Person X has sinned. They feel guilty. They feel dirty. They feel helpless to deal with their burden. What can wash away their sin? ‘Nothing but the blood of Jesus!’ On Good Friday we remember God’s plan to address sin. The Cross is where Jesus died the death we deserve to die so that—in faith—we might be justified, or declared right (‘righteous’) in God’s sight.
The Bible famously uses a number of pictures to convey justification. Here are three:
Covered (Exodus 12:13)- The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.
Cleansed (Ps 51:7)- Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Cleared Off (Ps 103:12)- as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
In each picture the guilt or penalty of sin is pictured as wonderfully and vividly removed from us. When we are in Christ we no longer stand condemned (Ro 4:6–8, 8:1, 33–4) but rather forgiven, just. Still more Christ’s righteousness is imputed (credited) to us so that in God’s sight not only are we not guilty but are righteous (Isa 61:10; R 5:19). All of our sins, past, present and future, are covered, cleansed and cleared off.
But this doesn’t mean sin does not exist in our lives. Jesus paid the penalty of our sin but is addressing the power of sin through imparted righteousness. Here He gives us His life-giving Spirit (1 Cor 15:45) so that we might be sanctified in actual fact. This too is wonderful news. Not only does Jesus impute righteousness, He also imparts it. He gives us the tools to deal with sin in our life, we are not alone.
And the end of the story is just as grand as its beginning, a day when the believer will be free from not only the penalty and power of sin but even its very presence (Rev 22).
Far too many needlessly labour under the burden of sin when imputed and imparted righteousness are offered in Jesus. He can and will cover, cleanse and clear off our sin when we come to Him in repentance and faith so that we may live a life free from guilt, free to live as God intended.
At the cross at the cross
Throughout history God’s kingdom, that is the restoration of His rule on earth—particularly under the New Covenant—has sometimes surged forward, grown in revival, persevered in faithful labouring, plodded, seemingly retreated, but over-all has been advancing like that mustard seed growing into a tree (Mk 4:30–34).
But like a soldier caught in the thick of the life and missional battle to which we’ve been called, it can be difficult sensing the greater plan and knowing our place in it. What are we to do!
This week was St. David’s Day, the patron saint of Wales. Wales is a beautiful country dear to my family’s heart from our many explorations there (we enjoyed some Welsh cakes to celebrate). David was some sort of protégé of the great evangelist Patrick who ministered in Ireland leading to that islands conversion from Paganism. David sought to do the same in Wales.
A Welsh maxim says, “do the little things in life” (i.e. when you don’t know exactly what to do, begin by doing what needs to be done). This is from David who said, ‘Be joyful, keep the faith, and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do.’ (an echo of Paul in Phil 4:8–9). As a result of his little things much of Wales became Christian. The Lord uses us to do much when we are faithful in the little things He has commanded His Church to be about (e.g. worship, prayer, Bible study, holy living, evangelism, charity).
This sentiment was also shared by James Culross over a century ago. In writing a biography of John Ryland Jr., he said:
“unlike those most useless persons in Christian circles who are always waiting for great things to do, and who neglect the opportunities which lie to their hand, young Ryland always did the little which lay to his hand, and found that by doing the ‘next thing’ life became rich in opportunities of usefulness.”
This was certainly true of the early Church for while it enjoyed seasons of rapid advance (think the day of Pentecost) its first centuries have been characterized by the phrase, “a long obedience in the same direction.”
Regardless of what season we find ourselves in as Ontarian Christians today, the call to readiness (Titus) and to be faithful in little to be made faithful in much apply today (Lk 16:10).
What Ontario needs today are not super-Christian who are trying to do great things but ordinary Christians who will faithfully serve Christ in a steady advance—doing the little things today, tomorrow and the day after that in service to their Lord. That is how Christ’s kingdom will come, through a steady advance. Even so we pray, come Lord Jesus come.
*For more see listen to the Extraordinary Ordinary that is being encouraged as we approach our post-Covid world.
 James Culross, The Three Rylands (1897), 73.
It has been a rainy summer. Just this week our area has seen many storms roll through. As I pondered the weather a thought struck me. The great majority of our storms come from a westerly direction, which is our prevailing wind. To get a storm from any other direction is unusual. We’re always watching the clouds in the West. We plant hedges in this direction and build houses and projects with this in mind. The storms of this world come from the West.
