All

I am forgiven and cleansed because Jesus atoned for all my sins

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Read: 1 John 1:8-2:2

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

Reflect:

1 John 1:9 is the verse that converted me to Christian faith. I saw clearly for the first time (though this was certainly not the first time it had been shown to me) that Jesus Christ had done all that was required by God for the forgiveness of my sin.

I saw that I did not have to be perfectly righteous on my own; Jesus Christ was able to do all that was necessary to cleanse and purify me.

This verse showed me the glory of the gospel and – thanks be to God – I grasped this glorious gospel firmly and clung thereafter to Christ.

Now, as I go on in my everyday ordinary Christian life, I struggle with the Spirit’s help to keep from sin. But I do so in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is my heavenly lawyer; pleading my case, interceding and advocating on my behalf though his own perfect righteousness. He has atoned for all my sins.

Crux:

I am forgiven and cleansed because Jesus atoned for all my sins.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Jesus Christ, you are the Righteous One:
perfect keeper of God’s law;
perfect fulfilment of God’s promises;
perfect sacrifice for my sins;
perfect advocate for my forgiveness.
Jesus Christ, you are faithful and just.

I confess I am a sinner. I am lazy and again today I did not get up early to converse with you, but stayed in bed and did not think upon your word until the opposite end of the day.

I am sorry. Thank you for forgiving me.

Please purify me from my unrighteousness, whereby I do not seek fellowship with you but would prefer “a little sleep, a little slumber” even though this means I spend my day in spiritual poverty. Please cleanse me of my lazy selfishness that is so short-sighted.

Please make me eager again to meet with you and meditate on your word.

Amen.

Fellowship

I have fellowship with Christ and his Church through John’s words

Read: 1 John 1:1-7

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)

If we walk in the light, as he [God] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

Reflect:

John, together with the other apostles, was an eyewitness to Jesus Christ. John names him “Word of Life… the life… the eternal life.” John and the other apostles proclaimed what they had seen and heard, testifying about Jesus just as Jesus had predicted they would with the Spirit’s help (John 15:27).

It is through hearing/reading and believing John’s proclamation that I and other Christians have fellowship with John. We have become fellows, sharing something in common; or rather, sharing someone in common. Through John’s witness I have fellowship with God the Father and with God the Son, a truly amazing thought.

This fellowship extends to the whole church as we “walk in the light.” 1 John 1:5 tells me, “God is light” so this gracious fellowship extends to the church as we live godly lives. Yet it is not my godly life that makes me pure and sin-free; this is what the blood of Jesus, shed for me, has achieved: to cleanse me from my sin.

Crux:

I have fellowship with Christ and his Church through John’s faithful proclamation of what he saw and heard.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

It continues to amaze me that you should choose to make a way for there to be fellowship between us, for plain ordinary me to have a relationship with you, the God of the Universe. Especially on days like today, when it has been almost a week since I last spent time privately meditating on your word in a deliberate effort to deepen our relationship. You never went away from me, waiting patiently for me to open the covers of my Bible and listen again to your word. Forgive me for only meeting with you in public, with your people, and not in private, just the two of us.

Thank you for choosing me and calling me, for making a way for us to have fellowship through the incarnation of your Son and through the apostles’ faithful proclamation of the truth about what they saw and heard: Jesus Christ.

Thank you for revealing yourself: God, you are light and in you there is no darkness! Thank you for relaying this through the apostles.

LORD, You are light: truth, beauty, purity, perfection, excellence, illumination, instruction. You are wondrous in all of your ways.

May I walk in your light all my days. Thank you for the blood of Jesus, which purifies me and sanctifies me from all my sin.

Amen.

Surrender

All I am and have must be surrendered to Christ

Read: Song of Songs 8

[She] Solomon had a vineyard in Baal Hamon;
he let out his vineyard to tenants.
Each was to bring for its fruit
a thousand shekels of silver.
But my own vineyard is mine to give;
the thousand shekels are for you, Solomon,
and two hundred are for those who tend its fruit. (Songs 8:11-12)

Reflect:

Throughout Songs, the bride and groom have talked of her body figuratively as a vineyard. So as I thought about these two verses, I thought I should read them as a comparison between the taxes citizens pay and the voluntary giving over of herself to her husband which a wife does – even if that wife be a royal princess married to a king.

