Complete and Effective Decision about Sin

The following is taken from an excellent devotion written by Oswald Chambers on the My Utmost for His Highest website.

“our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Romans 6:6)

Co-Crucifixion. Have you made the following decision about sin—that it must be completely killed in you? It takes a long time to come to the point of making this complete and effective decision about sin. It is, however, the greatest moment in your life once you decide that sin must die in you– not simply be restrained, suppressed, or counteracted, but crucified— just as Jesus Christ died for the sin of the world. No one can bring anyone else to this decision. We may be mentally and spiritually convinced, but what we need to do is actually make the decision that Paul urged us to do in this passage.

The full devotion can be found here

The entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem

The following sermon is on Matthew 21:1-11 and the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem.

One of the things we cannot ignore when we come to reading scripture is that we know the end of the story. We know that the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday will take us on a path which leads to Jesus’ death and crucifixion on Good Friday. However that is not the end as Good Friday leads us to Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead which we celebrate next Sunday.

However although we know the events that follow Palm Sunday, I want us as best as we can to put ourselves into the shoes (or rather sandles) of those people who were there on that day. None of who knew, apart from Jesus, what would follow in the next few days.

We see at the start of the passage that Jesus sent two of his disciples to collect a donkey and a colt. Jesus deliberately chose to enter Jerusalem this way. He could have just strolled into Jerusalem discretely but He did not. Why the colt?

By doing this Jesus was fulfilling what the prophet Zechariah had predicted some 600 years before:

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah chapter 9:9)

This passage in Zechariah is recognised by the Jews as referring to their King, the Messiah entering Jerusalem triumphantly. Therefore by fulfilling this prophecy Jesus was saying loud and clear to anyone who was paying attention that “I am that King!”

There were occasions in His ministry when Jesus told people not to tell others who he was or he just kept out of the public limelight. For example after the feeding of the 5,000 when the crowd wanted to forcibly make him king (John 6) and when Peter answered the question “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16)

Not this time though. Anyone who knew the Scriptures (especially the Jewish religious leaders) would have understood the symbolism here. By entering Jerusalem on a colt, Jesus was publicly declaring that He was the King that the people had been waiting and longing for.

The King was entering Jerusalem. However this King was different to your normal king. Instead of riding into Jerusalem in a royal carriage He entered humbly riding on a foal of a donkey.

Our passage tells us that a large crowd gathered and excitedly cheered Jesus.

Have you ever been to a music concert where you are awaiting the entrance of the main star of the evening? The anticipation builds up and the crowd eagerly await the entrance. There is a buzz of excitement and then a huge cheer as the person who everyone has come to see appears.

On the day after Tony Blair’s first general election win in May 1997, as I was off work on annual leave, I decided to go up to London to see if I could get into Downing Street and watch the celebrations. I managed to sneak my way into Downing Street and joined the various supporters of the Labour party as they were celebrating getting back into power.

It was interesting, as a neutral observer, to watch the emotions of those present. And of course when Tony Blair arrived there was much cheering. Obviously I’m not suggesting that Tony Blair was a saviour figure but days like that give an indication of what the atmosphere could have been like on the first Palm Sunday.

There is certainly something special about being in a crowd awaiting the arrival of someone. Maybe it’s the shared experience or the feeling of being part of the group.

Let’s picture ourselves in with the crowd in Jerusalem. The little boy says to his dad” can you see him? When’s he going to arrive?”

People are looking up the road looking out and longing to see Him.

Suddenly a big roar goes up “He’s here! He’s here!”

“Look people are spreading their cloaks on the floor. This is how we greet our king!”

“Look at all those palm trees on the road!”

More shouting is heard:

“Hosanna to the Son of David!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

The crowds were excited to say the least!!

There are two Pharisees in the crowd talking with each other. There is a mixture of fear and anger in their voices.

“He’s on a colt. You know what that means!”

“I know. He thinks he’s the Messiah! This is getting out of control. We have to stop him. If we don’t do something there could be trouble and the Romans may slaughter many of our people.”

“More importantly they might destroy the Temple and we might lose our privileged priest position!”

In Luke’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’  He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’

We certainly see in this passage that the King is greeted with great enthusiasm by the crowd. Now I know that 4 or 5 short days later many of those in this crowd may well have been there with the Pharisees shouting “Crucify him, Crucify him” and we cannot ignore that. However I wonder if there are things we can learn from the crowd? They were excited about meeting Jesus:

  • Are we excited about meeting Jesus?
  • Do we get excited about coming to church each Sunday to meet with God’s people?

