“The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world”

The above is a quote from Paul In Galatians 6:14, which came to mind when thinking about the mess our world is in right now and how we Christians react to it. 

Does the first part, for instance – “The world has been crucified to me” – mean we don’t care about what happens to people, or to the planet? Is it all just dead to us? I’ve often found myself thinking that this world is merely an illusion, or an ugly dream that has to happen, but one day it will all be over and real life begins. So why take an interest in what’s going on, or get involved, because what difference can I make? The world will carry on in its self-destructive ways, with or without me.

And didn’t Jesus hint at this too when he said, “Let the dead bury their dead” in Luke 9:60? Did he too view the world as a lifeless corpse? In which case why would his disciples waste any time even thinking about it, let alone getting involved in it or following its traditions? 

And maybe that has huge appeal to those who believe we’re off to heaven forever and we’re leaving this mess behind. But in context Galatians 6:14 starts off with, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So boasting was what stirred Paul to write this verse. It’s written to those who “want to make a good impression outwardly,” verse 12, by their coercive efforts to have everyone circumcised, much like people during the pandemic pushing to get everyone vaccinated. Because in both cases it gave the impression that they, the pushers and demanders, were the ones who truly cared.   

But Paul wasn’t the least bit interested in trying to impress people. That kind of self-righteous, “I’m on higher moral ground than you,” had no appeal to him. That world was dead to him. He wasn’t trying to be something or be a notable somebody, because if Jesus hadn’t been crucified he was a lifeless corpse too. He was nothing without the cross. He’d be like every other human being, clanking and wobbling along a conveyor belt like so many drink bottles, completely oblivious to any purpose or plan to human life – and then die and disappear.   

And how embarrassing that all this boasting by the “holier than thou” crowd was actually to “avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ,” verse 12, just like people who went along with the prevailing narrative during the pandemic to avoid being picked on for questioning or challenging it.

No wonder Paul boasted in the cross, because Jesus’ death had freed him from being driven by what people thought of him, or the impression he was making on them. That awful world of fragile egos and obsessive selfie-images that divided and destroyed people was dead and crucified to him. 

But what about the second part of Galatians 6:14, “and I to the world”? Did that too mean Paul didn’t care, or that he was oblivious to what was happening to people? In context, however, he was talking about “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation,” verse 15

Paul was dead and crucified to anything but the new creation that Jesus’ death on the cross had opened up to people. Because it was a whole new world that people could experience, rather than arguing endlessly about who’s right and who’s wrong, or who holds the higher moral ground. 

Paul deeply cared for people, which is why he suffered hugely to get that message of good news to them, of a world that’s so much better than the world we worship and the gods we create and depend on. And it’s ours to experience because of the cross, so that we become “a new creation,” because isn’t that what the world needs to see – it’s people who aren’t driven by what divides and destroys us.   

What would have happened if Jesus hadn’t been crucified?

In Hebrews 9:26 Jesus came “to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself,” a sacrifice needed just “once to take away the sins of many people,” verse 28

According to Scripture, then, if Jesus had not been crucified we’d all still be stuck with sin – sin being defined by Paul in Ephesians 2:3 as “doing whatever suits the wishes of our own bodies and minds,” Adam and Eve being the first to get that ball rolling, and none of us since being able to stop it (Romans 3:23). 

The results of that can be seen clearly in the Old Testament, in relentless and groaning detail in the lives of the Israelites. No matter what God did to bless them or warn them, they were incapable of resisting the wishes of their bodies and minds. 

All the Israelites were not like that, though. They had good people among them, like King David, and even good times too, like the reign of Solomon when the nation prospered and was held in high regard by others. And we in the West have experienced several decades of relative peace too, with some of our nations being a huge help to others. And when crises strike many good people surface to do all they can to help. 

But it’s one crisis after another, isn’t it? Just when a pandemic looks like it’s over, thanks to many good people trying their very best to help the weak or prevent people getting ill in the first place, another crisis opens up, like the war between Russia and Ukraine. And all this is happening AFTER Jesus was crucified too, so how much worse would it have been had he NOT “triumphed” over evil “by the cross” (Colossians 2:15)?  

Well, God told us how bad it would be in Deuteronomy 31. He knew exactly what would happen. People would follow the same rut Adam and Eve trod, of trusting evil rather than God. And the Israelites would fall for it too. After the good man Moses died, God knew the Israelites would “soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they’re entering,” verse 16. God would then “become angry with them,” verse 17, resulting in “many disasters and difficulties coming on them,” and the people crying out, “Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?” 

