Judgement

People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgement

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Read: Deuteronomy 25

When two people have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. (Deuteronomy 25:1)

Reflect:

Justice is a weighty matter. There’s a lot of people around the world who don’t trust their justice system or judges, and many of them do so for good reason. But Moses knew that justice was vitally important to God. As I quoted yesterday, Micah 6:8 tells us that the LORD requires his people to act justly.

Interpersonal justice can be complex, but Moses’ use of the plural indicates he expected multiple judges to make a decision together, just as the testimony of a single person was insufficient evidence to convict of guilt (Deuteronomy 19:15). “Two are better than one… A cord of three strands is not quickly broken,” as the saying goes (Ecclesiastes 4:9, 12). Being pragmatic, it’s also more difficult and expensive to bribe more than one judge (at least, so I assume). Proverbs has several warnings, aimed at judges and leaders, against taking bribes. So multiple judges should make adjudicating between disputing people fairer.

In the end, Moses and the Israelites had to trust that their Sovereign God would direct court judgements. For this reason Moses could confidently assert that the judges would acquit the innocent and condemn the guilty.

Ultimately, all people will face one judge, Jesus Christ. At that time there will be no quibbling. God will judge fairly and with justice. And if that thought doesn’t make a person fear the LORD, then they need to spend just a little time in self-reflection, because not one of us is entirely innocent. We will render an account of our actions and no one will be acquitted except all those who have been justified freely by God’s grace through  Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24).

crux:

People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgement (Hebrews 9:27).

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Your word is living and active, a two-edged sword like one that cuts between bone and marrow. So, too, your judgement is finely balanced as a master archer’s arrow in flight.

One day I will face your justice. I cling to your mercy and grace. I will stand firm on the justification and redemption you have promised. I walk in the righteousness and holiness of your Son, Jesus Christ.

May you confirm my hope and faith on the day we meet face to face at your judgement seat.

Amen.

Respond

Jesus wants people to respond to him and enjoy their relationship with God

Read: Matthew 21

“For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him.” (Matthew 21:32a)

“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” (Matthew 21:43)

Reflect:

Some days reading the Bible is like wading through treacle. It’s just a hard slog. I read the words and then I re-read them. I leave the Bible aside a bit to mull over it, then come back and re-read again. The message still doesn’t want to stick.

Part of the problem today is that I slept in and didn’t read the Bible first thing when I was fresh, so I’m coming to the Bible filled with evening angst. Also, I’ve had about a million things to do today and I’ve had to make two million decisions. It’s been a Busy Day, the kind of day I try very hard to avoid, but which is sometimes unavoidable. So my brain is tired.

But actually, the words of Jesus are quite difficult too. At first I think he’s teaching a basic lesson about children obeying parents (21:28-31a). But then I see the thread that joins these story vignettes together. It’s not generalised obedience, but response.

Jesus says, “choose how you respond to me.” (I’m paraphrasing.) One way will bring you into the kingdom, the other will get you kicked out. But there’s no avoiding the choice.

My eldest daughter asked me today what “agnostic” meant. I explained according to the dictionary definition, but according to Jesus there’s no such thing as a fence-sitting agnostic. Either you yield your “fruit” (the efforts of your heart, soul, mind and strength) to the “owner” (God) of your “vineyard” (your life) or you will be brought to a wretched end. Two choices: two very different futures.

crux:

Jesus wants people to respond to him and enjoy their relationship with God.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

It’s hard not to judge when I read a passage like this. Hard not to judge myself for yielding such flawed fruit up to you. (I need to be reminded of the gospel every moment.) It’s hard not to judge others for refusing to care about the owner of the vineyard that is their lives.

But now I want to rest and relax and just appreciate the way you call and call and call again for people to hear your voice, repent and believe the good news. Thank you for sending the prophets, for sending John the Baptist, for sending Jesus your Son. Thank you for keeping after me until I surrendered to you.

