Grace Abounding to the Worst of Sinners

Jesus encountered Paul speaking to him personally. What did Paul do to merit this revelation of Jesus? Was God pleased with Paul because he was such a good person? Paul says he actually did things to disqualify him from God’s blessings. When Jesus encountered Paul personally, he wasn’t seeking Jesus. He was rather trying hard to wipe out Jesus’ followers because he hated the name of Jesus. Paul considered himself the very worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). As we listen to Paul in other places, we see that he considered himself the worst of sinners because of his hatred for Jesus and his persecution of the church. When Jesus met him, he said to Paul, Why are you persecuting ME? In Paul’s eyes, this made him the worst of sinners. And yet, Jesus met him showing his love and turning his life around.

Having described himself as the worst of sinners, Paul says Jesus showed his immense patience to him as an example to the rest of us (1 Timothy 1:16). As we see Jesus showing undeserved love and patience towards “the worst of sinners” we know that he shows the same undeserved kindness to the rest of us.

The Spirit of Jesus reveals Jesus to us even though not one of us deserves to know him. For the Spirit loves to show Jesus’ face smiling upon us. And through that smiling face, the Spirit shows us Jesus’ gracious heart. So we rejoice in seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus transforming us into his own likeness.

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The Giving Gift

For Tom Smail, the Holy Spirit in Person is “The Giving Gift”. For sure, The Spirit really is the free gift that goes on and on giving all that is ours in Jesus.

The Spirit brings Jesus to us. And as we encounter Jesus, as the one who is with us and for us, faith emerges in our hearts. The Spirit also brings us to Jesus so that we live in union with the one who loves us. The Spirit goes on and on showing Jesus to us enabling us to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3: 18,19). And in all this, we are transformed into the likeness of Jesus by the Lord who is the Spirit.

It is also the same Spirit who assures us that we are God’s children in union with his Son. He assures us so deeply that we cry Abba Father as we move, with Jesus, ever closer to our Father’s heart. The same Spirit also enables us to share in Jesus ongoing mission as we serve our Father in the power of the Spirit in the name of Jesus.

Furthermore, the Spirit is the gift of prayer joining our hearts to Jesus’ prayers in the Presence of his Father. We pray because the Spirit is already praying in us with sighs too deep for words (Rom. 8: 26). And the Spirit’s intercession is really an echo of Jesus’ intercession for us in heaven. The Spirit prays in us because Jesus prays for us.

Yes, the Spirit really is The Giving Gift who goes on and on giving enabling us to give ourselves to God in response to all his giving.

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Sure of constant blessing

Luke tells us that while Jesus was blessing his disciples, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven” (Lk 24:51). As Jesus blesses them, I wonder if he was saying the words of blessing that God gave to the High Priest in Old Testament times: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace” (Num 6: 24-26).
Jesus ascended as our High Priest into the presence of his Father. He now constantly turns towards his Father interceding for us. And he also turns towards us to bless. Keeping our eyes on this vision of the ascended Jesus, we are sure of ongoing blessing. We know that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Jesus (Ephesians 1:3). And we also know that all these blessings flow to us continually through Jesus. For Jesus is constantly turned towards his Father asking him to bless us. And the same Jesus is also turned towards us to bless.
Ongoing blessing depends on Jesus not on us. We do not ever turn inward despairing because we are not worthy of God’s blessing. Our eyes must be ever fixed on Jesus. He is the one who constantly seeks his Father’s blessing for us. He is the one in and through whom we are blessed. He is also the one who blesses and is himself the blessing in whom all blessings are found. With our eyes fixed on Jesus, we can be fully assured that God’s face is turned towards us so that we might share in his own happiness and pleasure.

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Meeting with Failures

When the risen Jesus came to his disciples, they were full of disappointment, doubt, dread and despair. So he first showed them his nailed pierced hands and then said, Peace be with you (John 20:19). He didn’t say a word about their recent failure. He just wanted to be with them as their peace.

Thomas was not there and he would not believe that Jesus had met with them. A week later, Jesus came to them again while Thomas was present. He didn’t reject Thomas because he refused to believe. He simply approached Thomas directly saying, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Within this personal encounter, worshipful faith emerged in Thomas.

Another time, the risen Jesus met with his disciples while they were fishing on the lake. He prepared breakfast for them and then drew Peter aside. However, he didn’t say a word about Peter denying him. Instead, Jesus aims to draw from Peter a declaration of love. Three times he says, Peter, “do you love me?” When Peter said he did love Jesus he was urged to show it by caring for Jesus’ flock.

The risen Jesus does not withdraw from failures until they get their act together. He meets with failures as their peace drawing from them the faith and love that he desires in them. For, even now, as exalted king, his heart is bound to his failing followers.

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A Message to Failures

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, his disciples fled leaving him to face his ordeal alone.  Peter flatly denied that he ever knew Jesus with oaths and curses.  So, when Jesus arose from death what message did he first send to his disciples?  We might suppose he would tell them he had now decided to be a stranger to them. Or at least, we might imagine that his first words to them would be a rebuke of their failure.  Or maybe, he would attempt to shame them telling them how much he had just suffered for them while they were failing him.   But there’s nothing like that here.

 Instead, his first words to Mary were, “Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ (John 20:17).  Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.  Surely his brothers had been ashamed of him!  For him to call them brothers here shows his deep bond of love with them.  Jesus goes on, “Tell them,” I am ascending to my Father and your Father.” Jesus is eager to assure his brothers that his Father is their Father, and their Father is his Father. And soon he will go and prepare a place for them in his Father’s house so that they may be with him in the Father’s presence.  Furthermore, Jesus and his Father will soon come to them, by the Spirit, making their home with them. Jesus wants to assure his brothers of all this even after their total failure.

