Empty people finding fullness

Jesus begins his ministry by announcing that ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’. He has come to implement all God has in mind for the world.

His kingdom will be an arena, not just for fixing problems and managing our messiness, but for creating lovers of God who are devoted to his project.

So, Jesus explains what people in this kingdom look like—very much like himself of course—because he is not just the King but the prototype of what a subject is.

This, of course, amounts to a declaration of war. People who don’t already love God will not be interested in his way of life. Even the birth of Jesus is seriously contested. The local man in charge kills hundreds of children in an attempt to head-off any competition for control.

Things haven’t changed much. In many countries, including our own, Jesus is downplayed and his people maligned as harmful. If God is for real, and if Jesus has come to reveal him, the world recognises a rival, meaning that those who believe in him should be cancelled.

We need to know who God congratulates for getting things right. Jesus teaches us a number of ‘beatitudes’ (Matthew 5:2-10). But the word usually translated ‘blessed’ actually means to be congratulated or happy.

First, the people who have chosen well and have a good future are those who are ‘poor in spirit’.

Jesus is not saying it’s good to be depressed. Rather, he commends the person who knows that everything they really need and value in their life is going to have to come from someone else. That’s how poor they are. They feel this deeply—they are poor in spirit

There’s a story in the Old Testament about the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon. She sees his wealth. She hears his wisdom. And we are told that there is ‘no more spirit in her’ (1 Kings 10:5). Alongside of him, her wealth and wisdom are nothing.

Jesus does this to all of us. For a while, we think we can run our lives, change some things around us, keep ourselves happy and anticipate a good life. This soon runs thin.

Then, we see Jesus. He is not living for himself but for his Father—God. He doesn’t restlessly accuse us. He understands that our bluster is shallow and that we are really empty. And, he gives himself to us, and we know this. We begin to see that he’s the rich one and we are those in need.

Jesus demonstrates how to live in a world God looks after. He heals many who are sick. He delivers some who have fallen into the hands of evil spirits. He knows what he’s doing. Even better, he knows what God is doing. He’s believable. He’s real.

That’s when we become ‘poor in spirit’. If our life is going to amount to anything, it is going to have to start and finish knowing he’s the one who gets things right. He’s dwarfed us in the way he lives and speaks. But he doesn’t make dwarfs of us. He promises we will inherit God’s kingdom. We’ll be God’s special people—and he will be in charge of everything.

That’s why we are to be congratulated now. The reward is coming. But the congratulation is for now. We’ve chosen well.

Real comfort for grieving people (republished)

The second beatitude—or congratulation—says the people to be congratulated are those who are mourning. They will be comforted.

Perhaps we are grieving our own failure. We may be grieving over what loved ones are doing. We may be grieving as we see our culture moving from things that are helpful to things that self-destruct.

If we think we are the answer to the problem, we have not understood how deep the problem is. If we merely complain, or wish things hadn’t gone wrong, nothing changes.

Our problems are the necessary revelation of a disease that’s deep and deadly. There is only one Saviour.

We need to learn to grieve. It’s actually God’s gift to us (Zechariah 12:10).                                                                         This is not being morbid or introspective. It’s acknowledging that our sins, and the sins that happen to or around us are real and have profound results.

Jesus says those who choose to grieve rather than evade reality will be comforted. Perhaps he has in mind what he says a few chapters after this one. ‘Come to me all you who are weary and weighed down. I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:29).

Jesus will have to deal with the real causes of the problem in us if he is going to bring us any relief. It will cost him his life to bring the help that is needed.

Jesus tells us not to be troubled (John 14:1, 27). But then, he has already said that said that his own heart is deeply troubled (John 12:27-33). He is contemplating the death where he will bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. The Lord will lay on him all our sins (Isaiah 53:4-6).

This is the comfort Jesus is promising when he says the grieving ones are to be congratulated. Not only do we have someone to deal with our sins. We have a message and a hope to bring to the whole world.

And of course, we will be part of the new world Christ is making by trusting him. That’s part of the comfort. What happens when Jesus deals with our grief is real, and lasting.

It will be good to look at the rest of these beatitudes one by one. But I hope, already, that we are seeing that, by sending Jesus to us, God is taking charge and putting things right. And he shows us how to be part of this kingdom, how to be on ‘the right side of history’, and so, to be congratulated.

Jesus is speaking to us, right to where we are, and promising a real and wonderful future. And it’s beginning now.