As well as royal brides, however, the vineyard stands in Scripture for all Israel, in the prophetic literature (Isaiah 5:7) for example.

Furthermore, Jesus expounded upon this idea in a parable of a rented vineyard (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12 and Luke 20:9-19). Jesus applied it not to carnal generosity but from the position of one who saw the rightful rents being refused to the landowner’s messengers, even to the point of the landowner’s son being murdered.

Jesus turned this metaphor of a rented vineyard into a parable that prophesied his own death.

The Jews didn’t want to submit to the King, so they killed him. And, through a miracle of God, the death of King Jesus made it possible for his chosen Bride (the church) to respond willingly to him.

Christians may own their own ‘vineyards’ as Christ’s gift to us, but we should – nay, must – surrender all to Christ: “In view of God’s mercy, offer yourselves as a living sacrifice,” Paul wrote in Romans 12:1.

Crux:

All I am and have must be surrendered to Christ.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Worthy, worthy, worthy,
is the LORD God Almighty,
to receive praise and honour and glory –
may the whole earth be full of your glory!

LORD, you created everything and it was all subject to you, yet you handed authority over to Adam and Eve to care for the Garden of Eden, despite knowing they would sin.

You created the vineyard that was your people Israel and they were subject to your law, yet you allowed them to ask for Moses to be their mediator and to appoint Saul as their king, despite knowing Moses would stumble and Saul would fall.

You have granted me authority over the limited sphere of my own body, despite knowing I too would stumble and fall into sin. Wretch that I am!

Yet you have done this so I might be redeemed by your Son and granted his righteousness. You have called me to surrender all that I am and have to you. You call me to live as a sacrifice to you – wholly given over to your will and into your service.

I owe all that I am and have to you. Please allow me grace to serve you in all that I do, with all that I have: my skills and passion, my intellect and education, my heart and soul, my hands and feet, my ears and mouth. May all of me be submitted to you, my King.

Amen.

Sharing

Sex is about sharing my body with my spouse

Read: Song of Songs 7

[He] May your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine,
the fragrance of your breath like apples,
and your mouth like the best wine.
[She] May the wine go straight to my beloved,
flowing gently over lips and teeth. (Songs 7:8-9)

Reflect:

This chapter shows the enormous beauty and joy to be found in the love between a husband and his wife. They delight in each other’s bodies and delight also in sharing their body with the other. This is the joy of give-and-take in a marriage, which is true joy.

Marriage is not about catch-and-snatch: luring another person in to some sort of sexual honeypot trap and then stealing from them sexually. Rather, the sexual side of marriage is about enjoying each other together, being generous towards the other.

As Paul says (1 Corinthians 7:4) “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but yields it to his wife.” In yielding, we are ceasing to rule over ourselves and learning the joy of mutual submission and sharing our most private self.

Crux:

Sex is about sharing my body with my spouse.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I must admit I’m shy to be talking with you about this topic, but you’ve initiated the conversation by including it in your holy Scriptures. Shy as I am, I have to thank you for opening up the topic.

You have showed me in your word that sex between married spouses is intended to be a physically delightful thing to be shared and enjoyed together. Please may it always be so between my husband Jeff and me.

Thank you for your good creation and your good created order. Please help us to always keep to the joy you offer us within your created order. Do not let us overstep our bounds.

Please also help us to use your words to talk with our teenage children about righteous sex in marriage so they may value it for their future but not overstep and seek to steal it too early.

Amen.

Multinational

Solomon’s foreign brides were a prelude to the multinational kingdom of Christ

Read: Song of Songs 6

Sixty queens there may be,
and eighty concubines,
and virgins without number;
but my dove, my perfect one, is unique,
the only daughter of her mother,
the favourite of the one who bore her.
The young women saw her and called her blessed;
the queens and concubines praise her. (Songs 6:8-9)

Reflect:

It’s hard not to get sidetracked here with thoughts of Solomon with all his hundreds of women and feel disgust at a man who used women as ways of solidifying his status in international relations. Of course, he wasn’t alone; marrying foreign women and taking foreign concubines was an established part of the political process of that time and place.