Interestingly, however, Jesus will return from the East. Not least among Biblical references, this is what He said in Mt 24:27:
For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
As we are dealt the westerly storms of this world and our eyes and thoughts are often inclined in that direction, keep your eye on the East, hope in Christ. Set your focus not on the storms of this life but upon Jesus and His promised return. He is the bright morning star that sheds light into our darkness and He will come again like the blazing sun to take away the darkness of stormy sin forevermore.
 Though this verse says Jesus return will be like lightening from the east, lightening is seen and covered a broad area (“as far as the west”). The emphasis is on the sudden and destructive and visible return of Christ than the direction. It remains a mystery how exactly Christ will return from the east and yet be visible everywhere.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Gal 1:10)
What a timely word for the Christian in these days.
This verse is a profound statement of Paul’s at the beginning of his letter to the Galatians. What was at stake was the pure Gospel (faith in Jesus) threatened by the false Gospel of the circumcision party (faith + circumcision). He, like Peter had been (Gal 2:11), was no doubt tempted to accommodate, tempted to seek to please these powerful forces, rather than stand for God, Christ and the truth of the Gospel. What was at stake was not only the spiritual wellbeing of the Galatians, but the assurance of his own allegiance to Christ. Essentially he says, “If your desire is to be a people pleaser, if you persevere in this, you aren’t, cannot be a Christian”— I would NOT be a servant of Christ. Why, because Christ is Lord of the Christian, He is the object of their affections, the sum of all their gain, the One we desire to please, the One who demands our complete allegiance, the One who directs our steps.
There are many other Bible verses that pick up on this:
The pressure to conform is great (Ro 12:2). The warning of its cost is strong. Let us not cease to seek to please God over and above people.
PRAYER: Lord, I’m too often concern with what others think. Forgive me for being a people pleaser and help me to live for Jesus today and every day. In His name, Amen.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)
The Bodleian Library at Oxford University is one of the most famous libraries in the world. It contains some 12 million books.
A local library averages some 8000 books and a household some 50–100 books (though today that is certainly declining).
Though “books” have changed in their form over the years, it is interesting why John would end his Gospel talking about them.
He’s already alluded to the “signs” recorded in the Gospel so that the reader “may have life in [Jesus] name.” (Jn 20:30–31). How is it that all the works of Jesus, were they written, would not be able to be contained, not simply by the libraries of the world, but the world itself? (The world is pretty large!).
Surely all of the stories of Jesus’ life, ministry, miracles and teachings, could be captured, if not in a local library, in something like the Bodleian! Not so, why? Because Jesus is the eternal Word (Jn 1:1), He created the world, of course the world couldn’t contain all His works, for as its Creator He is greater than the world (Col 1:16)!
Jesus is not just a man but Lord and God (Jn 20:28), as John demonstrates in His Gospel. This ought to lead us to worship, submit to and follow Jesus. The beautiful thing in this story is that because of the greatest of Jesus the believer has an eternity to get to know Jesus’ story (Himself); one in which, as C.S. Lewis said, “every chapter is better than the one before.”
 Ironically, even though fewer libraries have Christian content, all libraries speak about things that Christ created in this world and so are full of Christian things, even though people don’t acknowledge them (Ro 1).
In our C2C reading today we find a famous phrase of John the Baptist. Referring to Jesus as the Messiah who would come after him he said, “the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” (Jn 1:27).
Stooping down to untie sandals (and clean feet) was the job of servants. John, recognizing his own sinful unworthiness (even as the greatest of OT prophets!) and Jesus’ incomparable greatness, he did not presume that he was worthy but frankly acknowledged that he wasn’t; not even worthy to untie His sandal. John knew he was beneath the rank of a servant before the Christ.
Yet, because John also said Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (v. 29) and Christ Himself bid John to rise and baptize Him, those who trust in Christ can have hope. We have hope that though unworthy, because of Christ’s grace through faith, we can rise from sub-servants to indeed be friends of God (Jn 15:14–15).
What amazing grace! May we trust in Him and serve Him with gratitude.
The Jews, led by Zerubbabel, had returned to Judea and Jerusalem, yet many things were not as they appeared to be and their glory was not as of old. They felt very small (as the church can today) in a much wider world (the Persian Empire). They felt as if it was a day of “small things.”
“For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice.” (Zech 4:10)
Despite how they felt, moment by moment, day by day, they trusted God’s promises and waited upon Him believing that He would use His people to accomplish great things, chiefly: the coming of Christ through Zerubbabel’s line. All of the steps along the way were part of God’s plan to, as John the Baptist proclaimed, prepare the way.
