Day 40. Reason for Hope

Day 40. Reason for Hope

Read:

Ephesians 1:4-10

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.


REASON FOR HOPE

But God who is rich in mercy… These words are profound and pregnant with meaning. Despite our desperate, flawed condition God took the initiative and stepped in. We were the objects of his wrath, but God, out of the great love with which he loved us, had mercy on us.

Consider how Paul describes that love of God. He doesn’t say simply that God loved us; rather he says, out of the great love with which he loved us. We were dead and the dead don’t rise. But God made us alive with Christ. We were slaves and powerless, but God has set us with Christ in a position of honor and power.

It’s essential that we hold both parts of this contrast together: What we are by nature and what we are by grace; the human condition and the divine compassion; God’s wrath and God’s love.

So what has God done? And why did he do it? Verses 5 and 8 tell us God has saved us – by grace you have been saved. Most of us are so familiar with this traditional language of salvation that its meaning is lost. Paul uses three verbs: in verse 5 we read, God made us alive together with Christ; in verse 6, he raised us up with Him; and in verse 6b He made us sit with Him in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus. The verbs refer to three key events in Jesus’ life: his resurrection, his ascension and his enthronement.

But notice what Paul is saying here: he is speaking about us. He is not writing about Christ, but about you and me. His emphasis is not on God raising Jesus and giving him a position of power and authority, but rather that he’s given us new life, he’s raised us, and he’s seated us with Christ. God has not just given us a new citizenship. He now treats us as royalty.

Why has God done this? Clearly it is not because there was something within us that was intrinsically worthy of merit or God’s special attention. Rather, it was something within God himself that prompted the action. Mercy, love for the outcast is what God has shown us.

So Paul writes: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

There are three foundation words of the gospel here – salvation, grace and faith. Salvation is more than forgiveness – it is deliverance from the death, the slavery, and the wrath, that we’ve already considered (Day 37). Grace is God’s free and undeserved mercy towards us. Faith is the trust with which we receive the gift for ourselves.

THE RESURRECTION

How do we know these statements are true? The resurrection of Jesus Christ bears witness to it.

easter-he-is-risen-reason-for-hope-anglican-connection-lentenAnd there is more: 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Paul wants us to understand that we are God’s work of art – that our salvation is in fact a masterpiece of creation. In the Sistine Chapel in Rome Michelangelo’s masterpiece, ‘The creation of Adam’, portrays God reaching out to man. Paul wants us to know that God’s masterpiece is of a totally different order. Salvation is not just creation or re-creation: it is a new creation.

Furthermore, we are created in Christ Jesus for good works – good works which God prepared beforehand. Verse 10 ends with a word that we find back in verse 1 – the word walk.  Walk is a Hebrew idiom for our manner of life. We are called to be pedestrians, putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward, going somewhere. Formerly we walked in trespasses and sins in which the devil had trapped us. Now we walk in good works that God has eternally planned for us to do.

Through God’s astonishing grace we can be new people. We can go to bed every night with a sense of peace because we know that we have been forgiven. We can wake up in the morning with a sense of purpose and joy. We now have every reason to ask each day, ‘Lord, what good works have you prepared for me to do today?’

You might like to consider:

  1. what the words, but God who is rich in mercy, tell us about God;
  2. what Paul is telling us about salvation – that it is a gift – and the way God now sees us;
  3. how God now expects us to live.

For Further Thought. Ask:

  1. Has this series of Bible readings and Reflections helped you understand more clearly the great themes of the biblical narrative?
  2. Do you have a better idea of your part in God’s story?
  3. What does the Lord want you to do with your life that will make a difference in the city or community where you live?

You might like to pray:

Almighty God, you have conquered death through your dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ and have opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant us by your grace to set our mind on things above, so that by your continual help our whole life may be transformed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in everlasting glory. Amen. (BCP, Easter Day)

Teach us, gracious Lord, to begin our works with reverence, to go on in obedience, and finish them with love; and then to wait patiently in hope, and with cheerful countenance to look up to you, whose promises are faithful and rewards infinite; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (An Australian Prayer Book, 1978, A prayer of dedication)


© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Day 39. The Foundation of All Hope: Good Friday

Day 39. The Foundation of All Hope: Good Friday

Read:

Luke 23:39-49

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding* him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah?* Save yourself and us!’ 40But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into* your kingdom.’ 43He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

 44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land* until three in the afternoon, 45while the sun’s light failed;* and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. 47When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’* 48And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.


