“When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16: 13-17)
Jesus had just performed a mighty miracle, the feeding of 4,000. Then, confronted later on, in chapter 22, He asks the Pharisees, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” (Matthew 22:14).
But here, in this portion of Scripture, the question, “But who doyou say that I am?” is addressed to the disciples, to believers. If asked this question yourself, you would probably give the same answer as Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He is! We know these answers. He is the anointed one. Right back in Genesis chapter 3 He is spoken of.
So, Peter here gives the right answer. Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah,for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, butMy Father who is in heaven.” We too can give the right answer. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one. Paul, writing later to the church in Corinth says, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 12:3). This, says Jesus, has been revealed by God the Father.
Later on, Jesus said “to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day,” (Matthew 16:21). Peter, who had just made this confession of who Jesus was, says, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” (Matthew 16:21b). Peter doesn’t want Jesus to do this, He wants Him to stay with him. Jesus responds, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23).
Peter, when Jesus asks this question of who He is, needs to have self-examination. You and I do too. We too can give the right answers, but we can still do things that don’t add up to having Christ as our Saviour. We need self-examination. What is the first thing that fills our mind when we get up? What is the last thing we do at night when we snuggle under the duvet? Do we thank God for the blessings we have received? So many won’t snuggle under a duvet because they have no bed. Do we take things for granted?
Jesus says to us today, ‘What do you think of Christ? He has saved you. Are you glad? Yes! But there’s so much more! You may know all the doctrines, but what do you think of Christ? We can be so pre-occupied we can push Christ aside. Things can creep in upon us and we almost forget we are living in the sight of God. If we are taken up with things but push Christ aside, Jesus says to you and me, ‘What do you think of me?’
We use our minds to think about mundane things but use your minds to think about Jesus. Do I walk with Him? Do I talk with Him? He is our guide, our strength in temptation. He supplies all our needs. If you are like me, you often send cards and emails with this quote, “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19). Our God is conscious of all our needs. He says, ‘Don’t neglect me.’ Paul says to Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12). Think about Christ. A Spurgeon says, “Think of His wounds.”
Christ lived a perfect life yet He was whipped and persecuted. He had no rest as He carried the cross to Calvary. They laid Him down upon it, yet He said not a word (Psalm 22). He died and suffered and bled for me. How often do think of that? It is good to meditate in what God has done.
When tragedies, trials and tribulations come, you can forget God. Do things to the glory of God. Don’t let your life take over from the Lord Himself. Eternity waits. After death is judgement – heaven or hell. Everyone of those lashes, the three hours of darkness, He bore it all and then triumphed. “It is finished!” Faith alone in Christ is all that gets us to heaven. The older I get, I get one day nearer to home. Look what is waiting for us – glory.
To unbelievers, we have to ask the same question, “What do you think of Christ?” Maybe you’ve never thought of these things – who He is, why He came, why was He born in a cattle shed? He came to live a perfect life. He died because we failed to live that perfect life. We are all sinners. Jesus died for you and me. Some believers think very much; they are very clever. But they may never think of Christ. They may say ‘I think Jesus is a good man.’ But here is one who stands head and shoulders above all. He is the One who can say, “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father,” (John 14:9).
When we come to believe in Jesus our thoughts change. Everything is different. Jesus calls it being born again – a new start, a new life.
Unbelievers can care for family and friends, but they think horizontally. They don’t think of God. They don’t think of the life ahead. Our God knows us. Science has done wonderful things but one day, we will search where life came from. Science does not have the answer to life. God is the answer. Christ is the answer.
We read in Acts 16:17 highly intelligent men listened to Paul. He started to preach the gospel. Some thought he was mad and laughed at the thought of the Resurrection. Paul tells them who they should worship – the Lord Jesus Christ. Believe in Christ. Give your lives to Him. Some mocked. Paul preached the gospel and left. Some believed. It has that effect.
“So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11
He promises! Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. Don’t put it off. Young people, in the Word of God, we are told, “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, Before the difficult days come, And the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them,” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). When you die, if you don’t believe you will face Him as judge. Face Him now as a Saviour.
Hebrews was written to the Hebrew Christians who had, not long ago been saved. When Pentecost happened, when the Spirit of God came down, 3000 souls were saved. The word of God spread from place to place. God was doing a mighty work – taking His Word, by His Spirit, to men and women all over the region. The first Christians, in the main, were Jews, they were Hebrews. They had to leave behind their own religion. They were being taught something new.
In Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 we see something that was happening to them. Something had occurred in their lives which, for many of them, was a new experience. At the same time, they were being dragged back into their old religion, into Judaism. One of the things that we must remember at all times, is that scripture is given by the inspiration of God, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16). It is given to us that we may be complete. I love that word, ‘complete.’ In Colossians we read that as believers in Christ we are complete in Him.
This was the Hebrews dilemma – should they go to go back to Judaism, go back to the synagogue, to the temple, to something that was quite safe. One of the things they were experiencing when they came to know Christ as their Saviour was persecution. They were being thrown out of their families, they were being asked to leave. This still happening today. Many who turn to Christ will be turned out of their families, will not be spoken to. The writer of the Hebrews is encouraging them to pursue the new Christian doctrine, follow Christ, but in following it, you will suffer persecution. When we stand up for Him we will suffer; we will be called names. But we take those names and we take those who call us and we give thanks to God that we are able to stand up for Him and to suffer for Him.
Paul confirms and encourages the Hebrew Christians and Christians today, ourselves. He writes in Galatians 6:17, “From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” If you go back to the Book of Acts chapter 9 you will read about the conversion of Paul. From day one of his conversion until the day he died, Paul suffered persecution. Being a Christian is not an easy life. The Hebrew Christians had to make a choice – safety and miss out on the joy of Christ and the blessings of eternal salvation or go back. My friends, from time to time, are you encouraged to go back? There is a lot to drag us back because it’s safe. But the writer of Hebrews is saying, ‘Go forward.’
Being in Christ is far higher, far more exalted than anything we can experience in this life. There is no greater than Christ Himself, the hope of glory. The Hebrew Christian in chapters 3 and 4 were reminded by the writer that their forefathers, when they left Egypt, went on a wilderness journey. In that journey many died because of unbelief and disobedience. They do not enter the rest God promised them. What was that rest? That rest was the Promised Land, Canaan. But that was an earthly rest. The writer in chapters 3 and 4 is gently drawing them to a rest which is far greater, far more precious. The writer of Hebrews wants them to focus on the rest of Christ, eternal rest in Christ, a heavenly rest which is something far better. He refers to what David says,
“Today, if you will hear His voice: 8 “Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, As in the day of trial in the wilderness, 9 When your fathers tested Me; They tried Me, though they saw My work.” Psalm 95: 7b-9
David was speaking of that eternal glorious rest, “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23). My final resting place is in Christ, in glory. Are you resting in Christ? I am resting in the finished and completed work of Christ. I am resting in all that He has promised. I belong to Him. Today may be my last day, your last day. Are you resting in Him to such an extent that nothing else matters? Eternal rest. Eternal love. To be in His presence. What greater joy, what greater blessing.
