Together, we serve
to know Christ
and to make Christ known
for the glory of God

20 September 2018

Hebrews 9
Ecclesiastes 4

 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.

Hebrews 9:24

Jesus entered the Most Holy Place – for us. It is quite fascinating and immensely encouraging when we understand that the Old Testament tabernacle and temple was just a shadow and a practical illustration of what God was planning to do for all mankind in the true temple in heaven through Jesus Christ our great eternal high priest. Verse 8 tells us that the true way into the real Most Holy Place was not possible through the old temple, because it was merely an illustration (verse 9) pointing to the real thing.

But Christ is our high priest of a ‘greater and more perfect tabernacle…not part of this creation’ (verse 11). Let this profound truth sink into your soul.

The effectiveness of Christ’s eternal high-priesthood is immensely magnified and intensified because of the more authentic concrete reality of the true Temple in which He serves. This is not the ‘physical’ temple of the Old Testament where God merely promised to bring His presence – No, this is the real Temple where God dwells eternally in the magnificent and real Most Holy Place, where the Trinity has been dwelling for all eternity from before creation and even before time existed (verse 24). It is into this Most Holy Place that Jesus Christ, our great high priest, entered with His own blood as a sin offering to obtain for us ‘eternal redemption’ (verse 12).

It is for us that Christ as done this (verse 24). Christ entered into God’s presence in the true Most Holy Place in heaven itself for us. And He did this to do away with our sin through the sacrifice of Himself (verse 26). Sin is done away with!

Oh, dear believer, be encouraged today. Christ is at the right hand of God Almighty in the Most Holy Place interceding for us, He has obtained for us an eternal redemption, and He has done away with sin. Christ will come again to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him (verse 28). What a magnificent truth and enticing promise. Are you waiting for Christ? Do you believe that Christ has done away with sin? Do you believe that Christ has redeemed you forever through His blood? Do you believe that Christ appears before God for you?

This is what Hebrews 9 urges us to believe. This is massively encouraging.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for giving us a helpful illustration to help us believe that which we can’t see with our physical eyes. Thank You that Jesus has indeed appeared in Your presence in the Most Holy Place in heaven with His own blood as a sin offering for our sin to do away with sin and to redeem us forever. Help us to comprehend this vastly superior truth. Thank You that Jesus appears in heaven before You for us. Amen.

19 September 2018

Hebrews 8
Psalm 105

Jesus is high priest of a new and better covenant. The old covenant with its system of priests and the tabernacle was just a shadow (verse 5) of the new and better covenant, with Jesus as high priest in the true tabernacle in heaven. The focus of chapter 8 is on the fact that we have a new and better covenant; chapter 9 (tomorrow’s passage) expounds more on the idea that the earthly tabernacle was just a copy and shadow of the true tabernacle in heaven. We will look at that in more detail tomorrow.

However, an important point to note in this chapter is that Jesus is high priest in heaven and not on earth. Verses 4-5 make this quite clear. Jesus is not on earth (verse 4) because priests on the earth conduct their ministry in accordance with the old covenant. But Jesus is high priest in the true tabernacle in heaven and this introduces to us the new covenant. See verse 6, ‘he is mediator of a better covenant’ and ‘attained a more excellent ministry’.

When the old covenant was given, the law was given as a sign of the covenant. Now that the new covenant has been given, can we expect also a law to be given with it? Certainly we can. Look at verse 10, ‘I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts’. This means that God changes our desires and our thinking – in other words He changes us from within. This is a fascinating phenomenon that takes place when we are born again, when we are born of the Spirit (John 3:3, 8).

There are two other exhilarating promises that we are given in this new covenant. Firstly, God will be our God, and we will be His people (verse 10). What an amazing privilege it is that we can be God’s people! That He cares for us, guards us, rules us, and we live under His blessing. We certainly don’t deserve this, but it is ours in the new covenant. This brings us to the second exhilarating promise, God will forgive our wickedness and will not even remember our sins (verse 12). This is immensely gracious and merciful of God to treat us in this way, and indeed it is very humbling. This is only possible because our great high priest, Jesus, sacrificed Himself for our sins once for all – not because of anything that we have done, but completely because of what He has done.

We ought to respond with great gratitude and love for God who has given to us this new and better covenant which is completely from Him. We don’t need to adhere to the demands of the old covenant and try to please God and win His favour through obedience. Rather, we should accept by faith, that God has promised to bless all nations and that He has indeed done so by giving to us a new and better covenant. Through this new covenant, our wickedness and sins are forgiven and forgotten and we are God’s people and He is our God.

What amazing grace!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for giving to us Jesus as our great high priest who is the mediator of a new and better covenant. Thank You that You are our God and that we can be Your people. Thank You that You forgive our sins and don’t remember them. We are truly grateful and we desire to do what pleases You. Thank You for changing our desires. Help us to live in a way that reflects the reality that we are Your people and have Your laws written on our hearts. Amen.

