Sunday, 22 November 2015

What will happen at the resurrection?

I read recently a sermon on Psalm 17:15 called Awaking in Glory. The text says, ‘I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness,’ found in the KJV because the sermon was preached in Banff during the nineteenth century by the local Free Church minister, George Grant. In addition to having read that psalm on countless occasions, I have sung the metrical versions of the psalm many times, but never focussed so directly on the point being made by David as to what he will think at the moment of resurrection. So I was glad to read what Grant had to say about it.

So what things will make believers satisfied at that great, wonderful, future moment? Here are the items that Grant suggested. (1) The soul and the body of the believer will be united again, except then they will be perfect; (2) Finding himself positioned at the right hand of the Judge; (3) Hearing his name read out as one of the redeemed and discovering that he is now acquitted and accepted, and invested with the robes of immortality; (4) Inexpressible happiness as he hears the joyful welcome to enter, with others, into the Father’s kingdom; (5) Happiness too big for utterance when the crown is put on his head and the palm in his hand; (6) He is not only with the Lord, but like the Lord in outward glory and inward purity.

As Grant pointed out, ‘then indeed the glorified saint is fully satisfied with himself, his condition, his occupations, his company, and his prospects.’ The believer cannot do any of them perfectly in this life. Yet when that day arrives, ‘his prospects are now bright and glorious, without a cloud to darken his sky – a fear to trouble his mind – a temptation to ruffle his soul – the feeling of pain or disappointment to cause a sigh – a single want unsatisfied to excite discontent. The sting of sin is extracted, death and the grave are vanquished, there is fullness of joy, God is to the glorified all in all.’

Grant lived in an age when people thought a lot about the eternal world of glory because they lived as those who would yet be in it. They drank deeply out of that well of consolation and anticipated by faith their future experience of the presence of the exalted Jesus. And they remind us that we are only travellers to eternity and they still exhort us to think much about our destination.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Seeking the Lord

Sometimes we use the phrase ‘seeking the Lord’ in a manner that suggests he is hiding from us and we have to try and locate where he has concealed himself. If this happens, we are searching in ignorance, because we don’t know where he is. I suspect, however, that the illustration of ‘seeking’ is taken from practices that were based on information rather than ignorance. Such practices include a hunter seeking prey (he knows where it is and how to catch it) or a prospector seeking treasure (he knows where it was lost and he has the equipment to find it).

We are exhorted many times in the Bible to seek the Lord. But we are not told to grope around in the dark. Instead we are directed where to go so that we can find him. These directions are contained in the Bible, and one place it tells us to go to is Calvary. The Bible not only tells us where to go, it also tells us how to go.

We don’t travel to Calvary as curious tourists; instead we go there as penitent transgressors. At Calvary we travel to see the Lord taking the place of those who broke his laws – he suffered there the penalty that was rightfully theirs. The realisation that he did this for sinners leads them to focus on why he did such an amazing action.

Again, the Bible gives us the answer to this question. Despite the fact that they had sinned against him, he loved them. This is why he was willing to take their place. Yet it is not enough for them to be sorry for their wrong thoughts and actions. In addition they have to place their confidence in the one who suffered for them. It helps to do this if they journey on a little and go to the location where he arose from the dead. There they appreciate in a powerful way his suitability to be relied upon. In the garden of Joseph of Arimathea, they see that Jesus not only paid the penalty for their sins at Calvary but also defeated death in that garden when he came out of the grave. Someone who could do this is worthy of our trust.

If they need more evidence, they can continue their journey to Bethany and see where he ascended from the earth. At Bethany, his disciples saw ascend into heaven and they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. Lingering at Bethany and contemplating what happened to Jesus there – he ascended to heaven’s throne from that village – creates a firm trust in him because he now is Lord of all.

An amazing feature of this journey is that you don’t have to leave your seats to make it. In fact, as you have sat reading this, you have in a sense travelled to Calvary, to Joseph’s Garden, and to Bethany. If you missed seeing Jesus, you can make the journey again, this time asking the Guide he has sent to help sinners (the Holy Spirit) to show you Jesus in each of these places. And if you do, you will understand what Jesus did and how to respond to him.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Perhaps the most surprising statement in the Bible

In the letter of Jude, in verse 24, there is an amazing, future description of Christians: God will ‘present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.’ In that clause is mentioned their standing on that day: faultless, perfect in body and soul, a perfection that will be permanent. The clause also indicates their location on that day: the presence of his glory. This was God’s eternal purpose for his people. There is also a reference to their state on that day: with exceeding joy. The word for ‘joy’ that is used here means deep, strong joy. To summarise the teaching of this statement: they shall be like Christ, they shall be in the presence of Christ, and they shall share the joy of Christ. This future reality should help us find assurance in a variety of ways.

