Paradise PD – A slightly different Christian perspective

There is outrage, again, over the Netflix production ‘Paradise PD’ that blasphemes the Lord Jesus Christ. Is it blasphemous? Yes. Is it offensive? Yes. Do I like it? I haven’t seen it, but probably not. Will I watch it? Unlikely. Though I might if I had to. By the way, I didn’t even realise this was a series and in its 4th season. I’m guessing the series have a pop at everyone – hmmm, maybe not everyone (you know).

I accept the moral outrage by Christians but I’d like to come at the episode, what I know of it anyway, from a different perspective. Let me just say, because it probably needs saying, I’m not endorsing it in any way shape or form, just looking at it from a slightly different perspective. 

Remember the old ‘The end is nigh’ sandwich boards of the past. They ridiculed it, but you know, the end really is nigh. It’s a true statement. Messiah-Nara might be meant to ridicule and be funny, but actually it’s a statement of truth. It will be the end for His enemies.

What ought to be fascinating is the fact that Jesus just won’t go away. The usual tactic then is to ridicule him. They tried that in the New Testament so doing it this way is nothing new. We ought to be encouraged because they are still doing it. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. Here’s a few things about this episode that I know from the criticisms. Like I say, I haven’t seen it, so what I say here isn’t personally verified. I wonder if the writers of this episode know more than they are letting on. My speculation is that they could be, or at least have first hand knowledge of evangelicalism. They’ve been influenced by self-righteous controlling church leaders. Maybe in a bizarre way this episode is a cry for help. Here are a few points then not in any particular order.

Free Speech

I need to say this. I believe in free speech. If they want to produce this episode that is their right to do so. However blasphemous it might be. I don’t have to like it to allow them the right to produce it but free speech also gives the right to protest against it. I rarely sign petitions. There is a petition to take it down, but honestly, I don’t think I’ll be signing it. There are many petitions out there wanting to ban Christian stuff as well. I don’t see too many petitions against heavily polititicised LGBTQ stuff which is far more insidious that this film. I think the petition in this case will just make more people want to see it. In a way it’s self defeating. But I understand the outrage.

The Cross

The picture shows Jesus breaking the cross and the nails turning into Uzi’s (Probably 9mm). Of course there is a mixture of fact and fiction but nevertheless it shows Jesus victoriously breaking the cross and wreaking judgment on his enemies. Jesus could have come off the cross, but then there would be no salvation. So that didn’t happen. But think about how Aslan in the Narnia story after the White Witch and all her host had done their worst and killed Aslan, what happened? Aslan breaks the stone table and is victorious. The story is playing out the reality of Jesus’ victory. The Bible tells us that he triumphed over his enemies through the cross.

The greatest possible symbol of weakness becomes the greatest symbol of victory and of power. So that he has put to shame all powers through the cross. We might not like the picture but actually, intended or not, we see a triumphant Messiah.

A Fallen World

Because we live in a fallen world we should expect to see this sort of stuff. It’s everywhere really. This show is a bit more in your face but it just proves the truth that we are rebellious against our creator. It’s a form of imprisonment, they can’t help themselves. We can’t help ourselves. Which is exactly why we need a Saviour. And the only way we can be saved is through Jesus dying on a cross. So in an unintended way the film demonstrates our own fallenness and of our need for a Saviour.

Final Judgement

Jesus is crucified as the Lamb. But in revelation we read about ‘the day of his wrath.’ The Lamb is mighty. And all his enemies will be dealt with. Being slaughtered using a pair of Uzi 9mm’s will seem a mercy when considering the awful reality of an eternal lake of fire. People will be laughing, I’m sure, but it’s not a laughing matter. The enemies of The Lord and His anointed one (Messiah) will be destroyed.

