Rejoice in Suffering

Suffering is a part of every person’s life. Some of us complain about being mildly inconvenienced, but that is not really suffering. Others of us talk about physical pains ranging from hangnails to hernias, but even they may not be true suffering. True suffering has an element of anguish or frustration. There may also be an element of injustice. While much of life is spent striving, sometimes without result, a life of suffering involves toil or heartbreak on an extreme scale. The suffering may further involve a loss, without reward or hope, of loved ones, jobs, houses, and other things dear to us.

Some of us may be blessed to suffer for the sake of Christ’s gospel. We may experience the anguish of being persecuted or ridiculed because we proclaim that Jesus died on the cross for sinners in order to reconcile them to God. We may be chastised or hated for believing that Christ is the only way to God. We may be ostracized by friends or family because we stand with and for Christ.

When that occurs, we should rejoice, as Paul said he did in Colossians 1:24:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,

Paul rejoiced in his suffering for the gospel because he understood it was for the sake of others. Believers must proclaim the truth of the gospel to the lost world. That is God’s means of bringing salvation to all those who are lost. Even when they reject it and persecute us for proclaiming it, God can use the message we declare to save them.

For example, in India today, there are Hindu families who are coming to Christ following the martyrdom of over 100 Christians at the hands of Hindus in 2008. The boldness that other Christians have shown in sharing the gospel after that tragedy has been used by God. Most of us will probably never have to give our life for our faith. But even if we should lose friends, jobs, or family ties because of the gospel, the sacrifice we make may be used by the Lord for the salvation of those very ones who persecute us.

Paul rejoiced in his suffering for the gospel because he saw it a continuation of Christ’s suffering. As Peter said, “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (see I Peter 4:13) That attitude was in Paul, and it should be in each of us as well. Jesus promised that just as He was hated, so the world would hate us (see John 15:18-19). Jesus explained that believers in Him are not part of the world, but chosen out from the world. We are alien, foreigners, to the world, just as Christ was.

We take the message of a holy and merciful God into a sinful and vindictive world. As Christ brought salvation to the sinful world that rejected Him, so He calls us to bring the message of salvation to that same sinful world, though it rejects His truth. He suffered for their salvation, and we are called to suffer to bring them the message of salvation. Our calling is a continuation of His work.

Paul rejoiced in his suffering for the gospel because he knew it was for the benefit of the church, the body of Christ. When we suffer as Christians, we are not alone. We are united by our suffering. The entire Body of Christ is with us. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (see I Corinthians 12:26)

What is more, when the Body of Christ suffers, it is used by God to strengthen us as Paul said “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,” (see Romans 5:3) In suffering, Christians learn to rely on God for comfort and provision through our suffering “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (see II Corinthians 1:5).

Paul saw his own suffering as the means that God used to bring him into closer fellowship with Christ, saying “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” (see Philippians 3:8-10).

We can rejoice in suffering, as Paul did. Our suffering may take the form of giving up an afternoon of leisure to speak about Christ to a stranger. It may take the form of being punished because we spoke about the gospel during our lunch hour. It may take the form of making a long unpleasant trip back home to share the gospel with a dying relative. It may take the form of death at the hand of some religious zealot. Whatever the form, let us remember “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (see Romans 8:18)

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Did you know you can get a copy of all the information Google has on you? Login here to get it.

Google may have lots of dirt on you.  You may have a Google+ profile. You may have a Facebook profile. You may have a lengthy FBI dossier (left over from your wayward youth, no doubt). But, much more important (and “juicy”)  than any information contained in any of those places is the truth about you that is found in the Bible.

If you believe the gospel that Jesus Christ died on the cross to reconcile sinners, here are just 32 pieces of information about you from just one chapter in Romans (see Romans 8).

