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Count Your Blessings
‘ “I’m a failure.”
“I am no use to God; I can’t think why He bothers with me.”
“He wouldn’t want to answer my prayers.”
“I seem to come back to Him asking forgiveness for the same thing over and over again.” ’
These quotations come from Colin Urquhart’s book, In Christ Jesus, which sets out to show us how we can be free from such ‘defeat.’ When I first read this book, I had never realised before how significant that little word ‘in’ is in the New Testament. Understanding that as Christians we are ‘in’ Christ Jesus revolutionises how we see ourselves and our identity.
Urquhart writes, ‘Take a piece of paper to represent you. Now take hold of your Bible to represent Christ. Place the paper in the book and close it. You are in Christ! Where the book goes you go. Where the paper goes He goes! You are not part of the book, but you are now identified totally with the book!’
Paul uses this expression, ‘in Christ Jesus’ over and over again. God has taken hold of us and placed us in Christ. In Christ, we have received every spiritual blessing. All of the blessings that the Old Testament speaks about are ours in Christ. In the passages for today, we see some of the spiritual blessings for which we can praise God.
1. The blessings of God’s love and healingPsalm 109:21-31
‘You do the blessing’ writes David (v.28, MSG). All of God’s blessings flow out of his love for us (v.21, Ephesians 1:4,5,11, Isaiah 54:10). God’s love supports us and helps us to stand, even when others scorn and curse us (vv. 25–26). He stands at our right hand (v.31a).
God is our healer. He saves our lives (v.31b, Isaiah 52:10). He heals our wounded hearts. David says, ‘My heart is wounded within me’ (Psalm 109:22). God loves to use people who have been wounded and then healed because no one can minister better than a person who has had the same wound and then been healed by God.
Lord, thank you for your wonderful love for us. Thank you that you do the blessing (v.28, MSG). Thank you that although our hearts are often wounded within us, you heal us and help us to bring healing to others.
2. The blessings of being in Christ JesusEphesians 1:1-23
Many of us struggle with a low self-image. The New Testament answer to this problem is to comprehend who we are in Christ Jesus. ‘It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for’ (Ephesians 1:11, MSG). We need to understand what our identity is in Christ. While we may not have every material blessing we want (Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter), Paul tells us that God has blessed us ‘with every spiritual blessing in Christ’ (v.3). This passage lists many of these blessings:
- Grace and peace
Paul starts his greetings with ‘Grace and peace’ (v.2). ‘The riches of God’s grace ... [have been] lavished on us’ (vv.7–8). As John Stott writes, ‘Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.’ We have peace with God.
- Chosen and adopted
‘He chose us in him before the creation of the world … in love, he predestined us to be adopted as his children’ (vv.4–5, see also v.11).
- Redeemed, forgiven and free
We are redeemed through his blood (v.7a, Isaiah 52:3,9). ‘Redeemed’ was the word used for the buying back of a slave – a captive set free for a price.
Our sins are forgiven (Ephesians 1:7b). Marghanita Laski, the well known humanist, made an amazing confession on television. She said, ‘What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness.’ She added, rather sadly, ‘I have no one to forgive me.’
‘We’re a free people – free of penalties a nd punishment
chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free,
either. Abundantly free!’ (v.7, MSG).
- In-dwelt by the Holy Spirit
The promised Holy Spirit has come to live within us (v.13).
We have been sealed with the Holy Spirit: ‘Having believed you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit’ (v.13). In the ancient world when a package was dispatched a seal was placed on it to indicate where it had come from and to whom it belonged.
- Hope for the future
Our inheritance is guaranteed. We have a ‘deposit guaranteeing our inheritance’ (v.14). We have ‘the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints’ (v.18b).
- Power and position
His ‘incomparably great power for us who believe’ is in us (v.19a). Power belongs to God, but he has come to live within us and give us, ‘endless energy, boundless strength!’ (v.19, MSG).
We are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (v.20). God has placed us ‘In charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments’ (vv.20–21, MSG).
- Authority and responsibility
In Christ, God has placed everything under us for the sake of the church ‘which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way’ (vv.22–23). The Queen was reminded at her coronation when the orb (the globe under a cross) was placed in her hand: ‘When you see this orb set under the cross, remember that the whole world is subject to the power and empire of Christ our redeemer.’
God has given us great responsibility. His plans for the universe are now in the hands of the church, which is Jesus’ ‘body’ on earth (v.23). ‘The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church’ (vv.22–23, MSG).
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Lord, we praise you for every spiritual blessing that you have given us in Christ, all those listed above and many, many more. Help us always to see ourselves in Christ, united to him, and walking in a relationship with him. Give us confidence, not based on ourselves, but on who we are in Christ Jesus. Help us to count our blessings.
3. The blessings of the good news of the cross and resurrectionIsaiah 51:17-54:17
Isaiah writes ‘how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news … who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” ’ (52:7). God’s salvation is such good news that it makes even the smelly feet of the messenger seem beautiful. This good news is Isaiah’s message in the next chapter (52:13–53:12). It is the last and greatest of the four servant songs that reveal God’s plan of salvation. There are five stanzas, each revealing an unexpected contrast:
- Apparent failure and actual success (52:13–15)
Martin Luther said ‘the cross shatters human expectations.’ Isaiah here foretells Jesus’ scourging and death, his ‘ruined face, disfigured past recognition’ (v.14, MSG). Yet the cross is not the end. The stanza ends in success and triumph, with an image of cleansing and forgiveness across the world; ‘he will sprinkle many nations’ (v.15).
- Our view and God’s view (53:1–3)
‘Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?’ (v.1, MSG) Here we see a contrast between God’s view and man’s view. Isaiah foresees that the people would reject Jesus, even though he came to save them.
- Our sin and His suffering (53:4–6)
Jesus loves us so much that he died instead of us. That is the message at the heart of this passage – indeed of the whole Bible. I love the Message version:
‘He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him’ (v.5–6, MSG). Wow!
- The guilty and the innocent (53:7–9)
This stanza tells of a miscarriage of justice, but one that Jesus took upon himself voluntarily to bring salvation. ‘He died without a thought for his own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of my people’ (v.8, MSG). It also predicts Jesus’ death with extraordinary accuracy: foreseeing his silence at his trial (v.7); that he would die with the wicked; and that he would be buried with the rich (v.9).
- Tragedy and triumph (53:10–13)
What looked like defeat was in fact a victory, ‘what God had in mind all along’ (v.10, MSG). What makes Jesus’ death a triumph? First, ‘he will see his offspring’ (v.10) and ‘make many righteous’ (v.11, MSG) ¬– the millions of transformed lives which are the fruit of his death. Second, ‘he will see the light of life’ (v.11) – Jesus rose again! Lastly, God exalted him, giving him ‘a portion among the great’ (v.12) because of all that he did for us.
Lord we thank you for the blessing of the amazing good news of the gospel. Thank you that you suffered for us, that you carried our pains and our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. Thank you that you took our punishment and made us whole. Thank you that through your bruises, we are healed. Thank you that you gave your life as an offering for sin. Thank you that through what you experienced, we are made righteous. Thank you that through your resurrection, you have conquered death forever. Help us to expect great things from you and attempt great things for you.
‘Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left’.
This is a constant challenge for me, not to play it safe, but to keep going for growth.