As ever, beautiful and poignant words from Cat Hartley:
The night that Berenger died was hot and sleep was scarce. I read Psalm 139 and was struck by two things: God has many many thoughts about us and he has all of our days mapped out for us, already. It’s an amazing combination of intimate concentration and attention to detail. He is in no way detached, he knows all of our days – but this does not make us old news. He still thinks about us. I guess it’s like being in love, when your thoughts gravitate towards a person again and again, not to get new insights or information, but because you really love them. Because thinking about them brings a smile to your face. Then in the morning, my phone flashed with a tear-choked voice mail message. Berenger’s days had been way shorter than any of us had thought.
But not God.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
Christians are those who are united to Christ. This is true in the past, present and future.
Past: “For you died”. Christians have died with Christ. In him, we have passed through the death we rightly deserve. Our sin has been dealt with once for all. “You have been raised”. Dead to ourselves, alive in Christ. New birth, new life.
Present: “Hidden with Christ”. When God looks at you, what does he see? His beloved child. “Seated at the right hand of God”. Christ is seated on the throne of the universe, and we’re there with him!
Future: “Will appear with him”. When Christ returns, we will be with him, and it will be glorious.
It’s no surprise that Paul calls us to “set [our] hearts and minds on things above”. These are amazing realities to be celebrated, rejoiced in, dwelt on, sung about. What joy to spend time warming our hearts with such wonderful truths!
However… we forget. We’re leaky. These things seep out of our minds as this world preaches an alternative message. “This life is all there is – so live for the moment. Do what feels good. Make the most of it.” This world seems so solid, its pleasures so tangible, and God begins to feel distant. “Heavenly realities? More like away with the fairies.”
With all these lies ringing in our ears, we need others to help us lift our sights to see what is real. Those of deep, strong faith to give courage to the struggling. Preachers who present Christ again, that our hearts might be captured afresh. Soaking ourselves in Scripture, individually and corporately. The world is constantly fighting for our attention; let’s help each other fight back.
So Paul writes later in Colossians:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
The word of Christ: the good news of Jesus. His death and resurrection, and our union with him.
Dwelling richly: always going deeper. Taking truths to heart, not filing them away. Longing to know more of Jesus.
Teach and admonish: lovingly speaking good news to each other, letting God’s word convict, correct and encourage.
Singing: both expressing and exciting our emotions of gratitude through singing Scriptural certainties to each other and to the Lord.
Tomorrow, as millions gather across the globe with brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s point each other to these heavenly realities. We died with him. We were raised with him. We will appear with him. Glory!
Do you ever feel like you’ve failed so badly that you can’t relate to God?
You feel filthy. Pathetic. You’ve let him down – again.
Saying sorry doesn’t seem to cut it. It doesn’t seem enough. Your sin is too big for a mere apology. It requires something more.
So you try to deal with the guilt yourself. You beat yourself up. You tell yourself you’re a failure. You wallow in the guilt, because after all, it’s what you deserve. You repent of the same sins over and over, hoping that this time, deep down, you really mean it and God will forgive you.
We try to atone for our failures, resolve to try harder next time, and maybe then we’ll feel like we’re forgiven.
In all of this, what never occurs to us is that in trying to atone for our perceived offences, we commit a greater one – we doubt that Jesus’ blood can in fact atone for our sins in full. We forget the free and full forgiveness offered to us in Jesus and insist on adding our own acts of penance.
Saying sorry doesn’t cut it. Your sin is too big for a mere apology. It does require something more. It deserves death, judgment and hell. It’s that serious. Too serious to be dealt with by a week of wallowing in guilt. Too big for a few good deeds to make up for it.
Sin deserves death. Yet for the Christian, that death has already taken place. The cost of our rebellion has already been paid by another. Jesus’ death has done everything necessary. We simply look to him, and receive forgiveness as a gift.
Have you repented enough? Almost certainly not. There are sinful depths to our hearts that will take a lifetime to uncover. We will always need to repent.
Does that mean we can never approach God? Not at all. Jesus has done everything necessary for us to draw near. Beating ourselves up, punishing ourselves – it would never be enough. Wonderfully, for the Christian it is never necessary.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:19-23)
Where are the young men and women of this generation who will hold their lives cheap and be faithful even unto death? Where are those who will lose their lives for Christ’s sake – flinging them away for love of him? Where are those who will live dangerously and be reckless in his service? Where are his lovers – those who love him and the souls of men more than their own reputations or comfort or very life?
Where are the men who say ‘no’ to self, who take up Christ’s cross to bear it after him, who are willing to be nailed to it in college or office, home or mission field, who are willing, if need be, to bleed, to suffer and to die on it?
Now Lord, I would be yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow your commands
Could never come from me.
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ.
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life.