True Knowledge

The film shows an underlying knowledge that not only is there a real Jesus, but also a real knowledge that there is a judgment to come. This episode, and those like it, demonstrate how the truth is actively being suppressed as the bible teaches. Not only does the bible teach it but we know it to be true. Our consciences tell us it’s true. The conscience of the series tell them it’s true as well. Try as they might, Jesus is not going away. He can’t be got rid of so he must be mocked.

True Forgiveness

I was thinking how outraged we can get. Then I wondered how The Lord Jesus reacted to His own crucifixion. We get all pious and outraged but Jesus said ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.’ I can think of things I said about Him before God had mercy on me. The foul blasphemies that poured out against the Lord Jesus from my unrighteous lips! But He had mercy on me. Someone prayed for me. Someone told me the Gospel. Jesus saved me. The amazing good news is that Jesus saves all who will call on Him. Will you call on Him?

A Mighty Christ (Messiah)

I’ll just end with this. Maybe you watch the series, and you’ve seen the episode about Jesus and the Cross. I’d ask you to consider the points I’ve tried to make. This Jesus who just won’t go away is going to return to judge the world, to judge you. Then, the choices we have made about The Lord Jesus will have eternal consequences. So I ask you to consider Him.

‘Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted (Heb 12:3).

Mighty Christ from time eternal,
Mighty, he man’s nature takes,
Mighty, when on Calv’ry dying,
Mighty, death itself He breaks.
See His might,
Infinite,
King of Heaven and earth by right!

Mighty was He in heaven’s purpose,
Mighty, in the pledge to save,
Mighty, from His birth to Calv’ry,
Mighty, bursting from the grave.
Still will He
Mighty be When things hidden now we see.

Great my Jesus in His Person.
Great as God and man is He,
Great His comeliness and beauty,
White and ruddy, fair to see,
Great that sight,
Sovereign Might,
Throned secure on heaven’s height!

vv. 1 & 3 Titus Lewis, 1773 – 1811;
v. 2, Anonymous;
tr. Graham Stuart Harrison 1935 – 2013 (No. 117 Christian Hymns, E.M.W)

The Day Sue Died – 5 years today.

Today is a day like any other. Except it isn’t quite like any other, it has a certain poignancy to it. Five years ago today my beloved Sue died – my wife for 32 years. My recurring diary entry for today says ‘The day Sue died and my world collapsed.’ It certainly felt like it had collapsed. Death will touch all of our lives, sometimes as a quiet intruder, sometimes as a violent house invasion. However it comes, it leaves a mark. Sometimes it’s a trail of destruction.

When someone precious dies, you don’t get over it or move on. (How I hate those most unhelpful and cruel phrases). You don’t forget but you can move forward. Sue didn’t want me to mope around but to enjoy my life. I did do plenty of moping around but with help from dear friends and our three children I have moved forward.

The biggest help in my life – and the cause of all the helps – is my God and Saviour. In the providence of God He has provided Sandra (herself a widow) complete with her family – who incidentally I love very much.

The Grace of God is a very wonderful and very real thing.

Sue hadn’t been gone long and life without her was really hard. I remember going to a History Lecture (as I do) and a remarried widow there said to me ‘Mike, it might not seem like it just now, but it does get easier.’ No, it didn’t seem like it at the time. But after 5 years, I can tell you, that for me, it has got easier. But I know for some that it hasn’t got easier at all. Each day is really really tough. Frankly, I don’t know what to say, but if I were with you I’d give you a big hug and say nothing. And probably cry with you. The Lord has brought you this far. Look up and see Christ seated on His throne. And if you aren’t a Christian perhaps for the first time look up for His help. If you are a Christian, as hard as it is, keep looking up.

So today, again, I raise my Ebenezer and say ‘Hitherto has The Lord helped me.’

