Bible

Strengthening Ourselves in God

STRENGTHENING OURSELVES IN GOD

 

At an especially difficult and fraught time in the life of David, all seemed lost. An enemy force had  taken his family captive and rampaged the town in which he was residing. Then, to make bad matters  worse, even David’s own people turned against him and threatened to stone him dead. The Bible though records that at that time, David did not give in to despair, but rather ‘David strengthened himself in the LORD, his God’ (1 Samuel 30:6). Foes, friends and fears notwithstanding, David knew that whatever his circumstances, Almighty God – ‘his God’ – was in ultimate control, and that His purposes could not be defeated and His plans could not be thwarted.

In ‘strengthening himself in the LORD his God’ David has given us an example to emulate, especially when we too find ourselves ‘up against it.’ But how exactly do we do this? We do it by applying the truth of God’s Word to ourselves and our situation. To be more specific, we take hold of at least four truths revealed in Scripture.

 

  1. We are accepted with God through Christ

 

Ultimately, all is well with us, as the finished work of Christ at Calvary cannot be undone or rescinded. Through Christ’s merits and mediation, we are acceptable to God and will never be separated from Him. The Gospel of justification by the grace of God in Christ has great pastoral and practical implications:-

 

Justification is an act of God’s free grace wherein He pardoneth all our sins and accepteth us as righteous in His sight only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone’ (Shorter Catechism).

 

Truth be told, if we are united to Christ, we could not be more acceptable to God, for our acceptance with Him is not based on who we are or on what we do, but on who Christ is and what He has done. ‘A man is not justified (reckoned righteous) by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 2:16).

 

  1. God’s grace keeps pace with whatever we face

 

The Bible reveals a God of sustaining grace, as well as saving grace. When Paul was in excruciating pain – a pain from which he prayed earnestly to God to be released – God’s promise to him was ‘My grace is sufficient for you’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). From this we may reason that if our Father in heaven does not see fit to remove our burdens from us in answer to our prayers, He will most certainly give us a stronger back to bear our burdens. If the path He has laid down for us is a stony one, He will surely provide us with protective shoes! His grace will prove to be as sufficient for us as it was for Paul:-

 

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater

He sendeth more strength when the labours incrase

To added affliction He addeth His mercy

To multiplied trials His multiplied peace

(Annie Johnson Flint, 1866-1932)

 

  1. God promises wisdom to those who ask Him

 

‘Wisdom’ may be defined as ‘sound judgement in relation to life and conduct.’ How we all need wisdom in this complex world, so that we know how to act and react aright. But what do we do when we don’t know what to do? The Bible’s answer is ‘Ask God.’ God promises to give wisdom to those who humbly ask Him for it. ‘For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding’ (Proverbs 2:6).  ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him’ (James 1:5). The Bible also states that ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom’ (Proverbs 9:10). Thus, if our sincere desire is to please the Lord and if our deepest horror is causing offence to Him, He will surely make the way ahead for us clear.

 

  1. ‘He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength’ (Isaiah 40:29).

 

When we feel impotent, it is easy to forget that our Father in heaven is omnipotent. He is almighty God! Scripture abounds in reminding us of God’s absolute, sovereign might. He has no problems. He only has plans:-

 

‘Is anything too hard for the LORD?’ (Genesis 18:14).

‘Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is anything too hard for me?’ (Jeremiah 32:27).

‘For with God nothing will be impossible’ (Luke 1:37).

 

The wonder is that this God – whose might is such that He could merely speak the universe into existence – actually puts His power at the disposal of His needy children. Hence the Psalmist could testify ‘My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth’ (Psalm 121:2) and hence Paul could conclude on the encouraging thought ‘Now to Him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think’ (Ephesians 2:20).

 

External appearance apart, Christians are no ordinary people. We are the adopted children of God! Yes, difficulties, disappointments, trials and traumas come our way in the will of God in this fallen world – but God’s will, will be done, for He ‘accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His will’ (Ephesians 1:11). If we belong to Jesus, when we are ‘up against it’ we have the privilege of bringing our difficulties and impossibilities to the Lord. He can handle them better than we can! When you are tempted to despair of yourself and your circumstances therefore, strengthen yourself in your Faith by asking yourself  the rhetorical question ‘Is anything too hard for the LORD’ (Genesis 18:14).  How we need to trust Him more than we do.

 

Is the burden intolerable?

Is the task impossible?

Is the grief inconsolable?

Not with the Lord

Is the darkness impenetrable?

Is the sky unpierceable?

Is the tear undryable?

Not with the Lord

Is the joy irrecoverable?

Is the state irreversible?

Is the case irretrievable?

Not with the Lord.

(Anon.)

 

This post copyright by Timothy Cross

 

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O Timothy

Timothy

O TIMOTHY … (1 Timothy 6:20)

 

The Apostle Paul addressed two of his New Testament letters To Timothy, my true child in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2). The Timothy in question was a young, Christian Pastor The New Testament letters to Timothy and Titus are known as ‘The Pastoral Epistles.’ They deal primarily with matters pertaining to the ‘nitty gritties’ of local church life  – I am writing these instructions to you so that … you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Timothy 3:14,15).

The differences in age and Christian maturity notwithstanding, Paul obviously valued young Timothy’s friendship a great deal. 2 Timothy is the last letter Paul ever wrote. At the time of writing, he was incarcerated in a Roman prison, aware that his death – his promotion to glory – was imminent. For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:6,7). But Paul’s love for Timothy was such that he was adamant that he see Timothy again before he died – I long day and night to see you, that I may be filled with joy (2 Timothy 1:4). And so he pleaded Do your best to come to me soon … Do your best to come before winter … (2 Timothy 4:9,21).

 

  1. Timothy’s Faith : His Conversion

 

We first encounter Timothy during Paul’s second missionary journey. He was from Lystra (Acts 16:1) in the province of Galatia – modern day Turkey. He was the product of a ‘mixed marriage’, as Luke relates A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek (Acts 16:1).

It is difficult to ascertain the exact moment when Timothy came to conscious, saving faith in Christ. That he belonged to Jesus there is no doubt, but it is possible that even he himself did not know the precise time of his conversion:-

In the providence of God, Timothy was blessed with a Christian mother and grandmother who surrounded him with their prayers and Christian example. In 2 Timothy 1:5 Paul wrote I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you. It would seem that Timothy’s mother and grandmother nurtured Timothy in the Christian Faith, and taught him the Scriptures from his earliest days, for in 2 Timothy 3:15 Paul wrote how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15).

In 1 Timothy 1:2 however, Paul refers to Timothy as my true child in the faith This suggests that, under God, it was Paul’s own influence which was instrumental in bringing Timothy to the new birth. Timothy’s conversion then was perhaps similar to many who have been brought up in a Christian family: Acquainted with Christian matters since early childhood, perhaps sometime in our teens, ‘the penny drops’ and we trust in Christ as our own personal Saviour. It is as though we have gone over in ink what has already been written in pencil.

Timothy then was a true Christian convert. He belonged to Jesus. He had entrusted his eternal welfare to the crucified, risen and reigning Saviour. His conversion though is a reminder that whilst Christ is the only Saviour, there is more than one road which leads to the Saviour. Timothy’s conversion was different from Paul’s, but no less authentic. That we are ‘in Christ’ now is more important than being able to give a dramatic Christian testimony of how we came to Christ in the first place.

 

  1. Timothy’s Fidelity : His Commitment

 

When Paul first encountered Timothy, he immediately perceived in him enormous Christian potential as regards the service of God and the spread of the Gospel. Luke relates that Timothy was well spoken of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium and Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him on his missionary travels (Acts 16:1,2). The great apostle thus chose Timothy to help and accompany him on his missionary endeavours. He saw him as both useable and useful material for Christ in relation to God’s eternal purposes of grace. And his assessment proved to be absolutely right. A little later on , when Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he praised Timothy to the hilt saying how I have no one like him, who will be genuinely anxious for your welfare. They all look after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ But Timothy’s worth you know, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the Gospel (Philippians 2:20-22).