Change that goes to the heart of things

When Jesus comes among us, he needs to recalibrate our thinking as to what makes up a good life. Here’s the third of his ‘beatitudes’.

The meek are to be congratulated and they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5-6).

We would say the strong and assertive are those who inherit the earth. Jesus knows better. A little later, he says that he himself is meek and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:28-30)—and he is going to inherit the earth.

Meekness is hard to define and harder to have! It has to do with how we relate to others. It’s not just avoiding being pushy. It’s not just being weak. It’s not just checking our impatience. It’s a deeply felt belief that we are here to help others but not to control them.

Remember that Jesus has begun his ministry announcing the kingdom of heaven is near. The question this raises is: who is in charge of everything? Or, who is responsible for saving the earth?

We tend to think our ideas are best, that people should do things our way. But if Jesus is the Saviour of the world, we need to be a step or two behind what he is doing rather than running the show.

This doesn’t make us weak in playing our part in human relationships. If anything, it makes us more sure-footed. Moses demonstrates this. He is ‘very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth’ (Num. 12:3). But he confronts a world leader and frees slaves. His meekness has nothing to do with being a doormat for others tread on. 

However, if we are truly meek, other people can tell the difference. They know they have a place around us. They know they won’t get run over. They may even ask questions.

Remember that when Jesus says he is meek and lowly in heart, he’s inviting weary people to come to him—weary with trying to make something of themselves.

We’ve got good reason to live this way. When Jesus says the meek will inherit the earth, he’s quoting Psalm 37. The Lord will deal with those who are doing wrong. Our part is to trust the Lord, delight in him, be still and patient and refrain from anger (vv. 1-11).

It comes back to knowing that the King is in charge. It’s not our will that’s important, or the will of others. It’s the will of the King that will prevail and obedience to him that will make it happen. Under that, we all have our place and meekness welcomes this.

Satisfied! With righteousness

Jesus tells us that those who hunger for righteousness are doing well. They will receive, abundantly, what they long for (Matthew 5:6).

Righteousness, as Jesus describes it, is obeying God’s commands (5:17-20). But then, as he continues to teach, we find it is not just compliance but a hearty agreement with what God wants. Jesus tells us to be perfect like our heavenly Father is perfect (5:48).

But what kind of person is hungry for righteousness? Most of us think it’s something we have plenty of. We do the right thing—mostly. And we spend a lot of time and energy defending it. We don’t understand the word ‘hungry’ when it comes to righteousness.

And there’s another problem. Our natural self is saying, ‘My idea is best!’ God’s requirements seem like an intrusion.

Into this situation comes Jesus. And he begins by demonstrating what hunger for righteousness looks like. He insists on John baptizing him. He ‘hungry’ to get this done (Matt. 3:15). He has no lack of righteousness himself, but he wants us to be obedient children of God. His obedience to the Father is going to make it happen.

Then, Jesus shows us what God’s righteousness looks like. He saves people from their sicknesses. He teaches the truth in a way that is riveting. Many are finding that God is real and that he is reaching out to them.

Jesus is providing an appetizer! We are never going to do what God wants if we are not attracted by who he is.

Isaiah said this would happen: God delighting our hearts and making us thankful; God making us like sturdy trees—tall and righteous, and getting on with the things that need doing (Isaiah 61:1-4).

Does this whet our appetite? We all want upright people to govern us, or to be our neighbours. But what about us?

We really need to be filled with righteousness—preferring what God wants. This is what we are made for. We damage ourselves and defraud those around us when we don’t follow what he says. Sometimes, things need to go wrong before we long for what God wants (Psalm 119 :71).

Perhaps we’ve been hungry and not understood our pain. Jesus knows we need lots of things but tells us to seek God’s reign and righteousness first (Matt. 6:33). God can look after all the other things, but we need to be hungry for righteousness.

So, how does this happen?

Jesus tells us about a tax collector who is broken by his miserable life. He’s defrauded people and kept God at a distance—until now. He asks God to be merciful to him—a sinner (Luke 18:13-14).

Here’s the punch line. Jesus says he goes back to his home a righteous man—or justified. He’s been hungering for righteousness. And now, he’s filled!

Later on, Jesus will tell a lame man that his sins are forgiven (Matthew 9:2). He is able to say this because he will offer up his own body as an offering for them, and for ours as well (Matt. 26:28).