Secondly, I want to share some thoughts on the application to you and me. “God is love,” (1 John 4:8). If anyone asks you what God is like, He is love. We see in God the Son, whom He sent to become our Saviour, we see God manifest in flesh, God revealed in flesh, the love of God being shown and demonstrated. We hear His word,
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Rejoice! Jump up and celebrate! Christ in us, the hope of glory. We can enjoy the rest of being in the presence of God. The writer of Hebrews was encouraging them to hold on to the truth of the word of God. My dear friends, I am encouraging you to hold on and pursue this life.
There’s a word in Scripture I love. It’s repeated time and time again. It’s the word ‘forever.’ Being in the presence of the Lord, something I’m enjoying now, something I will go on enjoying forever. “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19). I will never die because Christ lives. I’m alive, alive forever more. We have a home, we have a hope that is steadfast and certain because of the One who has gone through the curtain, who died on Calvary’s cross, who has given life – a ransom for many. What a wonderful experience, what a wonderful sight it was to believers on Christ when they heard the words, “He is not here, He is risen!”
One day He is going to stand and come for His own and bring them to glory. What a glorious prospect is yours and mine. We can rest in that certain hope. How blessed. This glorious word of God, “God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12).
Are you aware, am I aware of and appreciate the power and majesty of God? If we believe that God owns everything, the breath I breathe this morning, my children He has lent to me, they belong to Him? Where are you resting? In your home? But that’s only a temporary residence. Where is your home? Heaven! We must be diligent in the rest which is ours now. We need to work at it. “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” (Philippians 2:12). What does it mean to ’work out your own salvation with fear and trembling’? It doesn’t mean to attempt to deserve salvation on the grounds of what you do. There are many who try and work their way into heaven, trying to be a good person. Who saved you? Jesus. We’ve been saved by the grace of God, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (Ephesians 2:8).
It is only by the grace of God. We can’t make atonement for our past sins. the Bible says, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 10:17)
“I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”
23 Sing for joy, you heavens, for the Lord has done this; shout aloud, you earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the Lord has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel.”
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.”
When the writer of Hebrews says to ’work out your own salvation with fear and trembling’? he means to break off from your sins. For the Hebrew Christians, it meant don’t turn back to Judaism, don’t look back. To us it means don’t turn back to the things that were holding you from Christ. Many of the things that you and I do so often take us away from Christ. We belong to Him,
“Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). We belong to Christ. The writer of Hebrews was saying to the Hebrew Christians, ‘I want you to enjoy the rest of Christ, the glory and the wonder, the power and the majesty of God. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12). Trust in it.
This Word changes and transforms. It renews. It rejuvenates. It takes us out of ourselves and brings us into the very presence of God. Let us come boldly to the throne of God. This is the power, this is the wisdom, this is the majesty, this is the glory of God.
It is a life-giving word, the source of all things. It has the keys of life and death. Satan, with all his powers, cannot do anything to you without God’s permission. Death has been defeated. How blessed we are! His word gives light to the repentant sinner. This word causes the devil to tremble, it causes demons to flee. It heals the sick. It gives sight to the blind.
God alone upholds this universe. He is the one to whom you and I have to give an account to. To the believers in Christ, God will honour us for the works we have done in His Name, for His glory and praise, not the works we decide to do for a pat on our back. There are many, many, many things that men and women of God do that we never hear of, but God does. To the unrepentant sinner, to those who have turned away, we read,
“To the unrepentant sinner, “Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded, 25 Because you disdained all my counsel, And would have none of my rebuke, 26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes, 27 When your terror comes like a storm, And your destruction comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you.” Proverbs 1:24-27
We read in Revelation 20 of the white throne judgement, where those who have refused God, who have rejected Him, who have refused His word, will be cast into the lake of fire.
My dear friends, heaven is my home. Where do you stand? Do you know Him as your Saviour? Do you trust Him? Are you resting in Him? Are you rejoicing in Him? Praise the Lord!
This is a message that is relevant for us all and a help to us in our Christian lives. This passage of scripture, Daniel in the Lion’s den, suffers from familiarity. We are going to see Daniel as an historic man, seeing the experience of his life. We will also see him as a fellow man, a fellow believer, like us, whom we can learn lessons from and help us to approach our life. Thirdly, we see Daniel as what theologians call a type of Christ. There is only one Christ but in the Old Testament we see pictures of Christ in well-known people, such as Joseph. We see Daniel as a type of Christ, as lone who did his people good and remained faithful in difficult situations.
1 Corinthians 11 tells us to, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Be imitators of Daniel, as he was of Christ, as he was in preparation for Christ. David lived and prepared for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11). We see a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Old Testament and see Him there in the life of Daniel as he faced the trials and pressures of his life.
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18). Both Peter and Paul are saying, ‘Look, I want you people to change and become more like the Lord Jesus Christ.’ I want to show you Daniel as a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, as an example of how we can live our lives in a hostile world.
We are shocked when trials come but we should not be surprised. Daniel was a man who knew real trials. The first thing I want to show you is Daniel and the Lord Jesus Christ were unique men (Daniel 6:3). Daniel had been in exile since his teenage years. Even as a teenager he stood out. Friends, our Lord Jesus Christ is a unique man. Daniel was different but he was tempted in all points, like we are, yet he stood against the crowd. The Lord Jesus Christ, even in his first sermon, taught with authority, and not as one of the Scribes or Pharisees. As Christians, we are to be different, we are to be unique, we are to stand out from the crowd.
Daniel, in verses 4 and 5, is described as faultless. “He was faithful and no error or fault was found in him.” We see what made Daniel unique. Although, now in his seventies, he has remained faithful to his God. He has remained a prayerful man, a faithful servant of Babylon, the Medes and Persians. Some Christians give the impression we should stand out against the government of our land. Daniel is a refugee, yet he remains faithful to his God and to his earthly rulers. (Hebrew 4). The same thing is true of our Lord Jesus Christ. He Himself said, as people accused Him, “What is it you accuse me of? Who can actually charge me with sin?
For us, this may seem a very high bar. How can we, who are born in sin and shameful iniquity, holy people, be faultless? We can’t. Sin dwells within us. But God says to each of us as Christians, “Be holy, even as I am holy.” I don’t believe that we, as evangelicals, preach this enough. We preach the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are saved entirely by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, not works, lest any man should boast. It is the gift of God. Friends, I want to do nothing to undermine the fact that we are saved completely, utterly, and entirely by the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. But the same Lord Jesus Christ said to His disciples, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” We are to be holy people.
Daniel was an opposed man. He was unique, he was faultless, but people didn’t like it. Daniel and the Lord Jesus Christ both had an effect on people that may seem strange. In the world we have different parties which are opposed to each other. In verses 6-7 we read, “O these administrators and satraps went as a group to the king and said: “May King Darius live forever! The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den.” (Daniel 6:6-7).
The people, because of the reality of human nature, were opposed to each other. When someone gains promotion, others want to cut them down (known as ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome in Australia). We find the same thing in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Jewish leaders came together, with the authority of Rome, to cut down the Lord Jesus Christ. Daniel knew exactly the same thing. Have you ever known that experience in life? You are doing all you can to help people and even though you’re giving yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ, people want to cut you down.