18 September 2018

Hebrews 7
Psalm 104

Hebrews 7. Jesus is an effective high priest – forever! We draw near to God through a better hope. (verse 19)

What an amazing privilege we have to be able to draw near to God! We who were once enemies of God because of our sin, deserving only of His wrath, are now able to draw near to God with confidence (Hebrews 7:19 cf. 4:16). This is possible for us through a better hope.

Yesterday we looked at the promise of God which gives us a hope which is like an anchor of the soul. This hope is Jesus our eternal effective high priest (Hebrews 6:20). This is a better hope than what Israel had. The Israelites had a hope of some sorts to approach God through their high priests, but this system of priests through which Israel could attempt to approach God was temporary (verse 23), weak and useless (verse 18), and imperfect (verse 19).

But now we have the introduction of a better hope (verse 19), Jesus as high priest who continues forever (verse 24), is effective in saving (verse 25), and who is perfect (verse 28). Jesus is the better hope who gives us confidence to draw near to God. Jesus is the guarantor of a better covenant (verse 22).

Just as the old covenant with its priestly system had to deal with the sin problem through perpetual sacrifices, so too the new covenant deals with sin. Sin is what separates mankind from God; sin is a barrier preventing us from drawing near to God. This problem of sin has been solved once for all (verse 27) through the self-sacrifice of Jesus our effective eternal high priest – He offered Himself as a sacrifice (verse 27).

This is why we now have a better hope to draw near to God with confidence. Jesus is our effective eternal high priest who has effectively and eternally dealt with our sin problem which was a barrier preventing us from drawing near to God. He is able to save completely those who draw near to God through Him (verse 25) and He intercedes for us eternally (verse 25).

Dear Christian, let us take hold of this better hope with confidence. Let us today draw near to God knowing that we have an effective and eternal high priest who intercedes for us and has done away with the sin barrier that separated us from God.

Let us not allow anything to prevent us from drawing near to God because we have a better hope in our high priest who is in heaven interceding for us.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for giving us Your Son Jesus as our eternal effective high priest. Thank you that Jesus is able to save us completely. Thank You that we have a better hope through whom we can draw near to You with confidence. Help us to take hold of this hope and to draw near to You today and always. Amen. 

17 September 2018

Hebrews 6
Psalm 103

Impossible for God to Lie

What a wonderful joy and promise we find here in Hebrews chapter 6 – the assurance of salvation!

God has made a powerful irrevocable promise and guaranteed it with an oath – ‘it is impossible for God to lie’ (verse 18)! This promise was made to Abraham with us in mind as the beneficiaries of the promise. The author (verse 14) quotes Genesis 22:17, ‘I will bless you…’. This promise continues: ‘all the nations of the earth will be blessed through your offspring’ (Genesis 22:18). Jesus Christ is this ‘offspring’, we have been blessed! Notice the emphasis on ‘promise’ in verses 12, 15, and 17. The promise is confirmed with an oath (verse 16) to show the unchangeableness of God’s resolve (verse 17).

This is a promise that God has made whereby it is impossible for God to lie. He has promised, and confirmed His promise with an oath. See verse 18, here we are shown the utter reliability of the promise. ‘Through two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie’! This gives us ‘powerful encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us’ (verse 18).

Here we are being encouraged to hold fast to the hope we have in Christ. This hope is described as an ‘anchor of the soul…entering into the inside of the curtain’ (verse 19). Our souls have an anchor; this anchor is based on God’s infinitely reliable promise.

Notice that the author is writing to those who ‘have fled for refuge’ (verse 18, ESV); the original word used here implies that the refuge has already been reached. Some translations say ‘have taken refuge’ (NASB, LEB). So the author is writing to those who have fled to and taken refuge in God’s promise fulfilled in Christ. This is in contrast to those mentioned in verses 4-6 who have merely ‘been enlightened’, ‘sharers’, and ‘tasted’ and who fall away. No, we are not like them, we ‘have fled for refuge’. That is why the author can confidently say ‘we are convinced of better things in your case – things that have to do with salvation’ (verse 9).

With such a sure promise and such a sure refuge to which we have fled and already arrived, we ‘may have powerful encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us’ (verse 18). This word ‘hope’ implies confidence. The author describes it as ‘an anchor for the soul, firm and secure’ which ‘enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain’ (6:19). The author here is using various descriptive methods to encourage his readers that the promise is true and reliable and that our hope is concrete.

Dear Christian, let us not waver or have doubts about God’s promise. It is impossible for God to lie, He has promised, He has confirmed His promise with an oath. We have a sure and confident hope. Let us be those who flee for refuge in God’s promise. Jesus is the fulfilment of this promise. Let us hold fast to our hope, our confidence, in Jesus.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for Your sure promise to bless all nations. Thank You that You have sent Your Son Jesus as the fulfilment of this promise. Thank you that we can flee for refuge in Him. Help us to trust that You will never let us go and that we who have fled for refuge in Christ are safe and secure forever. Help us to live in a way that reflects our security in You. Amen.