Kind author and ground of my hope.
Thee, Thee, for my God I avow:
my glad Ebenezer set up,
and own Thou hast helped me till now.
I muse on the years that are past,
wherein my defence Thou hast proved;
nor wilt Thou relinquish at last
a sinner so signally loved!
(Augustus Montague Toplady, 1740-78)
It would have been Sue’s birthday on Wednesday and for the last four years my daughter and I have gone out for the day. This year will be slightly different because of you know what. So we’re thinking to stay local and have a meal together and that will be nice. It will be a happy time. Some sadness, but happy too.

Jesus: The Great Physician

Not sure why this came to mind but I remember going to see the Oncologist back in January 2015 with my wife Sue. She had been given the all clear of a previous cancer and although I’ve no idea why, as the treatment was quite brutal, we were hopeful she would come through the treatment. Not so the second time. Again, I’ve no idea why, other than a feeling, but I remember well that we were not expecting good news. This time we did not have high expectations. Rather the opposite.

Then the meeting came. The doctor had all his notes, tests, and scan results. The news was not good. Sue was not expected to see Christmas. She didn’t. By November 23rd she was with Christ which is far better.

The doctor was the expert, he had been monitoring her condition for some time. He had all the expertise, the training, all the knowledge and all the test results. With heavy hearts we accepted the diagnosis, and the prognosis. Sue had to face the reality of leaving this world. As we all must sooner or later. I very clearly recall the drive home.

We go to the doctor and for the most part we accept the diagnosis: no matter how bad. The doctors usually know what they are doing.

But when faced with the diagnosis, and prognosis of Jesus the Great Physician we ignore it, laugh about it, mock Him, and resolutely refuse to believe it is true. You know the diagnosis. You, like me, and everyone else are sinners. We are fallen. We are under the judgement of a Holy God. The prognosis is eternal ruin.

Why O why, when the one who knows absolutely everything about you in all its sordid detail, your hopes and fears, your failures, all the self-righteousness, and every facet of your life you choose to ignore him? In Sue’s case the doctor could only offer another 6 months and that after a very severe and brutal round of cancer treatment. (Incidentally, Sue opted for palliative care only). The Lord Jesus is able to offer what the oncologist or any other doctor cannot.

The Son of God, The Lord Jesus Christ offers you Eternal Life, the Forgiveness of sins, Peace with God and you reject his offer out of hand. Even when The Lord Jesus bore the Cross instead of sinners, when ‘His blood can make the foulest clean’: still you reject him. This is a blindness, a madness even that only God can cure. Call upon him to have mercy upon you. Ask him to open your eyes. Turn in repentance and faith towards the Son of God, Jesus, the friend of sinners. Jesus, The Great Physician!

 

‘The Creaking On The Stairs’ by Mez McConnell – A Recommendation

This is an absolutely brilliant book – I need to say that right from the start.

‘The Creaking On The Stairs’ Mez McConnell. Christian Focus, 2019.

This isn’t merely another testimony book. Please don’t think of it that way. It’s not a ‘things were really awful, but now  everything is wonderful’ book either. And, be prepared, it’s a harrowing read – in places it is utterly horrific! Mez’s life has been turned round  and ‘upside down’ in the most extraordinary way by the Lord Jesus Christ. But, and this, I believe, is very important to understand – it is NOT a book only about recovering from child abuse. It is about that. And that is amazing. But there’s a wider application as well.

If you have suffered any form of abuse this book will hopefully be very helpful. He writes TO the reader, especially to the abused reader. If that’s you – please read it. And to the abuser as well. And if that’s you – please read it! And if you’re wondering what Christianity is all about or has to offer – then you need to read it. As you can tell, I’m blown away by this book.

A brief word then about the book. There are 49 chapters, which given the content, are mercifully short, Mez doesn’t shy away from stating things as they are (and were). He’s brutally honest. I’m sure things were actually much much worse than he describes them but we, the reader, get the picture full on. He’s also honest about how he feels now.

Alarming perhaps to our Christian sentimentalities, but the honesty is shocking yet devastatingly refreshing.