And for the next 1,300 years or so that’s exactly what happened, including the entire kingdom of Judah being destroyed in 587 B.C. by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II. The temple in Jerusalem was looted and burnt down, the city walls flattened, and most of the Jewish people deported to several sites around the Babylonian Empire. It was a monumental disaster. 

And that dreadful threefold cycle of Israel abandoning God, God becoming angry, and disasters taking a massive toll, would have continued all the way up to “the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed,” Romans 2:5. God’s wrath would also have remained unassuaged and unabated on anyone else who put their wishes of mind and body and the gods of this world before God too (Romans 1:18). This, then, would have been our world if Jesus had not been crucified. 

And there was nothing we could do about it either. God in his anger would have “given (us all) over to the sinful desires of our hearts,” Romans 1:24, and even his law would be powerless against our sinful nature (8:3). We’d be dead in the water with no help in sight. 

But can we leave the story there? Yes, and why not, when scripture tells us clearly what would have happened if Jesus hadn’t been crucified. We were all “objects of God’s wrath headed for destruction,” Romans 9:22. Or put another way, we were all on an unstoppable train thundering through the darkness heading for a cliff (Romans 6:21). 

”What must I do to be saved?”

In Acts 16:30 a jailer asks this rather desperate question after an earthquake frees all the prisoners he’d been told to “guard carefully” in verse 23. He was so frightened that “he drew his sword and was about to kill himself” (verse 27), but Paul yelled out, “Don’t harm yourself (for) we are all here” (verse 28).

Despite the fact that none of this was the jailer’s fault and none of the prisoners had run off, the jailer knows this is a death sentence for him. Paul and Silas had already been “stripped, beaten and severely flogged” (verses 22-23) for throwing the city of Philippi into an uproar, which could have brought the wrath of Rome crashing down on them. So Paul and Silas had been charged with being a serious threat to security, and because of it been locked in foot stocks in a maximum security inner cell with no chance of escape. 

No wonder the jailer cried out, “What must I do to be saved?” – because what could he do? He’d be treated like a sentry who fell asleep allowing the enemy to sneak through. Or the servant who forgot to check if the king’s drink was poisoned. He was a dead man for sure, and so were the rest of his family. 

So why ask “What must I do?” – when his first reaction was to pull out his sword to kill himself, knowing there was nothing he could do to save himself. What prompted him to ask at all, then, “What must I do to be saved” when there was no “must do” he could do to save himself, and he knew it?

Was all this orchestrated by the Holy Spirit, therefore, to get the point across that there is nothing any of us can do, or must do, to be saved? Because here’s a memorable story about a man who realizes he’s facing a death sentence and there is nothing he can do to prevent it. 

And that, to Paul, was the perfect starting point for getting his message across, that there IS a way “to be saved” for people who recognize they’re dead in the water because of what they’ve been or done. And what was that way? It was the same way Paul had been telling people wherever he went. It was the great news, that despite what people had been or done in their lives, “believing in the Lord Jesus,” verse 31, guaranteed their salvation, and in the jailer’s case, the salvation of his doomed family too. 

From Scripture Paul then explained all this to the jailer and “to all the others in his house” (verse 32). So this was clearly what Scripture said, and going through it time and time again with people finally got Paul to write it down in Ephesians 2

And it all starts with where the jailer was at, with the recognition that we’re all “dead in our transgressions and sins,“ Ephesians 2:1. Like the jailer, we all faced a death sentence because of what we’d been or done in our lives – or, as Paul phrased it in verses 2 and 3 – because of the way we “used to live, following the ways of this world.…gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” And because of it we brought the “wrath of God” crashing down on us (verse 3), just like the wrath of Rome would come crashing down on the jailer. 

“But,” verse 4 – and this is what Paul so wanted people to understand – it’s “because of God’s great love for us” that, verse 5, he “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” So, saving us from our death sentence had already been done before we even knew we were dead, to get the point across that it’s “by grace you have been saved.” We have no worries about what “we must do to be saved,” therefore, when what needed to be done to save us was done by God through Jesus (verse 7). And to hammer that point home, Paul adds that all of this is “God’s gift” to us, verse 8, and we contribute nothing (verses 9 and 10). 

When the jailer got Paul’s point, he and his “whole family” were “filled with joy, because they had come to believe” it, Acts 16:34. No more wondering what they must do to be saved; just believing what God had already done to save them through Jesus. And a salvation that far exceeded escaping a physical death too. This was salvation from a forever death, that the jailer didn’t even know existed, and wouldn’t have known if the Holy Spirit hadn’t allowed – or caused – Acts 16 to happen. 