All of us need this thorough wash out of who we are—our unholy desires and crippling guilt. We need to believe in this act of Jesus on our behalf. And we need to hear God calling us righteous. That’s right, God calls us righteous (Isa. 53:11-12; Rom. 3:22).

Now, our protests and pomp drop away and we find God is someone to love. And so is our neighbour. All the rules we thought were a bother are now a good way to live.

Paul tells us what’s happened. ‘The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age’ (Titus 2:11-12).

All this is better than breakfast! We’re hungry, and being satisfied, all at the same time. And we are being congratulated!

Gentled by mercy

The people Jesus congratulates are those who show mercy. They are the one who will receive mercy from God (Matthew 5:7). This is not new. King David recognises that God has mercy on those who show mercy (Psalm 18:20-25). 

People who need mercy are in trouble. They may be desperate. They may be the reason for their own problems. But people who show mercy see beyond this and give what they can to help. They have been gentled by mercy and know that God does more than expect everyone to ‘do the right thing’.

Jesus is often showing mercy to needy people. In this Gospel, two groups of blind men cry out for mercy (9:27; 20:30-31). A distressed father kneels and ask for mercy for his sick son (17:15). A foreign lady cries out persistently and kneels to ask for mercy for her sick daughter (15:22). And Jesus helps them all.

Some call Jesus ‘Son of David’—Israel’s promised deliverer. They may know the promises God has made to send a Messiah who will act mercifully. So, showing mercy is important for Jesus, and for us who belong in his kingdom.

Our tendency is to expect justice and forget mercy. But while we’re doing this, God is upholding us, being kind to us, generous to us. He’s not asking if we are worthy. He’s just seeing us as needy people and reaching out to help. Jesus didn’t come to help people who think they are righteous. He came to help sinners (Matt. 9:13: 12:7).

Pleasing God, means doing what is right, and loving mercy (Mic. 6:8). God himself reveals his justice by having mercy on us (Isaiah 30:18).  And this is what he is doing when Jesus dies for our sins (Romans 3:25). 

If all we want is for things to be ‘right’, we lose our way, and our peace, and God’s mercy. And if we think someone is not worthy of our attention, we’re thinking legally, not mercifully. 

Jesus makes an issue of this in a story he tells (Matthew 18:21-35). A man badly in debt pleads not to be sold as a slave, and promises to find the money. Instead of this, his creditor forgives the whole debt. But then, this forgiven man demands payment of a very small sum from someone else. 

When the first creditor hears of this, he runs the ungrateful man off to jail. Jesus tells this story to warn us. If we don’t forgive others as we have been forgiven, we have not understood forgiveness. Effectively, we’ve not been forgiven. The results of being without mercy are severe.

But this story isn’t just a warning. It tells us that mercy doesn’t begin with us. Jesus is among us. He is going to reveal and secure God’s mercy to us (Luke 1:77-78). He simply asks us to acknowledge the compassion we’ve received and to share the mercy with others. 

On four occasions in this Gospel, Jesus explains to Pharisees that they should offer mercy to the needy rather than parade their performance. Twice, he quotes God’s word. ‘I desire mercy rather than sacrifice’. 

Perhaps we need mercy from God for our legal mindset (Matt. 23:23). And certainly, all of us need to know that we have not deserved anything we have received. Without Jesus as Lord, we also would be lost and hopeless. We need to know how pitiable we are. And then we say—with all God’s people, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David’.

This is the way that our life becomes beautifully uncomplicated. And Jesus says we should be congratulated!

Being pure, and seeing God are what matter

We continue looking at the beatitudes in the teaching of Jesus. Here, it’s the pure in heart who should be congratulated. They are going to see God (Matthew 5:8).

Jesus is showing us what life is like when he is in charge—when he establishes God’s kingdom. So, what he teaches is a call for us to choose. Do we admire the bold and the beautiful, or the pure in heart? Jesus says it needs to be the latter. 

Seeing God is not a rare experience for saints and mystics. Everyone needs to know that they will see God. We’ve been made in his image. He is our goal. Without this promise we are living at odds with our proper destiny.

So, purity of heart, the only way to get to see God, is a deep need. To ignore it is dangerous.

Someone with a pure heart is a very practical person—someone we’d like to have as a neighbour.  David tells us that they do what is right, speak what is true, and never hurt a friend. They do what they say they will—even when it turns out to be a bigger job than they thought it would be (Psalm 15).

Purity is everything we do in life—with all its compartments being focused on one thing. David wants an ‘undivided heart’—focused on God and on receiving his favour (Psalm 86:11, 17). 