It’s written really well. I like the way he’s structured it. It works. It’s easy to read as a book (the content is quite gruelling though). The book is full of Reformed theology. It’s not cold and lifeless. It’s warm and life-changing. Creation – Fall – Redemption. The reality, the factualness of sin, of the sinful nature and the cost of Redemption, the love of God in Christ, the Cross is all here. It’s a book of HOPE. Mez has been delivered by Christ the great deliverer. But the fact is we all need that deliverance. Respectable sinners are still sinners and just as lost as the drug addict, the abused, and the abuser.

If ‘The Problem of Evil’ is a problem for you then you may well find this book to be very helpful indeed. If you want an answer, you won’t do any better than to read this book. People are looking for answers. Especially about why the world and their lives are the way they are. Some say there are no answers. But there are. This book is one. The real problem is people don’t like the answers. The answer means handing authority over to another. And we won’t have that at any price, even if that means our own lives suffer. Sin is such an awful master!

In case you wondered, there’s no redemptive merit in what Mez suffered. There’s no balancing of the universe. But, unlike in a humanistic system, it isn’t without purpose either.

I like the way he’ll take a subject based on his awful experience and then contrast it in the following chapter with the suffering of Christ which is redemptive – for and on behalf of sinners, not himself. This, I think, works really well. For example he does this with chapters on humiliation, rejection and pain & suffering. Christ is humiliated. Christ is rejected. Christ undergoes pain & suffering.

Every chapter was either Jaw – Dropping in its description of evil or in the Amazing Grace of God in Christ.

These chapters stood out to me: Hell on Earth; The Glorious Wonderful Reality of Hell; The Terrible Reality of Heaven; The Bittersweet Pill of God’s Sovereignty.

Like I said this isn’t ‘merely’ a testimony book so at the end there is a section of Helpful Resources:

  • Worshipping with the enemy? – Interview with a child abuser
  • Interview with the Pastor of a child abuser
  • FAQs from Child Abuse Sufferers
  • A Response to this Book from an Abuse Sufferer
  • Next Steps

I was going to put loads of quotes in but instead I will end with a plea to read it. If you are a Church Officer, Elder or Pastor / Minister you MUST read it. I hope you will.

In Memoriam – Sue Iliff 1955 – 2015

Picture: Aberystwyth 2008.

Three years ago today Sue, my wife of 32 years went to be with her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I have absolutely no doubts about where she is, so she isn’t lost. She has joined that happy holy Blood Bought throng to praise God without the burden of a sinful nature. I hesitate to say she has died and I still balk at saying j have lost her.

I’m thankful to my friend Pastor Robert Briggs. He told me three years ago that ‘my own personal walk with God would get me through.’ He was absolutely right. Not that I take credit, but rather give glory to the keeping power of Christ.

I have a small group of friends that have stuck by me over the years. I’m thankful for them.

And I give thanks to God for my children, grandchildren, and family and for Sandra.

My testimony is that God has been utterly faithful and has continued to bless me, unworthy as I am, over these past three years. He has kept me and has preserved me. His Mercy’s are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness Lord to me!

The fact is we will ALL leave this life and enter eternity. That eternity will be a world of unutterable joy with Christ or a world of unutterable misery without Christ, again in the presence of Christ, but Christ the Judge. As Joshua said ‘…. choose this day whom you will serve…. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15.

This hymn came to my mind this morning about the death of Sue and for every Christian.

It is not death to die,
To leave this weary road,
And midst the brotherhood on high
To be at home with God.

It is not death to close
The eye long dimmed by tears,
And wake, in glorious repose,
To spend eternal years.

It is not death to bear
The wrench that sets us free
From dungeon chain, to breathe the air
Of boundless liberty.

It is not death to fling
Aside this sinful dust
And rise, on strong exulting wing
To live among the just.

Jesus, Thou Prince of Life,
Thy chosen cannot die:
Like Thee, they conquer in the strife
To reign with Thee on high.