THE FOUNDATION OF ALL HOPE: GOOD FRIDAY

The contrasting responses of the two criminals crucified with Jesus could not be starker. One was contemptuous and hurled insults – ‘If you’re the Christ,’ he spat out, ‘then save yourself and us.’ He chose to die disdainful of anything religious. It’s tragic to witness this kind of death for it’s without peace and without hope. Yet every day men and women choose to die that way.

The second criminal was so different: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This man didn’t pretend to be good: “We are justly deserving death,” he said. Yet in his last hours he seems to have been impressed by Jesus. He saw he was innocent: “This man has done nothing wrong.Faced with his own impending death he feared God and recognized his need: “Jesus, remember me,” he said. His words were simple and sincere. It seems that in some vague way he understood that Jesus really is God’s special king and so he asked for a place in his kingdom.

His repentance was at the eleventh hour, yet Jesus responded, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise. This man did not die without being forgiven or without hope: for him there would be new life forever.

good-friday-lamb-of-god-anglican-connection-lentenThe scene challenges us to ask what our response to Jesus will be in the last moments of our life – among the contemptuous who choose to die without Christ, or among the believing who choose to die with him? We can be sure of this, when we put our lives in the hands of Jesus as Lord and Savior, his promise rings true: “Today, you will be with me.”

During the last three hours of Jesus’ life an ominous darkness fell the scene. Being Passover, it could not have been an eclipse. Towards the end of this surreal darkness and quiet, there came a shout (23:46) as Jesus breathed his last.

Because crucifixion causes asphyxiation it would normally be impossible for the victim to shout. Luke’s record suggests that Jesus was not physically about to die. His words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” tell us that death didn’t conquer him; rather he voluntarily surrendered his life. John’ Gospel indicates that Jesus’ shout was one of victory: “It is finished.” His work was done, his sacrifice complete, and the gate to God now open. The torn curtain in the temple (23:45) was testimony to that.

The Roman centurion’s comment is significant: “Certainly this man was innocent.” His words were so true: Jesus was righteous, without fault, the most righteous, the most godly man who has ever lived.

As Isaiah had prophesied: There was no deceit in his mouth (Isaiah 53:9). He didn’t retaliate, but put his life in the hands of the judge who judges justly. In his voluntary sacrifice, he bore our guilt in his body (Isaiah 53:6). He died the death we deserve: the punishment of our sin was laid on him. This is why Good Friday is so good – God in his love has provided the perfect solution to our human tragedy. It is because of Good Friday that there is hope for you and for me.

You might like to reflect:

  1. what it cost Jesus to die on the cross – he could have walked away;
  2. why it was he chose to die;
  3. what Jesus’ death really means for you.

Let me encourage you to pause and pray

Almighty Father, look graciously upon this your family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP, Good Friday)

 


© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

Day 38. The Assurance of Hope

Day 38. The Assurance of Hope

Read:

Luke 23:32-38

32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus* there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah* of God, his chosen one!’ 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ 38There was also an inscription over him,* ‘This is the King of the Jews.’


ASSURANCE OF HOPE

The scene around Jesus’ cross was gruesome. He was naked, exposed to the idle curiosity of the crowd and the vulgar frivolity of the soldiers. They offered him wine and made a party of it. “If you are the king of the Jews,” they taunted, “save yourself.” Above Jesus’ head Pilate had written the charge against him: ‘King of the Jews.’ That too brought its own ridicule and scorn, for a cross is a pretty strange throne.

Yet the extraordinary thing is that unlike one of the men crucified with him, Jesus did not curse his tormentors. There was no spirit of revenge. Instead he prayed: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

assurance-of-hope-anglican-connection-lentenMany have wondered about these words. Everyone knew he was innocent. Some have suggested he was praying for the soldiers, but if that were the case he would have said, “Father, understand them,” not “Father forgive them.” The soldiers were doing their duty.

We need to consider the larger Gospel narrative and Jesus’ words, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). As Jesus was dying he was praying that God would forgive ignorance of the truth. He was praying for those around him and also for you and me.

We can be sure of this for when the first Christian sermon was preached on the Day of Pentecost, three thousand responded to Peter’s announcement that Jesus was God’s promised Messiah: they repented and were baptized (Acts 2:38). In the days that followed another five thousand received Jesus as their Lord and Savior (Acts 4:4), including many priests (Acts 6:7). God continues to hear the prayer of Jesus on that first Good Friday for our family, our friends and for New York City.