We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Corinthians 4:10-12)
The apostle Paul wrote 2 Corinthians to a church under the sway of a group of influential leaders, the so-called “super-apostles”. These men were highly impressive: skilled orators who preached a message of success, not suffering. In contrast, Paul looked weak and pathetic, and the Corinthian Christians were drifting away from the gospel as a result.
What to do? Paul could have pointed to his religious pedigree, his theological training, all the churches that he’d planted. Instead, Paul tells the Corinthians that they’ve got him exactly right. Paul writes later that he will “boast of the things that show [his] weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:30). Here he says that he is being “given over to death”, carrying around “the death of Jesus” in his body. He is weak – no, in fact he is dead; completely powerless.
How is that meant to convince the Corinthians to trust him? What is Paul doing here?
Let’s go back to the beginning. When the human race rebelled, death entered the world. In this world, everything dies – and when Jesus took on our nature, he wasn’t an exception to this rule. As Jesus died, he bore the full wrath of the Father against our sin. He died, as everything in this creation must.
Then he rose again into resurrection life, bringing us through with him. In Jesus’ death, the old creation died. As he rose, he ushered in a new creation which we belong to by faith.
Christians are those who are united to Christ. As such, we follow in his footsteps. In this world, there is a pattern that everyone follows – even Jesus. The pattern is death – and through death, to resurrection life.
Paul “[carries] around in [his] body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed”. Paul enters into death, following in his Saviour’s footsteps, because it is through death that new life comes. By giving ourselves over even to death, we model the pattern of our suffering saviour – and in doing so, our perseverance points to the resurrection life of the one sustaining us. Our suffering, and our endurance through it, points others to Jesus, so that they might be born again into resurrection life.
How do we endure, though? I’m a weak jar of clay (2 Cor 4:7). By myself I’ve no hope.
So isn’t it great news that the one who calls us to endure suffering, even death, has himself endured through suffering and death? Our Lord and Brother Jesus goes before us, and now by his Spirit he goes with us. He knows our struggles and sufferings intimately, sympathising with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15), and has promised to never let anyone snatch us out of his hand (John 10:27-28). Those the Father calls will be brought through to glory (Romans 8:30). We endure by his power, not our own (2 Cor 4:7).
When our endurance is down to him, it’s no longer impossible: it’s inevitable.
Those who know your name will trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.
Christians are those who know the Lord’s name: his identity and character as the God who reveals himself, the God who saves a wretched people, the God we know in and through Jesus. We know him personally and place our trust in him, because he has proven himself trustworthy.
How has he proven himself? The Psalmist could point to the Exodus, and to countless individual stories, to show the trustworthiness of God. He could point to promises made and promises kept. He could speak of the Lord’s covenant with his people. He could confidently assert that God had never forsaken his people in the past, and so they could trust him in the future.
Trust him to do what? Ultimately by God the Son taking on our nature in the person of Jesus, whose name literally means “God our Saviour”. The Lord’s name – his identity as the God who saves – is made known personally. Knowing Jesus and all that he’s done for us, we have perfect grounds for trusting in God. We have confidence he will never leave or forsake us, even in the midst of darkness, because Jesus went through the dark night of death and rose to resurrection life. Like a needle pulling a thread through dark cloth, Jesus takes us through death to new life in him.
Who does he do this for? All those who seek him, who look to him, who find their refuge in him. The Christian life is not about seeking an abstract salvation, or simply a ticket out of hell. The Christian life is about seeking, running after, throwing ourselves on Jesus, our Refuge, our Champion, our Brother and our King. Our ultimate sin is to have rejected the life that is ours in Jesus. Christians are those who run after him, like the Beloved of the Song of Songs searching for her Lover, turning to Jesus for life and salvation.
As another year begins, won’t you join me in running after Jesus? He promises us that those who seek will find.
It’s the darkest day of the year today, so what better thing to do than reflect on the Light coming into the world?
O come, o come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!
One day, when Christ returns, we’ll be fully set free from the slavery of sin. No more struggles, no more failure. No more alienation or loneliness. One day Christ will come to take us home. We will be with him, and he with us.
O come, O Rod of Jesse, free,
Your own from Satan’s tyranny.
From depths of hell your people save;
Bring them in victory through the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!
Jesus went through death in order to save us, defeating death through rising again. But to save his people, he brings them through the grave, following after him. Like our King, we will experience suffering, darkness and eventually death. But death does not have the final word.
O come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!
Emmanuel means “God with us”. By his Spirit, he is with us now. When he returns, all will be made right again. Eternal day will dawn, and death’s dark shadows finally banished. Rejoice, Christians! Emmanuel shall come to you. And so we cry out with our brothers and sisters down the ages: O come, o come, Emmanuel!
Brokenness is not the end of the story. Our pain is deep, but it is not all-encompassing; our loss is enormous, but it is not eternal; death is our enemy, but it does not have the final word. The wounded Lamb is also the Lion of Judah and one day he will reign in his perfect rule of love, peace and justice. Such is the hope of the gospel.