H. A. Cesar Malan, 1787 – 1864 (?).
Translated by: George W. Bethune, 1805 – 62 (?).

God takes Ezekiel’s Wife ‘at a stroke’

The following singular personal account in the life of Ezekiel stands out like the proverbial ‘sore thumb’. Poor Ezekiel, I feel for him. Derek Thomas calls this incident ‘one of the saddest and most difficult in Scripture.’ (God Strengthens, Derek Thomas p, 177, EP, 1993.)

Eze 24:15  The word of the LORD came to me:
Eze 24:16  “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.
Eze 24:17  Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.”
Eze 24:18  So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

I was trying to think what it feels like to have ‘the delight of your eyes taken away.’ I described it the other day like having your insides sucked out through your eyes. The inner pain is indescribable. Unless you’ve been through it you have no idea. So like I say, I feel for Ezekiel.

A very hard providence

Whether his wife had been ill for some time we aren’t told. But it seems to be sudden and unexpected: hence literally ‘at a stroke’ would be the best interpretation I feel. A mercy really, for him and his wife. No protracted illness for her or long-term care for him. Nevertheless, a very hard providence. If a man like Ezekiel delighted in his wife, I’d expect her to be a Godly woman. There was more than looks going on here. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it but it seems to me this verse from Peter would describe Ezekiel’s wife and the inner beauty of her godliness. 1 Peter 3:4  ‘but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.’ (1 Peter 3:1-6) Ezekiel will see her again. He knows this. His faith is in The Redeemer, the One to come. That is, his faith is in Christ. As was his wife, I believe. This softens the blow, but a blow Ezekiel would have keenly felt.

We don’t make excuses for God

Here we are in no doubt as to why Ezekiel’s wife is taken from him. It’s for a sign to Israel. And is for their good. Though it falls on unrepentant hearts. And, we are specifically told that God was going to ‘take away the delight of his eyes’. The cause is known. We don’t have to try and work it out or make apologies for God. I certainly feel no need to make apologies for God and feel no need to defend the fact that He is the potter, and we are the clay. (Isaiah 64:8) He is The Lord, He does what He wills.

Ezekiel wasn’t to weep or grieve – he was allowed to quietly sigh – for his wife even though everything within him would want to. And God knows this, otherwise, why give that command to not weep. God isn’t oblivious to what this will cost Ezekiel and the pain His prophet will experience. Even in this, He is still ‘the Father of all mercies.’ Ezekiel is allowed to sigh, ‘but not aloud.’ What a sigh that must have been!

We aren’t told anything about Ezekiel’s wife other than that she was ‘the delight of his eyes.’ That doesn’t necessarily mean she was unbelievably beautiful to look at, but it does mean he loved her very much. She was a delight to him. When he saw her his heart skipped a beat we might say. She was to be taken from him. She wasn’t lost but taken.

The Lord gives and The Lord takes away

To the unbeliever, and maybe for some Christians, this will seem incredibly cruel. However, the caricature of a vindictive and hateful God just isn’t true. I know. I’ve walked in Ezekiel’s shoes. Admittedly, I wasn’t commanded to ‘weep not’ like Ezekiel but I do know but what it’s like to have ‘the desire of your eyes’ taken away. And taken away by God. Like Ezekiel, I was under no illusion as to who was in control. It was The Lord who took away ‘the delight of my eyes.’ I could say with Job “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21) This is a salutary lesson for us all. I’m sure Ezekiel wasn’t expecting this. He could say perhaps with Job ‘For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.’ (Job 3:25) We are NOT the masters of our own destiny. We aren’t in control. That thing you live for could be gone ‘at a stroke.’ And God doesn’t have to ask your permission or give notice. God can take away from our lives whatever He pleases – and that ‘at a stroke.’ Don’t deceive yourself into thinking all will be well when without Christ and without God, it won’t be.