So, how do we come by a pure heart?

First, we need to receive what Jesus does on our behalf.

God promised a Savior who would purify his people (Malachi 3:1-4). This is who Jesus is. He will purify his people totally (Matthew 3:10-12). 

Jesus spends a lot of time teaching us how to live well but knows that purity must be alive before it can grow. Our affections are hopelessly compromised—basically dead. We don’t really want to see God.

So, Jesus must give himself to us, and for us—as a husband to a bride—to purify us (Ephesians 5:26). He purifies us to be a people who are eager to do good things (Titus 2:14). Our hearts must be cleansed by faith, not by gradual improvement (Acts 15:9). 

When we believe Jesus died in our place—for our sins, we are purified (1 Peter 1:17-22). We are ready to stand in God’s presence! We can never be the same again!

Jesus knows what he is going to do, and he knows it will be effective. That’s why he can promise that we will see God.

Second, we need to make purity a way of life.

The person who writes Psalm 119 asks how a young person can keep himself pure. He or she must carefully read and be led by God’s word (v. 9).

This Psalm goes on to show how we need this word every day and for every situation. God is our Maker after all (v. 73), and he must know what is good.

But the writer is not suggesting we should read our Bibles like a text book. The Psalm is really a prayer. He knows God. This is why he wants to be pure. He knows God is altogether good and strong. 

So, with this writer, we can ask God to give us understanding. We can talk with him about the difficulties we have getting things right. And we can ask for wisdom. In his presence, we can accept the knocks that come our way—to show us we are off track and that we need to take his word more seriously (v. 67-71, 75). 

Purity is not just about us getting our life in order. It’s about sharing life with the Lord. He’s what makes purity worthwhile. So, we need to seek him eagerly (v. 10). 

As we continue to read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), Jesus gives examples of practical purity—not just keeping rules to impress people.

And Paul tells us … that those who have been purified by Christ will be eager to do good things (Titus 2:14).

Sometimes, we do need to take ourselves in hand. As James says, we need to purify ourselves because we have divided loyalties (James 4:8). 

Finally, when Jesus says we will see God, he’s talking about our future.

We will see Christ. And in seeing Christ, we will be seeing God. The event will be so powerful that we will be transformed to be like our Saviour in an instant (1 John 3:3). This is a powerful incentive to purify ourselves in readiness for that day. 

In fact, we have already seen the glory of God in the face of Christ—through the word of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:6). And if we keep looking there, we are being transformed little by little while we wait for the final day (2 Corinthians 3:18).

If this is how you see your life, Congratulations!

Life forever. What does it look like?

There are some things in life we can live without—lots of them really. But there’s one thing we can’t do without—eternal life. John writes a letter in our New Testament, especially so we can be sure we have eternal life (1 John 5:13-21).

This life forever is not just living after we die. It’s personally knowing the God who made everything—and knowing him as our Father (John 17:3). And this is what Jesus promises to those who believe he is God’s Son (John 10:28).

We need this sense of permanence and of knowing our Maker, not just when our time comes to die, but for everyday living. We need it so we can be who we really are. Those who don’t know God as their Father, and who expect to be simply snuffed out after a few decades are not really ready to live (Hebrews 2:15).

We have a sense of eternity built into us (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Whole cultures and religions grow up around this reality, as well as many vague ideas. So, we need to know what is true.

Jesus shows us that the alternative to having eternal life is perishing or remaining under God’s judgement (John 3:14-18). He tells us he will be ‘lifted up’—a reference to his crucifixion—and that we need to look to him. Only Jesus, who has dealt with death, can promise eternal life and this is why we need to confess that he is God’s Son.

From one point of view this is very simple. We read or hear about Jesus. We are drawn to him. We believe God has sent him to us, that he is his Son. We are persuaded that he is speaking to us in love (John 6:68). We believe him. And we have eternal life.

But then, it’s not so simple. None of us comes to Christ naturally. It’s a gift (Matthew 11:27; John 10:29). If you find yourself confessing that Jesus is God’s Son, it’s because God has shown this to you, and drawn you to himself.

When this happens, everything in this life has an eternal feel to it. Nothing is just going to be snuffed out—not us, not what we’ve done, and not the relationships we have shared with others who have eternal life.

So, John is writing his letter to say we can be sure we have eternal life—that is, everyone who confesses that Jesus is God’s Son. John tells us three things about this eternal life—how it works out in three particular circumstances. (The references below are to this passage.)

