30 August 2018

Images of Christ

What shall we say about paintings and statues of Jesus? Apart from any artistic value, let us be frank about them: they are just the imaginations of artists and sculptors, they are not true images of our Lord.

What does the Scripture say about this subject? We believe that in the incarnation, the eternal Son of God also became a man. His contemporaries saw and touched him, and spoke to him. We do not have that privilege.

The Bible gives us a glimpse of his physical appearance: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). The glory of Christ was not in his physical look. Moreover, during his passion, many people were appalled by him because his face was so disfigured that he did not seem like a man (Isaiah 52:14). Jesus endured the horrendous ordeal of the cross to redeem his church.

It is no surprise that the church loves her Beloved Saviour, and lives with the hope of his appearing. But for now, the church has to wait. What the Apostle Peter wrote to the early Christians, still applies to us today: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8). At present Christians “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

But someone might object, “Personally I don’t see anything wrong with images of Christ. I feel that they teach me and help me to worship him.”

Consider, my friend, what you are saying. How come you find nothing wrong with false images of Christ? What do they teach you but lies? How can you give true worship with a false image? Why do you ignore the Word of God that states: “you do not now see him”? Why do you insist on seeing him even though it’s a fabricated image?

I exhort all who desire Christ: put away these vain paintings and statues. Instead, let us daily read and meditate on the Scriptures because they speak of him. Though the Scriptures the Holy Spirit reveals his glory, and thus we will grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we eagerly await his glorious appearing.

3 August 2018

The Wrath of Jesus

I believe in the God of mercy, grace and love, but I also believe that he is the God of justice, holiness and wrath. Indeed the Lord shows both mercy and wrath; mercy to his elect, wrath to the wicked, both now and for eternity in hell.

Even when he extends mercy to his people, God does not ignore his justice. God can only justify sinners by faith because Jesus paid the penalty for their sins on the cross.

The Bible warns unbelievers that they are already under the wrath of God. ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him’ (John 3:36). Elsewhere the Scripture says, ‘the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness’ (Romans 1:18).

Sadly, many people remain hardened in unbelief and impenitence, not realizing that they are stocking up wrath which will be poured on their heads on the day of judgement:

‘But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed … for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger’ (Romans 2:5, 8). We would be fools if we ignore God’s warning of the coming judgement: ‘Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient’ (Ephesians 5:6).

The Bible gives us a glimpse of the terrible retribution upon sinners on that day. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!’ (Revelation 6:16).

We don’t often hear these days about the wrath of the Lamb; many people prefer the soft and affable caricature of ‘Jesus’. Notwithstanding such fantasies, the Lord Jesus will execute God’s wrath on the world. ‘Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron sceptre. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty’ (Revelation 19:15).

The same Lord Jesus is the only cover and protection against God’s righteous wrath and indignation for us sinners. We who truly believe in him can rest assured that since we have now been 'justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him' (Romans 5:9). We are not terrified by God’s judgement, for 'we wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath' (1 Thessalonians 1:10); 'For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ' (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

On that momentous day, what will the Lord Jesus show you? Mercy or wrath? Will he take you in his arms or will he stamp you under his feet?

3 July 2018

Blessed is She that Believed

Faith is a brilliant jewel that adorns the holy character of Mary. Through faith, she received the unique blessing of becoming the mother of the Lord according to the flesh. Even as Elizabeth exclaimed, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45).

It could not have been easy for the young Jewish woman to accept the angel’s message that she would conceive and give birth to a son. How could that be? What would Joseph, her espoused husband, think? Will he put her away? Will she be disgraced among her people? And how was it possible that a virgin could conceive?

Despite many questions and uncertainties, Mary believed God’s message. She may not have understood everything, but this she knew for certain: God is trustworthy and he is able to do what he promised. Mary’s response reveals her believing and obedient heart, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

We are faced with a similar decision. God’s Word comes to us promising salvation to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. “For the Scripture says, Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” And again, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom 10:11, 13).

All sorts of questions immediately arise in our minds. How could that be? I am a great sinner! I am unworthy! I have no merits!

To such objections, faith responds: My guilt is great; greater still is the grace of God. I have nothing to offer to God, but I will cling to the cross of Christ, his Son. Since God has promised that whoever believes in Jesus will be saved, I am fully convinced that he will keep his word. God is faithful! Therefore I now trust in the Lord Jesus for my salvation. I rely completely on Him. Lord, my soul is in your mighty and merciful hands!

Blessed are we who believe, for God will most certainly keep his Word and save us.

1 June 2018

Did Christ Redeem the Whole World?

According to Roman Catholic teaching, the whole world has been redeemed by the work of Jesus Christ. Pope Francis said: “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class!”

Is this true?

The dictionary defines the word "redemption" as the "releasing effected by payment of ransom; deliverance; liberation procured by the payment of a ransom." The concept of deliverance and the payment of a ransom emerge clearly from the use of the word in the Bible. The redeemer is the Lord; redemption comes from Him, and the ransom He paid was His blood, His life. The sinner is delivered from the present evil age, the former way of life, the curse of the law and from sin (cf. Psalm 111:9; 130:7; Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; Acts 20:28; Romans 3:24; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 6:20; 7:23; Ephesians 1:7; Galatians 1:4; 3:13; 4:4,5; Colossians 1:14; 1 Peter 1:18,19; Hebrews 9:12,15; Revelation 5:9).