14 September 2018

Hebrews 5

There are two ways of doing the Incarnation. The Gospels of Luke and Matthew start with Mary and Joseph and Jesus’ conception.  An amazing story that blows our minds if we get beyond Xmas trees, food and presents.

Hebrews 4–5 does Incarnation differently, including telling his readers that he’s got a lot to say and explain but they are cloth-eared, dik-koppe (5:11ff.).

And why is Jesus is so significant? Well, think Jewish high-priest, for example. The high-priests who feature in the New Testament get a deservedly bad press, but Hebrews is thinking of the ideal incumbent who offers sacrifice and prayers to God on behalf of his people.

Now, speaking personally, I find the stories of the Gospels more straightforward than listening to elaborate analogies from Leviticus and elsewhere that work by drawing out similarities and contrasts, with various quotation snippets from the Old Testament in-between.

That said, I’m not Jewish or about to be imprisoned and slaughtered for attending TCC. The recipients of Hebrews were facing terrible persecution and needed courage not to return to Temple ways.

They might have buckled and slipped quietly back into being Jewish in a way that didn’t attract that hostile attention for following Jesus as the Messiah who replaced the high-priest and temple sacrifice. What’s the value of Jesus as High-priest? Not only was Jesus humanly tempted like us and so can sympathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15), but it hurt Him to do God’s will.

Hurt, because He was crucified? But also hurt because He suffered at Gethsemane: ‘While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the One who could rescue him from death, and God heard his prayers because of Jesus’ deep reverence for God.’

But God the Father, His Father, didn’t rescue Him! That’s the point. Jesus went through with it all despite being the Son of God.

This means Jesus will be there to welcome you into eternal life because He’s been there, done that obediently, and received much more than a Jewish high-priest T-shirt. Trust Him on this.”  

13 September 2018

Hebrews 4
Ecclesiastes 3

All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 3:19b

Without warning, my seminary colleague and good friend over many years dropped dead at home from a heart attack last week, age 65. We are creatures in time, not exempt from the inevitable. And not always seeing it coming.

The wisdom writer wrestles with this paradox of our biology. We share death with the animals. What’s different?

The good, the bad and the ugly. Those with tails and horns and those driving around Cape Town. Those attending Tokai Community Church and those free ranging in Kruger Park. Our time runs out.

There’s a wonderful obviousness and irrefutability to this creatures-in-time thing, with us living between the poles of birth and death.

We were asked what song they were playing before the service started when Ecclesiastes 3 was scheduled for the reading and sermon. They said the Byrds ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’. Actually, the Byrds was just an arrangement of Pete Seeger’s original (1950s), his anti-war song where he’s hoping for …”a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late”. (Catch a version of Pete Seeger and Judy Collins on YouTube in Black & White TV—yes that long ago)

But Pete Seeger’s other three original words, not lifted from Ecclesiastes 3, were “Turn, turn, turn!”. That became the song’s title, perhaps alluding to the turning globe of Earth time, but also calling for a turn-around.

I like that. ‘Turn’ in Hebrew (šūb) is used as picture-word for the turning around of repentance. We drum “Say sorry to your sister for hurting her!” into our little boys. Mumble, mumble… “sorreee”. But we find the grown-up version, repentance, a lot harder. It’s not a word, it’s a whole behaviour pattern.

Animals do killing nothing like as well as human beings and they’re not candidates for repentance. We are deliberate sinners and really do need to turn around and say “Sorry!”, both to the Lord and to our neighbour. And that includes our spouse, colleagues, employees and teenagers, among others.

Moreover, “Sorry!” is not absurd or meaningless. Forgiveness and the Lord’s embrace awaits.

12 September 2018

Hebrews 3
Psalm 102

Psalm 102 seems like…

  • two poems stuck together—a despairing lament and a utopian vision for Zion
  • a combo of highly subjective feelings plus highly optimistic wishful thinking
  • all very removed from our situation
  • also the story of Zion moved on historically, politically, theologically from whatever it was then
  • and the rest about the rulers of the world trembling before God doesn’t look like happening any time soon.

The speaker escapes from his subjectivism by clinging to the bigger picture of his city and nation in the future when God does ‘arise’. All in God’s own time.

If you’ve never read Elie Wiesel’s account of his Holocaust sufferings as a sixteen year old in the brutality of the Nazi extermination camps, then you won’t be able to understand how true this psalm rings in that situation of horror. [E. Wiesel, Night, 2006 edition, translation by his wife]

Just think. Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He wasn’t optimistic. He looked ahead to its siege and destruction by the Romans who crucified thousands of Jews around the city who tried to escape the siege. Jesus in Jerusalem changes everything for us.

He did ‘appear in his glory’ just as verse 16 hopes, but was rejected, falsely accused, humiliated and executed.

So thanks to that, we have no reason for deep spiritual despair but instead have assurance that nothing can separate us from His love. That’s not a cheap faith when things go wrong for us.

It wasn’t for Jesus either as He faced all that it cost Him.

11 September 2018

Hebrews 2
Psalm 101

(References from NLT version)

There’s something that surely jumps out at you as you scan the print of Psalm 101. Namely, a repeated ‘I will…’, about 10x in fewer verses. Embarrassingly, this psalm seems to be more I-centred than God-centred.