Consider this when you are troubled over your own failures.

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What is Jesus praying for?

Jesus is now in heaven with his heart open in love towards his Father. Nevertheless, his heart remains open in love towards us. For in the presence of his Father he constantly prays for us (Romans 8: 34). What sort of things does he ask for? Jesus’ prayer (John 17) gives us some idea.

He says, Father, these people belong to us. However, they are still in the world that is dark and hostile. With this in mind, he asks his Father to protect his friends from the evil one and to make his joy complete in them. He goes on to ask that his Father may sanctify his friends in the truth.

Jesus also asks that all of us may be deeply one. “Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

However, he also says, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” Jesus simply wants us to be with him where he is with his Father. Jesus finds great joy in each one of us. And what he wants is for us simply to be with him where he is. He wants us to share with us all he has in his Father’s presence.

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Can we really believe this is true?

Just before Jesus died, he told his friends some astonishing things about his love for them and for us. For example, he says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you (John 15:9). The Father’s love for Jesus is beyond measure and so Jesus’ love for us is also beyond measure. Can we really believe this is true? Well, the one who says this to us is himself The Truth. He doesn’t just say things to us that are true, he IS the truth. So, when Jesus says he loves us as the Father loves him he is speaking the truth.

Furthermore, Jesus sends the Spirit to us as the Spirit of Truth to bear witness to himself as The Truth (John 16:13). So, when the Spirit enables us to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, it is all true. But we may ask, will the Spirit also leave us just as Jesus has left us? Jesus says, No! The Father…will give you another helper who will be with you FOREVER (John 14:6). And he will be with you and in you as my own personal presence with you.

Right now, Jesus is in the presence of his Father. He is also present with us showing the fullness of his love for us as he continually gives himself to us. And we can be fully sure that it is all true and will always remain true. So, don’t allow the father of lies to tell you lies about Jesus. Listen only to the Spirit of Truth as he points you to Jesus as the Truth.

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Knowing the Heart of Jesus

The Ascended Jesus is present with us where we are. However, he is present as the absent One. He is absent because he has left this world to be with his Father. He is now at the very centre of the heavenly sanctuary representing us before his Father. Nevertheless, he is with us by the Spirit he sends to us. Jesus and the Spirit are One, just as Jesus and his Father are one. And so, in the presence of his Father, Jesus is still deeply involved with us.

All the good things the Spirit gives to us during Jesus’ absence are the expression of Jesus’ own heart toward us. Jesus says, “I will send him to you” (John 16:7). And he sends the Spirit for the purpose of standing in his place to act towards us, as Jesus. So, The Spirit communicates the heart of Jesus towards us and is delighted to do so.

The Spirit of Christ can communicate Jesus’ thoughts about you, even at the very moment when he is thinking them! Indeed, he tells you that Jesus never stops thinking about you. So, with the Spirit in us, we know Jesus’ heart as if he were physically present with us, or should we rather say, more deeply? So, we do not merely engage in logical deductions concerning Jesus’ heart towards us, for Jesus communicates his own heart to us and in us by his Spirit.

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Groaning over Ukraine

As I view the harrowing scenes in Ukraine I want to pray. But what do I pray for? How do I even begin? Paul says, “… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words” (Romans 8:26-27). Paul does not offer a new technique to overcome my weakness in prayer. Nor does he tell me how to pray more intelligently.

No, he rather tells me that the Spirit is interceding in me with groans too deep for words. Earlier in the passage, Paul speaks graphically about the whole of Creation groaning for its future liberation from bondage into the freedom and glory of the children of God. Creation yearns to share in our future liberation. We too are groaning for that day of liberation. We are yearning deeply for our own freedom and the freedom of all creation. However, our groaning doesn’t come simply by observing the broken world around us. The groaning comes from the indwelling Spirit. For before we and creation groan the Spirit groans within us with sighs too deep for words. God is not “up there” detached for all the pain in Ukraine; he is in us groaning over the distress within his own creation.

As we view the scenes on T.V, we may wonder what we can pray for Ukraine. But instead of trying to form our own ideas about the best thing to pray, it might be better to simply groan. Those groans arise from human feelings for our fellow humans. However, we cannot separate our groaning from the groaning of the Spirit. He is distressed over the situation and he expresses his distress, through us, in sighs too deep for words.

We may want to find a list of items to pray for so that our prayers might be more “intelligent”. But then we are left simply bringing a list of our own observations and maybe with a sense of futility as we bring the list to God “up there”. It might be better to simply groan with the groaning of the Spirit. Our prayers will then be wordless, but more real as they move from the Spirit within us, through Jesus to the Father himself.

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Nothing can turn his heart from us

While Jesus was with his friends his heart was always open towards them. And his feelings towards them will remain constant even after he leaves them and is exalted to his Father’s side. Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. How will he come? He will give the Spirit to be his own presence in them. Jesus and the Spirit are one just as Jesus and the Father are one. Wherever the Spirit is present, Jesus is also present along with his Father. The three cannot be separated. So Jesus goes on to say, “In that day (the day the Spirit comes) you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

By the Spirit, we are in Jesus and he is in us. Within this living union, we don’t simply make deductions about how Jesus might feel towards us. He actually dwells within us by the Spirit with his heart always open towards us in love. Indeed, he wants to communicate to us the same feeling of affection as there is between the Father and his dearly loved Son. Furthermore, by the Spirit, the indwelling Jesus wants to tell us that it is impossible to break this knot of love and turn his heart away from us. Nothing can turn the Father’s heart from Jesus and Jesus’ heart from his Father. And nothing can turn the heart of both Father and Son from us. We know this as we live in them and they live in us by the Spirit.

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