Category Archives: jesus is my hero

The First and the Last

Why Jesus is My Hero #52 of 52

Whirl-fire

When I started my “Why Jesus is My Hero” series in January 2011, I always knew where it was going to end. To my mind, there could be no more fitting conclusion than Revelation 1:12-18:

“I turned round to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.'”

I love John’s description of the awesome Lord Jesus in all of his glory and majesty. It must only have been the most fleeting of glimpses before he fell on his face, and yet time slows down to a crawl as he describes the incredible vision before his eyes in intricate detail – tracing the King of kings from head to toe.

In the busyness of everyday life it’s easy for Jesus to slip in your thinking, becoming just one idea amongst many. John’s vision in Revelation helps remind me how far from the truth such a state of affairs is – Jesus is beyond comparison, the exalted ruler of the universe. He is the First and the Last – there was nobody before him, and there is nobody who shall outlive him. And most glorious of all he is the resurrected lamb of God, the one who was slain and now lives again. He is invincible, having fought with death and emerged victorious. His victory prize: the keys to death and Hades.

So lift your eyes from the mundane concerns of today, just for a moment, and fix them on this glorious saviour. Doesn’t that help give you a little perspective on life? There may be nothing remarkable or majestic about ourselves and our own circumstances, but what a liberating thing it is to serve a master like the Jesus of Revelation. Now there’s somebody I could spend my life worshipping.

The Love That Surpasses Knowledge

How Jesus is My Hero #51 of 52

From my quiet time on Friday – Ephesians 3:14-19:

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Greater than any human love is the love of Christ – a love that surpasses knowledge. I think this is an awesome prayer from Paul – that we could be strengthened to know that which is inherently beyond knowing. Even the tiniest little glimpse of Christ’s love is greater than the full extent of human love. And yet wonderfully, graciously, human love does give us a little picture of the greater reality, as we bear God’s image and so reflect a little something of his glory. Here in these verses we see that a human father shows us something of the true Fatherhood of God, and then a few chapters later we see how husband and wife reflect the union of Christ and the church. But these are only tiny glimpses, pale reflections that are as nothing compared to the reality they point us to.

The Greatest Blessing

Why Jesus is My Hero #50 of 52

I’m getting married on Saturday. It feels a bit surreal that it’s quite so soon all of a sudden, having been waiting for it for months and months. Suffice it to say, I am very excited about this fact.

But I’ve had some good reminders recently that it’s not the most exciting thing going on in my life. Marriage is just a picture of the much cooler blessings that are coming to those who are Christians, and in Christ the good God who gave the gift of marriage has given us blessings far beyond comparison. Listen to the Apostle Peter:

“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. … But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:4-10)

In Christ, God the Father has called Christians out of darkness into his marvellous light. Not out of singleness into his marvellous state of marriage. Not out of unemployment into his marvellous world of work. Not out of low self-esteem into his marvellous place of confidence in who I am. But out of darkness into his marvellous light – we were saved from God’s wrath and ignorance of him and an eternity of hell so that instead we could enjoy life forever in his presence, adopted as his children, living his way with all the blessings of life with him poured out upon us.

Getting married may well be one of the greatest temporal blessings I’m likely to ever enjoy in this life, and so it’s only right that I should be not a little excited and very very thankful to God. But ultimately it is only for this life, and I need to keep reminding myself of the much greater eternal blessings Jesus has won for me at the cross. As Peter writes a little later on, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

The Lord’s Chosen Servant

Why Jesus is My Hero #49 of 52

Isaiah 42:1-9:

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold,

my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my Spirit upon him;

he will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,

or make it heard in the street;

a bruised reed he will not break,

and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;

he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be discouraged

till he has established justice in the earth;

and the coastlands wait for his law.

Thus says God, the Lord,

who created the heavens and stretched them out,

who spread out the earth and what comes from it,

who gives breath to the people on it

and spirit to those who walk in it:

‘I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;

I will take you by the hand and keep you;

I will give you as a covenant for the people,

a light for the nations,

to open the eyes that are blind,

to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,

from the prison those who sit in darkness.

I am the Lord; that is my name;

my glory I give to no other,

nor my praise to carved idols.

Behold, the former things have come to pass,

and new things I now declare;

before they spring forth

I tell you of them.'”

I’m not really sure what I can add to this totally awesome passage about why Jesus is so fab.

The Puritan Richard Sibbes makes much of v3 in his book “the bruised reed”: “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench”. It really brings out Jesus’ tenderness and gentleness with his people – as Psalm 103:14 puts it “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” Being a Christian isn’t all about being perfect all the time and never messing up – it’s about trusting in a great saviour who paid a great price to forgive us a great debt so that we can live a grateful life. However bruised we feel, however much we feel like the flame is about to die out altogether, Jesus knows our need and he longs for us to run to his grace-filled arms for strength.

I rather like v4 as well: “He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.” Here is someone who will not rest until his purposes have come to pass, and being God he will never run out of enthusiasm or patience before achieving his goal. “Justice” here is a picture of the created order being brought back in line with God’s will – of all of the effects of the fall being reversed and things being set straight that formerly were crooked. What a great day that will be, and what a relief for bruised reeds and faintly burning wicks!

“I am the Lord; that is my name;

my glory I give to no other,

nor my praise to carved idols.”

The Long Promised King

Why Jesus is My Hero #48 of 52

On Thursday voters across London were turning out to choose their candidate for Mayor, and there were also many local council elections across the country. Yet however enthusiastic we are about the concept of democracy, it can sometimes be hard to get especially excited about local elections – sometimes there’s a sense that we’re voting for people we’ve never heard of into positions of very limited authority (but as somebody who’s about to do a Bible study on Romans 13 next week, let me encourage you that you should still vote!)

Yet there is one leader that we should be very enthusiastic about – God’s anointed king, his Messiah. King David was one of Israel’s greatest kings, ruling a united nation at a time of unprecedented political and economic power, and who most importantly had a healthy relationship with the Lord God. David has this bright idea that he’d like to build God a house – a temple for his name to dwell in – but it turns out that God has other ideas. God turns it around and says he’s going to build David a house instead – an eternal dynasty that will know no end:

“Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me. Your throne shall be established for ever.'” (2 Samuel 7:11-16)

This passage is the foundation for all of the Messianic expectation that follows in the rest of the Old Testament – this sure and certain promise from God that he’s going to raise up a ruler in the line of David to sit on the throne forever. Superficially it looks like it might be referring to David’s son Solomon, and indeed there certainly is a partial fulfilment through him. But at the same time there is much about the ruler described here that seems to go beyond any merely human king.

When Jesus shows up on the scene in Mark 1 he announces “The kingdom of God is at hand” – because at last, after years of waiting, the king of that kingdom has arrived. Read the book of 1 and 2 Kings sometime and you find yourself being perpetually frustrated, as king after king fails to obey God as they ought, bringing ruin and disaster on themselves and the nation as a whole in the process. It’s heartbreaking to see the prosperity that Israel had under Solomon, only to see him throw it all away as his heart turns away in idolatry and goes after the foreign gods of his many wives. As much as we like to complain about our leaders, it’s God’s grace and mercy to give them to us for our good. But our supreme good is found in our supremely good leader – Jesus Christ, the true son of David. He’s the one king we can depend on – his heart remains eternally true to his Father in heaven, and through his resurrection from the dead we know he will never die again. Unlike the temporary prosperity enjoyed under Solomon’s reign, the blessings of being part of Jesus’ kingdom will never end, because his godly rule will never cease.

That’s why Jesus is my hero – because he’s exactly the kind of ruler I need: one who will remain wholly true to the Lord his God for all eternity, selflessly ruling over his kingdom for good forever.

The Kindness and the Severity of God

Why Jesus is My Hero #47 of 52

Have you ever heard people make a distinction between the seemingly vengeful, angry God of the Old Testament and the kind, loving God of the New Testament? What is God actually like? Which picture of God are we to believe?

In reality it’s an entirely false distinction – time and time again, both the Old and the New Testaments emphasise both of these aspects of God’s character side by side: both the kindness and the severity of God, the mercy of God side by side with the holiness of God.

