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Bishop Taylor Smith, Chaplain General to the Forces, once asked a young man, ‘When you think about the cross of Christ, what do you see?’ He replied, ‘I see Christ, two thieves …’ The Bishop asked, ‘What else do you see?’ He replied, ‘Soldiers gambling …’ ‘If that is all you see I think you will have trouble with the Christian life’, he answered. ‘When I see the cross – with all that – I see old Bishop Taylor Smith. I was crucified with Christ.’
In the New Testament passage for today, the apostle Paul expounds and explains what it means to have been ‘crucified with Christ’. We are ‘in Christ Jesus’. ‘We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life’ (Romans 6:4). ‘We entered into the new country of grace – a new life in a new land!’ (v.5, MSG).
Two years after encountering Jesus I wrote, ‘I died in February 1974. My old life was buried. From then onwards I have walked in newness of life. It really does seem like that. Life before was so absolutely and completely different.’
Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are able to ‘live a new life.’ In the passages for today we see how this was anticipated in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament.
1. New songPsalm 87:1-7
This is a psalm of praise. It is hard to understand and has been described as one of the most problematic in the whole Psalter. It is written in the language of poetry.
The psalmist concludes by anticipating the future; ‘As they make music they will sing, “All my fountains are in you.” ’ (v.7). He was probably anticipating a scene in the earthly Jerusalem. However, this now finds its fulfilment in the church of Jesus Christ.
The crowds sing, ‘All my fountains are in you’. Psalm 46 speaks of ‘a river whose streams make glad the city of God’ (Psalm 46:4). There was an anticipation that a great stream of water would spring forth from the temple in Zion (Ezekiel 47), the place of God’s presence in the Old Testament.
However, Jesus says that all this was fulfilled not in a place but in a person (John 7:37 onwards). Out of his innermost being flowed rivers of living water. We can now sing a new song of worship to the Lord, saying of him ‘All my fountains are in you.’
Lord, as we come to worship you today may we celebrate your presence and make music singing, ‘All my fountains are in you.’ Thank you that all our hopes and dreams are in you. You quench our thirst. You give us the water of life. May your streams of living water flow into us and out of us today.
2. New freedomRomans 6:1-14
The mad but influential Russian monk, Rasputin, taught his followers that after their conversion they should go and sin more, so that in being forgiven, they would feel more of God’s love. He failed to understand that grace is not an excuse to sin. Rather it is a reason not to sin.
If grace meets our every sin, and as sin increases grace abounds all the more, the obvious argument is that we should go on sinning so that grace may increase: ‘So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? (v.1, MSG).
Paul counters this by saying, ‘I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realise we packed up and left there for good?’ (v.2, MSG).
Now we are free, we have a radically changed attitude to sin. How can we, who have been so radically changed – the difference between life and death – still live in sin? Once we were slaves to sin, in that we had to obey its commands. Now we are free, we have a radically changed attitude to sin.
We saw earlier (BiOY16 March) that Bishop B F Westcott was once asked, ‘Are you saved?’ He replied using three Greek words – the past, present and future tense of the verb ‘to save’. In this passage we see all three tenses of salvation.
- We have been freed from the penalty of sin
Paul writes in the past tense that ‘our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin’ (vv.6–7).
Through the death of Jesus on the cross for us the past is totally forgiven. Our guilt has been removed. The penalty for all our sin – past, present and future – has been paid. We have been freed.
- We will be freed from the presence of sin
Paul writes, ‘If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection’ (v.5, MSG). In one sense we have already been raised with Christ.
In another sense, our salvation is not yet complete. There is a future tense to salvation. One day we will forever be freed from the presence of sin and will enjoy the uninterrupted presence of God forever.
- We are being freed from the power of sin
Paul writes, ‘From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.
That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time – remember, you’ve been raised from the dead! – into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God’ (vv.11–14, MSG).
Jesus has set us free, not only from the guilt of sin but also from its addictive power. We do not need to sin anymore – ‘sin shall not be your master’ (v.14). We are to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. We should not let sin reign in our mortal bodies. We do not need to obey its evil desires. This is the present tense of salvation. We are being set free from the power of sin as we offer the parts of our body to Jesus as instruments of righteousness.
Lord, thank you that you have set us free from the penalty of sin. Thank you that you died for me so that my guilt could be completely removed. Thank you that one day we will be free from even the presence of sin. Thank you that right now we are being set free from the power of sin. Lord, I offer you my body today as an instrument of righteousness. I commit to you all the people that I will see and the meetings that I will have. I pray that you will use me today as an instrument of righteousness.
3. New loveHosea 1:1-2:23
God loves you unconditionally, wholeheartedly and continually. No matter what you have done, you can have a new beginning, a fresh start, a new life and a new love.
‘Hosea is the prophet of love’ writes Eugene Peterson. ‘But not love as we imagine or fantasise it. He was a parable of God’s love for his people lived out as God revealed and enacted it – a lived parable. It is an astonishing story: a prophet commanded to marry a common whore and have children with her. It is an even more astonishing message: God loves us in just this way – goes after us at our worst, keeps after us until he gets us, and makes lovers of men and women who know nothing of real love.’
Hosea was prophesying shortly after the time of Amos (c.750–722 BC). His marriage to Gomer was a kind of analogy for Israel’s relationship with God. God spoke to Hosea and said:
‘Find a whore and marry her.
Make this whore the mother of your children.
And here’s why: This whole country
has become a whorehouse, unfaithful to me, God’ (1:2, MSG).
Israel’s mistake was to chase after things rather than God.
‘She said, “I’m off to see my lovers!
They’ll wine and dine me,
Dress and caress me,
perfume and adorn me!” ...
She didn’t know that it was I all along
who wined and dined and adorned her,
That I was the one who dressed her up
in the big-city fashions and jewellery ’ (2:5,8, MSG).
They failed to see it was God who provided these things. All he asks is that we should seek him first.
God’s answer is to frustrate us when we chase after things rather than him by not allowing us to obtain the things on which we have set our hearts. He says:
‘She’ll go on the hunt for her lovers
but not bring down a single one.
She’ll look high and low
but won’t find a one’ (v.7a, MSG).
God wants us to be living in a relationship with him as close as a husband and a wife. He longs for us to be in that relationship. He says, ‘I am now going to allure her’ (v.14a). He takes her into a desert (this is so often the place where God’s voice is heard) and speaks tenderly (v.14). ‘ “In that day,” declares the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband’ … I will betroth you to me forever” ’ (vv.16,19).
This foreshadows the relationship of Jesus to his church. He says, ‘I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord’ (vv.19–20). God promises a new love relationship between him and his people. They will know (acknowledge) the Lord.
It will be a relationship of love and compassion. He says, ‘I will show my love to the one I called “Not my loved one.” I will say to those called “Not my people”, “You are my people”; and they will say, “You are my God” ’ (v.23).
Lord, thank you for the privilege of living in a time when all this has reached its fulfilment. Thank you that through the death and resurrection of Jesus it is possible for us to know him. Thank you that we can walk each day in a relationship of love with him. Thank you that you show your love for us and call us your people. Thank you that we can say to you, ‘You are my God’.
‘Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body … but rather offer yourselves to God.’
When Focus (our annual church holiday) begins tomorrow, there will be many great opportunities to reassess one’s life and to reconsecrate our lives to God. It’s time to get rid of some of the junk that may have crept in or been lurking underneath for some time. And it’s an opportunity to listen to God and get a vision for the year ahead.