Flesh

Jesus Christ came in the flesh so his flesh could die for my sins

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Read: 1 John 4:1-6

This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. (1 John 4:2)

Reflect:

This Easter Friday, it is good for me to reflect upon what it means that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” Later on, John commends the divinity of God to his readers as a crucial doctrine (4:15), but here John is emphasising Jesus’ humanity.

Jesus is not solely the Son of God, he is also a Man, enfleshed. This duality of nature is the doctrine of Two Natures. So why should believing this doctrine be a defining mark of Christians?

Jesus Christ has come in the flesh: we no longer wait (as contemporary Jews still do) for a Messiah. We have one – he has come and he has died on a cross.

Jesus Christ has come in the flesh: he was subject to suffering and temptations just as I am, yet he never sinned. Jesus died sinless and innocent, the perfect, blemish-free sacrifice for sins.

Jesus Christ has come in the flesh: he is truly human so his death for my sins is a true one-to-one correspondence for the death I should have died for my sins. He came in flesh so he could truly take my place and carry my burden.

Jesus Christ has come in the flesh: his death was a real death, not some mystical or metaphorical experience, but a real loss of life. He took his last breath, his heart stopped beating, his blood began to coagulate and separate into red blood and plasma. He was really alive with a human body, and really dead with a human corpse.

Jesus Christ has come in the flesh: able to bear my sins in his body on the cross.

Crux:

Jesus Christ came in the flesh so his flesh could die for my sins.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

It’s Easter Friday and you know I was half-expecting the Bible passage I read today to providentially refer directly to Jesus’ death on the cross. I was almost surprised when it didn’t. (You know you’ve stunned me with the timeliness of my Bible reading before.) Yet I don’t feel compelled to read on right now, there’s so much meat here for me (oops, seriously, that was an unintended pun, God).

LORD, I can’t get my head around the fact that Jesus Christ, true God of true God, came in the flesh. Yet I know it is a fact. Jesus Christ was always true God; he was and now is and always will be true man as well. How this might be, I do not know, but I do know that it is true: Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. He came in the flesh to die for me and for all who believe in him.

You know this is a sticking point, a stumbling block, for my father. He doesn’t believe that One who is God could also die as a man. Please help him to accept this truth, LORD. Grant him your Spirit, the Spirit of truth, so that his spirit will acknowledge Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Please do not let him listen any more to the spirit of the antichrist, the spirit of falsehood. Save him, LORD, as you have saved me, by the death of your Son, Jesus Christ, who has come in the flesh.

Amen.

Rest

God is great and the good news about his Son gives rest to my heart

Read: 1 John 3:19-24

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:19-20)

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. (1 John 3:23)

Reflect:

This passage answers some of the questions raised earlier in verses 6 and 9 of this chapter, which say that Christians stop sinning. According to John, if my heart feels guilty, then my feeling shall be corrected by my mind, which knows that God is greater than my heart, greater than my shame.

I stop sinning because Jesus has taken away my sin (3:5). Jesus did this by fulfilling the law; not abolishing it (Matthew 5:17), but refining and redefining it in himself.

Jesus said the whole law is summed up in two commands: to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength; and to love my neighbour as I love myself (Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31). Now John reframes this summation of the law. John says, paraphrasing Jesus (John 6:29), that God’s commands are two-fold: to believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ and to love one another.

If I consider the parallels between these two two-fold summations of the law, I can see how the second interprets the first. John’s “one another” defines Jesus’ “neighbour” as fellow believers, I think, based on John’s previous use (3:10, 3:16) of “brother and sister”. (Which doesn’t mean that Christians should not love non-Christians, merely that this love is not a primary command.)

Likewise, “believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ” clarifies what it means to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We love God primarily by believing in His Son.

And when I believe in God’s Son Jesus, I know that God is greater than me and he has sent his Son to take away my sin. I stop sinning because my sin is no more – abolished not by the abolishing of the law, but by its fulfilment by Jesus Christ. Sin is lawlessness (3:4) and since the law is fulfilled in Christ and through my belief in him, there can be no more lawlessness in me, no more sin in me.

Aaah! Now my heart is free to rest.