You might like to reflect:

  1. what it cost Jesus to die on the cross – he could have walked away;
  2. why it was he chose to die
  3. consider the irony of the words above Jesus’ head: ‘The King of the Jews’.

Let me encourage you to pause and pray

 


© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Day 37. Mercy and Hope

Day 37. Mercy and Hope

Read:

Ephesians 2:1-4

1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.


In a recent article in The New York Times (March 15, 2106), David Brooks wrote of the way a ‘shame culture’ is replacing a ‘guilt culture’. ‘In a guilt culture’, he writes, ‘people sometimes feel they do bad things; in a shame culture social exclusion makes people feel they are bad’.

Paul the Apostle, in his Letter to the Ephesians sees a deeper problem with us: You were dead through the trespasses and sins…

Our first response to this may be to think he is writing nonsense. We only have to observe the vigorous bodies of athletes, the agile minds of scholars and the vivacious personalities and perfect teeth of celebrities. How can he say that people like these are dead?


Clearly he sees life from a perspective we usually overlook – the issue of our soul. We all know that we are much more than the sum of our parts, that there is a spiritual dimension to our lives. When it comes to the real issue of life, Paul is saying that having a perfect body or a brilliant mind or the most charismatic personality will not help us. We have a soul problem.

mercy-and-hope-created-in-gods-imageAnd he tells us why we are spiritually dead: it is because of our trespasses and sins. Trespass is a false step – involving either the crossing of a known boundary or stepping away from the right path. Sin is missing the mark – falling short of a standard.

The two words highlight our predicament. There are our sins of commission: we have done what we ought not to have done. And our sins of omission: we have not done what we ought to have done.

CREATED IN GOD’S IMAGE

Here in a sentence is the irony of our human state. Created in God’s image for relationship with him, we choose to live without him. In his essential nature God wants to give life and to love the life he has given. We, also having the capacity to love, turn our love away from the very God who has given us this gift. And, Paul tells us, this is our condition until the Good Shepherd finds us.

So Paul goes on to write: But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us… (2:4) .

With these words he moves from speaking about the wrath of God to the mercy and love of God. He holds both together because he understands that they are held together in God’s essential nature.

It is so important we think about this, for it makes us realize that we need to pay careful attention to what angers God. It makes us realize that it is only right that we should turn to him and worship him because his justice is perfect.

It is because we fail to recognize the gravity of our true condition that we tend to put our trust in superficial remedies – better government, better education, better laws, more acts of charity, more equal distribution of wealth. There’s no doubt these things are pleasing to God but they can never rescue us from spiritual death, spiritual captivity or God’s condemnation.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should give up on providing better education or working towards a more just society, but the fact is we need a radical remedy – and this is just what God has done. God has given us a message of good news that offers life to the dead, freedom to captives, and forgiveness to the condemned.

This is what the first Easter was about – God providing the means for his reconciliation with us through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

You may want to consider:

  1. a ‘culture of shame’ and the real human tragedy;
  2. the way we turn the gift of love to anything but loving the Giver – God;
  3. God, who is rich in mercy

Let me encourage you to pray

 


© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Day 36. The Priorities of Hope – Prayer and Conversation

Day 36. The Priorities of Hope – Prayer and Conversation

Read:

Colossians 4:6; 1 Peter 3:15f.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.


PRAYER AND CONVERSATION

We neglect three things when we’re too busy: prayer, Bible reading and talking about God. In Colossians 4:6 Paul exhorts us to action.

Talking to God about others – prayer. C.S. Lewis once commented: It’s probably truer to say that God invented both prayer and work for that purpose. God gave us, small creatures that we are, the dignity of being able to contribute to the course of events in two different ways. God listens to our prayers, and when he considers something is for the best, he will act on it. Prayer is very powerful: a potent force. This is why Paul urged the Colossians to be steadfast in prayer. He knew that effective outreach begins with persevering prayer. Prayer was one of the reasons for the terrific outreach success of the first Christians. Continue steadfastly in prayer…, Paul says. ‘Don’t give up! Your prayers may not be answered immediately, but don’t give up.’

prayer-and-conversation-anglican-connection-saltThe Bible tells us over and over again that God’s great passion is for people turn to him. This is one prayer we know he will answer.