The overriding and overarching concern of Timothy’s life then was the interests … of Jesus Christ. If he had had a motto, it surely would have been:-

 

Only one life, ‘twill soon be past

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Timothy’s chief concern was not his own personal glory or career, but that the Lord Jesus Christ should be glorified in the salvation of souls and the building of His church. When it came to actual practice, the welfare of Christians and the glory of Christ were somewhat blurred in his thinking and action. Serving Christ and serving His people were one and the same for him. He loved above all else to see sinners saved, and Christians better grounded, founded and established in Christian truth. Whilst initially, we could perhaps think of Timothy as Paul’s apprentice in mission, it was not long before Timothy graduated, and Paul had full confidence that he could undertake Christian work on his own. Hence Paul sent Timothy from Athens to the persecuted church at Thessalonica – we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s servant in the gospel of Christ, to establish you in your faith and to exhort you (1 Thessalonians 3:2). Hence Paul sent Timothy from Ephesus to the church at Corinth – I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church (1 Corinthians 4:17).

Eventually, Timothy settled down as a permanent Pastor in Ephesus. Paul’s letters to him are an exhortation and encouragement to press on in the work of being a pastor and preacher there – attend to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching to teaching … Practise these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress (1 Timothy 4:13,15) and Preach the Word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching … As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry (2 Timothy 4:2,5).

 

iii. Timothy’s Frailty : His Condition

 

Timothy was a walking sermon illustration on the text of 2 Corinthians 4:7: But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.

                We tend to look up to our Christian leaders. We tend to think of them as being in a higher league from ourselves. It is as though they are made of ‘stronger stuff’ than we are. Timothy was a Christian leader and was ordained by God to be such. Yet the Bible reveals that Timothy was made out of the same frail flesh and spirit of which we are made. Scripture reveals that Timothy was no ‘muscular Christian.’ Yet Scripture also reveals that God used Timothy for His glory and the building of Christ’s church.

Paul addressed Timothy with the high compliment But as for you, man of God … (1 Timothy 6:11). Timothy was a man of God! Yet although this was true, Timothy was also, like Elijah – another man of God – a man of like nature with ourselves (James 5:17). Scripture reveals that Timothy battled against both physical and mental handicaps. Until he reached glory, he had to fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12) against enemies both without and within.

 

Timothy’s Physical Constitution

 

Timothy was not endowed with a robust physical constitution. In 1 Timothy 5:23 Paul advises him concerning your stomach and your frequent ailments. This is a reminder that every Christian is not yet fully saved! The final Christian hope is the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). This will occur when Christ comes again in glory – we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who will change our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power which enables Him even to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20,21). Until that day, every Christian, no matter how godly, will be subject to sickness and pain to a greater or lesser degree, and will eventually suffer physical death. Timothy then was physically handicapped. Yet he still worked for the kingdom of heaven within the physical limitations imposed on Him by God – and the blessing of God was upon his labours in spite of his physical limitations.

 

Timothy’s Psychological Condition

 

It would seem that young Timothy was less than robust psychologically as well as physically Paul’s letters to him betray the fact that he sometimes lacked confidence and was prone to discouragement. Timothy by name and timid by nature! Paul’s letters to Timothy were letters of needed encouragement exhorting him to ‘keep on keeping on’ in the Christian ministry – looking to God Who is greater than all the opposition without and discouragement within, and can accomplish His will and purpose through us in spite of our physical and psychological handicaps Hence the many exhortations in the ‘Pastoral epistles’ which were applicable to Timothy personally and relevant to Christians and Christian leaders in all ages:-

Do not neglect the gift you have … (1 Timothy 4:14).

Rekindle the gift of God that is within you … for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self control (2 Timothy 1:6,7).

Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1).

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:3).

As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry (2 Timothy 4:5).

Paul thus urged Timothy simply to be faithful to God in his particular and peculiar circumstances. We are to be the same. We are to do what we can, where we are, with what we have, and to leave the results to God. God calls us to be faithful, not necessarily successful.

 

O Timothy!

 

 

No doubt, if you saw Timothy, and were aware of his physical ailments and nervous disposition, he would not strike you immediately as a great Christian leader. It goes to show that God’s ways are not always our ways and that the laws of the kingdom of heaven can differ from the laws of this world (see Isaiah 55:8,9). God often sees fit to use frail, redeemed sinners to accomplish His almighty purposes. In this way, His work cannot be explained rationally, or explained away with a human explanation. In this way, He Himself gets all the glory. And the goal of the universe is, after all, the overriding and overarching, unsurpassed and unsurpassable glory of the one true God – To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen (1 Timothy 1:17).

A medical missionary of many years experience once wrote:-

 

God delights in using weak people, because it shows how big He is … the Lord gave me wisdom far beyond my own resource to help people medically Whatever aspect of the Lord’s service it be, I have found that my weakness is but an opportunity for the Lord to display His power. ‘Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Corinthians 12:9b).

 

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Meet Mary, the Earthly Mother of Jesus

The Virgin Mary

MEET MARY : THE EARTHLY MOTHER OF JESUS

 

Sadly, Mary the mother of the Jesus is something of a controversial figure. The ‘cult of Mary’ which has grown up around her has no Scriptural warrant at all. There are those who worship and pray to the ‘Blessed Virgin Mary.’ This however is misguided at best and idolatrous at worst. Only God Himself is to be worshipped, and only the omnipresent God is able to hear our prayers. Mary was not and is not God. Mary also figures much in the artwork produced by Christendom She has been variously portrayed both in painting and sculpture over the centuries Scripture however gives us no indication as to her physical features, so such art is pure speculation – a representation by the art and imagination of man (Acts 17:29).

Perhaps to avoid the above errors, Mary does not feature much in Protestant thinking at all, if at all. Yet Mary cannot be ignored totally, as she does figure in the Bible, and in the creeds and subordinate standards which seek to distil the message of the Bible. The ‘Apostles’ Creed’, for instance, reminds us that the Lord Jesus ‘was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary …’ We must then seek a Scriptural balance, and neither overplay nor underplay the significance of Mary in the saga of redemption.

What then does the Bible teach about Mary? The answer is ‘Not a great deal’, for the emphasis of the Bible is not on Mary but on Mary’s Son – that in everything He might be pre-eminent (Colossians 1:18). The following four points however give us a Scriptural perspective on Mary, the mother of Jesus:-

 

  1. Mary’s Virginity

 

Mary’s main significance in the saga of redemption is that, of all the women in the world, Almighty God singled her out to have the honour of giving birth to His Son, the longed for Messiah and Saviour of the world. Scripture is adamant that Mary was still a virgin when Christ was conceived in her womb. At the time of Christ’s conception, Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph, but was not actually married to Joseph. Scripture is clear that whilst Christ’s birth by Mary at Bethlehem was normal, His conception in Mary at Nazareth was not normal. His birth was natural, whereas His conception was supernatural:-

 

Christ the Son of God became man by taking to Himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary and born of her, yet without sin (Shorter Catechism).

 

                The eternal Son of God then entered the world supernaturally, just as he eventually exited from the world in a supernatural manner by ascending into heaven The only way to explain Christ’s conception is by using the explanation which the angel Gabriel gave to Mary herself. Puzzled as to how she could conceive a child without a human father, the angel Gabriel explained to Mary ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God’ (Luke 1:35).

The ‘virgin birth of Christ’ is one of the fundamentals of the Christian Faith. It is vital, as Mary’s virginity is bound up with Christ’s impeccability – that is, His sinlessness. Had Christ been conceived by the instrumentality of a human father, such as Joseph, He would have been born a sinner, having inherited Adam’s sinful nature. And had Christ been born a sinner, He would not have been able to offer up His life as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of others. Scripture however is clear. Christ had no human father. God was His Father. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and He thus had a sinless nature. He was like us, yet paradoxically unlike us, for He knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), committed no sin (1 Peter 2:23) and in Him there is no sin ((1 John 3:5). Hence He alone was qualified and able to offer up His sinless life as an eternal and saving sacrifice like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:19). The four ‘building bricks’ of Christ’s ‘virgin birth’, sinless life, sacrificial death and victorious resurrection then are all apiece, and inextricably bound up with the Christian’s eternal salvation. Take one brick away, and the whole house falls down.

Mary then was a virgin when she conceived the Saviour. Her joy at being singled out by God for such an honour emitted from this godly young woman a peon of praise known as the ‘Magnificat.’ ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden …’ (Luke 1:46 ff.).

 

  1. Mary’s Normality

 

Her conception of Jesus apart, Scripture records that Mary was not untypical of the women who lived in Israel in that day. She married one Joseph, a carpenter by trade, and had several children by him (Mark 6:3). Mary thus knew the joys and trials of motherhood and family life. 1 Timothy 2:15 states woman will be saved through bearing children. The reference here is not to salvation from sin, but more to finding one’s true role and fulfilment in God’s world. The verse – contrary to modern feminism – suggests that womankind will find true happiness and fulfilment in motherhood – in cooperating with the way in which God has designed her – by bearing, birthing and bringing up children.

Luke 2 suggests that Mary was a devout Jewess, for there we see that she was regular in her attendance at the annual feasts of the Lord in Jerusalem, as laid down in the law of Moses. In John 2 we glimpse Mary’s attendance at a wedding celebration at Cana in Galilee. There she shared in the joy of the day, and also witnessed her Son’s first miracle of turning water into wine. Otherwise, Scripture is silent as to the details concerning Mary’s life and her rearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. The suggestion is that she was widowed fairly young, as Joseph has no mention after Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem aged twelve, whereas Mary does.

The silence of Scripture apart, can we not employ sanctified imagination? In Luke 13,20,21, Jesus told a parable about a woman making bread. As a child, He surely witnessed His mother Mary doing this. In Luke 15:8 ff., Jesus told a parable about a woman who had lost a precious coin – probably the coin in question was a ‘nuptial coin’, worn as part of a headdress.  The woman was almost frantic She lit a lamp, swept her house and did not give up until she had found her precious coin … The vividness of the parable suggests that the Lord Jesus was relating an incident which really happened to make His point. Was the woman in the parable based on Mary His mother?

Scripture then records Mary’s normality. She was a mother of children. She worshipped God. Her life was bound up with both divine and family obligations

 

iii. Mary’s Perplexity

 

When the infant Jesus was presented to the Lord by Mary and Joseph in the temple at Jerusalem, in obedience to the law of Moses, an aged man named Simeon was led by God’s Spirit to make a specific prophecy to Mary. Luke 2:34 ff. records Simeon … said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against, and a sword will pierce through your own soul also … Simeon thus predicted that a sharp sword of sorrow would, in a coming day, break Mary’s heart very badly. Mary must have wondered what Simeon’s prophecy meant. Thirty three years later however she would know only too well.

Thirty three years later, Mary witnessed her beloved, first-born son suffer the most unimaginable cruelty possible. She witnessed cruel men taking Him, nailing Him to a plank of wood and hanging Him up to die. Crucifixion was the ultimate as regards public humiliation and personal excruciation. ‘A sword will pierce through your own soul also …’ The sword prophesied by Simeon did indeed pierce Mary’s soul without mercy, as John 19:25 records that standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother and His mother’s sister … We cannot comprehend the sorrow, pain and perplexity of Mary’s heart as she witnessed the public crucifixion of her Son. Yet with our New Testament hindsight we know that the cross was no mere act of man but an act of God Himself. It was necessary for our redemption, for without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22).

Paradoxically, the cross of Christ – that which lies at the heart of the Christian Faith – is both terrible and wonderful, for if we belong to Jesus, we have salvation from His suffering, atonement from His agony and life by His death. Mary watched the indignity and cruelty of her Son’s death at Calvary. But Jesus was dying there to procure her salvation as much as He was dying there to procure the salvation of every one of God’s elect. Redemption was wrought at Calvary!

 

Jesus was slain for me – at Calvary

Crowned with thorns was He – at Calvary

There He in anguish died

There from His opened side

Poured forth the crimson tide

At Calvary

 

Pardoned is all my sin – at Calvary

Cleansed is my heart within – at Calvary

Now robes of praise I wear

Gone are my grief and care

Christ bore my burdens there

At Calvary.

 

  1. Mary’s Christianity

 

Scripture records that Christ held His earthly mother in the highest esteem. The law of God commands Honour your father and your mother (Exodus 20:12). Jesus certainly did so. When He died at Calvary, all of God’s elect were on His heart. Yet this notwithstanding, He ensured that His earthly mother was well cared for, physically and emotionally. Whilst dying at Calvary, Jesus entrusted His mother to the care of the apostle John: When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home (John 19:26,27).

Go forward now three days to Easter Sunday. Witness Peter and John’s running to the tomb of Jesus. They found it was empty! The grave clothes lay there undisturbed Christ had risen. He had defeated death and conquered the grave. John went in, and he saw and believed … Then the disciples went back to their homes (John 20:8,9). John then was one of the first witnesses to the fact of Christ’s resurrection. He saw and believed  and then he went back to his home. Who was now resident in his home? Mary was! Mary the mother of Jesus was now under John’s care, so John had the joyful task of telling Mary that Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified … has risen (Mark 16:6). Scripture however is as silent as to Mary’s ecstatic joy as it was to her deepest sorrow

Our final glimpse of Mary in the Bible is that of her being an ordinary – though no doubt highly valued – member of the Christian community which met together to worship their common Lord and Saviour. The early Christians in Jerusalem met in the upper room (Acts 1:13) – a place with so many sacred associations. Luke records that in that upper room, the early church with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers (Acts 1:14). From this we see that Mary had no special prominence in the church at all. The prominence given to Mary in later Christendom can only be described as an unscriptural aberration. The early church did not worship Mary, but rather joined Mary in worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ. Mary was just an ‘ordinary’ Christian – if any recipient of God’s saving grace in Christ can be described as ‘ordinary’ – for Mary was a sinner saved by grace, and so she took her place in the Christian congregation to give thanks and praise to God for His mercy. The stress of Scripture is not on Mary but on Mary’s Son, for the Son of Mary is also the eternal Son of God. He alone is to be worshipped, trusted and adored.

 

 

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Meet John: Fisherman, Disciple, Gospel-Writer, Christian Elder Statesman

G.O.S.P.E.L.

Of the 31,173 verses which comprise the Bible, John 3:16 is probably the most famous single verse of them all. John 3:16 has been well described as ‘The Gospel in a nutshell.’ The description is apt, as this one verse summarises and encapsulates the message of the whole Bible when it affirms that God so loved the world that He gave His Only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not Perish but have Eternal Life. Whilst all the verses of the Bible are important, if we only had John 3:16, we would have enough saving truth to gain us a place in heaven.

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the human author of John 3:16 was the Apostle John. John was originally a fisherman. His father Zebedee owned a fishing business on Lake Galilee, and John worked for the ‘family firm’ with his brother James. He did so until He heard the call of Jesus to follow Him. At Jesus’ call, John left his nets and became a full-time disciple. It was the beginning of great things. In time, John was to become a Gospel writer, a Christian leader and an esteemed elder statesman of the Christian Faith. Five of John’s writings are contained in the New Testament – his Gospel, three of his letters and the book of Revelation which brings the divine volume to a close.

The John we meet in John’s Gospel was a young man, quite possibly still in his teens. In John 20:4 we read how he out ran Peter and reached the tomb first on the first Easter morning. When John wrote Revelation though, his dark hair would have turned white, and his body no doubt had lost its youthful fitness and vigour. Yet his love for Christ was, if anything, even stronger.

 

The Beloved Disciple

 

Of the thousands of men in Israel at the time of Christ, Jesus singled out just twelve to be his disciples. Of these twelve, three – Peter, James and John – were closer to the Saviour than others. And of these three, John was the closest disciple to Jesus of them all. John was truly an intimate of the Son of God. He has gone down in history as ‘the beloved disciple’ – the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 13:23 et al.).

At the first ever Lord’s Supper, the Bible describes John lying close to the breast of Jesus (John 13:25). Interestingly, John 1:18 tells us No one has ever seen God; the only Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.  So putting these verses together we may say that just as the Lord Jesus is the unsurpassed revelation of the one true God – He came from the Father’s ‘bosom’ to reveal Him – so likewise the Apostle John gives us an unsurpassed revelation of the Lord Jesus, being so close to the Saviour – lying close to the breast of Jesus  – as he was.  When we read John’s Gospel we meet Jesus, and through Jesus we meet God, for Jesus said ‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9).

 

The Gospel of Christ’s Absolute Deity

 

John’s Gospel is pre-eminently a Gospel which emphasises the absolute deity of Christ Whilst all four Gospel writers describe the same Person, Matthew’s stress is that Jesus is the Sovereign, Mark’s stress is that Jesus is the Servant, Luke’s stress is that Jesus is the Saviour whilst John’s particular stress is that Jesus is the Son of God and God the Son.

John opens his Gospel with the explanation and affirmation In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1). And John’s Gospel reaches a climax with Thomas’s wonderful confession of ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20:28) to the Risen Christ. It is a basic, biblical axiom that only God Himself is to be worshipped. You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve (Matthew 4:10). As the Lord Jesus did not rebuke Thomas for idolatry, but accepted the worship he gave, we have here a distinct pointer to the deity of Christ – though the doctrine runs right through John’s Gospel, both implicitly and explicitly, like a golden seam.