Why embarrassingly? Well, because surely we know ourselves only too well. And… Have you long forgotten your New Year resolutions? “I will…” is often followed up in review by “but I didn’t, I haven’t…”

There’s nothing wrong with a list of good intentions. The king’s list here is okay. Even admirable. The problem is implementation.

‘I will be careful to live a blameless life’ (verse 2a)

I will lead a life of integrity in my own home (verse 2b)

How did that go for David? Did he pen this before or after he noticed Bathsheba? Maybe his best line is verse 2b:when will you come to help me?’

By the end of his poem, he’s busy with his list again and sounding like a good man to testify before the Commission on State Capture.

My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked
    and free the city of the Lord from their grip.
(verse 8)

He’s certainly wanting to distance himself from the lowlife. Does he know himself?

* * * * *

Seems we have corruption, crooked dealing, conceit and pride, liars and deceit in the holy city of 10th century BC Jerusalem. The king holds himself responsible for doing something about this. That’s good. You’re talking the talk, David. What about the walk? How did it go?

This is where it gets a bit uncomfortable for us if we know ourselves.

‘I will sing of your love and justice, LORD’ (verse1)

That’s good too. But singing on Sunday isn’t where it’s at for the whole week, is it?

And since we don’t have a king, or that sort of responsibility ourselves we’d better remember to pray for Cyril and all those in authority while we’re thinking about it.

10 September 2018

Hebrews 1
Psalm 100

Shout with joy to the LORD, all the Earth

Psalm 100:1 NLT

Gladness, joy, thanksgiving, praise—it’s all happening in Psalm 100. For why? Because those gathered for worship know with assurance.

We are his people, the sheep of his pasture (verse 3b)

The LORD is good
His unfailing love continues forever (verse 5)

And we have even more reason for this sense of belonging than they did back then. In a word—it’s Jesus. All he is and all he’s done for us. His steadfast love is what we can count on, however up or down we are.

Yes, exuberance is a mood, and we don’t always feel on top of the world. That’s why there are psalms of Lament in the temple hymnbook too. (Look no further than Psalm 102 the day after tomorrow.)

Many people around us in the workplace don’t get it. They don’t get this assurance that we’re loved, that.

He made us, and we are his. (verse 3b)

Let alone wanting to join in a song and dance about it.

For them, God may be somewhere behind the Universe, but remote, not involved. Or, at least, they live that way. They lose out.

This psalm packs a punch above its 5 short verses. One truth it models is this—we do better together. ‘The sheep of his pasture’ are a flock. ‘His people’ flock together.

So be glad when you can’t find a parking at TCC, ‘cos it’s full!

7 September 2018

Philemon

Paul pleads with Philemon to consider Onesimus, the runaway slave, as a brother in Christ and he writes, ‘if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me’ (verse 17). As one writer says: ‘This was a revolutionary and scandalous idea for a wealthy slave owner in Colossae to be asked to welcome back his rebellious slave as a brother (verse 16).’  But this is what Paul asks … because such is the character of Christ, such is the work of Christ. This is the power of the gospel – to demand revolutionary and scandalous relationships. In Colossians [remember that Philemon lived in Colossae] it says, ‘Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all’ (Colossians 3:11).

In this letter, we see what Christian brotherly love looks like in practice. We are to do good to Christian brothers (verse 16) and partners (verse 17) on the basis of love (verse 9) not out of obligation but out of our own free will (verse 14) to those who share the participation (koinonia) in the faith for the glory of Christ (verse 6). Our common faith in Christ (verse 5) makes the church a true family that should care for one another – irrespective of the past or our current social standings. If we truly believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, then it must affect our behaviour – especially the way we love and forgive our brothers and sisters for the sake of Christ.

Paul sounds like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:35) when he says, ‘And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.’  (verse 18). Paul intercedes for Philemon to be merciful to Onesimus the way Jesus intercedes with the Father to be merciful to us (Romans 8:34).

Heavenly Father, please grant us to have the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with our spirit so that we may have true brotherly love for our brothers and sisters even across cultural and social barriers. Amen.

6 September 2018

Titus 3
Ecclesiastes 2

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:3-7

In Titus 3 we have a plain explanation of the generous grace of God.

It starts with our hopeless situation. Verse 3 describes the sinful nature and the true lostness of all people i.e. foolish, enslaved, deceived; leading to malice, envy and hate. What a hopeless situation!

‘But …’ (verse 4)! Don’t you love that word? One word from God that gives hope when you are in a dark hole, too dark and deep to get out of by yourself.

‘But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared [Jesus], he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.’ (verse 4-5)

Are you entitled to mercy and grace from God? Never! God’s word makes that clear. The only thing we are legally entitled to from God is judgement.

God’s love is not logical. Maybe ‘good’ people could attract love, but not evil people. And there are no naturally good people. Yet God sets His generous love on you in Christ. That’s grace! Then, ‘… He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour…’ (verse 5-6)

Do you understand, do you feel, the weight of this?