When I think about the crowd I see observe three different groups of people amongst them.

FIRSTLY: Disciples and the other followers of Jesus.

I’m not just referring to the twelve disciples but also to the others who followed Jesus around. (For example in Luke 10 Jesus sent out seventy two people to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God. There were also the women mentioned in Luke 8:1-3 who supported Jesus financially e.g. Joanna, whose husband Chusa was Herod’s administrator; Susanna; and many other women).

Yes we all know that the disciples got things wrong and make mistakes. I guess that’s because they are humans like us! However they were not naïve or stupid. They knew it was dangerous going up to Jerusalem. Mark 10:32 tells us that “that those who followed him were afraid.” Yet they still bravely followed Jesus.

I would imagine that as they walked into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday they were nervous and worried about what might happen. However deep down they wanted to follow their master.

I wonder if we can identify with those disciples? We want to serve God but so often feel we are not adequate or feel scared. Or we just plain get it wrong on occasions!

SECONDLY: The crowd who spread their garments cheering Jesus

The Jewish people hated being ruled by the Romans. They wanted their freedom back. It was the week leading up to Passover, when they remembered God rescuing the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. The religious and nationalistic expectations of the crowd would have been huge. The people had for years been longing for the Messiah to come and rescue them from the Romans. Could Jesus be their Messiah?

However the Messiah / King that the people were expecting was a military king, just like David. They were looking for the wrong type of king. Israel was looking for a king to defeat their enemies the Romans. But Jesus did not regard the Romans as his enemies. Jesus’ enemies were the power of sin and death. These were the enemies that he came to fight and defeat.

His was a spiritual battle in which he would be going toe to toe with sin and death. They were the real enemies. These were the enemies that had brought misery to the human race and that Jesus would defeat.

How could the crowd have turned against Jesus so quickly?

It’s easy sometimes to worship God when He does what we think He should do; when God answers our prayers the right way (i.e. our way).

However what happens when our prayers are not answered in the way we think they should? What happens when Jesus does not “drive out our Romans?” Do we still praise Him then? Or do we allow ourselves to become either bitter or disappointed with God?

Perhaps this morning there are people here who are disappointed with God. Maybe you used to praise him like the crowd did but now you don’t.

THIRDLY: The Pharisees and the religious rulers

If you study the life of Jesus in the four gospels, one thing that leaps out is that the Jewish religious leaders did not like Jesus!

Whenever Jesus performed a miracle and they had a chance to criticise it they did.

On Mothers Day we were reminded of the amazing healing of the blind man in John 9 and the way that the Pharisees would not accept this miracle. You would have thought that they would have been overjoyed but no they were not.

There was the occasion when Jesus healed a man with a withered arm and the religious leaders were unhappy with this as the healing happened on the Sabbath. This grieved Jesus. (Mark 3)

It’s difficult at times to get your head around what was wrong with them!

They seemed to think the way to God was through obeying rules. And don’t you dare break their rules or you are in trouble! (woe betide you!)

Yet I wonder are there occasions when we are like the Pharisees? Do we allow religious traditions to stop us from meeting Jesus? Does the fact that “we’ve always worshipped like that” prevent us from truly meeting Jesus in a fresh way?

So in closing are we like:

The disciples – frighten, confused, often get it wrong but deep down we want to follow Jesus.

The crowd – we will follow Jesus as long as he answers our prayers in the way we want.

The Pharisees – our religious traditions stop us meeting Jesus.

Sin Exceeding Sinful

John Owen, the Puritan theologian and church leader, warned people “to be killing sin or it will be killing you”. He knew that sin was not a little thing but rather something deadly serious. The Spurgeon devotional today is entitled “Sin exceeding sinful” (based on Romans 7:13) and like the writings of John Owen warns us against taking sin lightly.