Crux:

God is great and the good news about his Son gives rest to my heart.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Great is your name; great is your glory.
You are greater than me; greater than the condemnation of my heart within me; greater than anything I can conceive or imagine; greater than infinity.
You are greatly to be praised.

I believe in the name of your only Son, Jesus Christ, my Lord.

I believe that somehow you, who are more-than-infinite, became less, lowly, a human infant born of the virgin Mary, conceived by your Holy Spirit’s essence.

I believe that Jesus suffered cruelly according to the decision of Pontius Pilate. I believe Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross; that he died there at Golgotha, the place of the skull. I celebrate this as Easter Friday.

I believe that the body of Jesus was buried in a fresh grave by those who sought to honour him.

And I believe that Jesus rose again to life on the third day, which I celebrate as Easter Sunday.

I believe that Jesus was seen alive by honest eyewitnesses before he ascended to heaven, to the God-realm. I believe Jesus is sitting even now at your right hand. I believe that one day Jesus will return to earth to judge all people, including those who have already died and those still alive on that day.

I believe, LORD. Please deepen my belief in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Start

I start loving because Jesus laid down his life for me

Read: 1 John 3:10-18

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. (1 John 3:11)

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)

Reflect:

Jesus said to “love your neighbour” was the second most important command of God, superseded only by the command to love God. At the Last Supper, which Christians remember and celebrate tomorrow (on Maundy Thursday), Jesus told his disciples he was giving them a new command: “Love one another.” John repeats Jesus’ commands here.

But what does it mean to love? According to Jesus’ perfect example, to love means to “lay down our lives” for our brothers and sisters, our fellow believers. We must share with other Christians in need. We must love actively, truthfully. I must share generously. I must love actively, truthfully, compassionately, sacrificially.

I was telling someone today about my husband’s flight over Antarctica, which he did a year ago with a dear neighbour and friend, without me. The other person said their spouse would never let them do such a thing because they’d be too jealous. Something was even mentioned about scratching eyes out, I think. But love is not envious, nor self-seeking. I was happy to release Jeff to his exciting flight because I love him and I want him to experience joy.

In the same way, my husband loves me and is generous rather than jealous with me. In the last few weeks, Jeff has said I can fly overseas in June for two and a half weeks for the Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference. Jeff has committed to parenting our four children without me for the weeks I’ll be gone, and he’s freed up the money from our income so I could buy flights to get there. He’s suggested I visit a friend and bring her to the conference with me, and committed funds for her to join me so I won’t be alone. He’s even encouraged me to do some exciting touristy things while I’m there and helped me find the best way of doing them in keeping with my personal limitations. This is abundantly generous love. This is sacrificial love, and it springs from what Christ has done for both of us, not just from our mutual married love.

Love is generous. Love gives unreservedly. Love is happy to see the beloved rejoicing. Love shares whatever it has. May I love like this.

Crux:

I start loving because Jesus laid down his life for me.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are love and you have shown me true love in the generous, humble actions of your Son.

Thank you for your love, for the love of your Son, and for the love of my husband in imitation of the Son.

Please make me like Jesus. Let me learn from him how to love rightly. Make me willing to lay down my life for the good of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Help me to be willing to give my time, my money, my attention, my skills, even my future for those who need them. Please help me to give up my aspirations that are selfish, my habits that get in the way of relationships, my hobbies that take up what you want me to give away. Make me generous with all you have given me.

May I be especially willing to give away knowledge of the gospel!

Amen.

Stop

I stop sinning because Jesus took away my sin

Read: 1 John 2:29-3:10

But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:5-6)

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. (1 John 3:9)

Reflect:

John is blunt. Blunt, plain and clear. True Christians stop sinning.

We do not continue to sin. We do not keep on in our old sinful ways. Sin stops when a person is “born of God”. Sin stops when a person is called a child of God.

I am filled with questions.

If Christians stop sinning, why might we need a mediator and advocate in Christ (2:1)?

If I don’t think I’ve stopped sinning completely, does this mean I’m not really God’s child (3:9)?

If so, why did John assure me that “this is what we are!” (3:1)?

What does it mean to stop sinning, if “sin is lawlessness” (3:4)?