But culture, then as now, can never be used to excuse sin. As I have told my children many times, “Their sin doesn’t excuse your sin” and “Just because someone else sins, that doesn’t mean you have to follow their bad example and do it too.” The cultural acceptance of polygamy did not excuse Solomon’s polygamy. And Solomon’s polygamy cannot be used to justify polygamy, or even serial monogamy, today.

But once again, there is a deeper spiritual message in Solomon’s multitude of foreign wives and concubines. He was using them as a means to expand his kingdom, which was primarily a problem because he was sinning against God. Solomon was pre-empting God’s timing in the multinational explosion of his kingdom, which God inaugurated properly at Pentecost, a thousand years after Solomon’s reign.

Solomon wasn’t alone in this sort of pre-empting of God’s plans in the history of God’s people. Most notably, Abram and Sarai took it upon themselves to secure their heir through Sarai’s maidservant Hagar, with disastrous consequences that echo today. Better had they waited until the appointed time, when Sarah would become pregnant and give birth to the promised child of the covenant, Isaac.

Moses also sought freedom for Israel in improper ways 40 years before God gave him instructions at the burning bush. Moses initially sought to bring justice through the murder of an Egyptian slave-master, and then had to flee for his life. It was a much humbler man who returned to approach Pharaoh and insist that he “Let Yahweh’s people go!”

Back to Solomon with his foreign wives, and the link to Pentecost: At Pentecost, Jesus sent his Spirit to his disciples and since this time, Jesus’ Spirit has come upon all disciples at their conversion. On Pentecost, people of many different nations and languages heard the good news of Jesus in their own languages; they believed that Jesus was the Son of God, sent by God so their sins might be forgiven; and they repented and were baptised, publicly declaring their entrance into the kingdom of God and their new allegiance to this kingdom’s ruler: Christ Jesus. From that time on, the kingdom of God has been truly multinational.

Crux:

The many foreign brides of Solomon were a foretaste of the millions of Gentile believers whom Jesus has brought into his kingdom.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are the true King who reigns perfectly, expanding the borders of your kingdom not through warfare or abuse, but through the gentle work of your Spirit and the faithful witness of your citizens. You do not coerce anyone to become Christian, but your glory shines forth and attracts all those whom you chose and call to be citizens of the kingdom of your Son.

Thank you for seeing me as “unique” and choosing me to be one of the citizens of your kingdom. Thank you for your promise to perfect me. I am indeed blessed.

Thank you for upholding your church by your grace. Thank you for your continued empowerment of your people to share the gospel and spread your kingdom into every nook and cranny of this wide world. Thank you for making the world’s only divine multinational: the Church which is the body of your Son, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Open

Jesus seeks entry into the lives of all who will welcome him in

Read: Song of Songs 5

[She] I slept but my heart was awake.
Listen! My beloved is knocking:
“Open to me, my sister, my darling,
my dove, my flawless one.” (Songs 5:2)

I have taken off my robe –
must I put it on again? (Songs 5:3)

I opened the door for my beloved,
But my beloved had left; he was gone.
My heart sank at his departure,
I looked for him but did not find him.
I called for him but he did not answer. (Songs 5:6)

Reflect:

At first glimpse, this chapter seems out of place in a book of courtship and marriage. The bride is visited by her groom at night but she is unready to receive him when he knocks. After dithering around putting on clothes and washing her hands in perfume, she finds he has left by the time she opens the door. Looking for him in the streets, she is set upon and her wedding robe is stolen by policemen. Yet she still searches for her beloved and entreats others to join her in the search.