Spiritually dead people made alive. Evil people made holy and ‘justified by His grace’ (verse 7)! God views you as ‘not guilty’. And to crown it all we become, ‘… heirs of eternal life.’ (verse 7)

Do you believe this? Have you experienced this renewal?

If you have,  then thank God and devote yourself to Him.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your undeserved grace and love to us in your Son, Jesus Christ. You are too magnificent and wonderful for words. Amen.

5 September 2018

Titus 2
Psalm 99

The Lord reigns,
    let the nations tremble;
he sits enthroned between the cherubim,
    let the earth shake.
Great is the Lord in Zion;
    he is exalted over all the nations.
Let them praise your great and awesome name—
    he is holy.

The King is mighty, he loves justice—
    you have established equity;
in Jacob you have done
    what is just and right.
Exalt the Lord our God
    and worship at his footstool;
    he is holy.

Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
    Samuel was among those who called on his name;
they called on the Lord
    and he answered them.
He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud;
    they kept his statutes and the decrees he gave them.

Lord our God,
    you answered them;
you were to Israel a forgiving God,
    though you punished their misdeeds.
Exalt the Lord our God
    and worship at his holy mountain,
    for the Lord our God is holy.

Psalm 99:1-9

How great and holy is God in reality?  Is that how you perceive Him?

The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble …’ (verse 1). God is the great king (verse 4) and the nations should tremble in awe and fear before Him. God is very holy (verse 3,5,9).

This IS who He is in reality – great, holy, just, enthroned.

Is this reality a comfort to you knowing this is who God is? Knowing that He rules and reigns over all things, over all people and all situations; including our messy families; the struggling economy and chaotic politics in South Africa.  What a comfort!

‘Great is the Lord in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations 
Let them praise your great and awesome name— he is holy’ (verse 2-3).

God’s greatness is a comfort to those who trust Him and ‘…call on the Lord’ (verse 6).

‘The King is mighty, he loves justice …’ (verse 4). Although God’s justice should be a concern to sinners, the next words are again a comfort. ‘Lord our God, you answered them; you were to Israel a forgiving God, though you punished their misdeeds’ (verse 8). God listens to our prayers as He did to Israel and He will forgive us as He did them through His Son Jesus Christ.

Oh Lord God, we exalt and worship You as our Holy God. You have revealed your supremacy and majesty through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Please comfort our anxious hearts with the truth of your word and the knowledge of Your authority over the world and the future. Amen.

4 September 2018

Titus 1
Psalm 98

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made his salvation known
    and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
    and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
    burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
    shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Psalm 98:1-6

People are to worship and love God; that is the purpose for which we were created.

God is king (verse 6) and His right hand and holy arm have worked salvation for Him. That is, they have brought about the salvation that He planned for His people. This salvation and righteousness –  revealed ultimately in Christ – is for Israel (verse 3) and for the nations (verse 2). That includes us. This means that through King Jesus we have access to God’s righteousness and salvation.

Our response to God’s marvellous deeds in Christ, as Israel’s response to God’s salvation then, can only be to shout, sing (verse 4) and make music to God (verse 5). Ephesians 5:19 says, ‘speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.’

Does salvation in Jesus still stir you like that? Do you still experience the joy of your salvation and see Jesus as glorious?

This Psalm is an enthusiastic and accurate reminder of the response we should have to God’s salvation, even more so His salvation in and through Christ. Ask God to help you to ‘sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous things.’ (verse1).

Heavenly Father, please help us to honestly rejoice in Your salvation and to be full of joy in Christ, our righteousness, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

3 September 2018

2 Timothy 4
Psalm 97

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

2 Timothy 4:1-2

I had a conversation with someone recently who said, I try to be a witness for Jesus, but I don’t really share the word about Jesus with anyone.”

This is the opposite to what Jesus, the Judge of the living and the dead, commands. Yes, our actions of mercy must back up our words, but we must speak words too. Jesus commands His true followers to ‘preach the word.’

What specific word are we commanded to speak you ask? The text tells us in the words that come before: ‘….you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.’ (2 Timothy 3:15)

Words of salvation through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ are what we are commanded to share with everyone. That is the gospel message.

‘… faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.’  (Romans 10:17)

Is telling people about Jesus always easy, natural or convenient? No. But as with all strong desires or ambitions we have in other areas, we should seek to do our best to make a way or a time for this. God is faithful to empower us by His Holy Spirit to ‘fight the good fight’ (verse 7), to proclaim and glorify Jesus.

Heavenly Father, please make us willing and brave enough, by Your Spirit, to obey Your command to witness others about the wonderful rescue from sin and judgement that is available through the achievements of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

31 August 2018

2 Timothy 3

Difficult Times for Christian Service. Looking at our world, these are indeed ‘terrible times’ (verse 1); selfish ambition, arrogance, immorality and godlessness are the order of the day. Paul’s describes our society as generally very ungodly, and unfortunately, at times, Christians do not behave very differently.