Beware of light thoughts of sin. At the time of conversion, the conscience is so tender, that we are afraid of the slightest sin. Young converts have a holy timidity, a godly fear lest they should offend against God. But alas! very soon the fine bloom upon these first ripe fruits is removed by the rough handling of the surrounding world: the sensitive plant of young piety turns into a willow in after life, too pliant, too easily yielding. It is sadly true, that even a Christian may grow by degrees so callous, that the sin which once startled him does not alarm him in the least. By degrees men get familiar with sin. The ear in which the cannon has been booming will not notice slight sounds. At first a little sin startles us; but soon we say, “Is it not a little one?” Then there comes another, larger, and then another, until by degrees we begin to regard sin as but a little ill; and then follows an unholy presumption: “We have not fallen into open sin. True, we tripped a little, but we stood upright in the main. We may have uttered one unholy word, but as for the most of our conversation, it has been consistent.” So we palliate sin; we throw a cloak over it; we call it by dainty names. Christian, beware how thou thinkest lightly of sin. Take heed lest thou fall by little and little. Sin, a little thing? Is it not a poison? Who knows its deadliness? Sin, a little thing? Do not the little foxes spoil the grapes? Doth not the tiny coral insect build a rock which wrecks a navy? Do not little strokes fell lofty oaks? Will not continual droppings wear away stones? Sin, a little thing? It girded the Redeemer’s head with thorns, and pierced his heart! It made him suffer anguish, bitterness, and woe. Could you weigh the least sin in the scales of eternity, you would fly from it as from a serpent, and abhor the least appearance of evil. Look upon all sin as that which crucified the Saviour, and you will see it to be “exceeding sinful.”

 

Jesus shared our humanity

I was reading Hebrews 2 today and the wonder of the truths contained in this passage hit me afresh. In particular verses 14-18 where we read about how Jesus shared our humanity.

These verses teach us that:

  • Jesus became like us. He shared our humanity. Jesus was made like us in every way.
  • By his death Jesus destroyed the person who holds the power of death i.e. the devil.
  • Jesus set us free from the fear of death. We no longer need to be a slave to this fear.
  • Jesus did this for us (i.e. humans) and not angels.
  • Jesus made atonement for the sins of the people (i.e. you and me!)
  • Jesus suffered when he was tempted and is therefore able to help us when we are tempted.

What glorious truths these are.  How we need to remind ourselves of them. The wonderful benefits made available to us through Jesus sharing our humanity.

And they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus

The Spurgeon devotion from yesterday morning was based on Acts 4:13:

And they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus”

I found it encouraging, inspiring and challenging too. The devotion can be found here  on the Heartlight website.

I’ve included it in full below:

A Christian should be a striking likeness of Jesus Christ.

You have read lives of Christ, beautifully and eloquently written, but the best life of Christ is his living biography, written out in the words and actions of his people.

If we were what we profess to be, and what we should be, we should be pictures of Christ; yea, such striking likenesses of him, that the world would not have to hold us up by the hour together, and say, “Well, it seems somewhat of a likeness;” but they would, when they once beheld us, exclaim, “He has been with Jesus; he has been taught of him; he is like him; he has caught the very idea of the holy Man of Nazareth, and he works it out in his life and every-day actions.”

A Christian should be like Christ in his boldness.

Never blush to own your religion; your profession will never disgrace you: take care you never disgrace that.

Be like Jesus, very valiant for your God.

Imitate him in your loving spirit; think kindly, speak kindly, and do kindly, that men may say of you, “He has been with Jesus.”

Imitate Jesus in his holiness.

Was he zealous for his Master? So be you; ever go about doing good.

Let not time be wasted: it is too precious.

Was he self-denying, never looking to his own interest? Be the same.

Was he devout? Be you fervent in your prayers.

Had he deference to his Father’s will? So submit yourselves to him.

Was he patient? So learn to endure.

And best of all, as the highest portraiture of Jesus, try to forgive your enemies, as he did; and let those sublime words of your Master, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” always ring in your ears. Forgive, as you hope to be forgiven. Heap coals of fire on the head of your foe by your kindness to him.

Good for evil, recollect, is godlike. Be godlike, then; and in all ways and by all means, so live that all may say of you, “He has been with Jesus.”

The Mortification of Sin – chapter 6

In chapter 6 Owen considers what it is to mortify sin and gives us three descriptions of what mortification is.

Mortification Consists in a Habitual Weakening of Sin

  • The crucifying of the flesh and it’s lusts (Galatians 5:24)
  • The body of sin is done away with (Romans 6:6) i.e. it is destroyed.
  • Unless the root problem (i.e. destroying the body of sin) is tackled little or no progress in the work of mortification will be made.

Mortification Consists in Constant Fighting and Contending Against Sin

  • We need to know that we have an enemy that needs to be destroyed by all means possible.
  • It is a vigorous contest that is about the things of eternity.
  • We should not be unaware of the tactics and methods that our enemy uses against us, including where it has prevailed against us.
  • What advantages does it use to make use of occasions, opportunities and temptations?
  • Always be ready and prepared. This is an important aspect of warfare.
  • Load it daily with all the things that can kill it. The battle never stops. Continue to put it to death (Colossians 3:5)

Mortification Consists in Frequent Success

  • Frequent success against any lust is evidence of mortification.
  • Success is victory over sin and the pursuit of it to a complete conquest.
  • Whenever sin is discovered at work it is apprehended and brought to God’s word and Christ’s love. The sin is condemned and executed totally.
  • Weaken the indwelling disposition that it attempts to entice to fight against God by implanting a principle of grace that directly opposes and destroys it at its foundation. For example: the implanting and growth of humility weakens pride, uncleanness by purity of mind.
  • The promptness, eagerness and speed that we fight the lust that attacks us by the means provided are an important part of the frequent success in the mortification of sin.