Please do not let me get so caught up in Busy that I don’t have the mental energy to appreciate your revelation, your word, your voice calling my name in the wilderness of my everyday ordinary.

Amen.

Expand

Limited by his humanity, Jesus was still able to expand the kingdom of God

Read: Matthew 8

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”

Reflect:

Jesus “was amazed.” I read those words and I’m a bit amazed myself. The word “amazed” has connotations of surprise or even shock. How can Jesus Christ, who is the Creator of all the universe, be surprised? How can He who knows all things be shocked?

The ESV says Jesus “marvelled,” which implies he felt a combination of admiration and astonishment. How can the Sovereign God be astonished? What has the Almighty LORD to admire?

I think the key to understanding this statement is to realise that Jesus was both divine and human. His humanity brought limitations upon his divinity. As Philippians 2:7 says of Christ Jesus, “he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Jesus’ human brain, with its finite number of neutrons, was unable to know all things. This was a temporary limitation due to his incarnation.

Crucially, it was the limitation of his divinity brought on by his incarnation that also ultimately enabled Jesus, the God-Man, to die.

Jesus was unable to know the centurion’s thoughts, and so Jesus was capable of being amazed by his faith. Yet Jesus still knew the plan of God to bring other Gentiles (as well as this one) from the east and the west into his kingdom, into the family of Abraham, and declared it in advance.

crux:

Limited by his humanity, Jesus was still able to expand the kingdom of God.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are Almighty, all-powerful, Sovereign, omniscient. Yet your Son chose to humble himself, submitting to the limitations of human life in order to expand the bounds of his kingdom to all who have faith in him.

Thank you for the centurion’s faith in Jesus. May he continue to glorify your Name to all who read his story in Scripture.

Thank you for my faith in Jesus, for my husband’s faith in Jesus. Thank you for enabling us to hear the gospel at that long ago Alpha course, for removing the veil from our eyes so we would believe in Jesus as our Saviour. Thank you for bidding us come from the east into Jesus’ kingdom, to take our place at the banqueting table with the patriarchs of our faith.

Please grant this same amazing faith to our children, to our parents, and to the rest of our relatives. Please grant this marvellous faith to the adults and children who attend our church and to all in our local community. Reveal yourself to them that they may come from east and west to your celebratory feast. LORD, I pray especially for the people of the townships of T to our east and F to our west. Please grant that they may come and hear the good news of Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour, and they will be welcomed into your kingdom. May our church be faithful in proclaiming his Name. May our faith in Jesus amaze all who witness it.

Make them come, LORD.

Amen.

Unless

Unless I hate my sin, I won’t really love my Saviour

Read: Matthew 3

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:8-10)

Reflect:

John the Baptist, or John B. as I like to call him, is firm and direct with his audience of Pharisees and Sadducees. They are “religious” people who have come to hear a “spiritual” person and the message they get is this:

“It is not enough to say you’re sorry, you need to show you are sorry.”

This is the same message James gave in his epistle: Faith without works is not real faith; practice what you preach; don’t just talk about it, go and do it.

John B. told his religious auditors that their whole identity was in question: it was not enough to claim a genetic heritage as Israelites, in Abraham. Genes aren’t enough to connect a person into a true relationship with the true and living God. Being a Jew was not enough to save them then, just as it is not enough to save anyone now.

John B. uses fiery imagery to get across the point that the unrepentant Pharisees and Sadducees were risking their lives when they refused to “prepare the way for the Lord” (3:3) in their own hearts by repenting of their sins. Repentance from sin is necessary because until we despise our sin, we will never welcome our Saviour.

crux:

Unless I hate my sin, I won’t really love my Saviour.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Please help me to hate my sin.

Show me how utterly despicable my sin is in your sight, so I may despise it as you do.

O LORD, I am scared as I pray this prayer. What might you make me suffer so I begin to hate my sin? What have I been clinging to that I will have to give up?