We are living in these last days (between Jesus’ first and Second Coming), which are described in verses 2-8, and will lead to much stress and spiritual danger for believers.

The warning is to us, to not succumb to society’s pressure, but to stand against evil and live as God would have his people live. Opposition to truth is not a temporary situation, but a constant characteristic of this age.

We, however, must stand firm in the faith. Every Christian is called to be different from the world (Romans 12:2). We need to examine our hearts to make sure that we not only have an appearance of godliness (verse 5), but to have a transformed heart and mind. Some of the ways our inner godliness will be reflected in our day to day living is by patience, love, faithfulness and perseverance (verse 10). We must pray for endurance in suffering for the gospel, and the inevitable persecution that comes if we aim to live a God-centred life. Calvin wrote, ‘It is in vain to try to detach Christ from his cross, and it is only natural that the world should hate Christ even in his members’.

O Lord, ‘turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant’ (Psalm 86:16). Amen

30 August 2018

2 Timothy 2
Ecclesiastes 1

 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.

2 Timothy 2:23-24 (also verse 14 & 16)

Contentious Chatter. In this section (verses 14-22), Paul is writing to Timothy regarding his conduct and character as a Christian worker, but also about the right handling of the word of truth. Regarding teaching God’s word, John Stott writes, that it is important to evaluate, what its (the teaching) attitude is towards God, and also what affect it has upon men. Does it honour God? And, does it promote holiness?

So often, we argue about disputable matters (Romans 14), or as the commentators about this section have called them: trivial and pointless debates, senseless controversies, vain discussion or devious disputation! We must remind ourselves of the gravity of responsibility, ‘before God’ (verse 14), and that we, His servants, are to be ultimately approved by Him (verse 15)!

We are warned that these quarrels promote ungodliness (verse 16) and wandering from the truth (verse 18). Instead, we should be gracious, and kind, not resentful (verse 24).

Lord, I pray that I will not argue over unimportant details. In important areas of Christian truth, I pray for wisdom, grace, patience and kindness. Help me to build my life on your Word and build your Word into my life. Enable me to flee from spiritual danger, and run after spiritual good. Amen.

29 August 2018

2 Timothy 1
Psalm 96

So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.

2 Timothy 1:8

That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

2 Timothy 1:12

Boldness and Faithfulness in Christian Service. Paul writes these words, because he knows that this temptation is common to man. We are sensitive to public opinions, and may feel too timid to speak up for the name and the gospel of Jesus. At times, we may also be embarrassed about our fellow believers. Here we are challenged to not deny our Lord, and not be ashamed of other Christians, who are suffering because of their gospel witness.

Jesus gave us a strong warning in Mark 8:38: ‘If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory’.

So with God’s help and grace, I pray that I will share the gospel faithfully and boldly, and not be ashamed, and even be willing to suffer for Jesus’ sake. I entrust myself into God’s care, because I know that He is able to guard me. And, I ask for forgiveness for the times I have not spoken up, when I should have, and had an opportunity to share of His wonderful grace.

28 August 2018

1 Timothy 6
Psalm 95

 But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

1 Timothy 6:6-8

1 Timothy 6 – The Path of Contentment. The bumper sticker that reads, ‘The one, with the most toys, wins’, is a reflection how the world thinks. Bombarded by advertising on social media, it is all about what you have. We are made anxious and concerned if our pension or investments are enough. Yet here, we are challenged about true contentment, which is so counter-cultural. The tremendous gain in a godly life, will most likely not include any financial rewards, but the gain is spiritual (see Ephesians 1:3 ‘who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ’)

How can we embrace contentment whilst living in such a consumer-oriented society? We need to gain an eternal perspective, and look to Jesus. We also need to heed the warning that wrong desires could tempt us to wander from the faith (see verse 10, also Mark 4:9). The essential ingredients of contentment: trusting in His providence, knowing God’s Word, and clinging to His promises.

John Piper writes: ‘This is God’s universal purpose for all Christian suffering: more contentment in God and less satisfaction in the world’. (see also Philippians 4:11-13)

May our prayer be like Job’s: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart; The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised’ (Job 1:21.)

27 August 2018

1 Timothy 5
Psalm 94

‘Let your conversation be always full of grace.’ (Colossians 4:6)

1 Timothy 5 – Respect for our Elders. Here, Paul writes to Timothy, about how to treat all people he comes into contact with on a daily basis. Now, I especially want to highlight the older generation. (1 Timothy 5:1-2)

In this present time, the careless treatment of others is very evident. We see this in social media ‘naming and shaming’, cyber-bullying, insinuations and rumours spread by the gossip press; but we also hear of careless speech about, and general disregard of the more mature members in our churches. They are perceived as being old-fashioned, out-dated, past their sell-by date; often ignored, and generally not asked for advice.