1. There now is no condemnation for you if you are in Christ. (see Romans 8:1)

2. You have been set free of the law of sin and death. (see Romans 8:2)

3. The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in you, if you walk according to the Spirit of God. (see Romans 8:4)

4. You do walk in the Spirit, since the  Spirit of God dwells in you. (see Romans 8:9)

5. The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead will also make you alive even in your mortal body. (see Romans 8:11)

6. By the Spirit, you will kill the deeds of the flesh and so you shall live. (see Romans 8:13)

7. Since you are led by the Spirit you are a son (daughter) of God. (see Romans 8:14)

8. You have received the Spirit of adoption, not fear. (see Romans 8:15)

9. That Spirit of adoption enables you to call upon God as Father. (see Romans 8:15)

10.  The Holy Spirit  confirms that you are a child of God. (see Romans 8:16)

11. You are an heir of God and a fellow heir with Christ (see Romans 8:17)

12. You suffer with Christ. (see Romans 8:17)

13. You will be glorified together with Christ. (see Romans 8:17)

14. You possess  the first fruits (the beginning manifestation) of the Spirit. (see Romans 8:23)

15. You are saved by hope (or since you are saved, you hope). (see Romans 8:24)

16. You wait for it with patience. (see Romans 8:25)

17. The Holy Spirit helps your weaknesses. (see Romans 8:26)

18. The Holy Spirit makes intercession for you (from within you). (see Romans 8:26-27)

19. All things are for working (combined together) for the ultimate good in you. (see Romans 8:28)

20. Since you love God, you are called for or because of His purpose. (see Romans 8:28)

21. God  foreknew you; that is, He knew you before you existed. (see Romans 8:29)

22. God predestined you; that is, He planned all of your life. (see Romans 8:29)

23. God is making you into the image of His Son. (see Romans 8:29)

24. God called you; that is, He drew you to Himself by His power. (see Romans 8:30)

25. God justified you; that is, He declared you guiltless. (see Romans 8:30)

26. God glorified you.  (see Romans 8:30)

27. God is for you. (see Romans 8:31)

28. God gave up His Son deliberately for you. (see Romans 8:32)

29. God will freely give you all things. (see Romans 8:32)

30. Christ makes intercession for you at the right hand of God. (see Romans 8:34)

31. You are more than a conqueror; to say you are victorious is an understatement. (see Romans 8:35)

32. Nothing shall be able to separate you from the love of God. (see Romans 8:38)

Whatever you put in your Facebook profile, it looks pretty lame now, right?

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The Right Tool

Have you ever used a wrench as a hammer?  You might get away with it. If a hammer isn’t available and you want to put a nail in the wall to hang up a picture it might seem to work (that is, until you make a dent in the wall because the nail isn’t quite lined up right). The truth is, however, that a wrench is not designed to hammer nails, and using it in that way is usually not a good idea. Using a hammer as a wrench is really a poor idea, by the way. Your pipes get all dented and bendy.

Using the right tool for the task is usually necessary to produce the desired results.

God has tools that He uses to do things in us. For example, He has a tool that He uses to make us holy. Imagine. He takes that tool and, by applying it to us, He changes us so that we become set-apart and suitable for His purposes. God also has a tool that He uses to make us blameless. When He applies that tool to us, every disobedient thing we have ever done, or will ever do, is erased from any record and no longer matters. God even has a tool that silences every accusation that might be made against us. Using that tool, He can make us so pure that, for the rest of eternity, no crime, act, or thought will ever be brought up as evidence against us.

It turns out that God uses only a single tool when He desires to make people holy, blameless, and accusation-free. This tool is so perfect for doing what God wants to do that it never fails in His hands.

That tool is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:22-23 tells us about that tool, and how God uses it.

…he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. – Colossians 1:22-23, ESV

What does this tell us about the tool of the gospel?

First, we learn what it is. The gospel is that “he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death.” Christ has now, already, brought us to God in reconciliation. He has repaired the broken relationship between us and God. He did this in a physical body, a body of flesh much like our own. By His death, He brought those who were dead to God back to life. The news that He has done that is the gospel tool that God wields as He chooses to perform His work.

Second, we learn what it does. That truth, and the work of Christ, was designed “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” By the gospel and the work of Christ, we are brought before God. If that was all the gospel did, the prospect would be frightening; being ushered into the presence of God in all His holiness and perfection would be deadly for disobedient and sinful people. However, the gospel brings us to God not as sinners, but as those who have been made holy, blameless, and pure beyond any accusation. Our transportation to His presence is accompanied by our transformation to those who are worthy of entering into His presence. It is as if we were whisked into a limousine to be reunited with God, and during the journey we were bathed, dressed in new clothes, and cleaned up in every way that would make us presentable to Him.