 

The Key to John’s Gospel

 

John hangs the key to the twenty one chapters of his Gospel near to the back door, for in John 20:31he gives us the reason why he took up his pen to write his matchless account of the words and works of Jesus. In John 20:31, John explains These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. This key verse is worthy of being unpacked a little

 

  1. Note the Heavenly Being

 

John wrote so that You may believe that Jesus is the Christ.  The Jews longed for the Messiah, and in Jesus the Messiah came. Jesus is the longed for Redeemer – the anointed one of God Who came to save His people and bestow on them eternal life – the blessing of God’s eternal salvation. John would have us know that Jesus is the Christ. In John 4:25, a somewhat disreputable woman of Samaria mused ‘I know that Messiah is coming (He Who is called Christ) … In John 4:26 we then read Jesus said to her, ‘I Who speak to you am He.’

                But John also wrote his Gospel so that we might believe that Jesus is … the Son of God. The testimony of John’s Gospel is that Jesus is indeed the unique and only Son of God, the second person of the blessed Trinity It is true that believers become ‘sons of God’ by adoption, when they believe in Christ. To all who received Him, who believed in His name He gave power to become children of God (John 1:12). Christ however is and always has been the eternal Son of God. He was in the beginning with God (John 1:2).

John’s testimony to Christ’s absolute deity – His divine sonship – is both emphatic and cumulative. In John’s Gospel we see attributes which only apply to deity being applied to and by Jesus. For instance, in Exodus 3:14 God revealed His name as the great I AM WHO I AM.  But in John’s Gospel we read that Jesus used the title ‘I am’ of Himself. In John 8:58, for instance we read that Jesus said to them ‘Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’  In 1 John 1:5 we read God is light. Similarly, the Psalmist described God as the One Who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment (Psalm 104:2). But in John 8:12 Jesus affirmed of Himself ‘I am the light of the world.’  Likewise, in Psalm 23:1 we read David’s confession that The LORD is my shepherd.  But in John 10:11 we read Jesus’ affirmation ‘I am the good shepherd’ Truly, Jesus is co-equal with God.

The miracles which Jesus is seen as performing in John’s Gospel – ‘signs’ – are another pointer to Christ’s absolute deity and divine sonship. Jesus performed miraculous acts which are humanly inexplicable – acts which only the omnipotent God Himself could do. Jesus Himself explained that these miracles authenticated His ministry and proved that He was Who He claimed to be:  ‘the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear Me witness that the Father has sent Me’ (John 5:36). Thus in John’s Gospel we see Him turning water into wine (chapter 2); healing an official’s son and a paralysed man (chapters 4:46 ff. and chapter 5); feeding five thousand with just five loaves and two fish (chapter 6); walking on the Sea of Galilee (chapter 6); giving sight to a man blind from birth (chapter 9) and even raising a dead man – Lazarus – back to life again (chapter 11). Thus the words and works of Jesus betray Him. He is the Son of God and God the Son.

 

  1. Note the Heavenly Believing

 

Our key verse in John 20:31 also tells us that John wrote his Gospel so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God … ‘Believe’ is a key word of John as it is a key word of the whole New Testament. According to the Bible, salvation is gained by believing.  that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life (John 3:15). He who believes in the Son has eternal life … (John 3:36). that you also may believe (John 19:35). Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).

To ‘believe’ in Jesus means to entrust the eternal well being of our souls to His care, and to rely on His work on the cross so save us eternally Salvation is gained – according to the Bible – not by doing, but by believing – specifically, by believing in Jesus. According to the Bible, to believe in Jesus and to have faith in Jesus are one and the same. ‘Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered to us in the Gospel’ (Shorter Catechism).

 

iii. Note the Heavenly Blessing

 

Note next that John wrote his Gospel that we might enjoy eternal life by believing in Jesus –  that by believing you may have life in His name.

                ‘Life in His name’ refers to a blessing procured by virtue of the Person of Jesus Christ and His finished work of atonement for sinners on Calvary’s cross. Eternal life is the greatest blessing we can or will ever receive. Eternal life is a synonym for salvation – the forgiveness of sins, peace with God and the certainty of a home in heaven when we die. Jesus’ Own definition of eternal life is given in John 17:3: ‘This is eternal life that they know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent.’ Eternal life then means knowing God and enjoying fellowship with Him both now and for ever. Our chief end – as the Catechism states – is ‘To glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever.’ Such a blessing may actually be attained by faith in Jesus Christ!

Paradoxically, John shows that Jesus died that we might have eternal life. The opposite of life is death.  Death, in the Bible, is more than physical. Death, in the Bible also refers to separation from God. It is the death of Jesus on the cross for our sins which reconciles the believing sinner to God. John himself was right there at Calvary when Jesus died. He noted that when Jesus had given His life one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water (John 20:34). Blood speaks of propitiation – the appeasement of God’s wrath. We are now justified by His blood, much more shall we be save by Him from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9). Water speaks of purification. Jesus is able to wash our sins away and make us fit for heaven!

 

Let the water and the blood

From Thy riven side which flowed

Be of sin the double cure

Save me from its guilt and power.

 

  1. Note the Heavenly Book : The Gospel of John

 

These things are written … John’s Gospel is in a category all of its own amongst human literature. John’s written portrait of the Saviour Whom he knew and loved so well is truly beyond compare. The only way of getting to know his Friend and Saviour is to read his Gospel and make its words part of our mind, thinking and very being.

It is obvious, but nevertheless true to state that John’s Gospel consists of words. Words are the audible expression or our inward thoughts. Words are thus essential for communication. It is staggering to think that that God of the Bible is a communicating God. He has revealed Himself to us in words – both the Word in print and the Word in Person. One of John’s titles for the Lord Jesus is the Word.  He opens his Gospel by saying In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1). The Lord Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, for in a moment of gracious condescension, John tells us The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth, we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father (John 1:14). Truly, there is none like Christ, the One we encounter in John’s wonderful book. Christ is the incomparable revelation of the one, true God. And Christ bestows the eternal salvation of the one true God on all who believe in Him. John’s Christology then can only ultimately lead to Christolatry.  May Jesus Christ be praised, on earth as in heaven.

 

Thou art the everlasting Word

The Father’s only Son

God manifestly seen and heard

And heaven’s beloved One

 

In Thee most perfectly expressed

The Father’s glories shine

Of the full deity possessed

Eternally divine!

 

True image of the Infinite

Whose essence is concealed

Brightness of uncreated light

The heart of God revealed

 

Worthy, O Lamb of God art Thou

That every knee to Thee should bow.

 

Copyright Timothy Cross

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meet Luke: Physician, Traveller, Christian Historian

 

Physician by Occupation

 

Luke the beloved physician (Colossians 4:14) was a Greek speaking medical doctor and firm friend of the Apostle Paul. During the closing days of Paul’s life, when the Apostle found himself in jail once again, Paul reported that Luke alone is with me (2 Timothy 4:11). Luke then stood by the Apostle Paul through thick and thin, even when others had deserted him. The consensus suggests that Luke was the only non-Jewish Gospel writer – though  some consider that he may have been a ‘proselyte’, that is, a Gentile convert to Judaism.

 

Penman by Pre-Occupation

 

Under God, Dr Luke’s main legacy to the world is the twenty four chaptered Gospel which bears his name, along with the New Testament book entitled the ‘Acts of the Apostles.’ This latter may be considered as ‘Luke’s Gospel Volume II.’ It tells us of the spread of the Gospel and the growth of the church throughout the Graeco-Roman world. The name ‘Acts’ is a shorthand. A fuller title might be ‘The Acts of the Risen Christ, by His Holy Spirit, through His Apostles.’

Luke penned both his Gospel and Acts as a Christian ‘apo-logy’ to a high-up, Roman official named Theophilus. ‘Apology’ here is a technical word. Luke certainly wasn’t apologising for the Christian Faith No. He was giving an ‘apo-logia’, that is,  a word in defence, or a word of explanation about the Christian Faith to an intelligent but ignorant friend – most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed (Luke 1:4). In picking up his pen so – divine inspiration notwithstanding – Luke gained for himself the accolade of being one of the world’s greatest historians.