And we now have an answer to “What must we do to be saved” too.

Carrying each other’s burdens

In Galatians 6:2 Paul writes, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (loving one another, John 15:12).”

Taking all our own burdens to God is what Paul highly recommends in Philippians 4:6, because God answers with peace. But here in Galatians Paul extends that to taking other people’s burdens to God too, because God answers with healing and peace for them as well (“pray for each other, so that those we pray for may be healed,” James 5:16). 

It made me wonder just how many burdens I’ve been given relief from because of other people going to God on my behalf. Some of those people I know about because they told me they’re praying for me, but I wonder how many people through the years have asked God without me knowing, that he would “guard my heart and mind” (Philippians 4:7) when I was going through stressful times, or carrying a heavy emotional load, and my prayers for myself at the time were sporadic and muddled.

But Jesus set that precedent back in John 17:15 when he said, “My prayer is not that you (Father) take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.” And to Peter in Luke 22:32 he said, “I have prayed for you Simon (Peter), that your faith may not fail” when Satan was out to get him (verse 31). Jesus knew the weight of evil that would press down on Peter – and on all his disciples through the ages – so he took that to God in his prayers on their behalf. 

And look at the power of Jesus’ prayers too: Hebrews 7:25 says, “he is able to save completely those who come to God through him because he always lives to intercede for them.” Carrying our burdens is what Jesus lives for and does “completely.” But that’s always been the job of a High Priest, from the time of Aaron taking all the burden of Israel’s sin into the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement and having that burden lifted off Israel (Hebrews 9:7), to Jesus now being our High Priest forever (Hebrews 7:24) doing the same thing for us. 

Right now, and every day, Jesus is “at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 8:1), “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need,” Hebrews 4:16. Or as Jesus said publicly in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” As our High Priest Jesus lives to do that for us. It’s what High Priests do. 

And it’s what his prayers for us as our High Priest do too, which is enable us to “Love each other as I have loved you,” John 15:12, because we’re in training to become priests too. In 1 Peter 2:5 we “are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood,” so just like Jesus we can carry the burdens of others and through our prayers take the weight of them so that people aren’t overwhelmed by them. 

And that extends to our enemies too. Rather than condemn and hate them, we can actually “love” them and “pray for those who persecute us,” Matthew 5:44. Because they are the ones being weighed down by evil, not us. They are the ones who desperately need help, and we’re the ones in a position to help them, because that’s what God made us his children for (verse 45). 

And Paul experienced amazing things happening to him as a result of “you helping us by your prayers,” 2 Corinthians 1:11. I can see why he wrote in Romans 15:30, “join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers” who had it in for him, because he knew the power of people’s prayers on his behalf. 

So, if all this is exactly what God intended, can we expect amazing things to happen for others too? Look what happened to Peter in Acts 12, for instance, when ”the church was earnestly praying to God for him,” verse 5. It really made me think about those in my own family and their burdens, and what amazing things God would love to do for them when I carry their burdens to him.  

“Pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up,” Ecclesiastes 4:10 says. But what a discovery when we do have friends willing to carry our burdens, and God answers their prayers because of it too.

Sharing in his sufferings

In Philippians 3:10-11 Paul writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and fellowship (with Jesus) in the sharing of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow (or “in one way or another”), attain to (or experience) the resurrection from the dead.” 

So, according to Paul’s wish, if we suffer and die like Jesus we can then experience being resurrected from the dead like Jesus too. Paul makes a similar statement in 2 Corinthians 4:10-11, that “Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.”

And Paul was saying that from experience – on both counts, both the  suffering and death, and being raised from the dead – because in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 he writes: “We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure. We expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.

So Paul experienced very personally the suffering and death Jesus experienced, but also the amazing experience of being brought back to life when all seemed lost and his suffering had become unbearable.

And that put Paul very much in “fellowship” with Jesus. But what a place that is, because in Mark 14:33-34 Jesus was so “deeply distressed and troubled” that he reached the point of crying out, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” 

So even he, Jesus, was “crushed and overwhelmed beyond his ability to endure.” But not surprisingly, when he also knew what he was in for from Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. And here he was at the very point of having his “heart melting away within me” (Psalm 22:14) as he experienced the crushing weight of all evil suffocating the very life out of him (Isaiah 53:5, 8, 10).