First, when we pray. Second, when in see fellow Christians sinning. Third, when the world calls our faith fairy tales. Any of these things can threaten our confidence that we actually have eternal life.

So, first. We can expect God to hear our prayers (vv. 14-15). If we ask for things in line with God’s purposes, we will get what we have asked for.

If we want to work for a particular company, or play for a certain club, we would find out what they want, how they work, what their goals are. Then, we would throw ourselves into help make this happen.

It’s like this with our praying. We’ve found that God is trustworthy and generous. We know him as our Father. So, we find out what he is about, and then ask for things that fit his plan. And things happen.

This is deeply satisfying and very useful. But it’s also eternal—that is, what happens will be not just create history. It will be immortalized in God’s coming kingdom (Mathew 25:37-40; Revelation 14:13).

Then, second. We might be anxious when we see a fellow Christian caught up in some wrong-doing. But we can tell the difference between a sin that is fatal and one that isn’t (vv. 16-18).

Putting it simply, a person who commits a sin that leads to death doesn’t have eternal life. That’s obvious. But John has already told us that Christians do sin (1:8; 2:1) and feel guilty (3:20). But some sins don’t lead to death. And our prayers at this point can make a difference.

An example may help. Peter denies Jesus after promising that he will be faithful. Clearly, he sins.

But Jesus has already told him that he will pray for him—that his faith will not fail (Luke 22:32). He also anticipates his repentance and future helpfulness to other Christians. His sin does not cause him to lose eternal life. It isn’t a sin that results in death.

A sin that leads to death is one we won’t confess (1:9). It’s one we won’t believe Jesus dies for (2:1). It’s one we have no real intention of stopping (3:8-10).

But, if you or I have been drawn to Christ, we have been born into the Father’s family and can’t keep on sinning. We hate what we’ve done. We run to Christ, are washed clean and eagerly desire to remain so.

It’s only by knowing God and walking honestly before him that we can recognise the difference between sins. But any sinning remains dangerous. So, we pray for one another as Jesus prayed for Peter. I’m sure there are fellow Christians who have seen me playing with fire, and prayed that my faith would not fail.

Eternal life enables us to share with God in his great project to save his people. We pray. God gives life. Satan can’t ‘get to’ this person and take them captive.

And third. We can know we are genuine or real when the world calls our faith a fairy tale (vv. 19-20). Eternal life come to us with its own built-in authenticity.

John says there are three things we know are real. Translations usually read ‘true’ here but the word actually means real. [There are two Greek words for true: alétheia—the opposite of false, and aléthinos—the opposite of unreal. This is aléthinos.]

Christians know God. They know he is real. They understand that all reality begins with him and with our confession that this is so.

The world begins with what it can see and control. That’s what it calls real. Everything else, they say, arises from that—things like ideas, beliefs, ideologies and laws.

But the reality is that God has made the world. He is what is real. Everything else exists because he makes it. It’s the opposite of what the world is saying. Encountering God as Father through Jesus breaks through this lie and shows us God who is true, or real.

Then, we are in him who is true. This is because eternal life is a relationship. We don’t just know about God. We know him. And we know he knows us. We live in his presence and by his speaking and his loving.

If there is any reality about a Christian, this is it. We have all messed things up—badly. And we go on getting things wrong. Our reality is not what we are, or what we may promise to be. Just ask Peter.

Our genuineness is from being in him who is true (John could mean God or Jesus).  For example, love is not from us. It’s from God (4:10).

It’s God who is real. And what he makes shares in that reality (3:9; 4:4-6). Our whole life is what it is because of Jesus Christ (cf. John 7:37-39). Nothing else can last forever.

That’s why we need Jesus to have eternal life. Only Christ can stand before God and hold his head high. We need to know and confess that he is the Son of God—the one who washes us clean with his blood.

Satan, by clever talk and deception presents an opposite view of what is real—but it’s only ideas—an ideology.

The world looks at us and only sees a human being but our life is ‘coming down’ from God. We can see the God who is real, and live in him. That’s reality! And all this happens simply by confessing that Jesus is God’s Son.

So, don’t settle for idols which are have no real correspondence to what is real (v. 21). They can’t offer eternal life.

The whole human race is divided into two groups—those who know God is real and that their life comes from God, and the rest of the world which ‘lies in the power of the evil one’.