Lifestyle and conversation – a potent combination. Paul’s advice to the Colossians has two parts – life-style and speech. We are all obliged to act wisely and graciously towards people with whom we live and work. We are also obliged to make the most of the opportunities to respond to people about matters of the faith. We are to cultivate our conversation so that it is kind and gracious and seasoned with salt – that is, conversation that is not insipid and puerile, but conversation that has substance. 

PRIORITIES OF HOPE

In fact Paul is suggesting that all of us will have opportunities to talk to others about God – his reality and relevance, his amazing love and incredible goodness. Paul may have in mind a similar thought to Peter (I Peter 3:15). ‘When you speak,’ Paul writes, ‘introduce ideas that will stir and provoke questions about the larger issues of life’. All of us hear comments such as, ‘Religion seems so self-righteous’. ‘Everyone is right in their own kind of way.’ ‘I’m not a religious person.’ ‘I hate the rules and restrictions of Christianity!’ Or, ‘You have your ideas and I have mine!’

Have you considered how you might respond to such comments? Pray that you will be alert to these opportunities, and be prepared to answer. This may include a two-minute account of why you came to put your trust in Jesus Christ! Or, you may want to invite your interlocutor to church or a short course such as Christianity Explored.

You may want to consider:

  1. one of the implications of giving an answer is to be able to tell your ‘story’ of how you came to the faith: you may want to think about this and learn to present it naturally and easily; a personal story recounted well holds attention and cannot be refuted;
  2. how worthwhile it is to develop skills in answering questions people ask; resources are available to help us;
  3. the need to provide opportunities for people to learn about the faith – plan to invite friends and family to church and courses such as Christianity Explored.

Let me encourage you to pray

 


© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Day 35. The Example of Hope

Day 35. The Example of Hope

Read:

1 Peter 2:11-12; 3:1-2

2 11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. 12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.

3 1Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.


THE EXAMPLE OF HOPE

Freedom is a very intoxicating word: all through history the world has produced heroes in the cause of freedom. The people to whom Peter was writing were suffering under one of the most powerful and ruthless dictatorships the world had known – the Roman Empire. These people had no vote; laws were imposed from hundreds of miles away; there was no such thing as free speech. How should professing Christians respond to such a situation? We might have expected Peter to respond to this by saying, ‘Christians of the world unite: cry ‘freedom.’ But he doesn’t.

Abstain: He refers to his readers as ‘aliens and exiles’ – words which emphasize the Christian status as a temporary resident in a world that is not their home – and says, ‘I strongly urge you’ or ‘I strongly appeal to you to abstain (present tense) from the passions of the flesh.’ That is, he is urging his readers constantly to be alert to longings, attitudes and actions that are inconsistent with their Christian profession – lust, greed, envy, covetousness, deception, to name some examples. Such longings, Peter says, wage war against our souls. To entertain these longings which may appear harmless, is to be spiritually naïve, for they make us spiritually weak and our witness ineffective.

example-of-hopeMaintain good conduct. ‘Furthermore,’ he says, ‘in all relations with the unbelieving world, you are to maintain good conduct – so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good works and glorify God on the day of visitation. This really is quite extraordinary – Peter is saying that even when we’re being slandered and falsely accused, the consistency of our life may still result in the salvation of others. The phrase day of visitation simply means, a day when God visits to bring either blessing or judgment. On that day, Peter tells us, unbelievers who are currently slandering Christians will glorify God. This is the voluntary praise of people who have been converted. Peter is not referring to the forced acknowledgement by unbelievers that God has been right, for the word glorify, which occurs 61 times in the New Testament, never refers to unbelievers who are forced unwillingly to admit that God or his people have been in the right.

That they may glorify God. ‘These people have come to glorify God,’ Peter says, ‘because they have seen your good works; they have been drawn to the Lord who has transformed your life.’ Peter gives us a specific example of hope in the first two verse of chapter 3, where he says that husbands may be converted when they see the good conduct of their Christian wives.

Significantly, 1 Peter 2: 11-12 is telling us that as we put away sinful longings and work at living an exemplary patterns of life, our changed lifestyle will be evident to others. Indeed, it may be because they have been personally touched and affected by some dramatic and unexpected act of kindness by one of God’s people that they come to hear of the gospel or the Lord Jesus Christ. Humanly speaking, somewhere along the way people need to hear the gospel.

You may want to consider:

  1. the way in which God has entrusted his good name to those who profess to be his people: our actions can cause people to reject God or turn to him;
  2. the way in which reaching out to others involves more than words;
  3. practical ways in which we can adorn the gospel – see Titus 2:10.

Let me encourage you to pray

 


© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved.