Monthly Message Apr 2020

 

He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” 

(Matt 28:6)

Dear friends,

In the midst of the suffering, sadness, uncertainty and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 crisis our risen, reigning Saviour gives us deep comfort and eternal hope.  However, we can only rejoice in our Lord’s resurrection because of his substitutionary death for us. He went into ‘voluntary self-isolation’ to save us from something far worse than the deadliest virus – our sin – because through our sin we have put ourselves in ‘self-isolation’ from God. So let us reflect on those familiar, yet profound words from the Cross:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

He was utterly alone.

When Jesus was born angels filled the sky at the announcement of his birth.

When he was baptised, his Father affirmed him from heaven.

When he was tempted by Satan, and was with the wild animals, angels attended him.

But – when he prayed, in deep agony in Gethsemane, his disciples fell asleep.

When he was arrested, everyone ran away.

When he was on a so-called trial, Peter kept his distance.

And when he hung on the cross, even his Father had forsaken him.

On the cross Jesus drained the cup that was given him in Gethsemane; a cup containing the undiluted wrath of a sin-hating but sinner-loving God.

When Jesus died, for you and me, he died alone.

Ps 37 :25 “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken… “

But here was the Righteous One forsaken.

Throughout the history of Israel God had always stood by his people:

– in cruel slavery in Egypt;

– helpless before the Red Sea;

When three Hebrews were thrown into Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace – every time, the Lord was with them.

But here, on the Cross

– with a cry more agonizing than ever went up from Egypt;

– in a situation far more alarming than the Red Sea crisis;

– in a torment more fierce than Nebuchadnezzar’s fire;

– there was no reply from heaven. “Why have you forsaken me?”

He was demonstrating the true nature of sin.

In this cry from the Cross we see the ‘exceeding sinfulness of sin’ and the depravity of the human heart:

– hatred of God,

– base ingratitude,

– love of darkness rather than light,

– preference for a murderer rather than the Prince of life.

We see the awful character of the Devil:

– hostility against God,

– insatiable enmity against Christ,

– putting betrayal of the Saviour into the heart of rnan.

We see the perfection of divine nature:

– God’s utter and pure holiness,

– his inflexible justice,

– his terrible wrath,

– his matchless grace!

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

–  because of the extent of sin

– and the depth of divine grace.

He was the sinner’s substitute.

II Cor 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”.

“…..the sinless Jesus was made sin by being condemned to a criminal’s death, and having to endure the ignominy and the punishment of the cross, solely that those who are sinners indeed might be acquitted by the holy God and be free to enter upon a new life pleasing to him”.  [RVG Tasker]

So we are also to see here the wages of sin as well as its awfulness.

The wages of sin is spiritual death, being cut off, alienated, from God.

So it was when sin first entered our world:

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden”. [Genesis 3:8]

So it was with Cain who, when confronted by God, said:

“My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence”. [Genesi4:13,14]

Sin excludes from the presence of God, and the Holy of Holies and the temple veil (which was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died) constantly reminded ancient Israel of that.

Just as physical death separates soul from body, so spiritual death separates soul from God.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus experienced that separation from God that is our deserving and destiny, – in our place!

What intense holiness, what desperate need, what profound love are portrayed here!

If we have any doubts as to the awfulness of sin, any doubts as to whether Jesus really died in our stead, any doubts as to what sin means in eternal terms, let us allow this cry of the Saviour to speak directly to our hearts:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Your brother in Christ,

PS We are closely watching the development of the Coronavirus pandemic and still hope to hold Bible Focus this year, but will decide later.  Meanwhile the date is: September 12th!

 

 

Monthly Message Mar 2020

spring flowers

Dear friends,

In I Chronicles 12v32 we read of the “men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do…”.  How we need ‘men of Issachar’ today!  What is the Coronavirus crisis (or, rather, the Lord) saying to us?  I believe he is saying many things, among which are surely the following:

  • We are not omnipotent. We have been encouraged to think that if we do this and do that, long enough and well enough, we can stem the flow of climate change.  But we can’t.  In a similar way, we can take certain precautions, and develop medical resources to tackle this virus, but we do not have ultimate power over it.
  • We are vulnerable. The feared economic damage that was predicted over Brexit is proving to be nothing in comparison with the harm to health and wealth that threatens us in the wake of Coronavirus.
  • We need each other.  Ironically, perhaps, the more we self-isolate the more we depend on others!  What must it feel like to be sent to prison? Many people, especially those of us over 70, are having to calculate a possible loss of many common freedoms over the coming weeks, or even months.  Our Christian neighbour has offered to do any shopping for those in our street who may be in need of such help.  (Now I do know I am getting old!).  Hopefully, we shall see many more such gestures in our society.
  • We have had, and still have, the issues of Brexit and climate change – and now this. Who can tell what might be next, until we sit up and take notice of a sovereign God who “is patient with (us), not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”  (II Peter 3:9) .

Jesus was once told about some Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. He then went on to refer to eighteen people who were killed when a tower in Siloam fell on them.  Were they, Jesus asked, more sinful than others living in Galilee or Jerusalem at the time? No, he said, emphatically. Unless you repent, you too will all perish.

Gratefully acknowledging God’s grace towards us, revealed to us in Christ, let us earnestly pray that many in these days will turn to him in repentance and faith, as they realize human impotence, vulnerability and our total dependence upon, not just other people, but upon our Creator-Redeemer himself.

“I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven.  As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.  Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us.”  (Psalm 123:1,2)

Your brother in Christ,

Monthly Message Feb 2020

Mountains and Sky

“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness”

Dear friends,

What makes for a truly great person?  When I was growing up it would have been pioneering explorers, military generals, courageous naval officers and maybe the odd footballer and a schoolmaster whom we looked up to because he had fought in the Second World War while we were being born!

Today greatness does not seem to be quite so costly.  Or perhaps I should say that there was a day when men and women became great at considerable personal cost to themselves, whereas today many people become ‘great’ at the expense of the consumer who pays them.  Hence we have the ‘celebrity cult’.  People are considered great if they can sing, or act, or present TV programmes, or play a sport exceptionally well but that is about all.  Now I don’t doubt their talent (though I do sometimes!) and I admire that in them.  But is it right to give them all the adulation that they receive?  Many of them pay a huge price for their fame if they cannot handle it, experience mental stress or marriage break-up, resort to drugs and so on.  In that case has not the adulation become some kind of assault by the public?  Are the fans destroying their own idols?  Have we imposed a false greatness upon some who are as frail and vulnerable as anyone else?

In Matthew 12 we read of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees who accused him of Sabbath breaking and of using demonic powers. They then demanded of him a miraculous sign, so utterly blind to the fact that was high above man’s legalism and the devil’s power. He refers to David having eaten the consecrated bread that was reserved for the priests and how the priests were permitted to break the Sabbath laws in order to carry out their duties.  But Jesus is among them as one greater than David, and greater than the temple.  Then, at the end of the chapter he tells them the only sign he will give them is that of Jonah who was for three days in a fish’s belly.  A greater than Jonah is here.  He reminds them, too, of the Queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon to hear his wisdom, yet a greater than Solomon is here.

David, a great king; the temple, a great dwelling place for God; Jonah, a great preacher of repentance; Solomon, a great man of wisdom.  Yet Jesus, our Lord and Saviour is infinitely greater than all of these!  How tawdry and futile are our notions of greatness compared to his greatness!

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom;  you are exalted as head over all.
   [I Chron 29:11]

Your brother in Christ,