Here’s how the comparison works out. Jesus is totally real. He has come, and has given understanding—the verbs indicate something that goes on being effective. Jesus is entirely authentic—unselfish, holy and powerful.

But Satan is pure sleight of hand, ambition and pride. Well may we shudder over what Satan is capable of and of what it means to be in his power (John 12:31).

So, let’s trust in the name of the Son of God. He has come, given us understanding to know the real God, and be in the real God through his Son. He is the real God and eternal life.

God’s love for fearful people

Uncertainty is part of life, but there’s some things God wants us to be sure of. In this chapter of John’s letter (1 John 4:14-21), there are two that he mentions. First, we can be sure we are loved by God (v. 16). And because of this, we can be confident to stand before God on judgement day (v. 17).

Being confident about what will happen to us when we die gives us confidence about life generally. And its God’s love working in us that will make the difference.

It is fashionable in our communities to ridicule the idea of life after death and a judgement to come.  Some think it’s a cruel fiction to keep people under control. Many treat it as a joke.

But a judgement day is coming. Jesus speaks about it often. And the apostles are clear about it. God has raised Jesus from the dead to give us clear evidence that there is life after death. And Jesus is the one to whom we will have to answer (Acts 17:31).

Whatever we think about this, we can’t escape the reality of being responsible to God. He’s made us so that we are always aware that we should be doing good things and turning away from what is bad—even if our definition of this is different to God’s. We have a conscience. We are incurably moral!

Having a bad conscience is painful. Some people spend years ‘making up’ for what they have done. And keeping a good conscience is hard work. We have to have reasons why our critics are wrong.

Conscience is like an early warning system—an alarm to tell us that danger is coming. If we do wrong, we fear we will get what we deserve. 

Conscience is also like a shadow. If we are in the light, it’s there. God shines on us—his creatures. And his light casts a shadow we can’t avoid. We know we’re responsible to someone. 

Many try to deaden this sense, but it turns up anyway. The fear of there being a God to whom we must answer one day won’t go away (Heb. 2:14-15).

That is, unless we discover that we are loved by God. Here’s some points that John makes. They all begin with ‘c’ to help keep them in mind.

First, Christ has come. God Son has come into this world to be its Saviour (v. 14). John has seen him. He’s telling us what he’s heard and touched. And there’s no-one else who can promise us eternal life (John 6:68)—that is, life beyond judgement.

Sending his Son is a very personal act for God to take and he means us to take notice (Luke 20:13).

He sent him among us to make propitiation, or be a sacrifice for our sins (v. 10). Propitiation is Jesus preventing God’s anger from reaching us. 

God feels very deeply about our sins. We try to be a small target and make little of what we do wrong. But God is offended by our ignoring him. If he wasn’t, he would be saying that we don’t matter. But we do matter to God—and what we do matters. That’s why our conscience tells us our sinning is not OK. The ‘shadow’ is there. 

And Jesus sees this is the trouble we’ve got. He wants us to know his Father like he does and is willing to bear God’s offence with us—instead of it reaching us. Everything here is very personal.

Second, we confess that Jesus is the Saviour of the world (v. 15).

Confessing something like this is more than just doing some history or theology. We’ve discovered God loves us and is speaking to us. We know Jesus is his Son. We know he’s laid down his life for us. From now on, God is very close and personal.

We sometimes talk about people bouncing off each other like billiard balls. But the gospel penetrates our exterior toughness. We were being stalked by our ‘shadow’. But then, a Saviour is announced. He comes closer to us than this shadow. And we find ourselves confessing, gratefully, that Jesus is God’s Son.

Third, we are being courted (vv. 15-16). This may not the best word to use but it does start with ‘c’! 

When we confess that Jesus is God’s Son, we have come to live in God and God has come to live in us. This is the language of love—personal giving to one another. We have come to know the love God has for us. This is what happens in a courtship.

In fact, we are in a covenant with God—like a marriage. And the bond is validated by Christ’s blood. That’s more than courting, but in fact, we are discovering love. God is giving to us what is precious to him and what we deeply need. God is living for us and we are now living for God.

Fourth, all this leads to confidence.

John tells us two things that will give us confidence. 

We—on earth, are like Jesus—in heaven. Think about this. Jesus is in God’s presence—magnificent in holy victory. He’s made an end of the offence we caused God. And God loves his Son for what he has done. And the Son is delighting in that! 

And we are like that—now, in this world! That is, God’s love for us and delight in us is the same as it is for his Son. We are accepted ‘in the Beloved’ Son (Ephesians 1:6). 