Had Ezekiel sinned (I mean here in a specific instance as we are all fallen – including Ezekiel)? He had not. Had his wife sinned? We aren’t told, but I think we can infer not. The death of his wife then illustrates in a most tragic and powerful way the sudden destruction that is to come upon Jerusalem. Did the people get it? Did they respond to the sign? No, they did not.

How will you respond?

Will you respond to this sign? It’s as relevant now as it ever was. In our materialistic age, especially here in the West, we push our ‘inalienable rights’ to the limit. All the time God could take everything away at a stroke. Yes, and even our most precious things. And even our very own lives. Jesus put it this way ‘You fool, this night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ (Luke 12:20) Without being overly dramatic, this could well be your last day on earth. By evening you could be having to give an account of yourself before God! Without an advocate, without a Saviour that is, that is not something to look forward to.

Extreme Love from God

It probably seems quite extreme the lengths The Lord will go for the good of His lost people. He took Ezekiel’s wife, but that’s as nothing compared to the plan of God to rescue sinners. He has done this by sending into the world His Son. And the Son comes Himself to rescue and redeem.

Heb 10:5  Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;
Heb 10:6  in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Heb 10:7  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

The cost of Redemption is plainly stated by Christ ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ (John 10:10&11) Nothing but the blood of Christ can redeem sinners like us. This is extreme love! You have heard this and you know this.

Be Reconciled

Much more could be said but in the words of the Apostle Paul (2 Cor 5:20):

‘Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.’

Sweetening the action

I’ve heard it said or prayed over the years something like ‘O Lord if you do not meet with us we are wasting our time’. Roughly translated that means we want to feel and know the presence of God in our meetings. And what Christian wouldn’t want that! I get the sentiment, I do. I do want to experience the presence of God.

But as I’ve thought about it, why would it be a waste of time to do something that Christ has directly commanded us in His Word to do? And, on top of that, we have promises that tell us God is with us. We aren’t told ‘when you meet together you’ll have a gooey warm feeling’. But we are told He will be with us.

As I read through ‘The Bruised Reed’ by Richard Sibbes, this paragraph recently stood out.

Obedience is most direct when there a nothing else to sweeten the action. Although the sacrifice is imperfect, yet the obedience with which it is offered is accepted.

We could apply these words of Sibbes in many ways, but let’s apply them to when the Church in obedience gathers for worship. When we meet together we want it to be sweet. We want something to ‘sweeten the action’ as Sibbes calls it. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if we engineer our services to make sure it’s sweet, I do have a problem with that. Whatever it is that’s added, or taken away (e.g. pews), let’s make as sure as we possibly can that it isn’t to ‘sweeten the action’. Often I think it’s because we aren’t feeling something – whatever that something is – that we make adjustments to our services to sweeten them. Whereas Sibbes is telling us that because there’s nothing in it for us except the obedience, God accepts that. God accepts our obedience even if it isn’t sweet to us. Are we really adding it because we think the action is Biblical or because it makes us (or others) feel good, or sweet as Sibbes call it.

Our obedience is already tainted, it is an imperfect sacrifice, let’s not make it any worse. Especially when God accepts it for Christ’s sake. Christ has offered the perfect sacrifice and is the only ‘sweet smelling aroma’ that’s required. Praise God it is so.

The Worthlessness of Wealth

Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death (Proverbs 11:4).

Day of Wrath – John Martin

In the day of wrath by which is meant either death, which brings us ultimately to that day, or the day itself which will bring to an end this present evil age. When this age passes we enter an eternal and permanent state. For the day of wrath wealth will have no currency, indeed it’s value will be far less than the most accelerated hyper-inflation ever seen. We could also see wealth as not simply currency but also social worth. Wealth and social standing may gain a person entry into the most prestigious celebrations – even Royalty – but in the day of wrath, any currency will fail to have any influence.