We must emphasize that according to the Holy Scriptures, redemption means the forgiveness of sins: "In Him (in Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7). And again, "In whom (in Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:14). The apostle Paul equates "redemption" with "forgiveness." In other words, to have "redemption" is the same as having "forgiveness of sins." Whoever is forgiven is redeemed; whoever is redeemed is forgiven.

Now please ask yourself this question: “If the whole world is redeemed (as the Catholic church teaches), and the Bible says that redemption means the forgiveness of sins, is it true that the whole world is forgiven?” You will agree that this is not so. Rather than forgiven, the world is guilty before God (Romans 3:19). Multitudes are still bound by sin, and unless that are freed from that bondage before their death, they are in danger of eternal perdition in hell. Clearly, the whole world is not forgiven. And therefore, since the whole world is not forgiven, the Roman Catholic theory that the whole world is redeemed is false.

Who then has the right to say, “I am redeemed by Christ?” The Bible tells us clearly that a person must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins. As the apostle Peter preached: “To Him (Christ) all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43).

If you want to be redeemed and forgiven, believe in Him; believe in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ for He is able to save to the uttermost. Believe in Him, do not rely on your penances, your works, or someone else. Believe in Him, completely. Believe in Him, alone.

If you do so, you will have remission of sins, according to the promise, “whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” If you believe in Christ you will be redeemed, freed from your sins, not on account of anything that you have done, but by the blood that Jesus shed on the cross. With the believers in Ephesus and Colosse, and all believers everywhere and in all ages, you can rejoice and say, “In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Then, being free from sin, you will have all the opportunity in the world to do good works to express your gratitude for the amazing love of God.

Make no mistake! Only believers in Christ are redeemed and forgiven; the rest are not. The opportunity for you to be freed for your sin is now. Turn to Jesus. If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Only then you will become a child of God.

(Gospel e-Letter - June 2018)

1 May 2018

Confession to a Priest

Confession to a priest is not a biblical practice; it is not even a custom of the early church.

Our Lord taught us to confess our sins directly to God the Father. He told us to pray, "Our Father in heaven...forgive us our sins as we forgive those who trespass against us." Reading the New Testament we do not find a single instance of the apostles hearing private confession; nor do we find the disciples confessing to a priest.

There was no auricular confession to a priest in the early church either. Augustine gives us a snapshot of the church in the 4th and 5th century. In his Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed, Augustine writes:

“When ye have been baptized, hold fast a good life in the commandments of God, that ye may guard your Baptism even unto the end. I do not tell you that ye will live here without sin; but they are venial, without which this life is not. For the sake of all sins was Baptism provided; for the sake of light sins, without which we cannot be, was prayer provided. What hath the Prayer? "Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors." Once for all we have washing in Baptism, every day we have washing in prayer. Only, do not commit those things for which ye must needs be separated from Christ's body: which be far from you! For those whom ye have seen doing penance, have committed heinous things, either adulteries or some enormous crimes: for these they do penance. Because if theirs had been light sins, to blot out these daily prayer would suffice.” [link]

How did Christians deal with sin at that time? They dealt severely with those who committed grievous sins, casting them out of the church. A period of "penance" was required before the repentant sinner was re-admitted. But what about the daily sins that all Christians commit? Did they confess them to a priest? No, they confessed directly to God in prayer, asking the Father for forgiveness. Prayer was considered sufficient for daily cleaning.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church admits that private confession first came on the scene in the seventh century:

“Over the centuries the concrete form in which the Church has exercised this power received from the Lord has varied considerably. During the first centuries the reconciliation of Christians who had committed particularly grave sins after their Baptism (for example, idolatry, murder, or adultery) was tied to a very rigorous discipline, according to which penitents had to do public penance for their sins, often for years, before receiving reconciliation. To this ‘order of penitents’ (which concerned only certain grave sins), one was only rarely admitted and in certain regions only once in a lifetime. During the seventh century Irish missionaries, inspired by the Eastern monastic tradition, took to continental Europe the ‘private’ practice of penance, which does not require public and prolonged completion of penitential works before reconciliation with the Church. From that time on, the sacrament has been performed in secret between penitent and priest. This new practice envisioned the possibility of repetition and so opened the way to a regular frequenting of this sacrament. It allowed the forgiveness of grave sins and venial sins to be integrated into one sacramental celebration. In its main lines this is the form of penance that the Church has practiced down to our day” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1447).

So, private confession was introduced a full seven centuries after Christ and His apostles. Ironically the Roman Church curses us if we dare assert the plain historical fact that secret confession to a priest was not observed from the beginning:

“If anyone denies that the sacramental confession was instituted, and is necessary for salvation, by divine Law; or says that the manner of confessing secretly to a priest alone, which the Catholic Church has always observed from the beginning and still observes, is at variance with the institution and command of Christ and is a human invention, anathema sit” (Council of Trent, Session 14, Canon 6).

Friend, I urge you to disregard Rome’s vain threats; you cannot deny the truth. If you want to follow the teaching of the Bible, and the practice of the early church, stop once and for all going to private confession to a priest. Pray to God. He knows your heart and He hears your prayers. God will certainly save you if you repent and believe in His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Father will continue to forgive your sins as you ask him in humble prayer.

(Gospel e-Letter - May 2018)