I know I’m forgiven: thank you for forgiving me by Christ’s sacrifice.
I know I’m justified: thank you for justifying me by Christ’s blood.
I know I am saved: thank you for saving me by Christ’s death.

I also know I am not yet fully sanctified: thank you for your promise to complete the work you have begun in me by your Spirit’s presence and counsel.

LORD, make me love righteousness. Help me think about noble, admirable, praiseworthy and excellent things. Keep me from evil; deliver me from temptation. Help me to flee from the devil and run to you. Make me fruitful in repentance.

Thank you for raising me up, a mere stone that you have transformed into a child of Abraham.

Amen.

Know

As a child of God, I know the Father through his Son

Read: 1 John 5:13-21

We know that we are the children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:19-21)

Reflect:

These are the facts of the matter, according to John: We know that we are children of God, “born of God” (5:18); yet the world we live in is (temporarily) under Satan’s power and influence. We will always live in tension, at odds with the world around us, because we belong to God and are kept safe by him, yet our surroundings and our non-Christian peers are in bondage to God’s enemy, suffering under evil’s control.

Furthermore, we know that Jesus Christ the Son of God has come. He has opened and renewed our minds so that we may understand Him Who is True, God himself (as far as limited human minds may understand such a glorious, infinite being).

The Son has come in the flesh and through him we comprehend the Father, in the same way as meeting my eldest son and observing his antics would enable someone to understand my husband’s personality and preferences.

We know God, therefore John instructs us to keep ourselves from idols; from false gods and from lies about God.

Crux:

As a child of God, I know the Father through his Son.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are true. There is no lie or falsehood in you. You are genuine, authentic, original, unique. You are the real deal: a god who is The God, the one and only God – not an idol, not a mirage. You are the only true God. I worship you.

Please keep me from idols, LORD. May I keep learning about you from your Son. May I understand you better as I learn about your Son. May I be strong in faith to stand firm and withstand the lies of the evil one who has control of the world at this present time.

May I be strong in faith to run away from idolatry, to pursue you and a closer relationship with you rather than seeking the cold comfort of the accuser. May I study diligently your word, reading all you reveal to me in it. May I not be distracted by false gods, false promises, false hopes.

May you be my all in all.

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.

Commanded

Read: John 14

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happened. so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince off this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. (John 14:28-31)

Reflect:

The greatest act of love the world has ever witnessed was Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. His death was not compelled by this world’s prince (ie, the devil); it could not be, because the devil has no power over Jesus (v30). Rather, Jesus’ death was an act of obedience to his Father’s command (v31).

Jesus’ words in this passage reveal anew three key things about Jesus’ nature:

  1. Jesus has the ability to foretell truth (v29).
  2. The Father is greater (even) than the Son (v28).
  3. The Son willingly obeys the Father (v31).

Even though Jesus said seeing him was the same as seeing the Father, in some sense God the Father is, has always been and will always be greater than God the Son. There is complete harmony between the members of the Trinity, yet their is also hierarchy and subordination. And this does not mean that there is a lack of love, nor is there any disobedience. This loving obedience allows Jesus to be completely calm and assured for his future, even though he is very aware he is going to his death.

Crux:

Jesus loved me to the cross because his Father commanded him to.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for Jesus’ act of love on the cross. Thank you for your love within the Trinity for each other, and for your love for me.

Please help me to love others in the way Jesus loved. Please help me to know others are greater, and that’s okay. Please help me to obey Jesus’ commands and teaching because I love him.

Please help me to understand what Jesus teaches me, with the help of the Advocate’s teaching. Please disciple me, be my Rabbi, through the voice of the Holy Spirit, so I am reminded of all I know to be true about Jesus.

Make me mature in my faith. I know this will mean disciplining me when I am disobedient. I submit to you in that as in all things. Please conform my spirit, my soul and my self to the image of your Son Jesus Christ.

Amen.