David was an orderly man, “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” (Daniel 6:10). The law of the country had changed. It didn’t ruffle him one iota. Our Lord Jesus Christ was exactly the same. In Luke 4 we see He went to the synagogue, as was his custom. He had a pattern to His life because it would give Him time in God’s presence. David had a pattern to his life. Three times a day he turned to Jerusalem to pray. He was an exile. He was looking not simply to Jerusalem but to the God of Jerusalem. He had not forgotten the covenant promise of God.
Notice how David prayed. He got down on his knees. I’ve never placed a lot of emphasis on my position in prayer. But it is interesting to look at David, and also the apostles in Acts 9, the Lord Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane on His knees, humbled in the presence of God. I’m not going to tell you how to pray, but do you see the order, the discipline?
David was a humiliated man. Notice how Daniel is described, “Then they said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.” (Daniel 6:13). What a disgrace. This man, like Joseph in Egypt, who had done so much for the Babylonians and the Medes, is described as ‘an exile,’ a refugee, an asylum seeker. This man was used of God
Jesus Himself was humiliated. There were times when Jesus could do no miracles in His own land. But friends, let me take you to Calvary, through the prophet Isaiah, “He was despised and rejected by mankind,a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53:3) The Lord Jesus Christ, the King of glory, the man who, on two occasions, had heaven opened up and the glory of heaven revealed as God spoke and said, ‘This is My Son.’ He was despised and rejected. Friends, it hurts when people turn round and say, ‘Holy Joe,’ ‘Do-Gooder.’ We will be humiliated if we follow the Lord Jesus Christ. People will look down their noses at us.
David was a buried man, in the hope that he would never rise again. “A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed.” (Daniel 6:17). In reality, the lion’s den was the grave of the victims; no-one came out alive (Daniel 6:24). The Lord Jesus Christ, when He was buried, His opponents wanted an assignment of soldiers to guard the tomb. The authority of Rome was given to Jewish leaders and they sealed the tomb. David, like the Lord Jesus Christ, was buried in the hope they would never rise.
The king goes back to the tomb the following morning and he asks, ‘Are you ok?’ “Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.” (Daniel 6:21-22). God sent an angel to close the mouth of the lion. He didn’t take Daniel out of the den. Remember, in the Garden of Gethsemane an angel came and comforted Jesus. On Resurrection morning an angel came and tolled away the stone. Sadly, as Christians, we have no real sense of the spiritual world around us. Friends, we live in two worlds – the physical and the spiritual world. There are angels that God uses according to His purpose.
“The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.” (Daniel 6:23). Nothing had happened to Daniel. But I want to take you to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. I want to take you to the Upper Room a week later. That week later, after Jesus had risen from the dead, He held out His hands and He said, ‘Behold My Hands. Behold My side.’ Daniel was buried but he rose unharmed. Jesus was buried and the only scars that will be seen in heaven are the scars that bore your sin and my sin.
David was an ascended man. The Lord Jesus ascended, “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9). Revelation tells us, “At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne.” (Revelation 4:2-3).
Friends, today we worship a crucified, risen, ascended, glorified Saviour. Why? Because He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Friends, do you know Him? Do you love Him? Is He your Saviour? Has He gone to the cross, the grave, in your place? Many of you have nodded, saying ‘Yes, you do know Him.’ Are you walking in His ways? Are you prepared to be different? Are you prepared to be holy? Are you prepared to let God give a new order to your life? Can you cope with the humiliation? Are you prepared to be buried in order that one day you will be raised and enjoy eternity with Him? We used to sing, ‘Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone.’ Will you stand alone with your God?
I wonder if you can think of a time that left you completely in awe? It could be something like seeing the Northern Lights crossing the sky or the Canadian Rocky Mountains stretching out into the distance, or maybe hearing about random act of kindness by a stranger. There are many things that make us feel good about the world around us. We want to sing with Louis Armstrong, ‘What a wonderful world.’
To read Matthew chapter 27 of these events is also an awe-inspiring experience but in a completely different kind of way. It surely cannot make us feel good about the world around us when you read about such depraved inhumanity towards an innocent man. For some, it is an historical account that should leave us feeling very much like Moses before that burning bush, that we’re standing on holy ground.
It’s probably the most well-known passage in all the gospels. With well-known passages there is a temptation to come to them and think to yourself, ‘But I have heard this all before.’ But have we really heard it all before? Le u’s be clear, there are things going on in these events that are completely beyond the realms of human understanding. There are things going on in these events that show us that we’ve hardly begun to understand the dreadful position of humankind.
When you read Matthew 27, when you consider the events of Good Friday, we should not come easily to these things. We should, like Moses, take off our sandals and tread carefully. This morning I want us to consider first of all, what is the reality of what is going on.
In 2004 Mel Gibson released a well-known film called ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ I’ve never seen it but I can remember, as a youngster, going down to cinemas in Cardiff and giving tracts to those coming out of the cinemas after watching the film. I remember very clearly the looks on people’s faces as they came out; they looked shocked, devastated. They were shaken. It made me realise that just like the Nativity, the history of Golgotha has been sanitised and sentimentalised. It’s been made into something it is not. What Mel Gibson did very well was to shove people’s faces into the horrors of the crucifixion of Jesus. It shocked them out of that sanitised version that perhaps they had been presented with in Sunday School or in primary schools. As you read these events, the on the surface facts of the death of Jesus Christ are absolutely horrifying.
Any crucifixion was absolutely horrifying. The Roman statesman Cicero describes torture like this, “The mere name of the cross should be far removed from not only the bodies of Roman citizens but even from their thoughts, their eyes, and their ears. The results and suffering from these doings as well as the situation, even anticipation, of their enablement, and, in the end, the mere mention of them are unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man.”
What is he saying? Well, he’s saying this: ‘Don’t even talk about crucifixion, don’t even mention it in polite company, it is that bad.’ But when you come to the gospels, they make a great deal of the Crucifixion of Jesus, they talk a lot about it. John devotes over half of his gospel to events surrounding the death of Jesus, Matthew 2/5, Mark 3/5 and Luke 1/3. Clearly the death of Jesus, to the gospel writers, was the most significant thing.
One critic of The Passion of the Christ spoke some truth when he said, “This movie is the prayer of a gifted film-maker, but it is also a narrow and harrowing perspective on a story that, no matter what your faith, is bigger than any attempt to portray it on film.”
Jesus suffered appalling tortures before and on the cross. Soldiers beat Him. Soldiers spat in His face. They mocked Him over and over again. They forced a crown of thorns on His head. The Roman whipping that He received was absolutely awful. It didn’t have the leniency of the Jewish forty lashes minus one. The took Jesus around the city on the longest journey that they could have, trying to prolong the sufferings of Jesus.
As you come to the gospel writings there is no great emphasis on the physicality of tortuous death. That is where Mel Gibson got it wrong and where that film critic got it right. The events of Good Friday are just bigger than any event to portray it on film.
What does Matthew say pertaining to the death of Christ? Actually, not a lot about the Crucifixion. He says, in verse 35, ‘When they had crucified Him.’ That’s it. Mark 15:24, ‘And the crucified Him.’ Luke 23:33, ‘When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified Him.’ John 19:17-18, “He went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.There they crucified him.”
For the gospel writers, therefore for the Holy Spirit, the brutality of the death of Christ was not the main thing. The main thing was the significance of that death – the spiritual realities of that death were the important ones. They want us to focus on the spiritual realities. This was no ordinary death. There was something massively supernatural and miraculous going on here and you cannot avoid it. You cannot avoid it because, first of all, you have got darkness and dereliction. Secondly, you’ve got what one preacher calls, ‘divine vandalism,’ – the tearing of the temple curtain from top to bottom. You have also got death reversed (v.52), the mass resurrection of many holy people.
Let’s consider darkness and dereliction for a moment (v. 45). In World War II the blackout, despite its eeriness, kept people safe. On Good Friday there was a massive blackout from the sixth to the ninth hour, darkness was all over the land. Evidently, it was an extensive darkness that covered the whole land. This three hour blackout was when the Middle Eastern sun should have been at the highest in the sky. It must have been terribly unsettling to witness it. Why the darkness? Darkness is connected with God’s judgement. Peter prophesied against false teachers and prophets (2 Peter 2:17). Jesus says in Matthew 24:29, talking about the end of the world, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
In Matthew 27:46 Jesus gives us some insight as to what is going on. It is called the cry of dereliction, which comes towards the end of that darkness. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is where, I suggest, we need to take off our sandals and tread very carefully. We realise the person who is crying out is none other than the eternal Son of God, the only begotten Son. He was in the beginning with God. There is no relationship in the whole universe that was closer than the Father and Son.
Yet here, at this moment, God the Son is forsaken. In that three hours of darkness, God the Father’s judgement fell on His Son. The judgement that was so awful that the bond between God the Father and God the Son, for some time was broken. The Father never ceased to love His Son because Jesus says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again,” (John 10:17).
There is no voice from heaven to comfort His Son. There is no angel to strengthen Him, He is forsaken. What is going on? “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
We realise our sin is absolutely awful, so awful it nailed the Son of God to a Roman cross. It is so awful that the Son of God, who enjoyed the closest relationship with His Father throughout eternity, had to be utterly forsaken by His Father as He endured hell. He had no sin and yet He was made sin for us. God the Father, because He is just, cannot just sweep sin under the carpet. But, by pouring out His wrath on His own Son, against our sin during that massive judgement blackout, He can remember our sins no more.
“My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
When peace like a river
Jesus, in enduring the wrath of God during that cosmic blackout, was pierced, Isaiah says, for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The judgement that brought us peace was upon Him. By His wounds we are healed.
Are you a Christian here this morning? If so, what we have read means that you are as free as a bird. Your sin, not in part, but all of it, is nailed to the cross and you bear it no more. You have peace with God. You are completely healed. Praise the Lord.
If you are not a Christian, or you may think you are a Christian but haven’t thought too much about sin, Jesus’ cry of dereliction, when you hear it, doesn’t make much difference, it doesn’t bother you too much. Perhaps you haven’t realised what sin is about? In our society people don’t accept the idea of sin, it seems outdated. People aren’t held responsible for their own actions, ‘Being who you are’ is the slogan of our society.
But Jesus’ cry of dereliction teaches us one thing – we are sinners. Our sin is real to God and it has to be punished. Only the death of His Son can sort it out. The fact is, we are responsible creatures and one day God is going to hold us to account.
As a Christian, when we hear the cry of dereliction doesn’t it make you hate your sin all the more? Does it not make you cry, “O Lord, help me to live a holy life!” Does it not help you go to places like Titus and echo with Paul, not just to want knowledge of the truth but knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness? In other words, that we don’t just stand there at the foot of the cross, gazing in horror, then just walk away and carry on flirting with sin as if it is no big deal, that we carry on harbouring a few pet sins of our own.
We should come to the foot of the cross and break our hearts over our sin. It was our sin that caused Jesus to suffer such unthinkable agonies. We should throw ourselves on Him to keep us from sin.
At Calvary, God was doing something that He is an absolute expert at – He was bringing the greatest good out of the greatest evil. You see it in the signs that immediately follow the death of Jesus. Between three and four o’clock in the afternoon, God’s wrath had been poured out on His Son, Jesus is forsaken by His Father, Jesus dies (Matthew 27:15 / John 19:13). What effect does all that have? Is the work of Jesus finished? Yes, it is! Because then you get the curtain of the temple being torn in two, from top to bottom (v 51-52). This is no accident, it is hugely significant and important. At three o’clock in the afternoon the priests would have bene busy preparing for the evening sacrifice. Then, all of a sudden, all of the mysteries of the Old Testament are opened, revealed and unfolded to all. The curtain would have concealed the most holy place, the place where only the high priest could go, once a year. Now, it is open to all. The partitioning wall, which would have divided Jew and non-Jew, the ceremonial law, was now removed (Hebrew 10). Now, through Jesus’ sacrificial death, we can all approach the Shekinah Glory. Let me tell you, that is huge.
“There’s a way back to God from the dark paths of sin, there’s a door that is open and you may go in. At Calvary’s cross is where you begin, when you come as a sinner to Jesus.”
So powerful, so complete is the sacrifice offered by Jesus that the miracles don’t stop with that divine vandalism of the curtain being torn. You now have death reversed. There is an earthquake that is so violent it splits rocks, it opens tombs, and even before Easter Sunday, Resurrection is already on the cards (v 52). What is all this showing? Clearly, that Jesus’ sacrifice not only pays for sin, it not only opens up the way for sinful people to come back to a holy God. But also, don’t we want to leap for joy at this – it means death is defeated! It will be an inheritance of a marvellously rejuvenated universe and life without end in a mind-blowingly fantastic resurrection. Wow! Good Friday and Easter Sunday prove that this life is just a drop in the bottomless ocean of eternity. And that changes everything!
Let us briefly consider some of the reactions to what we’ve seen. We’ve had the realities, now let’s see the reactions. Before we finish, we’ve got to bring it a little closer to home. Why do we need to bring it closer to home? Because, as I read these gospel accounts, as I think about the crucifixion, I find that there were people who were actually there. There were eyewitnesses of these things and they respond in vastly different ways. I am bothered by this because if you think that even eyewitnesses could be so terrifyingly ignorant of the implications of what was going on, how much more we, living 2,000 years later, can also be terrifyingly ignorant of the most important event in all of history.
What eyewitnesses am I talking about? First of all you have the mockers, those who hurled insults at a man who was being horribly tortured to death. You have the robbers and the passers by (v.40). They use the second person, using the pronoun ‘you.’ Then you have the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders who use the third person, he and him. In other words, they don’t even say it to His face (v 42-43). These were the great teachers of the law. They should have been familiar with the teachings of the Old Testament about the Christ. Yet, they are staggeringly ignorant about it all. It’s a scary thought that those people who possessed all the prophetic writings, the teachings of the Old Testament, observations of Jesus at close hand, had heard His teaching, were now ridiculing this man in such a cowardly way – that God-Man who was dying so that they could have life. It’s horrendous.
