is given to us (1 Corinthians 1:30). We are considered as righteous as our Lord Himself. The reason Jesus came into history and lived a perfect sinless life was to provide for us the righteousness the law required but we could not attain. In dying for us He took all the punishment our sins deserved. A wonderful poem was written to develop this truth and is as follows. May it bless your heart as much as it blesses mine each time I read it.

A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with Thy righteousness on,
my person and off’ring to bring.
The terrors of law and of God with me can have nothing to do;
My Savior’s obedience and blood
hide all my transgressions from view.
The work which His goodness began,
the arm of His strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen, and never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now,
nor all things below or above,
Can make Him His purpose forgo, or sever my soul from His love.
My name from the palms of His hands eternity will not erase;
Impressed on His heart it remains, in marks of indelible grace.
Yes, I to the end shall endure, as sure as the earnest is giv’n;
More happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits in Heav’n.

-A. M. Toplady

She Did It First

“he humbled himself”
Philippians 2:8

It seems every child born into the world has programmed into their minds the idea that if someone does something mean or nasty to you, then you have the right, if not the responsibility, to do the same back to them. What parent has not learned that when Johnny hits his little sister and he is reprimanded for it, he will immediately say, “Well, she did it to me first.” That is, to Johnny’s mind, reason enough to hit his sister.

It is our duty as parents to teach our children that we are not always to imitate the behaviour of others in this life. The Bible does not say, “Do unto others what they have done unto you.” Rather it says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” So then, imitation is not necessarily the right or necessary thing to do to others.

In our text we have the remarkable statement of Paul to the effect that the Lord of glory humbled Himself and took onto Himself the form of humankind. He who was the Creator of everything (Colossians 1:16) entered His own creation and submitted Himself to the laws He put in place to govern His creation. Not only did He submit to the physical laws of our world, He who will some day judge all creation, allowed people to sit in judgment on Him. He allowed those to whom He gave life to become those who would take away His physical life.

Such humility is unequalled in all of recorded history. His good reputation was soiled by lies. His earthly goods consisted only of the clothes on His back. He was mocked, flogged, denied His rights before the law courts, and then crucified, the most painful form of dying then known. Finally He was laid to rest in a borrowed tomb. Could anyone be more humiliated than He was?

We know that Jesus did all of this out of love for sinners. He lived the perfect life we could not. He died the death we deserve. Then He rose the third day to prove the price for sin was fully paid. Now, for those who repent and trust in Him, there is everlasting life.

Paul, in our verse for today tells us to humble ourselves as Jesus did when He walked among us. Christians are people who do not demand what is rightfully theirs any more than Jesus demanded what was rightfully His. In our present society this is hard to swallow. We are taught by the world to “demand our rights”. If we do not get our rights, then sue for them.

So when Paul writes to the Philippian Christians he is telling them to look to Jesus who gave up His rights and do likewise. Do not insist on what is rightfully yours. A fortress mentality and looking after our own interests first is not the Christian way. Certainly we are to look after our own interests, but self-denial is a virtue, not an affliction. It is not always necessary to go after all that we could or should have in this life.

We can release our rights to many things as long as we are certain we still have our God.

We might lose our health in this life. If the medical community cannot assist us in recovering our good health then we should humble ourselves and accept the alternative of being chronically ill. If you are denied a partner in life while most or all of your friends have a spouse, humble yourself and accept it from God. If you cannot afford the finer things in life that your acquaintances have, humble yourself under God and accept your situation.

On it goes, you fill in the blank(s). God asks all of us to be like Jesus in humility. He calls on us to give up our “rights” in order to demonstrate our obedience to Him. We ought to always keep our eyes on Jesus as seen especially in the Gospels.

Have you “humbled” yourself? Is your life characterized by humility? It says in 1 Peter 5:5, (NIV).

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

This Life Or The Next?

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.
When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy
went and sold all he had and bought that field.”
Matthew 3:44 (NIV)

C.S. Lewis once wisely said, “There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.” If only we believed this we might not fear going to heaven so much. All we do when leaving this life is to exchange the mud puddles of time for the ocean’s shores of eternity.

Our text today teaches us that if we lose all we have in this life for the sake of gaining the kingdom of heaven we are most blessed. The truth here is that the kingdom of God is far, far more wonderful than anything and all things this life can offer.

Why is it then that we sigh and lament the loss of some things in this life when we know our Lord and Saviour has marvels and joys indescribable ahead of us in glory? What are we saying when we become so upset at the loss of health or wealth when we will walk the streets of gold with the Lord? Was Paul wrong when he said in Romans 8:18 (NIV)

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

Ought we not to be more attentive to the scriptural promises of heaven and less concerned with our suffering in this life? Thomas Watson put it well when he said, “Eternity to the godly is a day that has no sunset; eternity to the wicked is a night that has no sunrise.”

We need to be constantly focusing on our future if we wish to manage the disappointments and sorrows of this life. We are of little earthly good unless we are very heavenly minded.

Paul put it so well in Colossians 3:1- 4

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ,
set your hearts on things above, where Christ is,
seated at the right hand of God.
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ, who is your life, appears,
then you also will appear with him in glory.”

When You Don’t Know How To Pray

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
We do not know what we ought to pray for,
but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
Romans 8:26 NIV

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place.
When he finished, one of his disciples said to him,
“Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
Luke 11:1 NIV

Yesterday we considered the importance of being specific in our prayers just as we see in the recorded prayers in the Bible. However, there are times when we are not in a position to know how to pray about something.

For example, I recall a series of visits I made to a wonderful young mother in hospital. She had cancer. As a nurse, she understood the implications of her situation.

She had lost her own mother when she was only 12 years old to the very same form of cancer. She desperately wanted to live until her children grew up so they might avoid the struggles she had when her mother passed away.

This fine Christian woman asked me to pray she would be spared and I did. However, the last time she was in hospital she asked me if I thought our prayers would be answered. I had to be honest and so I said that I was doubtful. She was upset at my confession of ignorance of her future and that was the last time I saw her. She passed away a few days later.

So we sometimes have confusion about how to pray. We know how life usually happens but we want a miracle.

We wish to be an exception to the rule and why not? But then we slowly realize that our prayers for the exception may not be answered. It is then that we must submit our situation to our loving and gracious Father in heaven to do as He sees best.

Our verses make it clear that there are times when we do not know how to pray as we ought, and they give us comfort in times of confusion.

First the Holy Spirit takes up praying where we must leave off and completes the petition in a wordless manner. Here is genuine encouragement in these times of bewilderment. Someone with infinite knowledge of what we need takes our case to the throne of God and makes effectual prayers.

We know also that Jesus prays for us in heaven just as He prayed for us while here with His beloved people (e.g. John 17).

He ever lives above for me to intercede
His all redeeming love, His precious blood to plead
His powerful blood did once atone
and now it pleads before the throne.

—Charles Wesley