The on-going battle against sin is a tremendously important one. As I read this chapter I’m encouraged by its content but realise I need to take this battle more seriously. It’s an on-going battle and I must never let up the fight.

 

National Sickie Day

In case you did not know it last Monday (i.e. 2 February) was National Sickie Day. The first Monday in February is the day where it is estimated over 300,000 British workers take a day off work sick although the reason for absence may not be quite as genuine as it could be!

According to recruitment agencies many people use this day to go for a job interview. The extended Christmas break from work appears to be a time where individuals spend time thinking about their futures and consequently apply for new jobs in January. If they are invited for interviews these are lightly to be in February.

Whatever the truth of the matter of National Sickie Day it’s fair to say that some people do find the period after Christmas a difficult one. The cold weather, short days and the Christmas credit card bill seem to paint a bleak pattern for many people.

Also I think that after all the hype surrounding Christmas and New Year many people experience a big anti-climax. There is nothing for them to look forward to until they go on their summer holidays, which are still a few months away. Life can seem fairly boring, mundane and pointless.

Sadly it can be so easy for Christians to also fall into this trap and become negative in their thinking during the post- Christmas period. However we do not have to go down that path. Every new day offers potentially exciting opportunities to serve God.

I always find the following words from Lamentations 3 encouraging when thinking along these lines:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (v22-23)

This is wonderful news for us. Each morning provides a new start with God. We can experience his love and compassion afresh each day. That is something that can and should excite us.

We do not have to be among those who participate in National Sickie Day but rather instead people who enjoy the wonder of God’s love, mercy and compassion!

 

Learning from Past Mistakes

You would hope that if there is one lesson in life we learn it is learning from past mistakes.

Many years ago I had a car accident when I was driving in some bad weather. It had been snowing and some of the roads were icy. I was driving to a friend’s house and took a short cut down a side road. Next thing I knew I had crashed into a tree.

The big mistake I made was to go down the side road, which unfortunately was icy. I should have kept on the main roads which were fine.

I learnt two important lessons that day which I have never forgotten. Firstly, that I should drive carefully when the road conditions are treacherous. Also secondly, I should keep to the main roads in icy conditions even if it makes the journey longer.

I have never forgotten those two lessons and have certainly learnt from my past mistake in this area.

Sadly there are other areas of my life in which I have not learnt from my past mistakes. One of which is thinking before I open my mouth.

If I could write a letter back to my younger self I would stress the importance of watching what I say. There have been a number of difficult situations I have got myself into over the years due to my mouth.

You might hope that eventually I will grasp this lesson: “Think before you speak!”

Today I was reading Ezekiel 23 in which God gave a word to the prophet about Oholah (Samaria) and Oholibah (Jerusalem).

After watching Oholah prostitute herself to the Egyptians and Assyrians and seeing her humiliated we are told in v11

“Her sister Oholibah saw this, yet in her lust and prostitution she was more depraved than her sister.”

We are told in the remainder of the chapter about the full extent of Oholibah’s sin and the subsequent judgement that both sisters would encounter.

You might have thought that Oholibah would have learnt from the sin of Oholah. Surely she would not copy the bad example of her sister? Sadly though she did not learn and exceeded her sister’s wickedness.

There is a lesson for us here. It’s quite simple. Learn from past mistakes, both your own and others, and adjust your life accordingly.

 

Come and See

The following sermon entitled “Come and See” is from John1:43-51 where Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael.

As I read today’s passage the words in the second part of v46 “come and see” caught my attention. Philip said these words in response to Nathanael saying “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

There are five things I think we can learn from the phrase “come and see” and what happened as a result of Nathanael following that advice.

It was Nathanael’s responsibility to respond to Philip’s invitation to come and see Jesus.

Philip faithfully opened his mouth to speak about Jesus. He didn’t force a response from Nathaniel but rather pointed him to Jesus. Philip gave the invitation, “come and see”. It was though Nathanael’s responsibility to respond to it.

Likewise the same applies to us. We share and point others to Jesus and leave the outcome in His hands. The outcome of our invitation for people to respond to Christ is not our responsibility.