Haven’t we been doing something similar ever since? Perhaps years and years of going to church, years and years of listening to the Bible being preached, years and years of listening to our Christian friends and family telling us about the love of Jesus and perhaps, not outwardly, but inwardly mocking the very idea that Jesus was dying for my sins. Don’t let the darkness that so blinded teachers of the law and the chief priests so blind you to your desperate need of to repent of your sin, and your desperate need of a Saviour. Jesus died for you. Believe now. Repent now. Do it while there is still some light emanating from the pages of Matthew chapter 27.
Now less shocking, but no less unsettling, are the reactions of those we read about in Luke 23:48. The people ‘beat their breasts and went away.’ Up to this point, there was Jesus breathing His last. Those onlookers maintained some interest but now they begin to drift away to carry on with the rest of their lives. But ‘they beat their breasts.’ This was an ancient way of showing grief. Somewhere, in the depths of their souls, they realised that in some way which they haven’t quite understood, they were responsible for the death of this innocent man. I wonder if there are any like that here, today? Perhaps there have been many times where you have felt sorrow for your sins. Perhaps you’ve started to realise that your sins nailed Jesus to the cross. But many times you’ve just drifted away; you’ve left church just to carry on with your life, just as before. The Bible, in 2 Corinthians chapter 7, talks about a godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Let me tell you, don’t drift away again. Pray for that godly sorrow that leads somewhere, that leads to repentance.
Luke 23:49. Here are brave women. The Bible was ahead of its time. Brave women and not so brave men who knew Jesus and who are watching from a distance. Disciples would follow Jesus for three years, they had given up everything to follow Him. What are they doing now? They are playing it safe. Are we a little like that – not so brave Christians? Are we playing it safe as we live our lives, keeping our distance from this wonderful Jesus? Today, let us really, really endeavour to go right up to the foot of the cross and declare to anyone who will listen, our allegiance to the One who loved us and gave Himself for us.
Last, but definitely not least, is the centurion that we read of (v.54). Here was a man, an extremely hard man, who had witnessed and taken part in scores of crucifixions, and yet realises that this particular crucifixion was like no other. He saw the convulsions of nature in the earthquake, he saw the dignified conduct of Jesus in the way He was put on that cross, the way that He dies, and with the little understanding that he does have, he comes to the conclusion, as Luke reports, ‘Surely this was a righteous man.’ Perhaps you have very little understanding of what is going on here, you have very little knowledge of Jesus, and of Christianity and of the Bible. Perhaps Jesus has only been recently introduced to you. But look today, look now, really look at the evidence before you. Be amazed at what is before you and believe.
As we close, let’s just focus on one person, the wonderful person of the Lord Jesus Christ. You would think that the glorious dignity of the second person of the Trinity, being beaten, being whipped, being spat upon, being mocked and scorned, being deserted by His friends, being crucified, you think of the absolute control that He showed throughout it all. He, being the One who gave up His spirit, not having it taken from Him. He, being the One crying out in a loud voice, and going out in full possession of His faculties. It reminds us of that hymn, ‘Man of Sorrows.’ Hallelujah! What a Saviour! Amen.
This is one coherent paragraph. However, verse 13 is often mis-quoted and used in isolation. It needs to be understood in its right context. This epistle is very much a letter of joy. The Church in Philippi was established by Paul himself. Paul knows them very well. The Philippians are seeking to do things in truth and correct spirit. Why would Paul therefore need to encourage this if they were committed to gospel work? Paul is also thanking them for sending him a gift but also saying his need wasn’t so great he couldn’t cope.
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
Paul says, ‘all things,’ not everything. To say someone can do anything is to say this is unlimited, there is nothing I can’t do. This is to ignore the gifting of God. What did Paul really mean by ‘all things?’ This is the final sentence of a paragraph, a summary. So, Paul has already told us about these things, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”(verse 12). Paul uses a pictorial way of saying this is all of life’s experience. Do we approach our lives in the right way?
In Romans 12:1 Paul writes,“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” The word ‘service’ can also be rendered as worship. The ESV Bible reads, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Every aspect of our life is of interest to God.
“Through Christ who strengthens me.” Do we still consider the things of Christ when we face a crisis? Do we take it to the Lord in prayer? The world’s alternative is, ‘I can do all things myself because I don’t need anyone else.’ A key point of being a Christian is, ‘I am weak, I need Christ.’
Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5). The whole point of being a Christian is to bear fruit. A vine branch only produces fruit if it is attached to the vine itself. The vine dresser is God. We need to keep our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to be focused on Christ and remember what is really important in our lives. Don’t strive after what the world says is important.
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). This is a key point, made not only by Matthew, but also Mark and Luke, who make the point even more strongly. Everything comes down to our relationship with Christ – what we do through Him. He uses us to accomplish His purposes.
“Who strengthens me.” God strengthens us. The Christian’s life is a battle. Satan will attack wherever he can. But God knows everything and provides us with everything we need. He supplies our every need. Sometimes life can seem as if we are wading through treacle, gritting our teeth waiting for the fun ahead. When Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,”(Philippians 4:13), he is not speaking about some sudden empowerment. In 1 Timothy 6 Paul warns Timothy of the days of seeking worldly gain. The temptations of the world will rob us of contentment. Contentment is really to be found in trusting God. As we trust in God it should inform and calm our minds. Contentment does not come overnight. Paul tells us in verse 11 he had to learn to be contented, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”
In verse 12 we are being shown something that was secret, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”Paul makes it clear that contentment requires effort.
We have been called by God to live lives that are holy. We are also to be ready to give a defence for the hope that is within us. Christian contentment is remembering God is with us in all things and in all times.
“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:10-14
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” 1 Timothy 1:15
What is Christmas all about? If you could describe what Christmas is all about, what is the one word you would use? Some may say ‘happiness’, that it is all about being as happy as we could be, having all we want, the most wonderful meal and so on. Others might describe it as ‘kindness’, showing kindness to others, giving to others. Some may say it is all about hope – hoping that things will be different in the future, time spent with family and friends will help us to go forward. But this isn’t what Christmas is all about. The one word which describes what Christmas is all about is ‘sin.’ The true meaning of Christmas, the true reason why Jesus was born, was to save the people from their sins. Go back to the reason why Jesus came into the world and was born in a manger and went to the cross. It is all about sin. This morning, we will look at the important message of why Jesus came into the world, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17).
“I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46).
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” 1 Timothy 1:15. Paul wrote this letter to Timothy whilst Timothy was at Ephesus. He was there as Paul’s representative. At that time, many false teachers were speaking against the gospel. Paul opens up this chapter by contrasting himself from false teachers. This is one of five verses labelled ‘faithful sayings.’ (Other examples can be found in 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus). All start with ‘This is a faithful saying …” They were passed on from person to person in the Christian community during a time when false teaching was being proclaimed.