Is stopping sinning my action, my work, or is it a grace-gift of the Trinity at work in me and active for me – the Father’s love that calls me his child (3:1), Jesus removing my sin (3:5), the Spirit’s seed remaining in me (3:9)?

And how does this all fit together with Paul’s instruction to the Colossians (Colossians 3:5-10) which tells me to “put to death” that which belongs to my “earthly nature” and “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of the Creator”?

Oi!

Crux:

I stop sinning because Jesus took away my sin.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I confess that I am confused. I’m confused about who I am and what I do. But what I do see clearly in these verses is You: who you are and what you do.

You are the Father. You lavish your love upon me. You call me your child. I praise you!

You are Jesus Christ. You have taken away my sins. In you there is no sin. You appeared and the devil’s work (sin) was destroyed and obliterated. I worship you.

You are the Spirit. You anointed me. You seeded me with yourself so I may grow and bear spiritual fruit. You remain in me. I honour you.

LORD God Almighty, you are Father, Son and Spirit; you are Trinity.

Help me, please. Make your word, which you spoke to me through John’s epistle today, come true in me and come alive in my life. Stop my sin, LORD, I pray.

Amen.

Remain

I remain in Christ because I remember the Christian gospel

Read: 1 John 2:24-28

As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us: eternal life. (1 John 2:24-25)

Reflect:

John gives a direct command here to his readers. He tells me I must ensure that what I “have heard from the beginning” stays in me. I am responsible.

What is this message that reached my ears? It is the gospel, the good news.

In words of one syllable, it is this: Christ died to save me from my sins so that I may be right with God.

The Big Words version: The gospel of salvation told me that the forgiveness of my sins (justification) and imparting of Christ’s righteousness (imputation) was made possible by God’s free gift (grace) to me, through my faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ in my place (substitution), which turned away God’s wrath (propitiation).

So how do I ensure that this message “remains in me”?

I study and learn more about this gospel message (so I understand all those Big Words that End in SHUN). I read the Bible closely and see Christ’s death on my behalf portrayed throughout its pages. I partake in Holy Communion. I celebrate Easter, gathering with my local church body. I talk about the gospel with my husband, my children, my fellow believers, my co-workers, my friends. Through prayer, I talk about the gospel with my God.

I take responsibility for loving God with all my mind and soul as well as with all my heart and strength.

Blessedly, all this learning, remembering, celebrating, meditating and talking has a flow-on effect, according to John: it ensures that I stay in Christ and in the Father. Christ promised me eternal life, and I have it now as I remain in him.

Crux:

I remain in Christ because I remember the Christian gospel.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

May your name be praised in all the world.

You saw my horrible sin and were justly angry at me. Yet you expended your wrath not on me but on the body of your Son, Jesus Christ, as he hung crucified, bearing my sin and shame in his body.

You are just – terribly, fearfully just.
You are merciful – wonderfully, generously merciful.

You are Sovereign, Saviour and Spirit, Three in One, the Holy One.

I acknowledge you. May I always remain in you, and in so-doing enjoy eternal life.

Thank you for this eternal life which you have birthed in me through the hearing of the gospel and faith in your Son. Keep me in your Son always, eternally alive because I am eternally in him who grants me life.

May I continue to live in Christ, so I may be confident and unashamed – confident in Christ’s sacrifice and unashamed with Christ’s righteousness – before Jesus when he comes.

Amen.

Belong

I belong to the church because I know the truth about Christ

Read: 1 John 2:18-23

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. (1 John 2:19-20)

Reflect:

The circumstance behind John’s letter-writing is evident in this section of his letter. There has been division in the church. Some people have left the church. John calls them “anti-Christs,” people who are against Christ, including among them “whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ” (v22). They are liars (v22).

In the worldwide church today, including all so-called Christian denominations, some people like this stick around rather than leave. You can talk Church History and Church governance until you’re blue in the face but I’ll never understand why Bishop Spong hasn’t been excommunicated long since. (He’s not in my denomination, thanks be to God.)