In order to understand this passage, I contemplate several allusions to this story and amplifications of it in the New Testament. Jesus himself takes up the idea of a groom/master knocking at the door and an unready bride/servants several times, in Matthew 22 and Matthew 25 and also in Luke 12. In his letter to the church at Laodicea, transcribed by John (Revelation 3:20) Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

Jesus is ready to enter in to the lives of those who are willing and ready to receive him. The question is, are we ready to receive this royal guest?

Many will be taken by surprise when Jesus returns in glory and they find themselves unprepared – without the robe or wedding clothes necessary for the Bride of Christ. Over-reliance on religious rites will be of no benefit either, just as washing her hands until they dripped with myrrh did not help the bride in Songs to be ready.

If we try to force our way into his presence, we will find ourselves excluded completely. Unready people shall be like the Jews to whom Jesus said (John 7:34, in a paraphrase of a line from Songs 5:6), “You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”

How many hearts will sink on that day! How many faces will be downcast at the coming of the King! By the grace of God I shall be ready, willing and waiting for Jesus when he returns and knocks once more.

Crux:

Jesus seeks entry into the lives of all who will welcome him in.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I recognise Jesus Christ as the King who stood at the door of my life knocking for many years. Thank you for your grace in opening my ears to hear Jesus’ request to enter in to my life. Thank you for prompting me to open that door. May it remain wide open all the days of my life!

LORD, I pray for those who are not yet ready to open their door to Jesus. Please open their ears to hear his words. Open their eyes to see his majesty. Open their hearts to receive him.

I pray also for the workers who go in Jesus’ name as his ambassadors to ‘knock on doors’ for the sake of your glory in the gospel. I pray especially for Suichi & Elaine, Nathan & Shawna, Ben & Bec, Glen & Liz, Ross & Jill & Hazeen. Give them words to speak. Open doors to them. Allow them to share the blessings of Christ’s wedding banquet with many.

Amen.

Flawless

Jesus is sanctifying me, making me his flawless bride

Read: Song of Songs 4

[He] You are altogether beautiful, my darling;
there is no flaw in you. (Songs 4:7)

You are a garden fountain,
a well of flowing water
streaming down from Lebanon. (Songs 4:15)

Reflect:

Flawless beauty. Absolute perfection. That is what this groom sees when he looks at his bride. It’s what every bride wants her groom to see on their wedding day. It’s certainly not what my husband sees when he looks at me.

Our marriage is almost 18 years old (I joke it’s almost a mature adult) and over that time my physical beauty, such as it was, has deteriorated. More significantly, no-one can hide their sinful nature from a spouse for 18 years, and so Jeff is now far more aware of my lack of spiritual beauty than he was when we married. I’m more aware of my spiritual ugliness as well. My need for Jesus Christ is plain to both of us.

Yet Jeff loves me despite all this, and he persists in drawing water from my fountain, as I am delighted for him to do – and as Scripture advises him to do (in Proverbs 5 and 1st Corinthians 7, for example).

As with Songs 3, I am drawn to consider this passage also in a different light: the light of Christ. I can see in this passage hints and a foretaste of the marriage of Christ and his bride, the Church. Now the Church (like me) is certainly not flawless at present; news headlines tell us that. But one day, the day Christ returns to claim her, he will make her entirely perfect, without blemish, sanctified. Even now, streams of living water flow from her (from me!) because Jesus Christ made his Spirit dwell within his bride, as Jesus promised in John 4 and John 7.

Crux:

Jesus is sanctifying me, making me his flawless bride.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for washing me clean, cleansing me from within with your living water which you have made to well up within me as if I were your fountain.

Please sanctify me. Please continue to strip away my spiritual ugliness.

Please take my selfishness, my lack of compassion, my pride and vainglory, my lust, my sloth and laziness, my dissatisfaction, my wilfulness, my self-aggrandisement, my competitive spirit, my ignorance, my disorganisation, my quick tongue and quicker temper.

Please remake me until I form a clearer image of your Son. Please make me flawless, full of your attributes which are true beauty.

Please make me loving, kind, gentle, peaceful, caring, patient, humble, submissive, joyous, self-controlled, diligent, disciplined, winsome, good. Please make me like my Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Amen.