As Christians in our daily walk, or as a local church, it can be easy to feel as if our lives and ministry are “small things,” insignificant to God’s plans, not useful in the grand scheme of ministry or the vastness of the world. May Zech 4:10 call us to think again! Consider these examples:
Last week I was blessed to have some time to work on house renos. Purchasing a fixer-upper of an old farm house has meant some very interesting renovation finds. This trend continued as I began renovating the old summer kitchen off of the back of the main house. While the main house was structurally sound and true (meaning level or straight), the old summer kitchen was another matter. A combination of a poor foundation, improper work on load bearing walls (all now fixed btw), etc, the centre of the summer kitchen bowed considerably meaning new level windows looked as if they were out (an optical allusion). To give you an idea of just how crooked the old summer kitchen was, its walls were 1” out of level on the vertical over 4 feet and the centre of the wall sagged 3–4” from the ends.
Every time I went to fix something I kept saying, “It shouldn’t be this way!”
The Bible says much about crookedness. It speaks of crooked speech, poverty as better than being crooked yet with great riches and of a crooked generation (Dt 32:5; Acts 2:40, 13:10; Phil 2:15). However, talk of “crookedness” usually refers to something or someone being out of plumb with God’s Law or intended design. It is twisted, perverted, crooked. This imagery is frequently employed in Wisdom literature. Three examples will suffice:
And like my summer kitchen, we look around at the world and see it too is crooked. It is not as it should be. Unlike my renovations which seek to mend or fix up an old structure, that is not the promise of the Gospel. In the Gospel, Jesus promises by His Spirit to make us new, to transform us—language far more powerful than a mere makeover or renovation. We need forgiveness for our crookedness and His Spirit’s renewing power, otherwise when the chief building inspector comes on that Great Day, with the measuring tape of His Law, who will be able to stand when His just judgement falls? Certainly not the crooked, they will collapse under the weight of His wrath. However, the righteous, the straight, the believer in Jesus, he will stand on that great day, Christ bearing Him up and being the righteousness he could never be.
May we look to Christ with the promise of being made straight and true in accordance with His truth.
Birds are a great wonder in Creation. Maybe you’d heartily agree with me, or maybe you’ve never paused to consider. Consider the way they fly, their plumage or song or even their habits. Did you know that the sparrow is not native to Ontario but was introduced by the pioneers? Or did you know farmers used to wait to plant their corn until the swallows had returned? These two birds wonderfully came up in this week’s Life Group Study on that wonderful Psalm about delighting in God’s presence, the 84th Psalm:
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! (Ps 84:3–4)
Why are birds mentioned here? One would think they would be shooed away but no they were welcomed in the Temple, a lesson that all may freely access the presence of God through faith in Jesus Christ. And what is produced by a life who’s encountered Jesus? It is a life of praise. Commenting on our Lord’s reference to sparrows in the Sermon on the Mount, Martin Luther considered, “the birds, our teachers.” Indeed, their consistent, heartfelt and beautiful praise of their maker is a great inspiration for the Redeemed to go and do likewise.
If you like birds and are interested in meditating upon their frequent reference in the Bible you might enjoy, The Birds, Our Teachers, by John Stott, who was himself an influential preacher and bird watcher.
We all need encouragement from time to time. Though the God of the Bible is far more than a crutch to make it through life's difficulties He nonetheless condescends to us in His love to offer us encouragement.
Such was the case with Joshua. Joshua faced an immense task: to lead the people of God into the Promised Land as Moses' successor! He did so valiantly as a man of faith, however, the prospect of His call would have caused any man (or woman) of faith to fret. God in His mercy gave Joshua this promise and by trusting in it Joshua overcame his greatest fears.
"Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I, the LORD your God, am with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9).
Whether it be something the Lord is calling you to, an illness, persecution, relationship troubles or temptations, all Christians are susceptible to fear and in need of encouragement to trust the Lord.
When I'm afraid I often sing to myself. I don't just sing any old thing but usually either a lyric from a Christian song or a portion of Scripture. Ps 119:11 instructs us to hide God's Word in our hearts. That is why I wrote the song displayed above. When my wife was in labour, when I have a difficult pastoral task, etc, I sing this song to myself or another to remind us of the promise of God; that through faith He helps overcome the difficulty and the discouragement.
If you have never trusted Jesus Christ as your Saviour, first trust in Him for salvation, but then know that an immeasurable number of promises are yours in Christ Jesus, among them encouragements such as: Ps 145:18- "The LORD is near to all who call on Him, who call on Him in truth." Cry out to Jesus, who is the truth, today and receive not only salvation from sin but His calming presence.
The Lord's Sweetest Blessings,