Third, we learn how it works. The gospel will transport us to God and transform us in holiness “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard.” The gospel does what God wishes it to do to us if we continue to believe it and put our hope in it alone. It continues to work in us as we continue to put all of our faith in it. As the gospel is constant and true, our faith is to be stable and steadfast. If we feel the desire to add embellishments to it, or depart from its simple power, then that should be a sign to us that we are no longer trusting in it, and thus are no longer being changed by it. If we place the weight of our trust on anything else, such as our own effort, the praiseworthy acts we might do, the knowledge we might accumulate, the goodness of other people we know, or anything else, we shift our faith away from the gospel, which is and must remain our only hope.

Fourth, we learn how God uses it. He uses the gospel as it is “proclaimed in all creation under heaven.” As the good news of reconciliation in Christ is proclaimed, far and wide without any exceptions or excuses, God is using it. As the word of the Lord is heard, God uses it to produce the results that God desires, as it is His tool in His hand. God uses faithful men to declare the message “of which I, Paul, became a minister.” Just as God wielded the tool of the gospel through the service of the Apostle Paul, so even now He applies the tool of the gospel everywhere. He does so through the words of all those who spread the gospel in their homes, in their neighborhoods, in their workplaces, and anywhere else in all creation where any of His saved creatures may be faithful to declare it.

God uses no other tool but the gospel of the work of Christ to present men and women to Himself as reconciled to Him. No plea, exhortation, or guilt-trip will truly bring people to God.

God uses no other tool but the gospel of the work of Christ to make men and women holy, blameless, and above reproach before Him. No rules, laws or bullying will make people truly holy.

The tool God uses is simple: it is the news that Christ has now reconciled sinners to God in his body of flesh by his death. We need no other doctrine, no other message. We need not be ashamed of the simplicity of it, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (see Romans 1:16-17).

We who know the truth are allowed by God to carry it to all places in creation. We are entrusted with God’s tool, the gospel. Let us pray to God that we may be faithful to proclaim it without shame.

Any other tool that we might seek to use is not the tool of God. It is not the right tool.

 

 

 

 

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The End of Conflict

Usually, when we think about conflict we can only imagine one end to the struggle: there will be a winner and there will be a loser. Every war, every battle, every argument, every fight is not really over until one side is victorious and the other is defeated. If a clash results in a draw, then it is not truly over, and we tend to expect that the fight will be carried on, perhaps in some other form.

That is what makes the conflict between man and God so amazing.

The human race became a hoard of enemies to God when Adam ignored God’s decree and deliberately challenged His authority. Ever since, we have either ignored God by denying His existence or fought against Him by making our own rules. Our thinking and attitudes have been set against God throughout human history. We have not wanted Him and we certainly have not wanted His leadership. We have been at conflict with Him.

God’s way of resolving that conflict was beyond the imagination of Humanity.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him… -Colossians 1:21-22, (ESV)

We were all God’s enemies.
We “once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.” Our alienation, separation, and estrangement from Him were complete.

Like Adam, we pretended we did not know Him. We ignored Him or we denied His existence.

We devised clever fables about how we, and all we see around us, came into being by chance and time. We told ourselves and taught each other that God was unnecessary to explain our existence. In effect, we treated God as an idea rather than a Person, and an irrelevant one at that.

Some of us might have seen the glaring stupidity of those fables and so we did not continue to deny the existence of “a god.” But, even then, the true God was so disdainful to us that we rejected Him and instead invented our own versions of Him.

Some of us made up multiple, puny “gods.” Others made up a “God” who merely created everything, but had no authority or interest in overseeing “His” creation. Some of us made up a “God” who was an impersonal “Force.” Others of us made up a “God” who made no demands of us but who only wanted to please us, much like a cosmic butler. Still others made up a “God” who really wanted us to love him, and who thought so much of us that He would do anything to earn our love, much like a heavenly boyfriend. We showed our hatred for the true God by creating our own counterfeits.

Whether we ignored the true God altogether or preferred our own imaginary god to Him, our hostility to Him affected our lives.