Numbers 16 is a good representative passage. The constant grumbling of the people of Israel as they wander through the wilderness has finally broken out into outright rebellion against Moses & Aaron, and ultimately against God himself.

“They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, ‘You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?'”

The passage stresses that this grumbling and rebellion is a very serious matter. Grumbling is highly addictive and can spread rapidly throughout a community – instead of responding to God in humble submission and thankfulness for what he had done, all they could see was the negatives and how they wanted things to be different.

As events unfold, it quickly becomes apparent just how offensive this kind of grumbling is to God:

“Moses said, ‘Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.

And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up!” And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men offering the incense.'”

It’s a deeply sobering passage as we see God acting in judgement against the sin of the people. God clearly displays his severity.

And yet God also displays his kindness:

“Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take your censer, and put fire on it from the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun.’ So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.”

God provides Moses and Aaron to intercede on behalf of the people, and provides a way for the people’s sin to be atoned for – that is, something to turn aside God’s anger and allow restored relationship to take place.

The God of the New Testament is exactly the same God we see in this passage. Nowhere are these two aspects of God’s character, his holiness and his mercy, more clearly demonstrated side by side than at the cross of Jesus Christ. At the cross God shows us more starkly than ever just how serious our sin is, that he can’t simply sweep it under the carpet, that it must be judged according to the holy purity of God’s character – in giving up his one and only Son to die, God shows that there is simply no other way. Yet God also proves his mercy beyond doubt, in punishing his Son in our place so that we can be forgiven, so that we can go free. He died the death that we deserved – his death atoned for us, if we’ll trust in him. Like Aaron and his censer, Jesus’ cross stands between the dead and the living and makes all the difference in the world.

The kindness of God, and the severity of God, side by side, shown at the cross. It’s a thought that should deeply humble us, as we recognise the seriousness of our sin, and how deeply it grieves God. But it’s also a thought that should make us profoundly grateful, as we rejoice in the free and full forgiveness shown to us in Jesus Christ – that we don’t need to pay the penalty for our sin ourselves, because it’s already been dealth with.

Reconciled

Why Jesus Is My Hero #46 of 52

Do you ever take it for granted that God would be on your side? That if there is a God out there, and if you could ever find a way to meet him, that he’d be really thrilled to see you? Maybe you’ve spent your whole life trying to live for him, so of course he’s a really big fan of yours!

Well the Bible says that by rights, in a world where people get what they deserve, God should be decidedly against us. By nature, there exists hostility and enmity between God and us. I phrased it that way deliberately: hostility from God towards us, as God rightly stands in judgement against our instinctive hostility towards him. As Romans 1 puts it: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

So we have a problem. It doesn’t matter how much we try and seek God, how many good works we do or how much money we try and donate to worthy causes – if we’re trying to get to God by our own efforts, then we can never overcome God’s hostility towards people who have treated him with the contempt which we have all shown towards him. The hostility is on God’s side, the wrath belongs to God, and so any solution has to come from and originate with God.

This is precisely why the message of Good Friday is such good news, as we discover that on the cross God was providing a way to remove the hostility that existed between us, and to allow for reconciliation to occur – for us to be restored into a loving relationship with him. The apostle Paul describes it like so in this wonderful passage, 2 Corinthians 5:14-21:

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.


… All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

On the cross, God’s wrath against our sin was poured out on the innocent, Jesus Christ. He absorbed that hostility that we deserve so that if we commit ourselves to him, God might now treat us as his friends – more than that, as his children! It means we can pray to him with confidence, trust him to act towards us in love for our good, enjoy spending time listening to him as he speaks to us in his word, delight in the gospel of peace full of the hope of eternal life. None of these are things that we can take for granted – none of these are privileges that we should be able to enjoy by rights. We were by nature children of wrath, and only by his grace are we now made children of light.

That’s why Good Friday is such good news, and that’s why Jesus is my hero.

Jesus Was Innocent

Why Jesus Is My Hero #45 of 52

We don’t often think about it like this, but at the end of the day, Christians follow a condemned criminal. Jesus of Nazareth was executed on a Roman cross on charges of treason against the Emperor, amidst additional accusations of blasphemy. If there’s any truth to these claims – if Jesus was rightly condemned as a criminal – then the whole Christian faith is a complete sham and holds out no hope of salvation whatsoever.

It’s no wonder, then, that in his gospel – designed to bolster the confidence of doubting Christians – Luke should be at such pains to stress the complete innocence of Jesus. His account of the accusation states it again and again, designed to show us that Jesus is utterly above reproach in the matters under examination. Pilate’s initial investigations prompt him to decree “I find no guilt in this man.” After trying to abdicate responsibility to a thoroughly ambivalent Herod, he is forced to respond like so:

“After examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him.” (Luke 23:15-16)

Even the criminal on the cross next to Jesus is presented as a witness by Luke, stating “this man has done nothing wrong”, and then to wrap up the passage, we have the Roman centurion declaring “Certainly this man was innocent!”

It’s hard to miss the point that Luke is making: yes Jesus was executed on a cross, but it wasn’t because there was the least shred of evidence against Jesus. He was completely innocent of wrongdoing. If Jesus died on the cross, it’s only because he allowed it to happen – only because he chose to die. That’s clear from way back in chapter 9 of Luke, where after Jesus has predicted his death, we read that “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. ” (Luke 9:51). Jesus died for a purpose, freely of his own choosing.

What was that purpose? Simply put, innocent Jesus died so that the guilty might go free. What better visual aid could there be than that of Barabbus, who Luke twice describes as “a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder”. This clearly guilty man is released from prison as Jesus is put to death despite his obvious innocence. This is the glory of the cross – that Jesus died as a substitute in the place of guilty men and women so that they might live. The just punishment that our sins deserve was poured out on Jesus in our place instead of on us, so that God can accept us as though we were completely innocent of any wrongdoing.

That’s why Jesus is my hero – because he’s the only reason that I can stand before a holy God with any shred of confidence. He has paid the price for my sin, because he had no sin of his own.

Fading Are the World’s Best Pleasures

Why Jesus Is My Hero #44 of 52

The "New iPad"

How do we take seriously the battle with the world, the flesh and the devil?

Yesterday I went along to the London Men’s Convention at Westminster Chapel. The theme was “The Fight” – encouraging us blokes to take that battle seriously. Al Stewart from Australia delivered the first talk, tackling the issue of our battle with The World – that is, the world in rebellion against God, the constant atmosphere of anti-God thinking and values that is so pervasive that we’re hardly even aware that we’re breathing it in all the time.

Al’s address was based on these verses from 1 John 2:15-17:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world– the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides for ever.”

This sinful world craves and chases after all manner of things – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes. It doesn’t matter whether it’s unrestrained sexual desire or greedily lusting after the latest iPad or gluttonous eyes that are constantly bigger than your stomach, the world is constantly feeding us messages about what will make us happy – encouraging us to seek our happiness and contentment in the things that God has made rather than in God himself, and often in the process making us sick through overindulging in things we’d have been better off without. Add to that our pride in our possessions – the way we use the things that we have as a kind of status symbol, seeking our identity in the stuff that we own rather than in Christ.

But John gives us the antidote when he reminds us that “the world is passing away along with its desires”. None of the stuff we crave and lust after will last. The new iPad soon becomes the old iPad, the food is soon gone and its taste quickly forgotten, the illicit pleasure of the affair gives way to the misery of guilt and broken relationships.

Putting our hope for happiness in the things of this world is a recipe for disappointment. Yet there is one source of lasting joy that will never let us down: as I have written previously, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. He never changes or passes away, and the joy of living with him as your king is the kind of pure, unadulterated pleasure that doesn’t leave a rotten taste in your mouth.

As Psalm 37 puts it so beautifully:

“But [the wicked man] passed away, and behold, he was no more;

though I sought him, he could not be found.

Mark the blameless and behold the upright,

for there is a future for the man of peace.”

What Does Our Future Hold?

Why Jesus Is My Hero #43 of 52

backtothefuture.jpg

What does the future hold for me? If you’re anything like me, that’s a question that is frequently on your mind, and one which often causes a certain amount of anxiety. Where will I be? What will I be doing? Who will I be there with? How will I be feeling about it all?