A person may be poor but aspire to wealth and yet have none. They think by aspiring to aristocracy or the wealthy, the industrialist or the successful entrepreneur there will be a way of escape. If only I were wealthy? Not so, for we are told wealth is worthless in the day of wrath. See Revelation 6: 15-17.

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. (V 15)

They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! (V 16)

For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (v 16)

The Bible nowhere condemns wealth as intrinsically wicked. There’s nothing wrong with earning money or being wealthy. But there’s no virtue with it. It will not earn favour with The Almighty. By the same token, there’s no virtue to being poor either. The politics of envy is popular in our day and is a form of rebellion towards the providence of a generous God. Back in the 1st Century if as a slave you could be free, so be it. So there’s nothing wrong with changing your position or a promotion. But riches and poverty have to be held in relation to God. Yes, that’s easy to say in the West. I know this. Go and read the parable Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) and see where you would rather end up. Riches for that man were worthless. But Lazarus wasn’t saved by being poor but by trusting God, whereas the Rich Man rejected the Word of God.

But righteousness delivers from death. Death is synonymous with wrath ‘for it is given to man once to die and then judgment’ (Heb 9:27). But the text says we are delivered through righteousness. That is, by being righteous. Many understand Christians to be saying ‘we are righteous’ and mean by this ‘look how wonderfully righteous we are’. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth! We aren’t delivered by our own righteousness or by any righteous deeds. We are delivered by what has been called an alien righteousness – that is a righteousness from outside ourselves. We have no internal inherent spark of righteousness. To think otherwise is foolishness. The Bible says quite clearly ‘there is none righteous, no, not one (Rom 3:10)’  The righteousness the text speaks of must come from another. But who, since ‘there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins’ (Ecc 7:20). The Apostle John wept at the thought of no deliverer: ‘and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it (Rev 5:4).

So it isn’t just righteousness but a particular righteousness. The righteousness of a person. This person is The Lord Jesus Christ. It is He that delivers from death, destruction, and despair’.

Immortal honors rest on Jesus’ head;
My God, my portion, and my living bread;
In Him I live, upon Him cast my care;
He saves from death, destruction, and despair.
(Joseph Hart 1773-1844)

And it is only Jesus that is able to deliver from death. Having the righteousness that comes from God isn’t one option that we pick from many – which is often how it’s portrayed even by so-called ministers of religion. The truth is, it’s either the righteousness that God offers or you choose to go it alone. So if you do find yourself in an eternal hell, remember, you’ll be there because that was the choice you made.

Jesus is calling people to Himself. He says ‘come to me and I will give you rest’ (Matt 11:28-30). At the start of His earthly ministry, Jesus said ‘Repent and believe the Gospel’ (Mark 1:15). He also said ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’ (John 7:37). The Son of God, the one who died and rose, who lives for evermore, the one who has defeated death is the one who calls you to Himself. Do not delay (2 Cor 6:1-2).

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).

1. Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore!
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.
He is able, He is able, He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more!

2. Let not conscience let you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of him.
This he gives you, This he gives you, This he gives you:
‘Tis the Spirit’s glimmering beam.

4. Come ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and mangled by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Not the righteous, Not the righteous, Not the righteous;
Sinners Jesus came to call.

5. Agonizing in the garden,
Lo! your Maker prostrate lies!
On the bloody tree behold Him:
Hear Him cry, before He dies:
“It is finished!” “It is finished!” “It is finished!”
Sinner, will this not suffice?

6. Lo! The incarnate God ascending,
Pleads the merit of His blood;
Venture on Him, venture freely;
Let no other trust intrude.
None but Jesus, None but Jesus, None but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good.

(Joseph Hart 1773-1844)

Is this Christmas? Extracting The Legal Pain!

Extracted is the legal pain. These five words in verse two form a single line in this remarkable hymn by Charles Wesley. This is Wesley at his best as someone said. These hymns are not inspired in the same authoritative sense that the Bible is but they can convey profound truth in a wonderful way. Inspired perhaps with a little i. These five words convey two very important Bible truths. Truths that need to be constantly stated because man in sin always assumes and seeks to state the opposite and to deny the truth. So what are these two truths?