Recently, we had a lovely ‘Share Life’ event, and we hosted three couples, all who recently retired, or are approaching retirement. There were two dedicated teachers, a master cabinet-maker, a commercial banker, who loves playing the guitar and plays in a band, a senior lecturer in Nursing, who is a long distance ocean swimmer (like from Cape Town to Robben Island!), and one person, who helps out, acts and writes for a local theatre company. Certainly, a diversity of talents, jobs, life experiences, they would gladly share with others. And there are many more stories to be told!

My prayer is that we, as a church family, would be different from the world; that we will treat our elders (and everybody else) with dignity and respect. And, if you are one of the older people, to remember, that God still has Gospel work for you to do (see Joshua 13:1). I do thank the many elders in our church, who have served (and are serving) so faithfully for many years.

24 August 2018

1 Timothy 4

No pain, no gain! Cape Town is a city renowned for it scenic beauty. It attracts many thousands of visitors each year, some of whom enter our famous cycle-tour race and Two Oceans marathon to experience that scenery firsthand. But even if you’re not the ‘sporty’ type, you know that much training and exertion is required if you are to finish, never mind place well, in these races. The Apostle Paul writes to Pastor Timothy and uses this athletics’ training principle as an analogy to make an important theological point. Athletics was popular enough in the ancient world of Paul’s day that the point of the analogy would be readily understood.

1 Timothy 4:7-9: Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance.’

‘Train yourself to be godly!’ Godliness, that is, living your life as a believer in a God-honouring way, is a process that takes time and effort. But all the effort is worthwhile, because godliness has value both for this present life and the life to come. Paul contrasts this with physical training which is ‘of some value’ [NIV] or ‘profits little’ [KJV]. The ‘couch-potato’ probably prefers the KJV translation! Be that as it may, we can all understand Paul’s point: Godliness is more valuable than any physical exercise or training because that only has value for the present. But like the ‘training of the body’, godliness requires sustained effort and training. Indeed, without this focused training, godliness will elude you. To reinforce the point, Paul immediately adds: ‘The statement is trustworthy and deserving of complete acceptance’ (1 Timothy 4:9). And lest we think this directive is aimed only at Pastor Timothy, Paul exhorts him to ‘Command these things and teach them (to the church)’ (1 Timothy 4:11).

We live in an age that advocates ‘spirituality’, but not godliness. You see this in the popular magazines and even the physical fitness publications. Perhaps this is the modern equivalent of the ‘myths’ Paul mentions in the context. ‘Reject‘ them, commands Paul; they are ‘worthless’ (1 Timothy 4:7a)! Godliness should be a priority in your life; that’s Paul’s point. But growth in godliness is hard work; it requires time and effort. You therefore need to train yourself to be godly!

23 August 2018

1 Timothy 3
Proverbs 31

1 Timothy 3 – The Church described. How would you describe the church? A local gathering of believers assembled for praise, prayer and preaching once a week? In this verse, the Apostle Paul, in the midst of giving instructions about how believers are to conduct themselves in the local church, describes the nature of the church. Paul uses a number of striking images; no one picture is adequate.

According to Paul, the church is ‘God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth’ (1 Timothy 3:15). Notice that the  church is a ‘household’; it is people, not a house, or place. But a ‘household’ is more than people; it is a family, and it is ‘God’s household’ or family with the ‘living God‘ present in their midst. God’s presence impacts the family dynamics. Like God, God’s family loves, accepts, forgives, gives, helps, and extends mercy and grace even when it is difficult and the recipients are unworthy or grateful. This is how families function; how much more so God’s family! But the church is also ‘the pillar and foundation of the truth’. Paul here draws on the imagery of a temple, well known to his readers, but here it is ‘truth’, and not ‘bricks and mortar’ or stones, that comprise its supporting pillars and foundation. So the church is built on the truth, stands firm on the truth and upholds it! In this sense, like a stone temple, in the church truth becomes visible to the eye.

In this verse, Paul paints a picture of the church as the family of God defined by truth. This has implications for us as we gather together with God’s people during the week. In a nutshell, God, people and truth are important. We are to recognize that we are a family belonging to God, with obligations to love Him and each other. We are to be conscious of God’s presence at all times, not only on Sunday, and this should motivate us to depend on His power and seek His glory in all things. God’s truth should be central to all we do. We should listen attentively to God’s Word when it is preached and taught and should seek to obey it. We must find time to study the Scriptures to grow in our knowledge and understanding of them so that God’s truth will govern our lives, relationships and weekly meetings.

22 August 2018

1 Timothy 2
Psalm 93

1 Timothy 2 – Is the God of the Bible a universalist? Will God save everyone? Will salvation be universal? Many people would like to believe this, after all, who doesn’t like a ‘happily ever after’ ending for everyone? Paul, in this first letter to Timothy, makes a statement that can be understood as teaching universal salvation. In the context, Paul is writing about the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of public worship, and then, almost as an aside, he writes: ‘…God our Saviour…wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:3b-4). We know that God, being God, gets what He wants, and if He wants all people to be saved, all people will be saved, so the reasoning goes. Moreover, in the very next verse, Paul describes Jesus as ‘the one mediator between God and mankind…who gave himself as a ransom for all people…’ (I Timothy 2:5-6a). There’s that reference to “all people” again. So Jesus died for all people, therefore, all people will be saved, they reason.