As Euston Church we’ve been away on a church weekend this weekend, and we began by looking at a passage that tells us the answers to all of those questions, if we’re Christians, and gives us just the answers we need to battle with anxiety about the future:

“In Jesus we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:7-10)

God has made known to us the mystery of his will. He’s revealed his plan to us! There’s no need for us to guess at it and wonder what he’s going to do – he’s told us. When’s it going to happen? It’s a plan for the fullness of time – in other words, when the world reaches its conclusion and everything arrives at the point towards where it’s been heading all along. And what is his plan? To unite all things in Jesus, things in heaven and things on earth.

This is where your life is heading, if you’re a Christian: as those who have been adopted as God’s children through his undeserved grace and mercy, we’re going to be with Jesus united with all the company of heaven under his rule. It’s all sorted – God’s going to make sure it happens, and nothing can stand in his way. Doesn’t matter what exam results you get, whether you get offered that dream job or not, whether the purchase of your house goes through as planned or whether your parents get ill – if we’re trusting in Jesus, then we can be totally sure what the future holds for us: God’s going to take us to be with him.

Of course, there’s still lots about the “in between” bit of our future that we don’t know, which God doesn’t reveal to us in advance. We kind of have to figure that bit out as we go along. But we don’t do it alone – we know that God goes with us to make sure that we end up safely at our destination. Knowing the big picture plan with certain confidence really helps deal with anxiety about the little day-to-day stuff – because if God can save us from our sin and make us alive again when we were spiritually dead in rebellion against him, then he can certainly deal with the issues of today. It’s like if you saw a tennis player win all of the Grand Slam championships in the world in a single season, and then started worrying about whether they’d be able to win against your 12 year old nephew. If they can do the hard thing, then of course they can do the easy thing!

What a great relief it is to know that my future is secure with Jesus – what it holds is not in doubt!

God’s Adulterous Lover

Why Jesus Is My Hero #42 of 52

What kind of a God is God? And how does he feel about us and the way we treat him?

When we hear the word “sin” it’s easy to think in terms of broken rules or a general feeling of guilt about things we’re doing that we know we probably shouldn’t. But the Bible often talks about our sin using relational categories – it reminds us ultimately our sin is a rejection of God himself. When we love other things more than we love him – when we turn and start to rely on idols – from God’s perspective that’s no different from a wife cheating on her husband. It’s spiritual adultery.

One particularly hard-hitting passage that picks up on this relational view of sin is Hosea 2:

“Plead with your mother, plead–

for she is not my wife,

and I am not her husband–

that she put away her whoring from her face”



“For their mother has played the whore;

she who conceived them has acted shamefully.

For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers,

who give me my bread and my water,

my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.'”

God sees his people turning aside from him and going after other gods, and it deeply grieves his heart like a husband discovering his wife has been giving herself to other men. The language here is the language of divorce proceedings: “she is not my wife, and I am not her husband” marking an end to the marriage relationship. Yet God is still pleading with his adulterous lover, Israel – still longing for her to turn back to him in repentance, rather than trusting in the pagan fertility gods – the Baals – that she’s started to rely on to provide for her needs.

What makes this scenario so tragic is that it was all so utterly unnecessary:

“And she did not know

that it was I who gave her

the grain, the wine, and the oil,

and who lavished on her silver and gold,

which they used for Baal.”

It’s as though she was a prostitute working her trade in the upper room, as various men brought her payment, and she thought she was so clever and self-reliant for earning all this cash without having to depend on her husband. Only what she never realised was that all this time, those guys had been slipping in to her husband’s study downstairs and stealing £50 notes out of her husband’s drawer in order to pay her. The same supply of money that her husband had told her about on many occasions should she ever be in need, that she was welcome to help herself to at any time to provide for her. It was her husband who had been providing for her all along – it was his money they were using to pay for her services. If only she’d turned to her husband and looked to him, instead of thinking she could find what she wanted elsewhere.

That’s what makes our sinful idolatry so stupid and so utterly abhorrent. God our Creator is the only one who can really provide for our needs, and he longs to care for us and give us what we need. We can look elsewhere – to our education, to our wallets, to our relationships – to make us happy and protect us from evil, but ultimately all those things come from God in the first place. How it must grieve him to see us reject him for the things he has made.

Seeing sin in these relational categories makes it all the more amazing when we then recognise God’s grace towards us sinners. How incredible it is that he sticks with us, patiently persevering with his wayward wife. It’s a beautiful picture later in the Bible when we see Jesus as the heavenly bridegroom who laid down his life to present the church spotless and without blemish before him. It’s an amazing thing when a spouse forgives the one who has betrayed them so deeply and chooses to stick with them in spite of their adultery – and it should truly blow our minds when we remember that that’s exactly the way Jesus treats us, his people.

In Christ

Why Jesus Is My Hero #41 of 52

The further we go in the Christian life, the more conscious we become of what hopeless sinners we are. Any pretence that we could earn our way to God by our own efforts, and simply “trying harder” becomes very hard to maintain in the bitter face of experience. That’s why it’s such a joy to know that the Christian’s fate depends not on their own goodness and purity, but on Jesus’. The more we can lift our eyes off ourselves and onto him, the better. That’s why I started writing this series in the first place – to try and grow my own vision of Jesus.

The way the New Testament describes this is the idea of “union with Christ” – that we are in him. One place that describes this really clearly is Colossians 3:1-4:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

If we’re Christians, then through faith in Jesus we are united with him such that Paul can say “your life is hidden with Christ in God”. His future is our future. When Christ who is your life returns, we also will appear with him in glory. It’s a very different way of thinking for 21st Century Westerners like me, but it’s an awesome truth that gives such confidence and hope in the midst of life’s ups and downs.

The irony is that the more we focus on Christ and not on ourselves, God often works through that to change us so that we actually do become more holy. But that is the result not the cause of our salvation, meaning that it doesn’t become this anxious introspection of constantly wondering if we’ve done enough good to be right with God this morning. The Christian life should be one of confident assurance, joy and thankfulness at what God has already achieved. The fact that we don’t deserve our salvation at all just makes it all the more wonderful, if we’re humble enough to embrace the fact that we simply aren’t good enough to contribute anything except our need of it.

Unshakeable, Unchangeable

Why Jesus Is My Hero #39 of 52

Things rarely remain the same for very long in this world: favourite restaurants come under new management who callously change the menu; favourite beauty spots in the countryside get bought up by property developers who turn them into housing estates; friends and family members drift apart, and we lose touch with people who were once close companions.

But there is one person who remains unchangeable: Jesus Christ. Hebrews 13:8 reminds us:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.”

In his sinless perfection, Jesus’ nature and character aren’t liable to change. The Jesus we can relate to today as Christians is the same Jesus who walked the earth 2,000 years ago. Certainly his situation has changed: he’s now seated at the Father’s side in heaven, ascended and glorified in a way that he never experienced during his time on earth. But it hasn’t changed his loving character. If it were you and I who were given such honour and authority, I’m pretty sure it would have gone to our heads and turned us into ruthless monsters on the ultimate power trip. But Jesus is the same meek, humble, servant-hearted, loving Lord he was when he walked to his death on the cross.

Some people accuse Christians of being out-of-date and out-of-touch with the modern world – times have changed, they say, and we need to revise our views and our ethics in the light of it. But if Christianity is first and foremost a relationship with a person, Jesus, then the more important question isn’t whether the times have changed, but whether that person has changed – has he revised his views on what he loves and what he hates, what pleases him and grieves him? But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever – there is no shifting or changing with him – and so Christians seek to please him in the same way today that they did long before the Internet and the 60s and vanilla ice cream came along.

The writer to the Hebrews applies his truth in this way: “Jesus Christ is the same… Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings”. If Jesus hasn’t changed, nor should our views on right and wrong, on the nature of the world and of who God is.

But it also means we can have huge confidence for the future – Jesus will always love those who trust in him, he will always be interceding for us at the Father’s side, he will surely fulfill his promises and return one day to bring us to be with him. None of his fundamental characteristics like his trustworthiness or his faithfulness to his word are ever going to change. Hurrah!