But why on earth would Paul wish for that kind of suffering to happen to him too? Because when it happened to Jesus, Jesus experienced the power of God. When Jesus took the weight of all evil on himself and evil crushed and overwhelmed him, God raised him from the dead, enabling Jesus from that point on to deliver millions of people from the crushing weight of evil on them.  

And Paul wanted “fellowship” with that, so the same thing could happen to him. As he explained in 2 Corinthians 1:6, “If we are distressed it is for your comfort and salvation, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” Paul could say to people with absolute confidence that God would get them through their suffering, no matter how crushing and overwhelming, because that’s what had happened to him. He was as good as dead, but he experienced being raised from the dead too. 

Or, as he phrased it in 2 Corinthians 4:12, “death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” In other words, “we suffered so you’d have the confidence, seeing God raise us from the dead, that you could receive the same power too. And when other people see that happening to you, they might want the same thing happening to them.” 

That’s why Paul could say in Colossians 1:24, “I fill up my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.” In other words, what Christ suffered was meant to have a huge continuing impact on many other people, as they too feel they’re as good as dead in their suffering, but then experience being raised from the dead too. And Paul’s life was proof of it, so that others would pick up on it and want “fellowship” with it too. 

You might say it’s our turn now, then, that, in our suffering from the crushing weight of evil, the power of Jesus raising us from the dead can be seen in our bodies. Because that’s exactly what Jesus knew would happen from his suffering, that “He will see the result of the suffering of his soul, the light of life” (Isaiah 53:11). The result being, that many more people will experience “the light of life” and being raised from the dead and “knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection” too, just like Paul. 

Suffer, suffer, suffer: why oh why did God set it up this way?

It’s two weeks to the day when I slipped on the ice and did a face plant into the road requiring eleven stitches in my nose alone. Three days after that happened I fainted twice from low blood pressure and off to hospital again where among the tests I was given was a test for Covid, and yes I had Covid too, that hit me while I was already down with a raging sore throat, relentless coughing and deep fatigue.

But that’s just my little tale of woe. Much bigger and much worse things are happening to other people. Canada was supposedly at war as a War Measures Act was voted in to deal with protesting truckers. Russia is at war wth the Ukraine, and countries all over the world are at war with their governments and their police state restrictions. The working class is at war with the stuffy elites, truth is at war with lies and propaganda, free speech is at war with censorship, respect is at war with smear campaigns, integrity is at war with hypocrisy, and transparency is at war with hidden agendas.  

And who suffers the most? The little guys, of course, as always, who are losing hope and patience as governments rip away their jobs, bank accounts, businesses, crucial stages of childhood development for their kids, friendships, family relationships, and worst of all, trust in just about every institution that had given us decades of peace and security. For the little guy it’s been suffer, suffer, suffer – suffering personally, suffering for family and friends, and suffering globally in the news every day. And all this over one tiny virus and trillions of dollars spent with little to show for it but misery we’ll be paying for way into the future.  

If only we could get back to “normal,” right? Get back to chatting with friends over coffee, building up a family business, not walking on eggshells around easily offended people, and governments actually listening to the people who pay their wages. Instead we’re having it shoved in our faces yet again that suffering is the underlying story of our history as humans. Which raises the question, that if God truly is the one who created us and our human experience, then why did he set it up this way? 

The first person to learn the answer to that question was Jesus, who “In the days of his earthly life, offered up petitions and urgent supplications with fervent crying and tears to the One who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his unfailing determination to do his Father’s will,” Hebrews 5:7.  

So we know Jesus suffered greatly too, to the point that, like Paul, the pressure was “far beyond his ability to endure,” 2 Corinthians 1:8. He could not cope a moment longer. He felt like he could die any second as his heart gave out. He was giving up, slipping away into the blackness of despair (verse 9). 

So why did God set it up this way, even for his own Son?

Paul’s answer was, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead,” verse 9. God set it up this way so there was no choice for Paul but to turn to God in desperation to catch him and lift him up and out of his downward spiral into hopelessness. And it was the experience of extreme suffering that taught Paul that – that God really could and would save him from that awful feeling of death.  

Jesus learnt the same thing too, because “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered,” Hebrews 5:8. He too learnt that there was only one way to survive his whole being spinning out of control into oblivion, and that was turning to the God he was so determined to obey, and trusting him to see him through. And again and again, just like Paul, Jesus experienced very personally “being heard,” and feeling himself being lifted in the nick of time, so to speak, from falling over the cliff edge.  