But some people do break off, and start splinter pseudo-churches. We know they are not true Christians because their teaching of Jesus is faulty and does not match with what the New Testament says; with what the apostles (like John) taught and still teach us through their written words today. They start churches like the LDS, whose founder decided to set up his own church rather than join one of several Bible-believing Christian churches in his local neighbourhood. Mormon does not equal Christian. How do I know this? Because their teachings on Jesus are not the same as those of the Scriptures.

Further Reflection:

I’ve been thinking about this passage for almost a week now. It keeps being quoted in podcasts I’m listening to, a similar topic was discussed in our Sunday sermon, and it is also popping into my mind at odd times.

At first, I was thinking about people who’ve left the church as schismatics. But 2:19 also applies to those many Christians describe as having “fallen away” from the church. 2:19 says that people who may have appeared to be Christians in the past reveal themselves as non-Christians (they’re not even “nominal Christians”) when they leave the church.

Jesus predicted that there would be people like this in his Parable of the Sower and the Soils, and in his Parable of the Weeds.

This truth explains what happened to me in my late teens and early 20s. I’d grown up attending church but, in hindsight, I realise I wasn’t really in the church because I didn’t understand or accept the grace-aspect of the gospel. So I left the church, my actions fitting my reality.

Thanks be to the Holy One, he did anoint me with his Spirit and enable me to know the truth of Jesus Christ, on Ash Wednesday 2001. Now I shall remain where I now belong.

Crux:

I belong to the Church because God’s Spirit enables me to know the truth about Christ.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty, Holy One,

You alone are Sovereign over all things and over all people. You have put the Church under the sovereign headship of your Son, Jesus Christ. May you be glorified in Christ and in his Church.

LORD, protect your church from those people who do not really belong to us; those who grow up among us like weeds, not wheat. Make your body discerning so that we may be kept apart from those who would teach false doctrine; those who will one day go out from us. Keep us safe from their lies; keep our eyes true on Christ.

Yet LORD I also ask for you mercy and grace to be upon those wanderers who have left your church. May you call them to your Son, open their eyes to see him truly, remove the lies they have believed from their minds and make them true, faithful, knowledgeable Christians. Anoint them with your Holy Spirit, Holy One, so they may finally be justified by your grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus.

Amen.

Comparison

Nothing the world offers compares to the glory of the LORD

Read: 1 John 2:15-17

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

Reflect:

John draws a contrast here between the world and God. This is a contrast that might seem absurd to many people today, who hold the common materialist worldview. They think that the world is all there is: scientifically observable and measurable matter.

But John takes for granted there is something beyond the world, above the world; something inherently other. This something is really a Someone: God himself.

Nothing the world offers to us or demands from us is worth anything in comparison to God.

The world passes away. Our toys and technologies; our engineering marvels and scientific wonders; our hopes, dreams and goals; our endeavours and efforts – all pass away, like mist in the pure heat of the sun’s dawning rays. Everything I (in my worldly, fleshy nature) love and cherish, want and desire – all these will fade from sight when seen in the light of the surpassing glory of the LORD.

Crux:

Nothing the world offers holds a candle to the blazing, brilliant glory of the LORD.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are wondrous and marvellous, magnificent and awesome. The light of your glory is blazing, brilliant, blinding… yet so many times I cannot see your glory because my attention is distracted, caught by the world. My love for you is squeezed out; there is no room for it because I am led astray by love for the world.

I confess that today I enjoyed the softness of clean sheets on our bed, while failing to remember your provision of true sabbath rest for me through Jesus Christ.

I confess that today I appreciated the simple satisfaction of hanging washing on our outdoor clothesline, but didn’t focus the eyes of my heart on your cleansing me from my sin through Jesus Christ.

I confess today I delighted in watching my hen-pecked chicken recover in her new separate coop, yet I did not remember that your word says you care for your people as a hen shelters her chicks under her wings, and you have shown your care by giving up your Son for my sake.

I confess today I found pleasure in watching a movie with my younger children and was encouraged by its Christian moral message on the importance of earthly fathers without reflecting on the joy I find in my relationship with you, my heavenly Father.

I confess today I have been too caught up in this world to rejoice in your deeper, truer, more fulfilling glory. My eyes have been on my world, my life, and not on you and your Son.

Please forgive me and help me to pay attention to you tomorrow.

Amen.