A Message of Hope For Bad People

Why Jesus is My Hero #37 of 52

The heart of the Christian message is the message of forgiveness. There are plenty of religions and philosophies of life out there for good people – people who think they’re good might get on well with Buddhism or Islam. Say your prayers, do your meditations, try to be nice to people and generally feel a bit better about yourself when you see other people royally stuffing up their lives – “at least I’m not that bad”. Even vegetarianism or a strict diet can be a good opportunity to look down our noses at other people who don’t have as much will power as us. There are plenty of religions out there for good people.

But what if you’re not a good person? What if you’re a failure, or a loser? What if you’ve stuffed up and you know you’ve stuffed up? What if you’re the kind of person that would never fit in in a club full of good people? The kind of person that people would stare at in disbelief if you dared to show your face in a prayer meeting?

Well that’s exactly the kind of person that Jesus came for. Christianity is a message of forgiveness for bad people – it’s good news for rotten sinners who know they could never be good enough to please God by their own efforts. Jesus is a saviour for bad people who are honest enough to admit they’re bad.

We meet just such a woman in Luke 7:36-50. She’s a notorious “sinner” by reputation – everybody knows what kind of woman she is, and it’s clear to all that she doesn’t stand a chance in the religious rankings. And yet when she has an encounter with Jesus, she discovers that he came to forgive people exactly like her. The joy of being forgiven a debt that she could never possibly hope to pay back overflows from her in an embarrassingly lavish expression of love towards Jesus:

“when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.”

Jesus explains her behaviour like this: “her sins, which are many, have been forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little”. It’s not that her love earnt her forgiveness – that much is clear from the rest of the passage. Rather, it is evident how much she has been forgiven – and how much she knows she’s been forgiven – from just how thankful towards Jesus she is. By contrast, Simon the Pharisee, who clearly considers himself to be in a much better place before God, shows very little affection towards Jesus, being barely aware of how much he needs to be forgiven.

Christianity is a message of forgiveness for bad people. The life of a Christian is all about thankfulness for what Jesus has done for us, about rejoicing in what he’s done, and looking forward to a future with the One who’s saved us. Life goes so much better when we remember that – when we keep reminding ourselves of what we deserve, and how merciful and gracious God has been to us. Thankfulness, thankfulness, thankfulness – more and more I’m beginning to see that thankfulness is the key to our contentment. May we never forget how much we’ve been forgiven.

Someone To Give Us Hope

Why Jesus is My Hero #36 of 52

I’ve been thinking a lot about joy recently, and about hope. I’ve realised that the New Testament talks a lot about joy and about rejoicing, and yet it doesn’t really register as a concept in my consciousness very often. And it’s linked very closely with the idea of our hope. Take this passage from Romans, for instance:

“Isaiah says,

‘The root of Jesse will come,

even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;

in him will the Gentiles hope.’

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:12-13)

God is described as “the God of hope”. That should give us a clue that it’s an idea God considers pretty important – that it’s somehow bound up with his very identity. Paul’s prayer is that the Romans would be filled with joy and peace as they believe the gospel, so that they abound in hope.

So what’s going on here? Firstly, I think it’s important to establish what kind of hope we’re talking about. He doesn’t mean a vague and fluffy kind of ‘hope’ – “I hope it won’t rain today”, when what we really mean is “it looks as though it probably will rain today, and that would be a shame”. When Paul talks about hope here, he means the sure and certain confidence of something that’s in the future – the hope of Romans 5:5: “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We abound in hope as we grow in our confidence that Jesus really will return and deliver those who trust in him from our bondage to decay – that a day is coming when we will be conformed to his image as we assume our resurrection bodies in the presence of God the Father.

Hopefully you can see why that would be tied up with a sense of joy and peace in the present! No matter what trials we face in the present, no matter how conscious we are of our sinfulness and our halfheartedness and of the challenges that are bound to confront us on the journey, if we know where we’re headed and we trust the one who’s going to bring us there, we can rejoice in our sufferings now. We can have peace about our situation. There is an end in sight! It doesn’t mean we’re glib in the face of real hardship – it doesn’t mean we smile and laugh as though everything is fine when really nothing could be further from the truth. But it means we know that suffering won’t get the last laugh, that our trials aren’t forever. That God really is good, even when it’s hard to imagine what he could possibly be up to.

So as we struggle with the challenges of today, I’m realising more and more how God calls us to respond with joy. To give thanks for the gospel afresh, to remind ourselves of the glorious future that awaits us in the New Creation, and to rejoice that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Putting Himself Last

Why Jesus is My Hero #35 of 52

Another new year begins, and yet we’re still the same old us. Yet another Christmas reminds us once again how sinful and selfish we are, as family tensions rise to the surface and arguments break out up and down the land.

January 1st is often a good opportunity to take stock and reflect on the year gone by and think and pray about what lies ahead. But such reflections often take place in the context of a renewed awareness of our own sin and our need for God’s forgiveness. It’s both encouraging and challenging, therefore, to be reminded of Christ’s example to us:

“For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me'” (Romans 15:3)

How many of those Christmas arguments could have been avoided if we’d all taken the same attitude – seeking not to please ourselves and have our own way, but to lay aside our rights and put the needs of others first. If we’d sought first and foremost to please our Father in heaven and act in a way that honoured him, rather than seeking to preserve our own misplaced sense of honour.

Jesus’ desire to please God rather than himself can be seen in all manner of ways right throughout his life – from his willingness to leave the glory of heaven and be born in a mangy stable, to his life of selfless sacrificial love, through to his struggles in the garden of Gethsemane as he contemplated the anguish of the cross. At any moment he could have turned back from the path that lay before him and decided to put his own interests first. Yet he persevered, knowing exactly what it would cost him.

So this New Year, who are you going to seek to please? In whatever decisions you face this year, whose interests will come first? And every time we fail, when we end up aiming to please ourselves rather than to please God, may we come back to the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus on our behalf, and find the forgiveness that we so desperately need.

Recapturing the Joy of Christmas

Why Jesus is My Hero #34 of 52

We had our Christmas carol service at Euston Church tonight, and we were encouraged by these words from Luke’s gospel:

“An angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.'” (Luke 2:9-11)

I find it so easy at Christmas time to become so hardened to the familiar verses that we hear year after year, but the story of the nativity remains an astonishing account of the most remarkable grace of God – that he should extend the hand of friendship to a world that has treated him so abominably, and even condescend to come to Earth and be born as a baby boy in order to rescue us. No wonder the angel proclaimed that his coming was news of “great joy” – for if we really saw the state of the world clearly, and understood our own predicament rightly, then what could be more joyful than discovering that God has made it possible for there to be peace between him and us?

The faithful people of God had been waiting for centuries for the promised king in the line of David. We all know the anticipation of counting down the days until Christmas – how much more exciting must that first Christmas have been, seeing the arrival of the one who had been expected for so long? May God give us grace to wonder anew at the message of Christmas this year.

The Cost of Being a Disciple

Why Jesus is My Hero #33 of 52

Cross & Clouds

Salvation through Jesus Christ will cost you nothing, and it will cost you everything. It will cost you nothing, because for those who’ll cling to the cross of Christ, God graciously rescues us from sin completely free of charge – there is nothing we can do to earn or contribute towards our salvation. Yet it will also cost you everything, because once we receive salvation we are called to die to ourselves and follow the pattern of life left for us by our crucified saviour:

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, Jesus said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.'” (Mark 8:34-38)

This isn’t about giving up the occasional piece of chocolate during lent – this is about a radical, life-long commitment to a whole new way of living that no longer puts myself first – my wants, my ambitions, my rights – but instead puts God’s will first and resolves to repeatedly put my own desires to death in pursuit of serving Him. Jesus’ own life – a life marked by suffering and sorrow before his eventual glorification through his resurrection from the dead – sets the pattern for those who will follow him. If we seek for satisfaction and glory now here in this life we risk forfeiting the riches that really count in the life to come. But if we’re willing to die to ourselves here on earth, Jesus promises a place with him in his kingdom – a kingdom which will never end, and where our enjoyment will never be spoilt or brought to an end by the curse of sin and death.

Doing what’s right here on Earth can often feel painful and frustrating – it’s often accompanied by a sense of wishing things were easier. But it will be so worth it on that when Jesus returns in his glory. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

Finding Lasting Satisfaction

Why Jesus is My Hero #32 of 52

All of us have some vision of what we think will make us happy. We’re all working towards something. Maybe it’s that dream job that we think will leave us feeling fulfilled which gives us a sense of purpose; maybe it’s a relationship that we’re in or wish we were in – we look to that person to satisfy our deepest desires; maybe it’s the clothes we wear or the new kitchen we dream of. We yearn for something more than we currently experience, and we look in all kinds of places to satisfy that longing within us.

Jesus speaks of this search for joy in John’s gospel, and he gives some wise counsel: “Do not labour for the food that perishes”. Ultimately, none of these things we’ve mentioned will last. The job gets boring or we get fed up with the deeply ingrained politics of the office; the person we cherish lets us down or goes away; the clothes we buy go out of fashion or get holes in them. Even the most sumptuous banquet runs out, or come back to it a week later and it’s all gone mouldy. You certainly need to eat again the next day, no matter how much you ate. Don’t invest all your energy seeking after food that’s just going to perish and leave you wanting more, says Jesus. Instead, labour “for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” Jesus offers us a food that will never run out – food which will leave us feeling satisfied for all eternity.

What is this bread? Jesus tells us a few verses later: “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world … I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

There is one relationship which we’d be right to invest all our hopes in – one man who will never let us down or forsake us. The one thing that will truly satisfy us is that for which we were created – to know and love Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Everything else we long for is designed to point us towards that greater reality.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

A good meal can keep you going for a few hours. A good pair of trainers can protect your feet from blisters. But nothing on this earth can guard against our eventual death. Yet Jesus says that people who feed on him – people who find their satisfaction, their joy, their delight in him – well those people will never truly die. They will be raised again to new life with Jesus in the New Creation and enjoy an eternity in relationship with their Creator.

May God forgive us for our short-sightedness and idolatry. We settle for second best so easily. As C.S.Lewis described it, we’re like children who prefer to keep playing with our mud pies in the back garden because we don’t know what it is to have a holiday by the sea side. The bread of life that will truly satisfy us is on offer, completely free of charge, and instead we labour after junk that will perish in no time at all.

Jesus said “Do not labour for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” May God give us grace to listen to him.

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Why Jesus Is My Hero #31 of 52

Jesus was the master storyteller. He knew exactly how to get under people’s radar, and his stories frequently shocked and deeply challenged his hearers, as indeed they still do today. One such parable that contains a glorious surprise is that of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:

“[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

The Pharisee looks like exactly the sort of person you would imagine to be right with God: he’s a morally upright man who seems to be deeply religious, giving generously of his resources. It’s understandable that he should approach God with a sense of confidence. The Tax Collector, on the other hand, is utterly empty-handed before God: as a traitor to his country and his people, a collaborator with the Romans, he was no doubt precisely the kind of “unjust extortioner” that the Pharisee was so quick to distance himself from. He has no assurance at all as he feebly approaches God – not even daring to lift his head towards heaven. It’s all he can do to utter a few simple words begging for mercy.

Yet look what Jesus says of this ungodly tax collector: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other“.

What a glorious gospel message of hope! The death of Jesus in the place of needy sinners means that the way of salvation is entirely opposite to what we would expect. People like the Pharisee who “trust in themselves that they were righteous” fail to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, whilst the most unlikely of candidates get right with God, because they are the ones who recognise their need and cry for mercy.

Hurrah!

The Good Shepherd

Why Jesus is My Hero #30 of 52

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:11-16)

We are dirty, mangy, stupid sheep. But Jesus is a kind and gentle shepherd. He always leads us and cares for us for our good. Sometimes he leads us places we don’t really want to go, but only because he knows more fully than we do. We make silly choices and settle for second best because in our sinfulness and idolatry we cannot conceive of the fulness God has in store for us. But mercifully, our shepherd Jesus loves us too much just to let us wander off- in his grace he leads us to find good pasture, even when we’re not really looking for it. Many a time does he spare his sheep from the misery of getting what they want. He graciously restrains sin and stirs up our hearts to love him when by nature they are cold and dead. Supremely, he demonstrated his love for his sheep by laying down his life at the cross, throwing himself in harm’s way so that we might escape the clutches of death. The life of a wonderful shepherd for the life of a few mangy sheep.

Utterly glorious.

The Perfect Man

Why Jesus Is My Hero #29 of 52

due south.jpg

I absolutely loveDue South“, the classic TV show about a Canadian mountie who ends up in Chicago following the trail of his father’s killer. Without doubt, one of the most compelling features of the show is the mountie himself, Benton Fraser – a true gentleman, a man of integrity and kindness who has little regard for his own concerns and who is constantly risking his own life for the sake of others. And he has a cute wolf, too.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find characters like Fraser inspiring because they paint a little picture of what I know humanity was supposed to be. I should be that man of integrity, I should care more for others than I do for myself, I should be above reproach in the way that I relate to women such that they feel safe in my presence. Maybe I should start wearing bright red mountie uniforms out in public too. But though humanity was created in the image of God, designed to reflect his perfect nature, that image has been marred and spoilt by sin. We still catch glimpses of the character of God reflected in our lives from time to time, but so often we see selfishness and jealousy and ugliness instead.

Ultimately, I love Benton Fraser because he reminds me of Jesus. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that “He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Jesus is the true man, the true picture of what humanity was designed to be. He is the perfect image of God (Colossians 1:15) without flaw and without blemish. And what a sight to behold he is!

Gloriously, graciously, in the gospel we have the promise that God is at work to conform us to the likeness of Christ. Romans 8:28 reminds us that God is using all of the circumstances of life to mould us and shape us to be more like him – perhaps especially through our suffering. And day by day, as we meditate on the perfect humanity of Jesus, God will change us – so says Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:18:

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

So next time you’re tempted to despair at all the ways in which you fail to live up to the ideal, turn your gaze away from yourself and towards Jesus – and ask that God will make you just a little bit more like him each day.

Thank you kindly.

P.S. As an added bonus, let me direct your attention to this awesome song by Canadian band The Crash Test Dummies which was featured in the pilot episode of Due South and which, let’s face it, is ultimately all about Jesus:



Pleasing God More and More

Why Jesus Is My Hero #28 of 52

Sex

On Sunday I was preaching down in Hastings on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 – mostly all about sex. It’s a fantastic passage – at once raising the bar and reminding us how serious purity is in the life of a Christian, but also giving great encouragement to us when we fall short, and the motivation to carry on in the fight.

At its heart, it’s a passage all about the big question: “What is God’s will for my life?” It’s the kind of question that we can tie ourselves in knots over – frantically stressing over exactly what we should be doing and whether we’re making the right decisions. But the answer we find in this passage is really very simple: “This is the will of God, your sanctification“. He doesn’t much mind if we’re a baker or a barber, a tailor or a taxidermist: God’s will is that we should be sanctified. Simply put, to be “sanctified” is to be set apart, to be made holy. In other words, to have our characters conformed to the likeness of Jesus, the true model of humanity. Paul says that we are to live to please God, in all areas of life – perhaps our sex life is one of the areas in which many of us are most conscious of the struggle, but he also includes in this passage how we relate to others in the church, how we work, perhaps even how we use Facebook!

On the one hand, 1 Thessalonians 4 functions as something of a manifesto for the Christian life: let us strive for absolute purity and holiness. We are to avoid sexual immorality in all its forms – Christians are to be utterly uncompromising, despite all the voices from the prevailing culture which tell us that how we use our bodies is our own business and that nobody has any right to tell us how to behave, least of all God. We need to be clear that God’s design for sex is that it is to be enjoyed within the one context where it truly belongs: within a lifelong, faithful marriage relationship between one man and one woman. It perhaps sounds overly strict, maybe downright out-of-date, and no doubt ridiculously idealistic. But that’s the command we’re given by the God who designed sex and who designed us, with all of our passions and desires. Paul is adamant: “whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” To obey the maker’s instructions is for our good – he’s not just being stingy because he hates us having fun! Sex inside marriage is an experience to be enjoyed without regret and with thanksgiving, and to settle for anything less is downright foolish. The consequences of disobedience in this area are serious and far-reaching, hence his instruction that “no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.” Even when it feels like our actions affect nobody else, it’s inevitable that there will be implications for how we relate to one another in the church, and in our future relationships.

But Paul knows only too well that Christians are far from perfect and that we all struggle to be pure and holy. And so on the other hand, there’s a great deal of grace within this passage, and encouragement for us to keep pressing on in the battle. After all, if he thought the Thessalonians were perfect, Paul wouldn’t need to be writing in the first place! He begins by encouraging them for all the little ways in which they are fighting – for all the little evidences of God’s grace already at work in their life. “You received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing“. Sinful as we are, and as hard as the struggle is, we need to celebrate those little victories of God’s grace in our lives. But Paul urges us that just as we are already aiming for holiness, “that you do so more and more“. The Christian life is one of daily repentance, daily confessing where we fall short, and daily striving to grow, in the power of God’s Spirit that he graciously pours out upon us.

Ultimately, the only thing that can keep us from being discouraged is a clear grasp of God’s grace. Look ahead to 1 Thes 5:9: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” On the cross, Jesus took all of our sin and shame upon himself. He died the death that we deserve – the price is fully paid!

And let’s keep clinging to that great promise: “This is the will of God: your sanctification”. God is utterly committed to our holiness. It is his great project in our lives. Every experience that God puts us through, every trial and every disappointment, all of it is God’s training regime to make us more like Jesus. We are not in this fight on our own. Our sanctification is his will even more than it is the longing of our own hearts. And God will complete that good work that he began in us.

The Good News That Someone’s In Charge

Why Jesus Is My Hero #27 of 52

In a messed up world, it’s good to know that someone’s in control. In recent centuries, the idea of a “meta-narrative” has somewhat gone out of fashion – the idea that there is some bigger story that everything is building towards. People today say everything “just happens”, that there’s no use looking for meaning or purpose in events, because there is none. We’re bumped around by blind chance like little pollen seeds moving about by Brownian motion.

Thankfully that’s far from my experience, and it’s certainly not what the Bible teaches. This weekend I’ve been so encouraged by various answers to prayer that have reminded me that there is someone in control of the world, orchestrating events according to his master plan for his own purposes. Things may look chaotic at times, and often we can’t understand how things fit into his plan, but the Christian is called to trust and have faith that they do.

We see this glorious truth presented in Daniel 7:13-14:

“I saw in the night visions,

and behold, with the clouds of heaven

there came one like a son of man,

and he came to the Ancient of Days

and was presented before him.

And to him was given dominion

and glory and a kingdom,

that all peoples, nations, and languages

should serve him;

his dominion is an everlasting dominion,

which shall not pass away,

and his kingdom one

that shall not be destroyed.”

The Creator God has crowned his son, Jesus Christ, as the ruler of the universe – the one with all power and dominion and authority. He rules. Not like some slightly incompetent British politician who does his best but whose hands are tied by the opposition party and his own unwillingness to upset the electorate. He rules with absolute sovereignty, which is glorious news because this king is good – supremely good. It is a rule that no tyrant can ever thwart or destroy, a rule that shall never be brought to an end by death.

The universe is in the hands of a mighty Saviour, and everything is working to further his plans. Hurrah.

The Ultimate Reversal of Fortunes

Why Jesus Is My Hero #26 of 52

We love tales of big reversals: the pauper who marries the princess; the Apple founder fired from his own company before eventually being hired back as CEO and going on to build it into one of the most valuable companies on the planet; the Jamaican bobsleigh team that’s never even seen snow and then manages to win the respect of their Winter Olympics peers. We especially loves such stories when they’re from real life.

Well nowhere is there a bigger real life reversal of fortunes than in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Several times in the Bible we find these glorious “but now” or “but God” moments – wretched humanity has managed to get itself into a complete mess, and God wonderfully and graciously steps in to save us. One of my favourites comes in Romans 3:21. After three chapters in the courtroom where Paul has been laying out his case, showing how all of humanity stands condemned before God, 3:21 is one of those moments that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end – “But now”. Paul summarises a few verses later in these words:

“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:22-25)

The verdict is clear: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We have no possible excuse before God for our idolatry and rebellion against him. All of us have suppressed the truth and turned aside to worship created things in place of the Creator. All of us rightly deserve judgement for this ultimate act of treason.

So how wonderful it is then that God steps in to rescue us of his own free grace – not because of anything we have done to merit or deserve it, but simply because of his great love. The means of salvation totally strips us of any grounds for boasting or claiming to have contributed: it’s Jesus’s death that is the propitiation we so desperately need – that is, a sacrifice to turn aside God’s righteous anger. All we can do is humbly receive it by faith – there’s nothing we can do to add to his death or improve upon his sacrifice.

From being God’s enemies we are adopted into his family as his children – what a glorious reversal of fortunes! And for once it’s not one of the glib Disney “you can achieve anything if only you put your mind to it” kind of stories. It’s a reversal that came at immense cost to God – it cost the death of his only Son Jesus. But what a wonderful message of hope it is for those of us who are only too aware of our shortcomings. God knew exactly what he was getting himself into when he stepped in to rescue us – it was whilst we were still sinners that Christ died for us. So we can have confidence that he’ll stick by us and bring us safely to his New Creation.

How Jesus Cherishes His Church

Why Jesus Is My Hero #25 of 52

One of the features of belonging to a large city centre church is that you tend to get invited to a lot of weddings. Every wedding has a Bible reading, and let’s face it, unless you start getting really creative there aren’t a whole lot of appropriate Bible passages to choose from, so you tend to hear fairly similar sermons again and again. One of the downsides of always hearing the same passage used in the wedding context is that its meaning can become somewhat distorted – being applied always just to marriage when it might also be about something else.

Nowhere is this more true than in the case of Ephesians 5:22-33: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church”. Paul uses the marriage relationship as a beautiful illustration of the love that Jesus Christ has for his bride, the church – v32 “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church”. And yet somehow, it still comes as a shock to me when I actually hear it applied that way – it seems to me to be a passage first and foremost about Jesus, and only secondarily about how husbands and wives should relate to one another; yet it’s sadly rare to hear it given that emphasis.

So what does Ephesians 5 have to teach us about Jesus? Well, you don’t have to hunt very far to find some absolutely mind-blowing thoughts: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish”. Wowsers!

Think of the most beautiful bride you have ever seen, how radiant she appeared as she walked down the aisle, all that care and attention poured into getting her ready for that one glorious moment. Well that’s merely a pale imitation of how Christ has poured himself into getting his bride ready – he went so far as to give himself up for her, to die for her. On the last day, the church – all Christians from across the globe and throughout history, united together – well the church is going to be absolutely spotless, without blemish, gloriously beautiful beyond words. And all the credit for that is going to go to Jesus. On our own we are anything but beautiful – wretched sinners, spiritual adulterers who have spent our whole lives cheating on God (even after being betrothed to him!) But Jesus’ death covers our sin and shame – a wedding dress that people will be talking about for all eternity, when Kate Middleton’s will be long forgotten.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He continues: “No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” I find that so encouraging to think about. We are so intimately linked to Christ, united to him as we are by the Spirit, that for him to love and care for us is equivalent to him loving and caring for his own body. It’s in his own interests to look after us and make sure that we hold together and arrive safe and sound in the New Creation.

Just think for a minute about all the lengths you’re willing to go to for your own body. Perhaps you remember a time when you gave up chocolate or passed on the offer of a sticky toffee pudding for the sake of your body. Perhaps you’ve once got up early to go for a miserable jog in the pouring rain. Maybe you’ve missed out on all the fun in order to get to bed and have a good night’s sleep for the sake of your body. We spend our hard-earned cash to clothe our bodies. We buy endless beauty products, we wash regularly, we cut our fingernails – how many hours must all that add up to over the course of a lifetime?!

It’s amazing enough to think of a husband loving his wife to that extent – although it only makes sense, says Paul. She is, after all, like his own flesh. But as you watch a married couple who love and cherish one another, remember that that’s only a tiny glimpse of how Christ cares for us, the church.

Three Key Truths About Salvation

Why Jesus is My Hero #24 of 52

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.” (Titus 3:3-8)

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ in five verses – and what encouraging verses they are! Here we see three key truths about salvation:

1. Saved FROM sin

When you say “Jesus saves”, the obvious follow-up question is “saves from what?” How you answer that question basically defines your gospel. Many Christians seem most excited about how he’s saved them from a life of purposelessness and insignificance – and it’s true that the gospel is a solution to them both; other people focus on salvation from poverty and sickness and all the trials of this life – and because of the gospel Christians can look forward to a glorious future where all that stuff is banished forever. But in these verses in Titus, primarily we see Jesus saving us from our sin and its effects in our lives – Jesus saves us from lives lived in opposition to God. Once we lived only for ourselves, enslaved by every whim of our human nature, and living under his condemnation. But now we have been set free and made heirs of the glorious hope of eternal life – not that we never sin, but that sin is no longer our master. Sin is now an anomaly in the life of a believer, rather than the norm.

2. Saved BY God’s grace and mercy

Given how we all once lived, it comes as no surprise that we could not possibly earn salvation by our own effort. Someone who is a slave of sin doesn’t just wake up one morning and decide they’re going to love God instead today. Our salvation is purely the result of God’s loving kindness and mercy, poured out on us utterly undeservedly, on people who have done nothing to merit it. This is such a wonderful encouragement – since when we stuff up and fail it means we can’t somehow “undeserve” God’s salvation. We didn’t earn it in the first place, and God already knew what we were like when he saved us. Phew!

3. Saved FOR good works

Finally, we see the purpose of God’s salvation – that we should begin living new lives devoted to godly living. This would be impossible on our own, but God has poured out his Holy Spirit on believers, we’ve experienced “the washing of regeneration and renewal” – we’re new creations in Christ! Christians a experience a fresh start at their conversion, and indeed every day as they repent again and again – God’s mercies are new every morning. Hoorah!

I don’t know about you, but I find that a real challenge – so often I find myself living for myself exactly as I would if I weren’t a Christian. I need to constantly remind myself that the whole reason I exist, the whole reason I’m still here on this earth, is to serve Jesus Christ. All things were made for him – he’s what it’s all about! It makes me want to start praying more for a right focus, a right sense of purpose each morning as I begin my day.

Paul wants us to know these key truths of the gospel, saying that “these things are excellent and profitable for people” – I think I’m beginning to see why!

Always Abounding in the Work of the Lord

Why Jesus is My Hero #23 of 52

Dunce

Living wholeheartedly as a Christian is hard. The world is constantly bombarding you with messages about what’s important, what you should value. A lot of it is about status and where we find our significance: you need to be working for a well-known and respected company doing a high-paid and important job; you need to wear the right brands and use the right phone; you need to have been to an exclusive university; you need to take your holidays in luxurious locations and fly on the right airline; you need to marry well to someone smokin’ hot who also has a great job and wears the trendiest clothes.

Living wholeheartedly as a Christian often means the opposite of all those things – not that any of them are necessarily wrong in their own right – but we know that they’re not the be-all and end-all, they’re not where we ultimately derive our significance. Being a Christian might mean we want to be able to give as much of our money as possible to gospel ministry, so we might fly on the second best airline and watch slightly crummier in-flight movies and have slightly less leg room; it might mean we settle for second hand technology off E-Bay rather than having the momentary thrill of paying over-the-odds for the brand new equivalent; it might mean we stay in a lower-ranking job that means we’ll have more stable hours that ensure we can get involved in midweek church commitments; it might mean we’re willing to stay single in order to have more time and attention for gospel work, or that we treasure godliness in our spouses more highly than their Gucci handbag. It may not mean any of those things, but sooner or later it is bound to bring you into conflict with the world’s values, and require you to be willing to be thought a fool by those around you. Every time you speak openly of the gospel with those who do not follow Christ you risk being written off as crazy or outdated.

That’s why the resurrection of Jesus is such an important bedrock for living the Christian life. As Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 15:19:

“If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied”

If I’ve given up status in the world’s eyes all my life, only to find out that there is no life after death, then I’ve been an idiot – I’ve missed out on all these great opportunities for no reason at all. Pity me. But, continues Paul,

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

Christ’s resurrection from the dead was the “firstfruits” of what was to come, says Paul. Because he was raised, Christians can be confident that they will be raised also. There is a resurrection to come, a New Creation in which all those little sacrifices for the gospel will pale into insignificance. It will all be proved worth it because of that glorious future that awaits us.

It’s no wonder then, that Paul concludes the chapter with these words:

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.”

It takes real guts to defy the value system of the world and die to self every day. It takes real courage to stand up for the gospel in a world that thinks it foolish and weak. Living wholeheartedly as a Christian is hard. But if Christ was raised, then it is utterly worth it. Be strong. Be immovable. Be always abounding in the work of the Lord – it is not in vain!

Jesus: Properly Dead. Properly Alive Again.

Why Jesus is My Hero #22 of 52

I’m on camp this week, so I don’t have time to write a proper blog post. Here’s a copy and paste job of the talk I’m doing tonight.





How can we know that what Jesus said is true? How can we know that his life wasn’t just a waste?

Jesus makes some pretty big claims:

  • He’s said that we’ve all turned away from our heavenly Father and said to God “I wish you were dead”
  • And what could be bigger than his claim to be God? HUGE
  • And we saw this morning about how Jesus can forgive our sins – that we can have a restored relationship with God by trusting in the cross – that the no entry sign is torn in two

And I wonder how all that leaves you feeling about Jesus? Maybe you’re a bit doubtful – it sounds like a lot of big talk about some guy who lived a long time ago a long way away.

  • It really matters whether this is real or whether this is just make-believe, and perhaps to you right now it feels like it’s all just make believe?
  • If he died, how do we know his claims are true? How can we trust anything he said?
  • Maybe he was just a weak silly man who died on a cross

Well this evening I want to introduce someone who can help us answer all this. Let me introduce you to Mary from that passage we’ve just read – she’s a close friend of Jesus

  • She’d heard Jesus making these incredible claims up close
  • She’d really started to pin her hopes on him – he holds out the offer of restoring her broken relationship with God

And yet have a look down at v11: v11 “Mary stood outside the tomb crying.”

  • When we meet Mary, she’s in floods of tears

What’s gone wrong? Why is she crying?

  • Well, it’s been a traumatic weekend for Mary
  • She’s seen her dear friend Jesus – the one she’s invested so much of her hope in – she’s watched him be executed on a Roman cross and his body laid to rest in a cold tomb, and a great big stone rolled across the entrance.
  • He’d done and promised so many amazing things that it really seemed like he was God come to Earth. And now he was gone, just like any normal human being.
  • No doubt about it: Jesus was definitely dead.

Mary went to the tomb that day to try and pour special burial oils on Jesus’ body, but when she got there she didn’t find what she expected at all. Mary discovered that day three surprising facts.

  1. The Tomb Was Empty
  • Mary had seen Jesus buried, she knew which tomb she should go to
  • And now when she shows up at the tomb on the Sunday morning, the huge stone has somehow been rolled away, and the body is gone. Jesus’ body isn’t there.

An already traumatic weekend just became even more emotional for Mary, so we can hardly blame her for weeping outside the tomb. Where has the body gone?

Well Mary wasn’t alone outside the tomb. Have a look with me at v11:

“As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.” – you know something pretty unusual is going on when you meet two angels!

It carries on, “They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where the have put him.”

And then she meets a third man who she doesn’t immediately recognise.

Read with me from v15: “‘Woman’, he said, ‘why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’ Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.'”

Poor Mary – she’s clearly utterly overwhelmed with grief at this point. “I’ll go and fetch him” she says – You can just picture this image of her going and finding Jesus’ body and trying to pick it up and carry it all by herself – she’s utterly overcome with grief because Jesus’ body is missing, the tomb is empty.

But then the gardener speaks one word which changes everything forever:

v16 “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.'”

  • Suddenly there is instant recognition – this is no gardener, this is Jesus, her friend Jesus who was dead is now alive again and standing before her, talking to her.

And that’s the second surprising fact that Mary discovered that day:

  1. Jesus Was Alive Again

Her friend Jesus is standing in front of her alive and well.

  • She turns towards him and cries out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” which means Teacher.
  • From Jesus’ words in v17, it seems she throws her arms around him and clings on to him as though she never wants to let go ever again.

Just as Jesus was definitely dead a few hours previously, now he is definitely alive again

  • As Mary puts it in v18, as she runs off to tell the disciples the good news: “I have seen the Lord!” She’s seen it with her own eyes

There’s no doubt that a miracle has taken place unlike anything that’s been seen before:

  • Even in the unlikely event that Jesus had somehow managed to cling on to life after being crucified and having a spear thrust into his side, he’d not have had an ounce of strength left in him
  • Who knows how on earth he’d have managed to roll away the huge boulder blocking the mouth of the tomb – and bear in mind that by this point he’d not have eaten a thing since the Thursday night
  • But when he appears, there’s something glorious and powerful about this risen Jesus that people find utterly compelling and awe-inspiring. This isn’t some bruised and battered man who’s just crawled out from a grave where he’s wrongly been buried alive. 

No, Jesus was definitely dead – too many people saw that and testified to that for there to be any doubt.

And now Jesus is definitely alive again.

* He is risen – resurrected.

And this isn’t just some fairy story or a metaphor. The people writing this down for us want us to understand this as historical fact – something that really happened

  • Like we heard in the interview, he was seen by many many people after his resurrection
  • There were too many of them to just be imagining it. And it wasn’t just wishful thinking – Mary and the disciples were as sceptical as anybody
  • The man Jesus who lived in human history was definitely dead, and the many, many eye witnesses assure us that a few days later he was definitely alive again.

  • This is utterly unique
  • There’s never been anything like it either before or since
  • A few people claim to have had near-death experiences – but they all died eventually
  • Jesus’ resurrection was unlike anything else – it’s way more significant than the Pirates of the Caribbean and their Fountain of Youth – Jesus didn’t just get an extra 50 years added to his life:
  • Jesus defeated death – he rose from the dead, never to die again

We know all too well that dead people don’t come back to life

  • That’s what makes death so painful – its permanence
  • And for every other religion in the world, the person who founded it has long since passed away
  • A Muslim can’t have a relationship with Muhammed – he’s dead
  • A Buddhist can’t have a relationship with Bhudda – he’s dead
  • The fact that Mary met Jesus alive again, risen from the dead – it sets him completely apart from everyone else – he’s in another league altogether. He’s unlike anyone who’s ever come before or since
  • All the facts, all the eye witnesses, point to the fact that Jesus is alive – death was not the end for Jesus. He’s not dead – he’s ALIVE

And if this is true, then it’s a fact that has profound implications

The fact that dead people don’t come alive again is precisely what makes Jesus’ resurrection so important:

3. Jesus Is Everything He Says He Is – that’s the final thing Mary discovered that day

Jesus defeated death and proved that everything he said about himself was true.

[Illustration: Captain Barbosa actor in another film, Shine, about pianist who has a mental breakdown.

Looks all shabby in his raincoat, muttering under his breath, cigarette hanging from his mouth.

Fantastic scene where he wanders into a posh restaurant clutching piles of sheet music, sits down at the piano – says he knows how to play. Everything laughs – he’s clearly mentally ill, looks like a weak silly man.

Then he breaks out into this amazing virtuoso performance of the Flight of the Bumblebee, hands running up and down the keys, an incredible performance – and everyone is utterly speechless, jaws hanging open. He’s everything he said he was – nobody could believe it until they saw it with their own eyes.]

It means his death on the cross really was enough for us to be forgiven.

  • Look down at v17 again, and see how Jesus calls the disciples now his “brothers”: “Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father.'”
  • Jesus’ death has broken down the barriers between them and God now, so now they have the amazing privilege of being able to call God their Father. “my Father and YOUR Father.” – we can be accepted because he was rejected
  • They’re Jesus’ brothers now.

Do you see how incredible this is?

  • If we trust in him, we don’t need to fear being shut out from the presence of God like we deserve for turning our backs on God.
  • It means we can be friends with our Father again because of what Jesus has done

It doesn’t mean we won’t still die one day.

  • But Jesus’ resurrection means we can know for certain that the cross worked – the no entry sign is gone
  • It’s not all make believe after all – we can be with God

What could be more wonderful news than that? There’s hope even in the face of death!

This is the most amazing moment in history, that proves that sinners like the disciples, like you and me, can be brought into God’s family.

Do you see that Jesus’ death and resurrection means that we can be part of God’s family now?

  • What an amazing promise, and one that we can be absolutely confident of

So how can we know that what Jesus said is true? How can we know that his life wasn’t just a waste?

  • Jesus was really dead, and now Jesus is really alive – nothing can stand in his way.
  • Jesus is Everything he says he is

Telling It Like It Is

Why Jesus is My Hero #21

It takes a certain amount of guts to face up to the truth sometimes, and especially to say it to people’s faces when you know it’s not what they want to hear. When I look at the person of Jesus, it’s often his straight talking honesty that attracts me to him – and it’s certainly one of the things that made the authorities hate him more than anything else.

Take Mark chapter 7, for instance. Jesus is in a dispute with the Pharisees, who are feeling all smug and morally superior because they’ve spotted that Jesus’ disciples were eating without properly washing their hands, according to their customs – they were defiled! Like he so often did, Jesus completely turns their complaint on its head and uses it to show the Pharisees how it’s actually they who are defiled, and not just superficially in the way they meant it, but deep down on the inside, rotten to the core. Their strict adherence to all of these customs and traditions, though in the guise of seeking to honour God, was actually a sign of how far they were from God:

“‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“This people honours me with their lips,

but their heart is far from me;

in vain do they worship me,

teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.'”

(Mark 7:6-8)

By taking their human tradition (which is all the thing about hand washing ever was) and elevating it to the standard of a commandment of God, they were actually putting themselves in the place of God and showing just how little they knew of him. In fact, the situation was so bad that they would sometimes use their own traditions as an excuse for not obeying genuine commandments of God: take, for example, their tradition of “Corban” – the idea of dedicating their resources to God, even if that meant failing in their financial responsibilities towards their parents. It looks so very godly and holy on the outside (“I’m fulling devoted to God!”) and yet it simply wasn’t what God wanted from them (which was to get on and honour their parents).

No holds barred, Jesus then lets loose on the Pharisees with both barrels:

“Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled? (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

The food we eat and the things we touch can’t truly defile us – Jesus rather graphically explains how they ultimately pass straight through and, literally translated, into the latrine. Nice. We don’t need external influences to make us ungodly – it’s all right there in our hearts already. The filth that comes out shows that it’s our hearts themselves that are like latrines – all the gross, ugly stuff like our pride and our lying lips and our sexually impure thoughts, that’s what defiles us, and no quick wash of the hands before dinner is going to sort out a mess like that. We need a saviour.

Most people would prefer to suppress a truth like that. It’s far easier and nicer to pretend that we’re all lovely and fine and get on with washing our hands and pretending that that made us terribly godly and righteous before God. But Jesus is gutsy enough to tell the truth, even though it hardly makes him popular with the Pharisees.

A few verses later he does it again: he calls a seemingly fairly godly Syro-phoenician woman a dog – not a very pleasant derogatory term for a Gentile. But with the eyes of faith that woman agrees with Jesus and owns the label: she recognises that as a Gentile she is owed nothing by God – she’s not even worthy to gather up the crumbs from under God’s table. But she knows that it’s worth doing anything she can to get those little scraps of grace from off the floor, if Jesus is willing – and in so doing she discovers the wonders of God’s grace. We have no rights when it comes to expecting good things from God – what could we possibly offer him when our hearts are like latrines pumping out filth? Yet if we accept that fact – if we own up to being dogs, utterly on the outside and deserving nothing – then we are in the perfect place to find God’s grace.

Admitting the truth can be painful. Speaking the truth can make you unpopular. But it’s absolutely the only starting point if you want to discover the riches of relationship with God. That’s why Jesus is my hero.