Then, this amazing love of God is ‘made complete among us.’ What starts in heaven is now operating among us. We know God is true, we know what he has done, and we love. Love has changed our whole situation. Bitterness, suspicion, anger and envy are gone.

And so has fear! Love throws fear out of the picture. We are ready for judgement day (v. 17)—happy to meet God. 

God’s love has landed, not just on our planet but right here. He lives in us so that his love is formed in us and among us. And we live in him, dependently and gratefully.

And the result of all this is confidence for judgement day! People with confidence like this are also ready for life here and now. 

We all have fears to face—of what happens in our world, of what the doctor might say, of what our family is doing or how the bills will be paid. But none of this comes as accusation and blame. That’s been settled. We know where we stand—with God. And we have access to his grace.

We are ready to serve God and our neighbour. We’ve heard the early warning of judgement and run to Christ. We know that the shadow we make is created by a Light we now know as our Saviour.

Is the world safe?

The Bible is peppered with God’s promises. They are the certainties we need to know as we navigate our way through all that happens in this world.

Politicians know they must promise something to have us vote for them. But they can’t ensure that what they promise will happen. Only God can do that!

Here’s some of the first promises God makes (See Genesis 3:15; 8:20—9:17).

The first is announced to Adam and Eve in Eden. They have asserted their independence from God and want to determine what is right and wrong for themselves. Because of this, as God had told them, they will die. 

And since then, we all die. And we must deal with many threats and uncertainties along the way. Death, and the fear of it, lingers closely. 

But immediately, God makes this promise. Adam and Eve will have a child who will undo the mischief caused by Satan’s deadly temptation (Genesis 3:15). It will come at a cost to the promised child, but shows, immediately, that God’s enemy will never have the last word.

We can think this is just a quaint story, or we can see it he one chance we have to live a full life. 

The story that follows in the book of Genesis bears this out (chapters 3—5). The people who believe God’s promise find some poise and certainty, and generosity in life. Those who won’t believe this promise feel threatened, become angry, grasping and even cruel.

The child God has promised will be no less than his own Son—Jesus Christ. And the rest of the Bible is the story of this unfolding—as we shall see. But, already, God’s promise changes how people live.

Then, there’s another great promise.

By the time of Noah, the earth has become so violent that God promises to destroy it. Except for Noah and his family. God will gracious to him (Genesis 6:8). He must build what amounts to a floating zoo to house his family and many animals. 

The flood that then comes is so comprehensive that only those floating in the ark survive. God is starting again with a new couple. The story is quite long (Genesis 6—9), but, at the end of it, Noah says thankyou with a sacrificial offering. 

And God makes a promise. ‘I will never again strike down every creature as I have done’ (Genesis 8:21-22). And the next line is very important—seasons and harvests will continue as long as the earth remains.

This is a promise to all of us—all of Noah’s descendants. God is establishing a relationship or covenant with the human race. He will never again reduce the world to a single family with a flood like the one they have just had. This is what we are to remember when we see a rainbow in the sky. Seasons and harvests will continue.

Think of the difference it makes if you have a promise that the Creator will see to it that harvests will continue.

But most interesting is the reason why this is so. ‘The intention of men’s hearts is evil from his youth’. This is the same reason God has for flooding the earth (Genesis 6:5). Nothing has really changed. But God’s relationship to what he has made is a relationship of grace. We are not going to get what we deserve. We’ll get what he has promised.

If this is what we believe, it makes a huge difference! Without it, we become threatened, anxious, angry, grasping, and even cruel. But believing God’s promise can make us trusting, settled, and even generous.

As we think about people around us, we can tell them what Paul says. ‘We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. … He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy’ (Acts 14:15-16).

Right now, we are facing a massive food shortage around the world. But, in fact, the world is producing more food than ever before. We don’t do very well distributing it evenly. But think of the difference it will make if we believe that God has promised never to destroy the means of production.

God has promised this, not because we deserve it. We never will. He’s promised it because he is kind. And not for any other reason.But there’s still the promise of a child to come. And this is where the next promises will take us.

Who can we trust?

Everything we do in life needs some confidence that it might work out well. And God has not left us in the dark about this. From the beginning, he has surrounded us with promises. 

For example, a Psalm tell us that ‘the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity’ (Psalm 37:11). Jesus reflects this in his Sermon on the mount, saying that the meek are blessed because they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). 