Firstly, it should give assurance in a world of change. The recipients of Jude’s letter lived in a world that had changed dramatically in that God had extended his kingdom to the Gentiles, and Israel would no longer be the main recipient of spiritual blessings. Changes were occurring in the political world too; it was now a criminal offence to be a Christian. We also live in a world of change. The last thirty years has seen the biggest upheaval in western society since the rise of the age of reason 250 years ago. We live in a world where rationality no longer governs the way people act – we are now in the world of experience, where anything goes as long as no-one else is harmed. There is no longer a sense of right and wrong. What a comfort to know that almighty God is in control and is above all the changes in the world, and that he will bring all his people to glory.

Secondly, it should give assurance in a church facing difficulty: Jude had written to warn of false teachings that were affecting the churches to which he wrote. False teachings and false prophets abound within Christianity today, and even true believers can be misled. What a comfort to know that almighty God is with us and can preserve us until that future, glorious day.

Thirdly, it should give assurance because of what we know of our own hearts. Within our hearts there are the roots of every possible sin. Although Christians have been forgiven, their sinful tendencies remain and indwelling sin has to be mortified. They have to grow in dedication to God and decrease in worldliness. What a comfort for them to know that almighty God is yet to perfect them!

Fourth, the guaranteed joy of that day should cause those who are not yet converted to trust in Jesus. He comes to such and offers them forgiveness of sin and a glorious future if they trust in him and depend upon him. Indeed part of the joy of heaven involves the people who will be there. It is wonderful to imagine all of us being there – it will be truly wonderful if all of us are there on that great day of rejoicing.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

What is there for us in Christ?

One of the common mistakes that we can make is to imagine that we can find within ourselves what can only be found in Christ. For example, when I sin, I may think that the best response is for me to resolve to do better next time. Whether we realise it or not, such a response is an expression of confidence in ourselves. This is not to deny that good intentions are important. But they can never be the best response or the only reaction. Instead the best response is to see what there is for us in Christ that will deal with our sins. So what is there for us in Jesus?

First, there is forgiveness for our sins through Jesus. Because he paid the penalty for sin when he was on the cross, we will be forgiven each time we ask for mercy for his sake. Second, there is cleansing for our sin through the blood of Jesus. When I was young my mother would tell me not to play football in a muddy field which was round the corner from our home. Once I was out of her sight, I was first tempted to play with my friends, before giving in and joining them. An hour later I returned home in a muddy state. My mother was angry, but when I said I was sorry she forgave me. But forgiveness was not enough, I had also to be cleansed. Fortunately, the one who forgave me could also cleanse me. In a far higher sense, Jesus forgives us for our sins and cleanses us from the defiling effects of our sins.

Second, there is power for us available through Jesus to keep us from sinning in the same way. When my mother washed my clothes, I suspect she knew that it would not be the last time she would have do so. What she needed to have was an influence on me that would keep me from playing in the muddy field. But she did not have it. Her only resort would have been to be with me, which would have prevented her doing anything else. In contrast, when we confess our sins to Jesus and receive his cleansing, we are also given spiritual power in the sense that the Holy Spirit will accompany us wherever we go. So when we find ourselves tempted to engage in a particular sin, we can pray to Jesus for help and right away the Holy Spirit will protect us and give us power to resist the temptation.

Third, there is enjoyment of spiritual blessings in Christ. It is important to note that Jesus is the key to all these blessings. Sometimes we find that we don’t have love, joy, peace, gentleness etc. So we start thinking about them and try to give them to ourselves, and we wonder why we cannot locate them. A better response is to start thinking about Jesus and if we do we will soon experience his love, peace, joy etc. Meditating about Jesus brings a sense of the blessings, stored for us in Christ, into our experience. So by these and other ways we can avoid the common mistake of imagining we have within ourselves what can only be received from Jesus.