How else does God make himself so real to us than that, though? Paul got to the point he knew God would deliver him again and again whenever he felt like death was swallowing him up. And Jesus learnt that too, so that whenever we feel like death is swallowing us up, he can now be the One lifting us up (Hebrews 5:9-10), making himself real in our experience as he raises us from the dead again and again too. 

And that now puts us in the wonderful position of being able to tell other people with absolute certainty that God will lift them up when they turn to him (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). And this too is why God set it up this way.  

When life doesn’t work out the way we wanted

I simply had to write this blog after falling flat on my face from slipping on the ice. I crashed face first into the road and there was an instant flow of blood spurting out from a large cut on the end of my nose and from an abrasion above it that broke my glasses. Eleven stitches later and a face like Frankenstein, all plans had to be put on hold. 

It reminded me of the Christian couple who finally got the chance to go somewhere a little exotic for their holiday, but one of them ended up sick the whole two weeks. Or the Christian couple that finally decided to try investing their savings, but lost over half their money in a Ponzi scheme. 

But that’s life on this side of death. It would be nice to know if the sufferings we go through, therefore, have some kind of purpose. It’s not as if we’re being persecuted or suffering because of our Christian beliefs. Instead, our suffering can often lead to being less effective as Christians, because an injury or an accident or a loss of income mean we’re out of action for a while and we’re unable to serve. So why on earth would God allow that to happen? 

Is it, or was it, to punish us or make us pay for bad choices in the past, or to point out something we’re lacking? But I remember one lady who opened up her house every week for a home church study and a table full of goodies to eat, and we ended up with twenty-five people in attendance, including a baby placed in the centre of the table we were studying at. It was like a grand family get together and it was growing, but then she became very sick, bedridden and she could only communicate by pointing to letters of the alphabet on a card. But amazingly, she was totally at peace, and even with splitting headaches too. 

I simply had to know from her how she could be at peace in such a disappointing and excruciatingly painful situation, not only physically but also in the shattering of her dream to provide a happy place for fellow Christians to learn and grow together. So one day I sat beside her bed and asked her. I held the alphabet card while she pointed to the letters, J,e,s,u,s., and that was it. 

I was in no condition at the time to know what she meant by that, until I was working my way through Hebrews a long time later and up popped four words in Hebrews 2:9, “But we see Jesus” – just like she did.  

In what way do we see him, though? Well, in him living the same kind of life and disappointment that we go through (verse 14). He preached his heart out, spreading hope and the good news that he’d been sent to prepare us humans for eternal life – and giving us a chance to taste it during our lifetimes now too. But who listened? A few people did, but most rejected him and believed lies about him spread by the leading religious folk. And it wasn’t just his face that was injured, it was his entire body.

So why did God allow that to happen? Because it was the perfect training for him as a high priest, the primary part of that training being trusting God no matter what happened to him (Hebrews 5:7). It was the toughest thing to do, because surely there had to be a better way than what looked like unnecessary suffering, or suffering with no obvious purpose to it. But that’s how God had set things up (Hebrews 2:10, 5:8-10). 

And that’s how God set things up for us too, in our training as priests to work alongside Jesus. We too learn to be gentle with others like he was (Hebrews 5:2), by facing situations we cannot see the purpose of, but trusting God that it somehow fits in with our training too, the proof of which is receiving from him a “peace that transcends all understanding,” that also “guards our hearts and minds” from the temptation to just give up, Philippians 4:7. Jesus as a human received that help from God (Hebrews 5:7), so do we. 

Can I be at peace with a smashed up face, then – and when life isn’t working out the way I hoped or wanted? Scripture says, “Yes,” and it explains how and why too. 

Detecting Jesus “being a blessing” in our own experience

Following on from the last blog as to why Jesus is a blessing, Peter boils it down to Acts 3:26 and the reason “God raised up (resurrected) his servant,” which was (and is) “to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

So the reason Jesus was resurrected is very much something we experience personally, it’s very much meant to be a blessing, and it very much involves a noticeable transformation in who we are. So it should be easy for us to detect all three – but even more so with the help of what happened in Ephesus in Acts 19. 

Because when Paul arrived in Ephesus in Acts 19, it was to a city heavily influenced by evil spirits (verse 12). So how could God “bless” people in such a city and turn them from their wicked ways?  

Well, first of all, “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul” in verse 11, which included dislodging the “evil spirits” that inhabited people (verse 12). When other Jews tried to cast out demonic spirits too, but couldn’t (verses 13-16), people were “seized with fear” and “held the name of the Lord Jesus in high honour,” verse 17, to the point of “openly confessing their evil deeds,” verse 18.