It is not our fault if they do not respond. We may be understandably disappointed or upset but it’s not our fault. If we realise that the outcome is not in our hands then that takes the pressure of us!

Philip pointed the way to Jesus

We see in v45 that Philip tells Nathaniel that ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’

Then when Nathaniel responds “can anything good come out of Nazareth”, Philip responds by again pointing him to Jesus by saying “Come and See”.

In our reading Philip points to a person i.e. Jesus and not to an institution i.e. the synagogue.

During advent in a sermon about John the Baptist, we were reminded that we should point people to Jesus and not to church.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying don’t invite people along to church. If there is someone you are thinking of inviting to church then that is obviously a good thing to do.

I would say though that the reason we invite people should not be just to get extra people at our church but rather because we want people to experience the saving power of Christ.

The challenging question we need to ask ourselves is like Philip, do we point others to Christ?

Without Philip being the link in the chain would Nathanael have ever met Jesus?

Could we be that vital link in the chain for someone to meet Christ?

Of course God can speak to people through dreams and visions. There are stories of people in countries where the church is persecuted where Jesus has appeared in a dream and revealed Himself to a person.

However the general rule of thumb is that God uses ordinary people like us to share His word and point others to Christ. If we don’t do this then how will they hear?

There is a story of the angels looking down from heaven and seeing that God had given man the responsibility to spread the gospel became worried. They asked Him what the back-up plan was and God said, “There is no plan B!”

When you think of a well known Christian then don’t forget that someone during their life has pointed them to Jesus.

Someone led Billy Graham to Christ. If they had not done this millions of people would not have known God.

You never know how much God might do through that person who you share Christ with!

Philip was not put off by a difficult question from Nathaniel.

Philip was asked a difficult question: “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

It doesn’t actually say this in so many words in the passage but I expect that Philip was quite excited about having met with Jesus. So he went and found his friend Nathaniel to tell him the exciting news that he had found the one that the scriptures had said would come. I wonder what he thought when Nathaniel said “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

However rather than allowing himself to be side-tracked or tied up in a theological conversation about the place of the town of Nazareth in God’s plan he simply invited Nathaniel to “come and see”.

We do not need to know the answers to all theological questions before we can point someone to Jesus.

This does not mean that we should not attempt to answer people’s questions. Peter encourages us to “always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15)

However there are some questions that are difficult to answer. For example: there is no easy answer to the question of suffering. Sometimes it is better to point to Jesus rather than get stuck down with certain questions, especially those of the red herring type.

Sadly even if we provide satisfactory answers to all the questions we are asked not everyone will respond. Some people like asking questions but don’t really want to know the answers.

Nathaniel had to humble himself to “come and see”

Nathaniel asked “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” You could tell that he was not impressed with Nazareth. In The Message translation this expression is translated as “Nazareth? You’ve got to be kidding.”

We’ve not told why in this passage but Nathaniel decided to take up Philip’s offer to “come and see.” This would have required him to humble himself and to be prepared to admit that there was the possibility that he could be wrong.

However as Nathaniel did this and encountered Jesus he was amazed and blown away by Jesus. If he had not been willing to humble himself then he would never had met with Christ.

Humbling yourself is not something that is popular in today’s society. So often these days it about “me” and telling everybody how great we are.

However unless we are prepared to humble ourselves and admit our need of God then we will never know God.

James 4: 6 “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

James 4:10 “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

Nathaniel had a firsthand experience of Jesus.

We see in v43 that Philip had responded to the invitation from Jesus to follow Him. This invitation required a personal response from Philip, to which he did respond. Philip then went and found his friend Nathaniel and told him what had happened to him.

Nathaniel though could not just rely on Philip’s word or experience. He had to experience Jesus for himself. When Nathaniel met Christ he truly believed for himself. His eyes were opened. He knew it was real. He personalised his faith.

Christian faith always requires a personal response. A genuine Biblical Christian faith is not something that we can inherit from our parents or family.

Sadly it is possible to attend church each week and not have ever personally met Christ. I would say to anyone who may not have ever met Christ to “come and see.”

I could tell you how wonderful it is to experience forgiveness of sins, God’s peace in difficult times and to know hope in this world. You might say to me:  “that is fine for you”. All of us though, no matter who we are need to experience this firsthand. Don’t just take my word for it, but “come and see” for yourself.

Don’t rely on a secondhand experience of Christian faith.

Don’t rely on the faith of another person but instead “come and see” for yourself.

Today may we all be like Nathaniel who responded to the invitation to “come and see” Jesus and truly met Him and encountered the wonder of God’s Son, Jesus.