Really? The world looks like it belongs to those who take it by storm. So how can this promise, and many others, settle our hearts to trust in God and in Jesus whom he has sent?

From the beginning, humanity decided it wouldn’t trust God. And ever since then, that’s been our problem. We’d rather be the ones who are trustworthy. God must painstakingly demonstrate that he is the only one who can guarantee our future (Isaiah 48:3-8). And this is what he does.

The numerous promises made by prophets, or by Jesus and his apostles belong in a structure of promises—covenants of promise (Ephesians 2:12). If we know what these are, it helps us understand all the others. 

The first of these is a promise made to Abraham. His whole story is in Genesis (chapters 12—25), but here is how Paul describes him coming to trust in God’s word (Romans 4:13-23). 

First, God tells Abraham that he will inherit the world (v. 13). 

This means he will have a family, his own country and become a nation. That’s just a start. He will become the father of nations (v. 17). God will bless him so he can be a blessing in the whole earth (Genesis 12:1-3).

Abraham’s family has come through a time when people gathered together to secure their own future—by building a massive tower—at Babel (Genesis 11). It all comes to nothing because God confuses their languages.

God is showing Abraham, and us, a better way. Paul says God’s promise is for all of us who don’t trust in ourselves but in his goodness (v. 16). (What he’s doing in this letter is comparing Abraham with people who are trying to justify themselves by being good law-keepers.) 

Paul says we are added to Abraham’s family and share the family inheritance. Abraham will ‘inherit the world’ (v. 13), and so shall we.

This might sound a long way from what we are interested in, but think about the promise Jesus makes to us all: the meek will inherit the earth. We all need to know that God will provide for us and give us our place in life. Our future is important—and it matters to him.

The disciples of Jesus give us an interesting example of this (Matthew 19:27-30).

We may be thinking of inheritance as property or wealth, but God is thinking of us being a blessing in it—not being concerned with ourselves but with those we can serve. This is the way Jesus Christ will inherit the earth, and it’s the same for us. 

We don’t have to make ourselves significant, important, rich and powerful. God is promising, not just to keep the world functioning (the promise to Noah) but to make us significant in his kingdom (Matthew 25:34)—to bless us and make us a blessing.

Second, here’s how God evokes trust.

Simply, God speaks to Abraham (Genesis 12:1). We don’t know what this looks like but it gets Abraham going. The God of glory has come to him (Acts 7:2). 

It’s the same now. When we hear the gospel preached, God’s word comes to us. The God of glory has appeared in the person of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6) and his glory has been revealed in what he has done. We have more to go on than Abraham did.

Faith comes by hearing this word of Christ (Romans 10:17). We don’t know how this happens, but it’s how God brings us to trust him.

Abraham doesn’t sit easily with this. He doesn’t have a son, let alone a family or a nation. And this continues for some time. What God is promising is impossible. It’s not easy trusting what we can’t see.

Our natural habit is to want immediate gratification. But trusting God involves waiting. We need to stop pumping up our own importance and see that God is ‘waiting to be gracious’ to us (Isaiah 30:18). There’s no other way to know that God is good.

God persists with Abraham. And, he grows strong in faith (vv. 18-19).

Third, two miracles now happen.

Abraham confesses that God is good and true and reliable (v. 20). This is a reversal of all that went wrong in Eden. Abraham doesn’t need to make himself great. He’s found that God is the one with all the glory—he’s good, and he’s trustworthy.

This is what happens to every Christian. We can see that the one who made the world knows how to look after it. We know he is being kind to his creatures and that he’s making a world community that reflects his kindness. We know God has the power to do what he promises (v. 21).

The second miracle is that God calls a sinner righteous (v. 22-25). We’d sought to be the ones who were right and good—and made a thorough mess of it. Now, when we stop seeking to create our own righteousness, God gives it to us. 

We have more to go on than Abraham ever did. We’ve seen the God of glory in the face of Christ because he gave up his Son to death for our sins. 

We’ve also seen him being raised from the dead, not just to prove that he was in the right all along, but to reckon this justification to all of us who trust him. Being called ‘right’ by God changes everything.

We can now hear God’s promises clearly. We will inherit the earth. We will inherit the world over which God reigns—his kingdom (Matthew 25:34). We will have eternal life (Matthew 19:29). And if this is the way we are living, we will have his promise that he can look after all our needs and take us through our troubles as well (Matthew 6:31-34). Life is good!