The importance of Christmas, why Jesus came into the world, is a reliable message. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance,” (1 Timothy 1:15). Jesus came into the world is a reliable message. It was wholeheartedly accepted by everyone, not just Jesus’ followers, but by everyone as a true message. There is absolute confidence in what the verse says. It is to make sure the reader recognises this is something true. Why did Paul remind Timothy of something very basic? Surely Timothy, a leader himself, knew this and did not need reminding? The answer is people always dispute our salvation. The doubt will always arise in our minds. People will always dispute what the Bible says. The words come to us like a granite rock – solid. They are something that would stand the test of time. They are reliable and trustworthy. So important. This is not to be rejected or ignored by others. It is worthy of all acceptance. It is something we can stand upon without hesitation. It is what we need to hear today. We need to hear the truth, not fake news. In our busy lives we need to be reminded of these things (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
The importance of Christmas, why Jesus came into the world, is a powerful message. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). It is easy to think Jesus came to show peace on earth, kindness to others. It is easy to think Jesus coming into the world and going to the cross is a failure. Paul says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). It is the gospel reduced to 8 words. Jesus Christ came into this world. Paul is impressing on us that Jesus was not just a man – He is both God and Man. His coming into the world was not just His beginning; He came from heaven’s glory into the world. The Lord entered the world as an angel of God, speaking to men of faith such as Abraham. But here He takes on flesh and comes as a real man. It was always planned and purpose by the Trinity, sent by the Father to do the Father’s will. His death on Calvary’s cross saved sinners. This was why He came. The purpose of the gospel message, to accomplish salvation by dying on the cross. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, God Himself, became flesh, came into the world to save us from our sin.
The importance of Christmas, why Jesus came into the world, is a personal message. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” 1 Timothy 1:15. Paul says, “Of whom I am the chief.” Many commentators query this. What right has Paul to say this? Can we see Paul as the greatest sinner that has ever lived? He said in the previous chapter what he was like. Was he really the worst of all sinners? This is the way Paul often saw himself – as the least of all the apostles. But why should he see himself in this way? As he grew in knowledge of the Lord and saw his sinful nature, this is how he saw himself. What does it say to us? It invites us to be like Paul and see ourselves as sinners who need saving from our sin. We being the Christian life recognising our sin and need for repentance. As we read God’s Word and what Christ has done and how He suffered for us, the more we learn of our own hearts, we see ourselves as sinners. Paul says, ‘I am the chief of sinners.’ He uses the present tense. It is a reminder, when we come to this verse, we can add our name to it. It reminds us of the only reason why Jesus came into the world. He came into the world to save sinners.
How can I now I am saved, that I will go to glory? If I put myself in that verse, I know I am a sinner, that Jesus came to save me, then that gives you and me the assurance that we are saved, that we are part of Jesus’ elect.
Friends, have you put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Many won’t have anything to do with Jesus and cannot have that assurance. The wonderful thing of this message is Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. He came to die for all. If we can recognise ourselves as sinners, the gospel message is for you. He accepts us if we come to Him.
“But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16). This describes God’s mercy. It saved Paul from his awful background. God was longsuffering towards him. God is longsuffering towards us. He wants us to come to Him today, to receive salvation. He is Lord and Saviour of all.
The final one of the Ten Commandments can be found in Exodus 20:17, “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s.” To a large extent our society today is built on covetousness. We are encouraged in this sin, it is an economic necessity. Our whole lives are increasingly defined not by who we are or what we do but by what we consume. We desire cars, holidays … our days are filled with the never-ending pursuit of more and more, therefore we are constantly breaking this Commandment. This is a very subtle sin, nevertheless, a very dangerous one. It often lies behind many other sins (1 Timothy 6:10). The action of adultery, murdering and stealing break the commandments, but all these begin when we break the 10th Commandment (James 1:14-15). It begins with a desire. It conceives sin. Sin brings death.
What is the sin of coveting? To covet is to strongly desire or delight in something. It is not necessarily a bad thing; a husband and wife should have a strong delight and desire in one another. However, the problem is we do not have the right to enjoy that which belongs to others. Covetousness is the big sister of the twins envy and jealousy. We are often determined in every way to match other people’s lifestyles. This is a destruction for the human heart (Proverbs 14:30, James 4:1-2). Jealousy clings to what we own with a grasping, selfish spirit. Howard Hughes, who died leaving a 2.3 billion estate, was a prisoner of his own fear of losing his own wealth.
Coveting holds firmly to what it has and will not open its hand to give (Psalm 62:10). The classic example in scripture of covetousness is found in 1 Kings 21 in the account of Ahab coveting Naboth’s vineyard. Ahab starts with making a fair offer for the vineyard and is not trying to rip off Naboth. But Naboth has a sense of this is a portion of God’s inheritance, part of his family’s identity. So Ahab sulks and won’t eat. Jezebel, his wife, says, ‘Aren’t you the king? I’ll get it for you.’ And Naboth is murdered. Such blatant wrong doing.
But we covet too. We go into debt to buy things we can’t afford. People covet when they play the national lottery, wanting to get money for what they have not worked. People covet when we spend our time, money and energy on acquiring more possessions and neglect to share with those in need.
Our nation has fallen far short of God’s standards. Advertising fills us with an insatiable appetite for more. The national lottery provides instant riches, yet robs those often least able to afford it. The message is clear – get what you can, however you can. Then we complain (James 3:16) and there is rising crime. We all, myself included, seccumb to the temptation and join in with the covetousness nature of our society. We may object to fat cats but very few of us would turn those salaries down if they were offered to us. We all have a covetousness spirit. And so we stand once again condemned before the Lord.
The problem with covetousness is it destroys contentment (Ecclesiastes 5:10-11). Our contentment is disturbed as our appetite for more of the world increases. We are guilty of being ungrateful to God, thinking that which He has provided for us is insufficient. Instead of thanking God for all we have, we complain we don’t have more – even though we have so much. God has blessed us so much. We have no contentment. There is a second sin, that of pride. We think we deserve more. The very first sin was based on pride. Satan insinuates God has forbidden Eve to eat of the fruit, stopping her being as all-knowing as God is. In Eve’s heart she thinks she deserves to be equal in knowledge with God. When we are envious, we think ‘Why should he have more than me?’ When jealousy grasps, we are saying we deserve it, we have worked hard for it. This is totally unfounded. The truth is, you and I deserve nothing but the wrath of God (I Corinthians 4:6-7). Is it true that because we have a bigger house, a bigger car that we are better than anyone else? We have not earned but received from God’s goodness. When we are not grateful for what God has provided we are guilty of the same sin as Eve. We are coveting. We accuse God of not giving us our just rewards we feel we deserve. What an arrogance! All sin leads to hell but none propels us faster than that of covetousness.
In the New Testament we are told a hallmark of a Christian is contentment. It is the hallmark of Christian maturity (Philippians 4:11, Hebrews 13:5). We are to be content. Covetousness is seen as a force that can shipwreck a Christian’s life (1 Timothy 6:6-10). It is also a sign that a person was not saved in the first place. The Parable of the Sower illustrates this; the seed that falls among thorns portrays an outward expression of faith which doesn’t have a true knowledge of salvation. There is something radically wrong when a believer thinks he deserves better.
The right sort of coveting. The word covet can be used in a positive way. The best way to avoid the wrong kind is to fix your mind on the right kind – coveting Christ, God’s Word and the life to come.