 

Luke’s Gospel

 

Luke gleaned the information for his account of the life and ministry of Jesus by careful research and investigation. We can see that Almighty God put his scientific mind to a higher use. Unlike Matthew, Mark (who gained his Gospel information from Peter) and John, Luke was not one of the twelve disciples, and so was not a first hand witness to Jesus’ words and deeds. Under the guidance and superintendence of the Holy Spirit however, Luke was enabled to write a Gospel as accurate and inerrant as each of the Gospels. Hence his introductory explanation: It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely (or accurately) for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed (Luke 1:3,4).

It is interesting to note the medical matters which feature in Luke’s Gospel Whilst Mark relates Jesus’ healing of a man … who had a withered hand (Mark 3:1), Luke describes the same incident by telling us of a man … whose right hand was withered (Luke 6:6). Whilst Mark relates Jesus’ healing of Simon’s mother-in-law when she lay sick with a fever (Mark 1:30), Luke tells us that Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever (Luke 4:38). Then when Matthew and Mark record how Jesus cleansed ‘a leper’ Luke alone notes the extent of his leprosy when he describes how there came a man full of leprosy (Luke 5:12). These small extra details square with a medical mind, used to making accurate diagnoses and writing up medical notes.

 

The Virgin Birth of Christ

 

Significantly, it is Dr Luke who goes into the most detail of all the Gospel writers concerning the virgin conception of Christ – His conception by the Holy Spirit, without the aid of a human father, in the womb of the virgin Mary. Luke relates the angel explaining to Mary how The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God (Luke 1:35).

The intimate details concerning Jesus’ virgin conception would be known to Mary alone. Luke then evidently had her confidence. It is as though, whilst researching his Gospel, he took Mary into his surgery, and there she divulged the information concerning the miraculous conception of the eternal Son of God.

 

The Saviour of Sinners

 

Luke’s distinctive ‘angle’ on the Lord Jesus is that Jesus is the compassionate Saviour of sinners, and that the salvation He came to bring is universal in its scope. Interestingly, whilst Matthew traces Jesus’ human genealogy back to Abraham, the founding father of the Hebrew race, Luke traces Jesus’ human ancestry right back to Adam, the founding father of the whole human race (Luke 3:23-38).

If there is one key verse which unlocks the whole of Luke’s Gospel, it would be the words recorded in Luke 19:10, where the Saviour Himself explained that ‘The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’ (Luke 19:10). From this key verse we glean truth concerning the Saviour’s manhood, mission, mandate and mercy.

 

  1. His Manhood

 

Jesus describes Himself as The Son of Man … The compassionate humanity of Christ is a distinctive of Luke’s Gospel. Our God, in Christ, knows what it is like to be human, sin apart. We have not a high priest Who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:14). Our Saviour is a Saviour of real, tender and compassionate humanity.

 

  1. His Mission

 

The Son of Man came … The Lord Jesus went on a missionary journey like no other missionary journey. He came from heaven to earth so that we might go at last to heaven. He was born so that we might be born again. The living Saviour was born to die so that dying sinners might be born again and live eternally.

 

iii. His Mandate

 

The Son of Man came to seek and to save … Paul concurs with this in his succinct statement that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Our greatest need is to be saved from the condemnation we deserve for our sins. Our greatest need is for a Saviour. Christ alone is the Saviour for our greatest need. There is salvation in no one else .. (Acts 4:12) Luke recorded sometime later.

 

  1. His Mercy

 

The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. Without Christ we are indeed, sadly, badly and eternally lost. We are under God’s wrath for ever. Yet the Christian’s testimony is ‘I was lost, but Jesus found me.’ ‘I was perishing, but Jesus saved me.’ In Luke 15, Luke relates Jesus’ telling three parables about three lost objects – a lost sheep, some lost silver and a lost son. All three parables contain the joy of being found – an illustration of the joy which accompanies salvation. Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost (Luke 15:6). Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost (Luke 15:9). this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found (Luke 15:24).

If we hold in our minds the fact that Jesus is the Saviour of sinners, when we read through Luke’s Gospel,  we will interpret every line of it correctly. When Jesus was born, Luke records that a message from heaven rang out proclaiming to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, Who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). In Luke 15:2 Luke records how some murmured against Jesus saying ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them.’ And, as we have seen, in Luke 19:10 he records the Saviour’s Own explanation of His life and ministry with the words The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

 

The Road to Calvary

 

When we read Luke’s Gospel right through from the beginning, we cannot help noticing that it reads like one long journey to Jerusalem. As early as Luke 9:51 we see that He (Jesus) set His face to go to Jerusalem.  On the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus spoke of His departure, which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). Then in Luke 18:31 Luke records how Jesus, taking the twelve, He said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.’

                Why then this emphasis on going up to Jerusalem? Because it was at Jerusalem when they came to the place which is called The Skull (Calvary), there they crucified Him (Luke 23:33). The Saviour procured His people’s salvation in Jerusalem, at the place called Calvary. Salvation was wrought, not by His life but by His death, not by His instruction but by His crucifixion, for without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Luke 9:22).

When Christ was crucified at Calvary, Luke alone records that Jesus said ‘Father, forgive them …’ (Luke 23:34). The words transcend their immediate setting, for the forgiveness of sins lies at the heart of salvation. Christ died that we might be forgiven. It is precisely because Christ suffered and died for sins not His Own at Calvary, that there is a Gospel of salvation at all The salvation procured by Christ at Calvary is as central to Luke’s Gospel as it is to the whole Bible, hence Luke closes his first volume with the risen Christ’s Own explanation ‘Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations … (Luke 24:46,47).

So thank God for Luke’s Gospel. But thank God even more for the Saviour of sinners Luke describes therein. Truly, the Father has send His Son as the Saviour of the world (1 John 4:14).

 

O sweet is the story of Jesus

The wonderful Saviour of men

Who suffered and died for the sinner –

I’ll tell it again and again

 

He came from the brightest of glory

His blood as a ransom He gave

To purchase eternal redemption

And oh! He is might to save.

 

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Meet Mark: A Man Who Made His Mark

 

Streaker!

 

Did you know that one of the four Gospel accounts contains a reference to a streaker? Mark’s Gospel alone – in Mark 14:51,52 – tells us that when the Lord Jesus was arrested, a young man followed Him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body, and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.

The common consensus is that this streaker was actually young John Mark himself, the writer of the Gospel. His recording of the incident does not really add anything essential to the story of Jesus, so we wonder why it is in the Bible at all? Perhaps it is just Mark’s way of saying ‘I was there’ – his signature of authenticity, if you like.

 

Gospel Writer

 

Mark’s streaking apart, under God, we are certainly in his debt for his Gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus. His Gospel is the shortest of the four Gospels – just sixteen chapters in all. He has a very ‘racy’ style. You could read his Gospel through in not much more than an hour. If you do, note how often he carries you forward with his characteristic words and immediately. Mark’s emphasis is more on what Jesus did than on what He said, and his particular perspective and angle is that the Lord Jesus is the Lord’s Servant. Jesus’ own words recorded in Mark 10:45 actually give us the key which unlocks the whole of Mark’s Gospel. In Mark 10:45 we read that ‘The Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’  The first ten chapters of Mark show Jesus giving His life in service. Whilst the last six chapters of Mark show Jesus laying down His life in sacrifice – a sacrifice, in His own words ‘as a ransom for many’:-

 

There was no other good enough

To pay the price of sin

He only could unlock the gate

Of heaven and let us in.

 

Only human

 

Mark then was certainly a gifted young man. But this being said, he was only human. Mark had his home in the city of Jerusalem, and at one time, set out with the apostle Paul and Barnabas – who was actually Mark’s cousin – to accompany Paul on his first missionary journey. Mark thus witnessed the great apostle’s preaching and lifestyle at first hand. And he no doubt saw many lives transformed by God’s saving grace through the instrumentality of the apostle Paul. Yet Acts 13:13, ‘warts and all’ records how Mark deserted the missionary party, and left them and returned (home) to Jerusalem. Acts doesn’t explain why he did this. Perhaps he was homesick … Perhaps he could not keep up with Paul’s pace … We don’t know The stress of the Bible though is that the best of men are mere men at best, and only the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is sinless and perfect, and worthy of our adoration, adulation, worship and praise.