Our actions became evil. We chose to do what we wanted rather than what He wanted. Rather than honoring our parents, as God commanded, we treated our them like inconvenient and embarrassing benefactors in our youth, and like inconvenient burdens upon our time and money later in life. Rather than highly esteeming marriage, as God commanded, we ridiculed it by engaging in all kinds of activities to satisfy our own desires before marriage, during marriage, and without marriage. Rather than prizing the truth, as God commanded, we littered our speech with lies and half-truths whenever it served our own ends. Rather than loving our neighbor, as God commanded, we looked upon the people around us with contempt, using them and exploiting them as we saw fit. Rather than being content with the things we had been given, as God commanded, we coveted more and turned our lives into a race to collect, amass and accumulate all the things that we wanted but did not have.

God ended our conflict with Him with reconciliation.
God chose not to destroy us as His enemies, but chose to bring us to Himself. We, the enemies, “he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death.”

Our conflict with God was ended by a death. As God’s enemies, we would have expected that God would demand the death  and utter defeat of all of us who were in conflict with Him. Since He is God, He could have easily used His power to destroy and punish us. But instead, God did something amazing. He turned all that power to destroy against His own mortal body on the cross. He could have concluded the conflict with us in the only way that we could imagine, with our own deaths at His hand. Instead, He chose to end the conflict with us by causing His own death at the hands of His enemies. He made peace and brought His conflict with us to a final end in reconciliation rather than destruction.

God has changed us from hostile to holy
Not only did God choose to spare us as His enemies, but He also acted to change us so we would no longer be His enemies. He did this “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”

God made us holy. By His grace and the work of Christ, we are no longer set against God, as our alienated and hostile minds had made us. Instead, He has made us into people set apart for God, for that is what being holy means.
God made us blameless. By His grace, through the death of Christ, we are no longer seen by God as guilty, although that is what our evil actions had made us. Instead, He has made us into people who are guiltless and without blame before Him, since all our guilt was taken by Christ and died with Him.
God made us above reproach. By His grace, through the resurrection of Christ, there is no longer any charge that can be made against us. Instead, He has given us Christ as our advocate, pleading that every accusation that might be made against us, even from future sin, has already been pardoned.

Our conflict with God can not be ended by our victory over Him. Each of us must either be defeated enemies or reconciled to Him. He has done all that is required for reconciliation. Because of what Christ did on a little hill outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago, you may be reconciled to God. Every person who changes his attitude towards God (repents) and believes that Christ has taken all the punishment for sin and disobedience upon Himself  is now reconciled to God. If you have done that, you are now holy, blameless, and above reproach before God.

If we are reconciled to God through Christ, we must regard ourselves as God regards us. We are no longer in conflict with Him. We are holy, blameless, and above reproach in His eyes. His enemy, the sin that still seeks to hold us, is now our enemy. Let us regard ourselves as He does, and glorify Him in the way we live.

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Reconciliation

For all but the hardest hearts among us, a story of a close relationship that has gone wrong stirs up sadness. True accounts of such stories sell magazines and tabloids. Fictional accounts of such stories sell books and movie tickets. We mourn when we hear such stories. Somewhere, deep in the recesses of the human heart is a tiny hope, a yearning for a restoration. We hope that, somehow, there might be a restoration of relationship. We yearn to hear of reconciliation.

When a close bond is broken, whether it is between husband and wife or between parent and child, it can be especially heart-wrenching. Love, which once connected two people together, can turn into a perverted and twisted kind of intimate disgust. The closeness once shared between the two people can morph into a partnership of mutual hostility. Respect and concern warp into distain and indifference. When that occurs, the seeds of forgiveness can take no root in hearts hardened by long-sustained bitterness. The hope that there one day may be harmony or restoration seems to be banished forever to the realm of the impossible.

Sometimes, the only hope for reconciliation is that one person may choose to radically alter the pattern. One person must decide to give up his rights to retaliation or vengeance. One person must take all the blame and guilt of the failed relationship, even if it means accepting the blame due to the other. One must choose to make the peace.

When Adam sinned, the once-intimate relationship he had to God was perverted into a twisted kind of intimate disgust. The closeness he had with God was converted to hostility. The respect he had for his Creator warped into distain and indifference. Because of Adam’s sin, the whole human race– and the creation over which we were given authority (see Gen. 1:26, 1:28)– turned away from obeying and seeking God into a pattern of rebellion. Over time, humanity increasingly cultivated a bitterness and hardness of heart towards God, and all of the creation which was mankind’s dominion became cursed (see Gen. 3:17).

Into this true story, Christ came, as the only hope for reconciliation…

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. -Colossians 1:19-20

God saw that the only hope for reconciliation was for Him to choose to radically alter the pattern. Thus, God came, in the Person of Jesus Christ, into His Creation, to become the hope for reconciliation.

God took on the form of one of His creatures. It was His choice, His desire, His pleasure to do so. He chose to lower Himself and become flesh and blood, and live among His creatures (see John 1:14). Yet, in that flesh and blood, in that Jesus Christ, all the complete goodness, purity, holiness, justness, love, and mercy of the living God lived.

Through Christ and His work, God gave up His rights to retaliation and vengeance against His rebellious creatures. He knew that His creatures, the men and women who rebelled against Him, would be unable to return or match His earnest yearning to restore His relationship to them. He would have to give to them the reconciliation that they were unwilling and powerless to seek or gain from Him.

It pleased God to make peace with His creation. It pleased Him to do this through the physical things in His creation. It pleased Him to use the blood of a Man, the blood of Christ. He chose to use the blood that coursed through the body that He inhabited when He came into His creation. It pleased Him to use the death of a Man, the death of Christ on the cross. He chose to use that instrument of torture and death to take upon Himself the retaliation and vengeance due His rebellious creatures.

In Christ, God chose to take upon Himself the guilt and blame of His creatures, even though the estrangement between God and His creatures was due to their guilt.

The hope of reconciliation with God, purchased by God through the blood and cross of Christ, is the hope of all who see the work of God in Christ and turn to Him in faith. Look now at what God has done in Christ, and be reconciled to Him.

Because of what He has done, let us strive to live as those who have been reconciled to God. Let us live as those who have a restored and renewed relationship with Him. As Hebrews 12:1-3 says, “…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (ESV)

 

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Holding It Together

Fear is powerful. It can prevent us from doing what we otherwise would want to do. It can keep us from doing what we know we should do. The fear of nature, the fear of men, the fear of the unknown, all can paralyze us.

But what are the things that compel our fear? How are they formed? Where does their power come from?

The answer is in Colossians 1:17:

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (ESV)

Christ, we are reminded, is before all things. The Greek actually says (in present-tense indicative, if that matters) that He “is in existence prior to all things.” That is, He both now exists and existed before anything else existed. No power or force existed before Christ. No earthquake, no hurricane, no tidal wave, no storm was unleashed prior to Him.

What is more, we are told that in Him all things hold together. That is, they are combined together as they are and continue to be what they are, by Him. They are put together by Christ and do what they do because of Christ.  The power or force that any thing exerts is put there by Christ. Every earthquake, each hurricane, every tidal wave, each storm is placed where it is (and does what it does) by Him.

Our understanding of that is crucial. It means that the things we might fear are not powerful in themselves. Our fears are misplaced if our fears are directed against nature, men, or the unknown. They may have power, but all their strength really comes from and through Christ, who exists now as He did before they did, and who continues to hold and distribute their power as He sees fit.

Our fear and awe should be not of the things around us, but of Him.

The disciples of Jesus were frightened on several occasions. One of them is reported in Luke 8:22-25, (also Mark 4:35-41 and Matthew 8:23-27). One evening, near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus got into a boat with the disciples and told them to go to the other side of the sea. Jesus fell asleep, and a tremendous storm came up, causing the boat to fill with water. At this point, the disciples, many of whom were skilled at navigating these very waters in all kinds of weather, became alarmed that they were going to die. They woke Jesus up with the words “Master, Master, we are perishing!” Jesus then rebuked the wind and the waves, bringing calm to the sea. After rebuking nature, Jesus rebuked the disciples, asking, “Where is your faith?” The response of the disciples to this is interesting. Luke 8:25 says that THEN the disciples were afraid!

Even though they thought they knew Jesus, they learned then that He was utterly and completely in control. That frightened them.

The Man who fell asleep in that tiny boat that evening existed before the Sea they floated upon was formed. He formed that Sea, and the power of its waves was the power that He imparted to them. He existed before the wind that blew so fiercely that evening, and the force in the wind was the force that He imparted to it.

The other men in that tiny boat on that vast Sea learned that truth that evening, when the things that He had commanded into existence obeyed Him again. At that moment, those men understood that the things they might have feared were under the command of Christ. Now He, rather than those things, became the object of their fear, awe, and wonderment.

We must learn that lesson. The things we fear did not exist before Christ, and He exists and will exist even after they have spent all their force and power. The things we fear have no existence and no strength outside of Christ, and His power and strength will continue even after He stops sustaining those things.

Whether we fear storms or disasters or men, the things we fear only exist and do what they do by His authority and His design. Let us not fear what they can do, but what He can do.

The same Christ who commanded the sea and wind said “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” in Luke 12:4-5 (ESV).

But, He also offered comfort to all those who, like the disciples, call out to Him, “Master, we are perishing!” He said, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God.”-Luke 12:6-8 (ESV)

He is still “before all things.” All things still “hold together in Him.” He still calms the Sea when He is called upon. And, after He has done so, He still asks, “Where is your faith?”

 

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Exalted Firstborn

 

The highest, most exalted position in a family is that of the firstborn. This was especially true in ancient times, when the firstborn son of a king was the heir to the position held by his father. He was the one who would inherit the rights and privileges of his father. The firstborn had priority over all his brothers.  He was a part of the family, and he was one of the brothers, but his place was first among all those with whom he shared the family name.

This is the sense in which we learn of Christ that

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. -Colossians 1:15-16, ESV

What does this tell us about Christ?

Christ is the highest and most exalted because He is the image of the invisible God.

That is, as the Son, He is like His Father. He is the likeness of His Father in every respect. Only He can make that claim. As Jesus said of Himself, “I and the Father are one.” (in John 10:30) To know Jesus is to know His Father, as He said, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (in John 14:7, ESV). To see Jesus is to see His Father, as He said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (in John 14:9, ESV). Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Him (see John 14:11).

Christ is the highest and most exalted because He is the firstborn of all creation.

This does not mean that Christ is a created being, but rather that He is the rightful owner of Creation.  One might have called the son of a king “the firstborn of the land” but that would not mean that the king’s son sprang up out of the ground! Rather, to call the king’s son “the firstborn of the land” would have been acknowledging that the son of the king had the right and authority to rule and possess the whole land in which he lived. Similarly, to say that Christ is the “firstborn of creation” does not mean that He was created or came out of the creation. Rather, to call Him “the firstborn of all creation” is to say that He is the rightful possessor and ruler of the Creation into which He came to dwell in the flesh. As the firstborn Son over all Creation, Jesus Christ has the ownership of and authority over all of Creation. Jesus declared ( in John 3:35), “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” He also made His right to rule and possess all creation clear when He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” (in Matthew 28:18).

Christ is the highest and most exalted because everything was made by and through Him.

Before taking on flesh and entering His creation, Christ, as the eternal Son of God, was active with His Father in the process of Creation.  John 1:3 says, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (ESV)  Nothing is left out. Everything created that you can see– stars, planets, asteroids,  oceans, whales, elephants, puppies, mosquitos, amoebas –could rightfully be stamped “Made by Him.”  All the created things that you can’t see– black holes, angels, gravity, strong and weak nuclear forces, atoms, muons, the vacuum of space — were made by Him, too. What is more, all the thrones, dominions, and rulers were made by Him; all the spiritual, political, economic, and social powers in the world are His creation. Since He is the maker of everything, it is all under Him and exists due to His power and His control.

Christ is the highest and most exalted because everything was made for Him.

The universe and everything in it was made so that Christ could possess it. It was made as a kingdom for Him to rule. All of history is leading up to the climax of His possession of His kingdom. As Revelation 11:15 says, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

But, of course there is something else that makes Christ the highest and most exalted.