Coveting Christ. In the Song of Solomon we read of a girl who describes her beloved as one who is altogether lovely. She has an overwhelming desire for him. It is a picture of how we should covet the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is the source of lasting contentment. The real desire that brings contentment is to desire Christ. It doesn’t matter then what else we have or don’t have. He is worth more than the whole world (Philippians 4:8). Have a heart full of desire to know Christ. Make Him the fairest of ten thousand to your soul. Dwell with Him. Think upon Him. Delight your soul in Him. Stir the depth of love in your heart for Him. He will satisfy your soul.
Covet the Word of God. Because you love the Lord Jesus Christ you desire to find Him, to see Him, to fellowship with Him in His Word, the Bible (Psalm 19:10). William Tyndale was publically executed in 1536. Why? Because he translated the Bible into English. He wanted the plough boy to read of Christ. The world desires to fill our mind with covetousness thoughts. The Bible fills our minds with praise to our lips and praise to our soul.
Covet the life to come. Set your desires on the lasting blessings of the world to come (Matthew 6:19-21). The attractions of this world are empty baubles compared to Christ and the riches of glory to come. Let us not covet material things of this world and war against spiritual well-being. Let’s covet Christ, His death on the cross which secured life for us.
As we think about Christmas, what is the central characteristic trait you associate with Christmas? Is it generosity? Central to Christmas is humility. If you went and searched the word ‘humility’ on a computer, one of the first things you would find is a quote, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” This is attributed to CS Lewis, however, it is not! The quote doesn’t quite get it right. Romans 12 tells us not to think too highly of ourselves, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think,” (Romans 12:3).
This morning, as we explore Philippians 2:1-11, we are going to start at the end and work our way backwards.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11).
Most commentators seem to agree these verses are some form of first century hymn which praise God and Jesus for what they have done. Paul is painting it as the ultimate picture of humility. These words are really beautiful, powerful and moving. True humility is something truly beautiful but rare. Think of the godliest person you know. Their humility is something that possibly stood out. Some people can be funny, intelligent and sporty – they seem to have everything. We are drawn to such people. Humility is not something we see often; sports celebrities when being interviewed rarely thank those who have helped them along the way. Politicians, more than any, are supposed to represent the people, yet are often referred to as being self-serving.
We see true humility in Philippians chapter 2 – probably where we would least expect it. God, who is worshipped by angels from eternity, is surely the last person you would expect to put people first. In Psalm 113 we see that God is to be praised,
“Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord! Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised! The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!
We see this God of all the nations lifting the needy out of the ash heaps. The God of all glory sees and reaches down. Jesus does exactly the same. Though He is God, He emptied Himself to be born a servant. The divine Son of God humbled Himself! He took on flesh, set aside His power and glory – although He this still belonged to Him.
“Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see, Hail, the incarnate Deity, Pleased, as man, with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel!”.
(Hark the Herald)
He did not relinquish His divine attributes but added humanity. Imagine there is a king ruling over a vast empire. Imagine, one day this king decides he will clean the toilets in the palace. He gets down on his knees. The king is still the king, but he is not using his powers but using his servitude.
Jesus became the suffering servant (Isaiah 53). The divine Son of God entered our messy world and experienced our pain. He mourned, He suffered,
“He walked my road and He felt my pain, Joys and sorrows that I know so well; Yet His righteous steps give me hope again – I will follow my Immanuel.” (‘Immanuel’, Stuart Townend).
Jesus, being a man and walking among us and ultimately dying in our place – Christ’s humilitation.
The 1689 Westminster Confessions states, “He was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfil it, and underwent the punishment due to us, which we should have borne and suffered, being made sin and a curse for us; enduring most grievous sorrows in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified, and died, and remained in the state of the dead, yet saw no corruption: on the third day he arose from the dead with the same body in which he suffered, with which he also ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father making intercession, and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.” (The Baptist Confession of faith, 1689, 8:4).
But why? Why did He have to be humiliated? Why did He become a servant? He had eternal love, majesty and glory. He did not need anything! So why?
(i) It was the only way sinners like us could be saved. Only one could stand in our place. From the moment we entered this world we are sinners. God became man in Christ to save us.
(ii) It was out of obedience to His Father (Philippians 2:8).
(iii) It was out of love both for His Father and His people – those ones He set His love on in eternity past.
(iv) To bring glory to His Father and Himself, as He saves sinners, defeats sin and kills death. Jesus is the divine Son of God, who with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives in love from eternity past.
Jesus is undoing what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden, as they grasped to be like God. His obedience was His exaltation (Philippians 2:9-11). One day every knee will bow before Jesus. Are you bowing the knee, standing before Him in faith or in judgement? One day He will return. He offers new life and a new future – being loved by God and by Him.
Why does Paul quote this hymn? He is trying to encourage humility, sharing Christ’s example. Paul has joy, gratitude and affection for the church in Philippi but he sees persecution, false teaching and disunity. He is worried that disunity will weaken them under persecution. Paul realises humility is the key to unity. Humility puts others first.
How does Paul show them this unity is achieved?
We are to look to Christ’s example. When we want to know how to do something we may often watch a Youtube video and follow the instructions. Paul urges us to follow Christ’s example, to follow in Christ’s footsteps. But there’s a problem for us; we can’t just copy Christ’s example. We need to be made alive before we follow His example. We are all dead in sin, proud by nature, putting ourselves first. Humility is really hard; our sinful hearts are always prideful. Humility does not come naturally to us.
Kane West says he is a born-again Christian, yet a few years back he claimed to be God. If he is truly saved then we will see a radical change in his heart. It doesn’t just come through following Christ’s example but also what Jesus does in us. Paul says to us in verses 1-2 it comes from being in Christ, participating in His Spirit, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
This humility, love and affection comes only as Jesus saves and gives us a new heart and a new life. We have to get to a place where only Jesus can take us. We go where Jesus has gone as we are united to Him in faith. Through Christ’s humility and His exaltation, He fulfils the law. He gives us a new heart which has His law written on it. We are united to Him by His Spirit. He starts to sanctify us.
There is a bit of a dichotomy. Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). Paul tells us to work out our salvation, to work as hard as we can to follow Christ’s example. But he is quick to say Christ works in us. We are to humble ourselves, to put others first.
For us, we are called to follow in Christ’s example, to put others first in humility. Following Christ is following the path to self-sacrifice but also the path to glory. The secret to true humility is to look in faith to Christ and His humiliation and exaltation, and to live by faith in Christ and His exaltation and humiliation.
A recent BBC news article written by a researcher was entitled ‘The Era of declining faith.’ One of the greatest problems is the name over the door of a place of worship. So often that name prevents people from associating with you. We must remember we are members of the body of Christ, of the household of faith. We are not Baptist, not Pentecostal, we belong to the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the head and we are part of the body. We are members of the body of Christ.
During my last sermon we looked at those who bore the testimony of faith and the others. The others were not mentioned by name but were those who walked that path of faith and who continued in the faith. We also looked at what we should be doing and the hindrances that hold us back. We are not to get entangled in the yoke of bondage but to lay aside entanglements that hinder our testimony, the sin that so easily ensnares us, the pollution of the world. We often, as Christians, like to sit on the fence. We don’t like others to know we are Christians and hide Christ. Some Christians speak to other Christians lovingly, but then speak to others in a totally different way. The language we use with each other is the language we should use with others.