A chapter or two later in Acts, we meet up with Mark once again. And here again, the humanity of God’s chosen instrument is all too evident. Paul was about to embark on another missionary journey with Barnabas, and Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark (Acts 15:37). But Luke then records how Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them … and had not gone with them to the work (Acts 15:38). He then goes on to say that there arose a sharp contention, so that they separated from each other; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed … (Acts 15:39,40). Here than was a blazing row between Christian brothers How embarrassing for them to have all this recorded in the Bible for posterity! Sadly, Christians do sometimes ‘fall out.’ But what was the outcome of it all? The outcome was that souls were saved, and the Church of the Lord Jesus was built. It all goes to show how the work of the Gospel is God’s work. The faults and foibles of men are no hindrance to omnipotence. Jesus said ‘I will build my church and the powers of death shall not prevail against it’ (Matthew 16:18). Thank God that nothing can hinder Him from fulfilling His eternal purposes of grace!

 

All’s well that ends well

 

Finally, we note concerning Mark, that all ended well. He was eventually reconciled to the great apostle. Yes, there was a rift between him and Paul, but they made it all up some years later. Some of Paul’s last recorded words – from a prison cell, not long before he was martyred – are contained in 2 Timothy 4:11. Here he writes: Get Mark and bring him with you; for he is very useful in serving me

                It just does not do for Christians to fall out. Hence Paul in Philippians 4:2: I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. The Gospel is the Gospel of reconciliation – that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them … (2 Corinthians 5:19). In the Christ of Calvary, God has dealt with the sin-barrier which separates us from Him. Through Christ, we are reconciled to our Maker Himself. When we have been reconciled to God through Christ though, it is highly inconsistent if there is then some disharmony between us and others who profess to know and love the same Saviour. We have the same heavenly Father. We are redeemed by the same precious blood. We are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit. We are heading for the same eternal Home … Of course, there will only be total harmony in the Age to come, yet this apart, Psalm 133:1 holds true when it says Behold, how good and pleasant it is, when brothers dwell in unity.

                There then is something of Mark’s biography. He certainly make his mark on the world! His Gospel is part of the inspired Word of God. Mark was then a man who was most definitely used by God – and yet he was only a man. If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). Marks’s motto would no doubt be the same as every Christian saved by grace: ‘Don’t look at me, look at my wonderful Saviour!’

 

Jesus! The Name high over all

In hell or earth or sky

Angels and men before it fall

And devils fear and fly

 

Jesus! The Name to sinners dear

The name to sinners given

It scatters all their guilty fear

It turns their hell to heaven

 

His only righteousness I show

His saving truth proclaim

Tis all my business here below

To cry ‘Behold the Lamb!’

 

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Meet Matthew: Tax Collector, Disciple, Gospel Writer

 

The Call of Matthew

 

The Bible records how Jesus … saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office And He said to him ‘Follow Me.’ And he rose and followed Him (Matthew 9:9).

This concise account of Matthew-Levi’s call to follow Christ has a lot more to it than meets the eye. It actually contains some implicit evidence for the deity of Christ. The question is begged: Who is this Who is able to give the authoritative command ‘Follow Me’? Who is this Who is able and worthy to command and demand our total allegiance and obedience? Surely only God Himself is worthy of such. In the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah once issued the challenge: If the LORD is God, follow Him (1 Kings 18:21). Here however we see Jesus issuing the command ‘Follow Me.’ It shows that Jesus Christ is God.

 

The Conversion of Matthew

 

Matthew’s call to follow Christ was the biggest milestone in his life. Along with Christ’s summons, Christ’s salvation was imparted. Christ’s word accomplished a great work, for the commandment issued was also an enablement imparted. Matthew was never the same again. Therefore, if any one is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has passed away, behold the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Humanly speaking, Matthew was an unlikely candidate for salvation. Few in Israel would have singled out a tax collector for divine blessing. Taking money off people never boosts your popularity! Tax collectors were a despised breed. They were well known for being less than scrupulous – even for being embezzlers and defrauders. They were also loathed for their being in-league with the occupying, pagan, Roman power At the call of the Lord though Matthew left his tax office behind, and became one of Jesus’ inner circle of twelve disciples. The differing and diverse backgrounds of these twelve disciples are a picture of the Gospel of reconciliation in microcosm. All were now one in Christ – though we could speculate on the nature of the banter and table talk which occurred between Matthew – a Jew formerly in league with Rome – and Judas and Simon the Zealot – disciples who were formerly not averse to overthrowing Rome by paramilitary force.

 

The Composition of Matthew

 

Under God, Matthew’s main legacy to the world is his Gospel – the written account and compilation of the life and teaching of Jesus which bears his name. Matthew’s initial occupation was such that he was used to writing and keeping accounts, and the Lord God sanctified this ability of his and put his talent to a higher use to write Matthew’s Gospel – the first book in our New Testament

It is fitting that Matthew’s Gospel should open the New Testament, as Matthew’s Gospel is the Gospel with the most Jewish flavour to it, and as such is the ideal bridge between the Old and New Testaments. It has been well said that the New Testament completes what the Old Testament commences, and this is particularly true of Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew goes to great lengths to show that the many promises which God made in Old Testament times all have their fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ. All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet (Matthew 1:22). ‘Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them’ (Matthew 5:17). Truly, in the Lord Jesus, all the promises of God find their Yes in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20).

 

The Christ of Matthew

 

Each of the four Gospel writers has his own distinctive perspective on the life and ministry of Jesus. It is as though the same Person’s portrait is being painted from four different angles. Matthew’s particular emphasis is that Jesus is the Christ. He is the longed for Messiah promised by God. A turning point in his Gospel occurs when Peter makes the open confession to Jesus: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16).

‘Christ’ is a title, not a name. The title means ‘the anointed one.’ In Old Testament times, prophets, priests and kings were all anointed with oil at the outset of their ministries. It symbolised their being set apart by God and specially endowed with His Holy Spirit so that they could fulfil their specific callings. When the Lord Jesus commenced His ministry, Matthew records He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on Him (Matthew 3:16). As the Anointed One, Christ fulfils the roles of prophet, priest and king in His One blessed Person.

 

The Clue to Matthew

 

If there is one verse which gives us the key to unlock all twenty eight chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, it is Matthew 21:5. The verse – which again, is a fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy, namely Zechariah 9: 9 – reads:-

Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass.’

 

  1. The Character of Christ

 

‘Behold your King … Kingship was a facet of Messiah-hood. The Messiah was One Who would bring in God’s everlasting kingdom. He would bring in eternal life – the life of the Age to come. The Jewish people looked back to the reign of king David as being something of a golden age, hence, when they looked forward to the Messianic Age, they viewed it through ‘Davidic spectacles’ A Greater than David would come, right all wrongs and bring in the kingdom of heaven. And the Bible reveals Jesus to be ‘Great David’s Greater Son.’ He is the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16) – the root and offspring of David (Revelation 22:16).

Matthew then wrote his Gospel to direct our attention to the Messiah-King: Behold your King … The Shorter Catechism states ‘Christ executeth the office of a king in subduing us to Himself, in ruling and defending us and in restraining and conquering all His and our enemies.’ If we belong to Jesus we are the glad subjects of His kingdom. We are under Christ’s crown and covenant He has conquered us with His saving grace. He has made us His willing servants We worship Him as One Who is enthroned in heaven at God’s right hand, working and weaving all things for the good of His people. He reigns and He will yet come to reign. When He comes again in glory, He will put down all who oppose Him and eradicate all that is contrary and incompatible to His rule of justice and love. Behold your King is coming to you.

 

  1. The Cross of Christ

 

The great King of Matthew’s Gospel is also, however – and most paradoxically – a humble king. Humble and mounted on an ass, and on a colt the foal of an ass It reminds us that this King stooped to conquer. He bowed most low to lift His people most high. In fact, He conquered by seemingly being conquered, when the hands of cruel men nailed Him to a plank of wood and hung Him up to die. Matthew’s Christ is a crucified Christ. He records pointedly that when Christ was crucified, over His head they put the charge against Him, which read ‘THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS’ (Matthew 27:37). The notion of a crucified Messiah could not have been further away from the popular political Messianic expectations of the day. We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block (scandal) to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23). Yet is was by His cross that Christ gained the victory, for it was there at Calvary that He wrought the eternal salvation of His people which only He could win. On the cross His precious blood was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28). On the cross the Messiah made purification for sins (Hebrews 1:3) and was offered once to bear the sins of many (Hebrews 9:28).

 

iii. The Conquest of Christ

 

Matthew wrote his Gospel because he was concerned that we too should come to know and love the Messiah Whom he had come to know and love. When we read Matthew’s Gospel we are indeed brought face to face with the longed for Messiah – the One Who alone can give us entry into the kingdom of heaven.  That Jesus is indeed the Christ is fully and finally evidenced in Matthew’s last chapter, where we read of God the Father’s Own vindication of His Son by raising Him from the dead. The final words uttered by Matthew’s crucified and conquering King affirm that ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me …(Matthew 28:18). Peter likewise affirmed and confirmed this at Pentecost in the first ever Christian sermon when he proclaimed God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus Whom you crucified (Acts 2:36).

Matthew’s Gospel then thus repays our careful and prayerful attention. In reading its pages we are compelled to pay homage to the crucified, risen and reigning Messiah we encounter there.

 

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed

Great David’s greater Son!

Hail in the time appointed

His reign on earth begun!

He comes to break oppression

To set the captives free

To take away transgression

And rule in equity

 

O’er every foe victorious

He on His throne shall rest

From age to age more glorious

All blessing and all-blest

The tide of time shall never

His covenant remove

His name shall stand for ever

His changeless Name of love.

 

Copyright Timothy Cross

 

 

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The Twelve Days of Christmas

THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

I am sure that you have heard the well known Christmas song entitled The Twelve Days of Christmas.  The song always seems to be heard during the Christmas season. I confess that I had never really given it much thought, as it comes over as nothing more than a frivolous ditty. I revised my opinion last Christmas, however, when I learned that The Twelve Days of Christmas is actually Christian in origin. It was written during a time of religious persecution when the Faith was driven somewhat underground. Each line of the song contains a hidden Christian meaning, known only to Christians. This enabled the song to be sung in public without fear of arrest, for a non Christian would only know its surface meaning. Let us then delve a little deeper into the seemingly lighthearted song The Twelve Days of Christmas.

            On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree. ‘My true love’ here represents God the Father, and the partridge represents His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the ‘pear tree’ represents the cross of Calvary. A mother partridge, we are told, feigns injury to decoy predators from harming her nestlings. And of course, in His great love, God the Father sent His Son into the world to be the Saviour of sinners, delivering them from eternal harm by dying in the place of sinners. 1 John 4:10 reminds us ‘In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me, two turtle doves. These two turtle doves represent the Old and New Testament which comprise the Bible. The Old and New Testaments are the two lips by which God speaks to us. They are infallible and inerrant. They are inspired by God’s Holy Spirit and reveal the Creator’s secret of a happy life, a happy death and a happy eternity.

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me, three French hens. These represent the three theological virtues of ‘faith, hope and love’ (1 Corinthians 13:13). Faith means trusting and relying on God. Hope is a confident assurance and expectation that God will be true to His promises. Love for God and love for our fellow believers is a virtue enjoined frequently in the New Testament.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, four calling birds. The four calling birds here represent the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Bible gives us four written portraits of the one Christ. Matthew portrays Him as the King of the Jews – the long awaited Messiah. Mark portrays Him as the Servant of the Lord. Luke portrays Him as the Saviour of sinners. John portrays Him as the eternal Son of God Who became man. All four Gospels major disproportionately on the death of Christ at Calvary. It is by the death of Christ, not His live, that sinners are reconciled to God.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, five gold rings. These five gold rings represent the first five books of the Bible – the Pentateuch – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The theme of these five books is Creation, the Fall and Redemption. They tell us of our origins. They tell us how sin has spoiled the world. They tell us that the way back to God is by the blood sacrifice He has ordained – the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament all prefigured and foreshadowed the one sacrifice of Christ in the New.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, six geese a-laying. The six laying geese here represent the six days of creation as revealed in Genesis 1. The Bible teaches that Almighty God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. He spoke the world into existence in six days, and rested on the seventh. ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (Genesis 1:1).

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me seven swans a-swimming. These seven swimming swans represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit in Romans 12:6,7, namely: prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, helping and acts of mercy. The risen Christ, by His Spirit, bestows these gifts on His church for her welfare and edification. Whilst every Christian does not have all the gifts of the Spirit, every Christian has at least one of the gifts by which they can be a blessing to the church, which is the body of Christ. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy is an exhortation to every Christian: ‘Do not neglect the gift you have …’ (1 Timothy 4:14).

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, eight maids a-milking. The eight milking maids are the eight ‘Beatitudes’ with which the Lord Jesus opened His famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ – commonly known as the greatest sermon ever preached. The key to the Beatitudes is the first one: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 5:3). True blessedness is a result of realising our spiritual poverty and need, and casting ourselves on God in Christ for mercy.

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, nine ladies dancing. These nine dancing ladies represent the nine-fold ‘fruit of the Spirit’ enunciated in Galatians 5:22,23 – ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.’ The Holy Spirit of Christ gradually transforms Christians into the likeness of Christ. The process is known as sanctification. Fruit can take time to ripen, but by the grace of God, all who belong to Jesus will surely ripen more and more into His character.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, ten lords a-leaping. The ten leaping lords represent the Ten Commandments, as delivered by God to Moses at Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments are the Maker’s instructions. They are a summary of the moral law. They reveal God’s will, and they convict us of our sin and drive us to Christ for salvation. They also show us how to please God. If we love Him, and if we have been saved by His grace, we will endeavour to keep His commandments.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me, eleven pipers piping. Jesus chose twelve disciples, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. Of these twelve, only eleven were faithful. One, Judas Iscariot, betrayed Him.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, twelve drummers drumming. This final line of the song was intended to be a surreptitious reminder of the twelve lines of the Apostles’ Creed. The Apostles Creed is an early summary of the faith of the Bible – the Trinitarian Faith in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. ‘The Faith which was once for all delivered to the saint’ (Jude 3). The Apostles’ Creed is distinctly Trinitarian as the Christian Faith is distinctly Trinitarian. A Christian is one who has been saved by God the Holy Trinity – ‘chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with His blood’ (1 Peter 1:2).

So there you have The Twelve Days of Christmas. It comes over as a jolly song, and somewhat light hearted. But there is more to it than meets the eye. Once we know its hidden meaning, we will never sing or hear it in the same way again. Happy Christmas!

© Timothy Cross

 

 

           

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Taking on New Things

Snowflakes

Underneath the surface jollity, Christmas can be a sad time for some. At Christmas-time we can be more aware of loved ones who are no longer with us. This is the case with my family, where my late father no longer joins us around the Christmas dinner table.

Losing a loved one though is not without compensations. Since my father’s death my mother has been released from the twenty four hour care he needed, and able to take on activities she was prevented from doing when my father was alive. She is now more involved with her church and has also joined a choir and a reading group. She is also now free to travel.

Did you know that the Lord Jesus – He whose birth lies at the centre of Christmas – at certain moments in time, took on matters which He had never taken on before? As the second person of the divine trinity, in eternity past, Jesus lived in the glory of heaven, in the ineffable fellowship which exists in the trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. On earth, He could speak to His Father of ‘the glory which I had with Thee before the world was made’ (John 17:5). Yet Scripture reveals that at crucial moments in the divine plan of salvation, Jesus, the eternal Son of God, took upon Himself i. Our human flesh ii. Our human sin.

1. The Divine Incarnation

In Jesus, God became man, taking upon Himself our human flesh. In Jesus, God actually shared our humanity. John wrote ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14), and Paul explained that ‘in Him (Christ) the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily’ (Colossians 2:9). It is the incarnation – God’s real, actual, historical and historic ‘enfleshment’ – which takes us to the heart of Christmas:-

 

‘Christ the Son of God became man, by taking to Himself a true body, and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin’ (Shorter Catechism).

 

The real, humanity of Jesus reminds us that we have a God who really does understand our human lot from ‘the inside.’ He can never be accused of being far removed from our daily struggles in this fallen world. ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11:35), and Jesus slept (Mark 4:38). He experienced fatigue (John 4:6), hunger (Mark 14:33) and thirst (John 19:28). Jesus also experienced mental turmoil (Mark 14:33) and received the barbs of those who sought to inflict psychological damage on Him (Matthew 27:39). Christians thus hold to the full humanity of Christ as much as they do to His absolute deity, for Scripture teaches both. His real humanity tells us ‘we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15).

But why did the Lord Jesus take on Himself our humanity? The answer of the Bible is: So He could die. His incarnation was with a view to His immolation. Unusually, His birth was with a view to His death. Scripture teaches that Jesus’ birth was a case of His taking on Himself our human flesh. But His death was a case of His taking on Himself our human sin.

2. The Divine Imputation

In a verse of infinite profundity, 2 Corinthians 5:21 states ‘For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.’ Hebrews 9:28 similarly tells of ‘Christ having been offered once to bear the sins of many.’

The Christian gospel proclaims that the sins which prevent our fellowship with God and access to heaven may be fully and forever forgiven. But they may be forgiven only because Christ took them and their consequences on Himself when He died on the cross. Our sins may be forgiven because Christ bore them. When we speak of Christ ‘bearing’ our sins, we mean that He paid the price for them; He paid the penalty for them; He endured the punishment which we should have borne for them. He became the sinner’s substitute. Divine ‘imputation’ is the word which encapsulates this. Our sins – in the mercy of God – were ‘put to Christ’s account.’ He ‘paid the bill’ that we might be exonerated. On the cross of Calvary, He endured the wrath of God on our sins to save everyone who believes in Him from the wrath of God on their sins:-

 

All Thy sins were laid upon Him

Jesus bore them on the tree

God, who knew them, laid them on Him

And believing, Thou art free

(J Denham Smith 1817-1889)

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So at two key points in the saga of redemption, God, in Christ i. Took upon Himself our human flesh and ii. Took upon Himself our human sin. The two may be distinguished, but cannot be separated, as the former was with a view to the latter. Christ was born to save us. ‘You shall call His name Jesus for He will save His people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21). And salvation was actually procured, not by Christ’s birth but by His death, in the very last hours of His earthly life, when He died as an atoning sacrifice for sinners. Christ’s taking on Himself our humanity was with the sole purpose of taking on Himself our sin. Christmas Day was with a view to Good Friday, for Christ’s cradle was with a view to His cross when ‘He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree’ (1 Peter 2:24).

 

Jesus, my Saviour to Bethlehem came

Born in a manger to sorrow and shame

O it was wonderful – blest be His Name!

Seeking for me, for me!

 

Jesus, my Saviour on Calvary’s tree

Paid the great debt and my soul He set free

O it was wonderful – how could it be

Dying for me, for me!

(Anon).

 

© Timothy Cross

 

 

 

 

 

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The Virgin-Born Saviour

 

Therefore the LORD Himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).

The Prophecy of Christ’s Virgin Birth

That Isaiah’s words here – addressed originally to King Ahaz of Judah some 800 years BC – had their ultimate fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ is the clear testimony of the New Testament. Isaiah prophesied of One to come Who, incredibly, was to be born without the normal instrumentality of a human father. When the Lord Jesus – God’s eternal Son – was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary and born of her, this prophecy was fulfilled.

As the Christian Church grew, and her fundamental beliefs came to be encapsulated and defined in her creeds and statements of Faith, the ‘Virgin Birth’ of Christ – by which we mean the ‘virginal conception’ of Christ – came to be regarded as fundamental to the Faith, and hence included in the church’s creeds. If we deny that Christ was virgin born, we are at odds with the historic Christian Faith and cannot really claim to be a Christian. The Apostles’ Creed  states:-

I believe …in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary …

 

The Shorter Catechism  states similarly:-

Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to Himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.

The Mystery of Christ’s Virgin Birth

Virgin births are, of course, humanly speaking, impossible. In dealing with the virgin birth of Christ though, we are dealing with God, and with God nothing will be impossible (Luke 1:37). In Christ, no mere human was born but the pre-existent and eternal Son of God – the Second Person of the blessed Trinity.

People sometimes speak of ‘the miracle of life.’ Whilst we know what they mean, the term ‘the miracle of life’ is actually something of a misnomer. A new-born baby is wonderful, yet not really miraculous. Miracles are, by their nature, unusual, one-off events – but babies are born every day. New life is certainly mysterious and marvellous, but not, strictly speaking, miraculous. As you do not know how the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God Who makes everything (Ecclesiastes 11:5).

In the virgin birth of Christ though we are dealing with a unique, unusual, one-off, never to be repeated, incomparable miracle. Miracles present no problem to omnipotence. Christ’s conception was not a natural one but a supernatural one. His conception was not by an act of man but by an act of God.

The Reality of Christ’s Virgin Birth

When the virgin Mary – a young Jewish girl, living in Nazareth in Northern Israel –  was enabled to conceive the Lord Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, she was engaged to be married to one Joseph. Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18). The intensely human details which Matthew records next, show that the account of the virgin birth of Christ is the plain, sober truth, rather than a clever and creative story spun by man. Virgin births were just not in Joseph’s mental framework at all – let alone in relation to his own wife to be. On realising that the woman to whom he was engaged was pregnant, Joseph was horrified and devastated. Although he loved her, he thought the worst of her. Surely Mary had been unfaithful and broken her sacred pledge. Surely now his marital hopes had ended almost before they had begun… Sadly, divorce seemed to be Joseph’s only option. Reading the account, we can almost feel the disappointment and depression descending on Joseph, but… But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:20ff.). It took an envoy from heaven to make Joseph change his mind!

Matthew next notes carefully that all of this was part of God’s redemptive plan, hence it was in complete accord with what God had already prophesied hundreds of years previously. He thus quotes the very verse from Isaiah with which we opened to prove his point: All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel’ (which means, God with us) (Matthew 1:22,23). In the virgin birth of Christ then Isaiah’s prophecy was most certainly and most gloriously fulfilled.

Luke’s account

Interestingly, significantly and fittingly, it is Luke’s Gospel which gives us the most detail in its recording of the virgin birth of Christ. We say this, as Luke was a medical doctor. Luke the beloved physician (Colossians 4:14). Luke alone relates the virgin birth of Christ from the angle of Mary His mother. It would seem that Mary had the confidence to confide in Dr Luke, and disclose to him the details withheld from the other accounts. The divine inspiration of the Scriptures apart, it is as though Luke had taken Mary into his surgery, from whence the material for the first chapter of his Gospel – with its detail concerning Christ’s virgin birth – was ascertained. Luke thus recorded for posterity how:-

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary … And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High…’ And Mary said to the angel ‘How shall this be, since I have no husband?’ And the angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God’ (Luke 1:26 ff.).

Christ’s birth then cannot be explained apart from the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit. He had no human father. God was always His Father. Christ existed before His birth on earth. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1,14). How did the latter occur? By His conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, in fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

The Necessity of Christ’s Virgin Birth

From a Biblical perspective, the virgin birth of Christ was an absolute necessity as much as it is an assured reality. Put negatively, if Jesus had been born of a human father, He would not have been a sinless Saviour, for He would have inherited our sinful nature. Had Christ not been sinless, He would have been unable to redeem sinners. Only a sinless One could offer up His life as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of others. Had Christ been born as a mere son of Adam – and not the Son of God – His death at Calvary would have been of no avail to us. We are sinners. We are so by nature and practice, being descendants of Adam. Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned (Romans 5:12). We have inherited Adam’s sinful nature. Christ though did not. He is the ‘Last Adam.’ His conception by the Holy Spirit ensured that no taint of sin was transmitted to His human nature. He is the sinless Son of God, hence His qualification to be the Saviour of sinners. He was born, not of the will of man but of God. His human nature was free from sin, hence His blood alone, shed at Calvary’s cross, has the power to save others from sin. Christ’s supernatural birth and Christ’s supernatural blood are inextricably linked. Redemption is only to be found in the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:19).

What stream is that which sweeps away

My sins just like a flood

Nor lets one guilty blemish stay?

Tis Jesus’ precious blood.

The Glory of Christ’s Virgin Birth

The Christian marvels at the virgin birth of Christ, a virgin birth in total fulfilment of Isaiah 7:14: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.  The virgin birth of Christ elicits our humble adoration. The virgin birth of Christ though is just one facet of the incomparable person and work of the incomparable Saviour. Christ certainly entered into the world supernaturally – yet He also exited from the world in a supernatural way too. Christ certainly did inhabit a virgin womb for a season – but He also inhabited a virgin tomb too, from which He conquered the grave on the third day.

In dealing with Christ we are dealing with God. A true Christian, knowing His power to save, will never ever cast aspersions on either Christ’s virgin birth or any of the other miraculous phenomena connected with our Saviour.

Christ was, as Isaiah said He would be, ‘conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary.’ Christ’s virgin birth is both a doctrine to be believed and a hymn of praise to be sung. It was by this method that the pre-existent Son of God became incarnate ‘for us men and for our salvation.’

Christ by highest heaven adored

Christ, the everlasting Lord

Late in time behold Him come

Offspring of a virgin’s womb

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see

Hail the incarnate Deity

Pleased as Man with men to dwell

Jesus, our Immanuel.

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