1. ‘Extracted is the legal pain’ tells us of a problem. Any punishment is unpleasant and we all recognise that it’s the result of doing something wrong. Overstay in a car park and a demand for payment will arrive in the post. Get caught speeding and you’ll get a fine. These are trite examples but you get the idea. If you get caught breaking the law of God – and make no mistake we have all been caught – payment is required. The Bible calls it sin. And as we continue sinning, that is, as we continue breaking the law of God we are, as it were, earning a wage. The Bible says very plainly that the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). As if that wasn’t bad enough, the reason we continue to sin is because there’s a deeper problem. The problem is that there’s a something wrong with our nature. But we seek to deny it or play it down. What problem? There’s nothing wrong with me, you might say, even though you know full well there is a problem. There’s a deep-seated problem that’s impervious to mere outward reformation. What’s required is a reformation that goes far beyond any outward change. Changes of habit or lifestyle are definitely in vogue and even make good viewing. But these changes will do nothing for us legally before God. In the court of God who can make representation for us when on every hand we are found guilty in thought word and deed. Any earthly representative has the same problem. It’s no accident The Lord Jesus Christ is called our Advocate (1 John 2:1). The problem for us is that we need a nature that is beyond the law. There isn’t one! The law of God condemns all. It slays all! All are guilty and found wanting before a Holy and Righteous God.

2. Although the words speak of punishment in an excruciating manner the legal pain is being extracted from an innocent party. The fact is, the legal pain should really be extracted from me, the guilty sinner, but it’s been extracted from another! Secondly then, to ‘Extract the legal pain’ speaks of Substitutionary Atonement. And this is the heart of The Gospel and why The Lord Jesus Christ came into the world. And it’s why at Christmas we realise why The Christ came. It’s not really about stars, stables and shepherds but about a bloody cross, about agony of soul and of body, about punishment and death. It’s about the cost of Redemption! A cost we sinners cannot ever possibly pay. Not even an eternity will extract the legal pain from us! We need another to do it for us. One that is suitably qualified for the awful task. Although Wesley has captured the horror of breaking the law of God putting the frighteners on you is not necessarily a good evangelistic strategy. But on the other hand, you are a fool if you ignore it because you don’t like being threatened or dislike ‘hellfire preaching’. The truth is, there is a Hell. And there’s only one way to escape it (Heb 2:3). That way is The Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Being ‘right with God’ is a legal declaration that God makes. This is the Justification by faith that is celebrated this 500th Reformation year – and every year. Because of what Christ has accomplished on the Cross, God is able to be just and to justify those that have faith in The Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 3:23-26).

So it’s no wonder the Wise men and the Shepherds rejoiced when the Salvation of God appeared. We Christians ought to be amazed at what God did in sending His Son. And we are amazed at what Christ has done by coming to us when we could not and would not go to Him (Heb 10:5). Salvation truly is of The Lord. Will you trust Him? Is your faith in The Christ? Please have a happy Christmas. But don’t ignore or neglect what it’s really all about.

Glorious Rest for those that Die ‘In Christ’

One of our dear friends read the following to us last evening. What a prospect for those that have been saved by Christ. ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ Mat 11:28, 29.

‘The Bible teaching is clear and emphatic. At death, the Christian goes to be with the Lord in heaven – immediately. A 17th century Puritan Minister, John Flavel, captured something of the wonder of this remarkable truth in one of his sermons:

“To be lifted from a bed of sickness to a throne of glory! To leave a sinful troublesome world, a sick and painful body and be in a moment perfectly cured and feel yourself perfectly well and free from all troubles…  You cannot imagine what this will be like.”‘

Heaven is a Far Better Place by Eryl Davies pp 95-96. Evangelical Press. (End of ch 14).