How do we respond to this universalist interpretation of these verses? This view isolates these verses from the rest of the letter and so runs the risk of misinterpretation. Does Paul not list the requirement of faith as a prerequisite for salvation earlier in this letter (cf. 1 Timothy1:14, 16)? Surely we do not want to accuse the apostle of confusion or contradiction? So how then do we understand these verses? Typically good commentators have understood them in one of two ways: The first is to point out that the Bible refers to God’s ‘will’ in a variety of different ways: “Sometimes God’s ‘will’ cannot be distinguished from his decree: what he wills to happen, happens. At other times God’s ‘will’ is his command …. At still others, it refers to his stance. The God who cries, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of anyone … Repent and live!’ (Ezekiel 18:32) is also the one of whom it is said that he wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth..” [NBC]. So we glimpse God’s stance or desire here, not what will happen. A second option is to understand ‘all people’ as all kinds of people, viewed ethnically or socio-economically, etc. In that sense, God wants all kinds of people to be saved. So, no, God is not a universalist!

21 August 2018

1 Timothy 1
Psalm 92

1 Timothy 1 – Jesus came to save sinners! Christianity is unique in this sense, it teaches salvation by grace through faith, apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Eternal life is the gift of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). This is good news for the sinner! However, it all sounds too good to be true, so sometimes, albeit unconsciously, we smuggle works into the salvation equation. This mentality can manifest itself in a number of different ways – we look at some unbelievers and view them as not worthy of salvation (think of those who violently persecute the church), or view others as so bad as to be beyond the hope of salvation; we just cannot see them becoming believers.

In 1 Timothy 1:12-17, the Apostle Paul gives a brief word of testimony that challenges this mentality. Paul confesses that he was once a blasphemer and violent persecutor of the church, no better than those religious extremists today who seek to destroy the church. Indeed, Paul’s past actions were so heinous that he believed that God could only have been merciful to him because he acted in ‘ignorance and unbelief’ (verse 13). Yet God’s grace was ‘poured out…abundantly’ on Paul, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (verse 14). Paul was a trophy of God’s grace, and proof that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, even the worst of them, like Paul (verse 15). So if God can save the likes of Paul, He can save anyone, no matter how bad or unworthy. It was for this reason, to demonstrate this truth, that Paul was shown mercy that other sinners might be encouraged to believe in Jesus and receive eternal life (verse 16). Paul appropriately concludes his testimony with a doxology that magnifies ‘the only God’ to whom be honour and glory forever and ever because salvation is based solely on His mercy and grace (verse 17).

Paul’s testimony is a wonderful example of the power of the Gospel to save even the worst of sinners (cf. Romans1:16-17). So don’t let your sin prevent you from believing and rejoicing in this Gospel message, and don’t let a works-mentality prevent you from sharing it even with the worst of sinners. This Gospel gives hope to all, no matter how bad or unworthy. As Paul declares in this context: ‘Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (verse 15).

20 August 2018

2 Thessalonians 3
Psalm 91

Many people live their lives without God, but when trouble strikes, they run to Him for help: “God, please help me!” Psalm 91 promises God’s protection, but is that protection offered to all who ask, and is it guaranteed? Before we answer these questions, let’s take a quick look at the psalm. God is identified as the ‘Most High… the Almighty‘ and described as a ‘refuge and fortress’ (91:1-2), suggesting great strength and secure protection. He is able to save you from the ‘fowler’s snare’ and from deadly disease whenever these may threaten you –  day or night. (91:3ff. ). Ten thousand may succumb, but not you; you will find refuge under God’s ‘wings’; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart (91:4, 7).

This is an encouraging promise of divine protection from harm. But is it promised to all? According to the psalm, no harm will overtake those who trust in God and confess that ‘”the Lord is my refuge,” and make the Most High their dwelling (91:2, 9-10). God promises to rescue and protect those who love him and acknowledge His name (91:14). Clearly this is not a blanket promise of protection for all. But is it a promise of blanket protection to God’s people from all harm? Some verses seem to imply this (cf. 91:9ff.). Interestingly, Satan quotes from this psalm when he tempts Jesus to jump from the highest point of the temple (Matthew 4:5-7; cf. Psalm 91:11-12). But Satan distorts the teaching of Psalm 91 to mean that if you throw yourself in harm’s way, God will always protect you. Not true, says Jesus, for it is also written in Scripture, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’ (quoting Deuteronomy 6:16). Jesus lays down an important rule of interpretation here: interpret Scripture with Scripture!

To be sure, God is a refuge and fortress to His children, and they should call on Him expectantly for protection in their time of need. However, the Bible elsewhere makes it clear that this promise doesn’t mean that God will keep us from all harm – just think of Paul’s apostolic ministry. But no harm can separate us from God’s presence or saving purposes, truths affirmed by this psalm: ‘I (God) will be with him in trouble … I will show him my salvation’ (91:15-16). In that sense, God will always protect His children (cf. Romans 8:17-39).