This exalted Christ–  the perfect likeness of God, the heir of all creation,  the one by whom, through whom and for whom all creation was made– set aside His exalted firstborn status.  He came into His creation for the sake of those whom He created. What is more remarkable, He came into His Creation to save the very ones  who rebelled against His rule and authority over Creation. He lowered Himself to the status of one of His creatures, and then lowered Himself further by dying as one of them. This was all so that those who turn from their rebellion against Him and trust in Him to save them would be saved from His wrath by His work.

If you have not turned from your rebellion against God and trusted in the exalted firstborn, what He has done should show you how serious it is to remain in rebellion. His call is to repent and believe in what He has done, because “…there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (see Acts 4:12)

If you have turned to Christ and trusted in the sacrifice of the exalted firstborn of Creation, then meditate upon Who He is, and marvel at what He has done for you.

Exalt the Firstborn of Creation.

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Invisible Mercy

God is invisible. That fact creates speculation and misinterpretation.

People who don’t know better think that God is invisible because He does not exist. They liken Him to an “imaginary friend,” who lives only in the thoughts and hopes of the deluded faithful.

Even those who say that they believe in God suspect, although they may not say so, that God is invisible because He is in some sense less “real” than the visible world around us. They reason that He is spirit, and that spiritual things exist as sort of shadows of the more tangible and solid physical world.

Both of these ideas are incorrect. The truth is simple.

God is invisible because of His mercy.

God knows that no one can see Him and live, (see Genesis 33:19) and so in His mercy, God prevents us from seeing Him. If we did see Him, we would die.

Even Moses, to whom God spoke as one would speak to a friend (see Exodus 33:11), was prevented from actually seeing Him. On Mount Horeb, Moses asked God to show him His glory (in Exodus 33:18). God then declared to Moses His mercy, saying that He will be gracious to whom He would be gracious, and will show mercy to whom He will show mercy (in Exodus 33:19). Mercifully, He then immediately reminded Moses that no man could see Him and live. Instead, God offered to make all His goodness pass before Moses, without allowing Moses to see His face  (in Exodus 33:20-23).

The next day, the Lord passed before Moses and proclaimed Himself, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…”  (-Exodus 34:6-7, ESV)

We are reminded of the mercy of the invisible God in Colossians 1:14-15, when we are told of Christ,

…in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God,… (ESV)

In Christ, in Whom are the redemption of God and the forgiveness of God, we “see” the image of the invisible God. The glory of God that Moses beheld, we can see in Christ. He is the perfect likeness of the merciful God who makes Himself invisible in His mercy. In Christ, we see the the God who is merciful and gracious. In Christ, we see the God who is slow to anger. In Christ, we see the God who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin without clearing the guilty. In Christ, we see the God who abounds in steadfast love (grace) and faithfulness (truth).

As John says,

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (-John 1:14, 16-18, ESV)

Because God is merciful, we cannot see Him. In His mercy, He has made Himself known to you, however, in Christ.

What is more, by receiving Him and the mercy of God, you can be given even more than a glimpse at the invisible God.

… to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God… (- John 1:12, ESV)

If you have received Him and believed in His name, you have seen the glory of God. You are now the child of God.

Declare the mercy of Christ, the image of God, Whose glory you, like Moses, have seen by the mercy of God.

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Out of Darkness

Children are frequently afraid of the dark. The dark hides all kinds of things. To a child they are mysterious, terrible, and frightening.

Most adults are not afraid of the dark. Maybe we should be.

On the first day of Creation, God called light into existence. In Genesis 1:3-4, God called the light He created “good,” but He made no such pronouncement upon the darkness. Instead, He separated the light that He made from the darkness.

From that point on, Scripture associates darkness not only with the absence of light but also the absence of God’s presence and work.

Not frightened yet?

1 Samuel 2:9 says “He will guard the feet of His faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness.” Psalm 107:10-11 says, “Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High.” Isaiah 8:22 says of those who don’t trust God, “And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.”

Feel any twinges?

In Matthew 8:10-12, Jesus said that those who reject Him “will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In His parable about the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 22:2-14, Jesus spoke about the interloper who was not clothed properly for the Heavenly Wedding. Describing that man’s fate, He said, “Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”

That place of “outer darkness” is a frightening prospect. It should be. It is the place where every soul who rebels against the God of light deserves to reside.

