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Monday, 31 December 2018

Great Hope for 2019!

Hope is not Automatic
Out there in the world, and in the sad heart of mankind, fear and anxiety are more common than hope. "Hope springs eternal in the human breast" may be a distinguishing trait of human beings  - we need something on the horizon to keep us going. But worry is more characteristic of daily life in a fallen world. So much so that Jesus preached a sermon about not worrying, repeating the command again and again, "Do not worry."

To get to hope, to get up hope, requires a work of God's Holy Spirit in our hearts, and his work always comes through his Word.
A Scripture which inspires great hope for 2019 is Psalm 46.

 God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.
 Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.’
11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

The Psalmist is filled with Hope!
That's the first thing we notice. "We will not fear", he says ultra-confidently; even if  the world falls apart! Even if the very worst happens. He says to himself as he looks to the future, that no matter what, he will not fear! This is supernatural hope!

The Psalmist's Hope comes from God's Power
But notice where his courageous hope comes from. He is not confident in himself or in any human power or achievement. He is hopeful because God is with him, God is his refuge, God is his strength, God is powerfully at work in the world around him, breaking the bow, shattering the spear and burning the shields with fire. His hope is in God alone!

The Psalmist's Hope leads to silence
Finally, because the Psalmist is filled with Hope, we notice that he can rest securely and quietly. And God commands us to do the same, "Be still and know that I am God." Anxious people are fretful people forever "on the go" unable to bear silence, lest it bursts into worry! Hopeful people, by contrast, can down their tools and rest in God's peace and security.

Whatever 2019 brings, we need not fear, we must not fear, we should not fear, for God is with us!

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Good News? How can the birth of Jesus become Good News?

The sorrow of gun-crime families
Reading the harrowing stories of parents who have lost loved ones to gun crime in TIME magazine recently, made me ask again how the Good News of the birth of Jesus Christ could possibly be heard as good news by them.

Parents who find themselves in this most unwanted "club" discover many experiences in common with each other.

First, they quickly learn that the initial outpouring of support soon dies, the world moves on, but the families can't - "it's a pain you can't outrun."

Secondly, they are often haunted by the chance involved in such crimes - if only they had kept their child home, if only this, if only that, etc., which can lead to anger and to self-judgement.

Third, many families simply fall apart after such horrific crimes, such is the ripple effect of evil and such violence on parents and family.

When I read their sorrowful stories, I asked myself, how can the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ be "good news... of great joy... for all the people"?

Of course we could add a thousand other sorrows to the one above and ask the same question - how is the Gospel good news to hurting people?

The Hope of Justice
In the first place, the birth of Jesus, is the arrival of the Judge of the Universe and therefore the Hope of Justice. One day, the child Jesus, who grew up into a man, died, rose from the dead and now rules in the heavens will return in power and glory - to judge the world in perfect justice. On that day perfect justice will be established.

The Hope of An Empathiser
Secondly, the birth of Jesus signals the birth of someone who has entered into all our sorrows and understands them from the inside. God became flesh so that he could live our life, experience our sorrows, and enter into our grief. You say, "Jesus never lost a child to a bullet", and that is true. But he lost a good friend to sickness and death, Lazarus. He lost his father sometime between the ages of 12 and 30. He knows what it is like to lose someone close to him. And besides all this he has experienced every other sort of earthly sorrow and pain, from emotional abuse at the hands of enemies, to betrayal by a friend, to physical torture and then crucifixion at the hands of the Romans.

In Christ Jesus we have a friend who understands all the sorrows of our life, and stands shoulder to shoulder with us, with a tear on his cheek.

The Hope of a New Life
Thirdly, the birth of Jesus heralds the hope of a new life. Men and women who kill can be transformed by the grace and love of  Jesus so that they turn from such evil behaviour. Parents who have suffered the loss of a child can find in their hearts forgiveness and all-surpassing peace. Evil does not need to triumph; good can triumph over evil, with God's help.

The Hope of a New World
Above all, the birth of Jesus heralds the hope of a new world to come, in which there will be no guns, no murder, no sorrow and no death. Jesus made a way for us to inherit that future world, he opened a door into it. Through his suffering, death and resurrection he dealt with the sin that stops us from entering the new heavens and the new earth. He paid for our sin, he set us free, so that when after we die we can enter the new heavens and the new earth.

The greatest hope anyone can possesses, in the face of the greatest sorrow, is the hope of an eternity in the presence of God in a new world of untainted joy. All earthly hopes - as important as they might be -  are limited and temporary and uncertain.

Jesus came into the world to give us hope.

"I bring you good news", 

     said the messengers from God,

     "that will cause great joy for all the people." (Luke 2:10)

Sunday, 2 December 2018

The Victory of Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ is Victor
The Bible ends with Satan's doom and the saints eternal rest. In other words, Satan is defeated and Christ is Victor. Hallelujah!

An Interesting Trend
But preparing for a teaching talk on the millennium from Revelation chapter 20, I could not help but noticing that at the end of the Gospel Age (the 1000 years), during which Satan has been bound, Satan is set free for a short time during which he unleashes all his last-minute last-time hatred on God's people.

(Then he is beat for good and condemned to hell forever.)

This, it seems to me, is a common characteristic of Satan's activity. He experiences defeat, he knows his days are numbered, but gives a "last minute kick" just before he is out for good.

When Jesus casts out an evil spirit, it sometimes gives a final kick:

Mark 9 - Jesus casts out a demon from a boy, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again." We expect the demon to depart in an instant. But before he does, he "kicks" the boy one last time, "The spirit shrieked, convulsed the boy violently and came out."  Last Kick.

Matthew 8 - Jesus casts demons out of a man. What do they do? Leave the man but go off and destroy a herd of pigs. Last Kick.

Beware of Satan's Last Kick
Every believer needs to be aware of this "trick" or "device" of the devil. Satan has many "devices" or tricks and this is one of them. It may happen that when someone comes to faith in Christ, just before - or just after - they are converted - Satan gives them one final kick. It could be that when a believer is beating a bad habit, Satan gives them one last final kick.

There can be many circumstances where Satan attempts, one last time to disturb a believer, or even to disturb a church, one last time. We must be on our guard.  

Don't fear the last kick!
The news from God's Word is - don't fear Satan's last kick! Satan is a defeated enemy and we are not to fear his last kicks. Expect them, yes, but don't fear them, because Christ is the supreme ruler over all, and he will protect his people from all harm.