We should run with patience the race that is set. So often we’re so impatient we’re not prepared to listen. We need to run with endurance. What is the race that is set before us? It’s primarily run by Christians. Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour? Do you know what a Christian should look like?
The people who know the Lord Jesus Christ are called the Elect, the saints of God. The first people to be called Christians were at Antioch. The word Christian is only used three times in the Bible. A Christian is a person who has confessed Jesus as Saviour, who is born again of God, born of the Spirit, washed in His blood. Christ has redeemed us, bought us to Himself by His precious blood. Zechariah 4:6.
Saying you are a Christian does not make you a Christian. Have you been born of God, redeemed by His precious blood? Jonah made this wonderful testimony when vomiting out of the big fish, ‘Salvation is of the LORD,’ (Jonah 2:9).
So we’ve been redeemed. In this race that we’re in there are visitors and those who will try to prevent us from running it. The race has been determined already, set out by God Himself. The length of the race has been appointed already. There is an opposition to us running that race. But the Bible tells us we will be victorious because God is in that race. He will be with us. We’re running here in Roch. Every part of us is in that race. You cannot be a Christian today and not tomorrow, a Christian in the chapel today and not tomorrow outside. You belong to Jesus and Jesus belongs to you. You cannot be a part-time Christians. We’re in His race. It involves every part of us; physically, emotionally and spiritually. Jesus saved every part of us and brought us to newness of life. We are a new creation. He has changed a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. The race is run in the world.
There’s a prize – eternal glory. Are you excited about the glory to come? Jesus has gone back into heaven, He is crowned with glory and honour. He’s promised that glory to every believer in Christ – the eternal glory, born of His Spirit, born of His blood. John 17:24. In the race we are running we are being changed day by day, being more like Him.
It’s a race of endurance, looking to Jesus. How wonderful! The Lord Jesus Christ is the example, He is the one who has gone before us, He is the forerunner in this race. There is nothing that we will experience in this race that He can’t help us with and guide us with. There isn’t a situation that you will ever come across that He can’t help with. In Galatians 2:20 we read Paul was crucified with Christ, yet alive. Christ lives in me. He is the one who has died for us.
Sometimes, in our Christian life, we don’t want to face situations we don’t want – suffering, those who will hate us. John 17:14. The Lord Jesus Christ said we will suffer if we stand for Him.
There are also other runners in this race. Matthew 13, the Parable of the tares and wheat illustrates this. Wheat has a very identifiable head but the tares, a type of rye grass, are very similar. In the parable the servant recognised in the field something else was growing besides the wheat. He pointed it out to the owner, who said it must not be pulled up but grow together with the wheat. It would be rooted out at harvest time and burned. This speaks of judgement. In churches there are those who are true believers and those who are not. Some never trust Christ as their Saviour but attack Christians. Being a member of a church doesn’t say you know Christ as your Saviour.
To know Christ is to confess Him as Saviour, being washed by His previous blood. You need to know where you stand. We need to know the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew 11:28. We need to share Christ with others. We are to live Christ, to live for the glory of Christ. As we run this race He wants us to share Him, to bring satisfaction to His Name. As we share Christ in our Christian path, others will want to know Christ.
The same one who has run that race, a perfect race, is the same one who is helping us to run that race, who wants us to share Christ, live for His glory and be a testimony. Let us not be afraid of the Word of God. Live it! Run it! Come unto Him, Isaiah 40, For His glory and His Praise.
‘Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.’
God has highly exalted Jesus and given Him a name, a name above every name. Jehovah has always been there but now He is Jehovah Saviour.
Peter says, in Acts 2, that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, Jehovah Saviour. We celebrate His birthday, but it should not just be 25th December, but all year.
We have traded the Christ of Christmas and brought Him down to nothing. Yet God has highly exalted Him. If God thinks so much of His Son, why shouldn’t we?
In the Bible names characterize a person; parents give names as a desire to be part of their character and what they should do. God has changed names. Many parents decide what they want their children to be like but God may have a different purpose.
Olivia comes from the root word ‘olive’. An olive is a very important plant used for sacrificial oil. Olivia means peace. I wonder, when we give our children names, do they live up to their name? There are lots of Johns at Penuel. John means ‘God is gracious.’ This name gives a massive responsibility. We have the name ‘Chris.’ There are no Christopher’s in the Bible but Chris is a shortened version of Christ and means a follower of Christ, a carrier of Christ. There is a desire of parents or God to display characteristics of a name. Are we displaying the responsibility of who we are as Christians in this world?
In Genesis 17 we read how God called Abram out of the land he was in. Abram was already exalted, already displaying the characteristics God saw in him. God calls us and transforms us like unto Himself. God called Abram, He told him He would make him ‘the father of many nations’ (Genesis 17:6), a father of multitudes. So God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. Abram was already an exalted father caring for his whole family but God wanted something bigger, more wonderful, to make him highly exalted. God planned for him to be ‘the father of many nations’ (Genesis 17:4). Through Abraham’s offspring, his seed Isaac, God would establish His plans. Abraham later married again after his wife died, having six sons. Today, in the Middle East, Abraham is still referred to as their father. He is the father of every child of faith. We too can look to Abraham as our father.
Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, was also known as Israel. At the end of his life (Genesis 49), he called his family together to bless them. He called his firstborn, Reuben, whose name means excellence, power and dignity. But unfortunately Reuben did not live up to his name and Jacob called him ‘unstable as water’ (Genesis 49:4). He called his next two sons, Simeon and Levi, ‘instruments of cruelty’ (Genesis 49:5). Here was a disappointed father. Then he called Judah; he was so pleased Judah had lived up to the qualities and characteristics of his name. Judah was the premier tribe who led Israel into battle. From the line of Judah came Jesus. John, in his vision, saw it was the ‘Lion of the tribe of Judah’ who can open the seven seals (Revelation 5:5).
Today we celebrate the name above all names, the one who will lead forth the armies of God. He is the one we read of in Genesis 49:10, ‘The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.’
Jacob looked forward to the day when Shiloh would come. Shiloh means peace, Jesus is the King of peace. Are we looking forward to the day when Christ will come? On December 25th how much of our thoughts will be on the Christ of Christmas? Christ is the one who is worthy.
Abram means exalted father. Abraham means highly exalted father. God has transformed him. This is what God has done with us, He has taken the Johns and the Chris’ and given us a new name, ‘But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name’ (John 1:12). We are ‘sons of God.’ It’s a position, we are no longer known by name but by our position.
God gave His Son a new name; He has given us a new name and He wants us to live up to that name. Jesus, who was so highly exalted, became so low. He came, not touched by human hand, but placed into the womb by the Holy Spirit. He was born, lived and died in my place on Calvary. What great condescension! He came down that He might raise us up. As He is exalted, so we are too. This is an everlasting covenant, this is glory. We are joint heirs with Christ. We will reign with Him forever.
Lots of people try to take Christ out of Christmas, changing it to Xmas. But we can’t take Christ out of Christmas or Xmas. Even ‘x’ the 22nd letter of the Greek alphabet (pronounced ‘chi’), means ‘Christ.’ Even though we try to take Christ out of Christmas, we can’t.
Don’t forget Christ this Christmas, don’t set Him aside. He is the greatest gift of all.