But, for those who trust in Christ, the Father has done something marvelous, as Colossians 1:13-14 tells us:

 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

We once belonged to the domain of darkness. The place that Jesus described as “outer darkness” was once our place. We were in the realm in which we would be weeping and gnashing our teeth.

But the Father has delivered us from that domain.
We are rescued.
He has drawn us out from that terrible and frightening region. As a man might pluck a bound and helpless child from the squalid dark hiding place of his kidnappers, He has pulled us out of the mirky darkness of our wrath.

He has transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son.
We are now safe.
He has placed us into the trusted arms of the Heir of Creation, and made us His subjects, His very own precious possession. We are secure, in a home that will stand forever, in the Kingdom that shall never end, in the arms of the King who will always reign.

In Him, Christ, we have redemption.
Our rescue is compete.
Not only are we no longer in the darkness, but because His Son has paid the ransom, the bond, the obligation holding us in darkness, the darkness has no further claims upon us or strength to retake us.

In Him, Christ, we have forgiveness of sins.
Our future is secure.
The sins of the past that made darkness our home are all forgiven, and thus darkness is no longer our lodging. The sins of the future, which we might fear will send us back to darkness, are all forever forgiven as well.

We need no longer fear the darkness, because in Christ we have complete forgiveness, forever.

If you have not trusted in Jesus Christ, the Son God sent into the world to die for the rescue of those who are in darkness, think. You may be rescued.  As 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 says, “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.” (ESV)

For all who are in Christ, Peter describes our new position, and what we are to do, now that the fear of darkness is forever dispelled.

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 marvelous light. – I Peter 2:9 (ESV)

Let us remember where we once belonged, and rejoice in the condition we now enjoy, praising forever the One who has done it all!

 

 

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Qualifed

“We’re sorry, you don’t qualify.”

If you’ve ever heard or read those words before, you know how disappointing they are. Hopes may be dashed by those words. Dreams may be left in tatters. The words sting, even though they are merely conveying a fact that you don’t meet the requirements for the job, the loan, or the place on the team.

Those words are bad enough when they refer to some worldly activity. But imagine what it would be like to hear them, or words like them, when life is over and your eternal destination is being assigned. Imagine being told “You are not qualified to escape God’s wrath. You don’t qualify for eternal life. You don’t meet the requirement.”

For those of us who have trusted in Christ, imagining is the closest we will ever come to that experience. That is because of what our heavenly Father has done, as Colossians 1:12 tells us:

…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (ESV)

The Father has qualified you. Notice that the verse does not say that you have done anything. He has done everything required, by sending His Son to meet the requirements for you. This was His act, not yours. You are passive in it. You have done none of it. He has done it all.

Notice also that the verse says that all of this has already happened. You are already qualified, and need not do anything in the future. There are no tests or exams. There is no paperwork that you need to file. There is no condition you still have to fulfill. It is done.

But for what has He qualified you?

To share in the inheritance. What is the inheritance?

The inheritance includes eternal life, but it is even more. Jesus described that inheritance as the kingdom of the Father:

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. – Luke 12:32 (ESV)
Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. -Matthew 25:34 (ESV)

Jesus described it as a hundred times greater than all the things you might possess on earth put together:

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. -Matthew 19:29 (ESV)

Peter described the inheritance as…

…an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, – I Peter 1:4 (ESV)

 What is more, you are qualified by the Father as one of the saints in light.

The saints are those who are “set apart” and made holy. The Father has already designated you as holy, pure, righteous, and sinless. That is the quality that the sovereign all-powerful Creator and sustainer of the world has ascribed to you. To describe you as a saint, He also uses the expression “in light,” which means both in purity and in truth. There is no doubt of your holy standing as a saint, for it is impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18). Just as He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light, He has declared you a saint and holy in truth, and so you are made holy in truth.

In response to all of this, the first part of Colossians 1:12 reminds us to give thanks to the Father. Although we might look upon all that the Father has qualified us for– eternal life, the inheritance of the kingdom, standing as a holy saint, true purity– and desire to somehow deserve them, we cannot. A gift cannot be deserved, and God’s grace cannot be repaid. The only seemly thing we can do is to give thanks to the Father who has done all of this.

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