So here’s a city dripping with evil spirits and evil deeds, but in Acts 19:18 people are already confessing their “wicked ways,” and in verse 19 they’re even burning their sorcerers’ scrolls in a massive public bonfire. So, owning up to evil’s influence and turning from it, even in such an evil city as Ephesus, is possible – thanks to the resurrected Jesus doing what God sent him to do.  

But it’s in the book of Ephesians by Paul that we get to see the blessings that come from Jesus turning people from their wicked ways – real examples, in other words, that we can expect to happen to us too. 

We see God as “kind,” for instance, in Ephesians 2:7. What an easy but remarkable change that is to detect, especially when compared to our view of God before Jesus got to work on us. Now we see God as a loving, big-hearted and affectionate Being we can “approach with freedom and confidence,” Ephesians 3:12.  

And instead of seeing people as enemies, we are freed from that evil too, just like the Jews and Gentiles had their enmity stripped away in Ephesians 2:11-19. We actually find ourselves happy being “completely humble, gentle, patient, and bearing with one another in love,” Ephesians 4:2. And being “kind, compassionate and forgiving each other” in verse 32 as well, rather than being eaten up with the evils of “bitterness, rage, anger and malice” (verse 31). 

These are easily detectable differences that prove Jesus is on the job turning us away from our old wicked ways, just as “building others up according to their needs” in verse 29 is, and so is our revulsion of “obscenity, foolish talk and coarse joking” in Ephesians 5:4, or being addicted to “greed” (verse 3) and getting drunk (verse 18). 

What maybe appealed to us before, but did no one any good, including ourselves, we now find we have no love for. What we find instead is our love growing for our mates and wanting the best for them (5:25-29), and for our children (6:4), and for those we work for or employ (6:5-9).   

And when personally overwhelmed by the world in which we live we reach for the armour and protection God has provided for us – as described by Paul in Ephesians 6:10-17 – to remain positive, hopeful and encouraged, rather than try to fight through our problems ourselves. 

These all make “Jesus being a blessing” in our own experience easy to detect, and they also prove it’s true that Acts 3:26 is very much something we experience personally, it’s very much meant to be a blessing, and it very much involves a noticeable transformation in who we are.

WHY is Jesus such a blessing?

Following on from the last blog as to how people who reject Jesus come to see him as a blessing, Acts Chapter 3 explains WHY Jesus is a blessing. 

Acts 3 had to wait to be written until after Jesus was resurrected, however, because it’s his resurrection that opened the windows wide to seeing why he’s such a blessing. And it all began with a healing.  

Take into account that everything from this point on would be new and never experienced before. An entirely new world was opening up, which for people back then must have been hard to come to terms with. But reading Acts 3 maybe it’s just as hard for us, because everything we go through on entering this new world is new and different for us too. But it’s meant to be experienced personally so that we too can see for ourselves why Jesus is such a blessing.

And it goes back to that healing in verse 2, of “a man crippled from birth” who’d been carried to the same spot he’d occupied “every day” to “beg (for money) from those going into the temple courts.” But when he asked Peter and John for money he got the surprise of his life, because instead of money he was told, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk,” and “instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong” – enough for him to jump to his feet and leap around (verses 6-8). 

But when people “were astonished” when they saw this familiar figure leaping around, Peter asked them, “Why does this surprise you?” – which seems like an odd question to ask when faced with such an amazing and obvious miracle. But it shouldn’t have been surprising, because this was  proof, verse 18, that “God had fulfilled what he’d foretold through all the prophets”  – the same prophets these Jews had heard from in the synagogues all their lives – about the great “times of refreshing” that would “come from the Lord,” verse 19.

And how would these great times of refreshing happen? Through God “sending the Christ (the promised Messiah), who has been appointed to you – even Jesus,” verse 20.   

You mean, because of Jesus the times of refreshing had already begun? Begun, yes, because, as Peter immediately adds, “Jesus must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything as he promised long ago through his holy prophets,” verse 21. So this amazing healing of the cripple wasn’t the sign of the total restoration of all things yet, but it was the starting pistol setting off what “all the prophets from Samuel on” had foretold (verse 24). These Jews could now read what those prophets wrote and realize their words were already in operation in their own lifetimes, thanks to Jesus being resurrected. 

And did that mean the marvellous prophecy God told Abraham, “Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed,” had also begun, then (verse 25)? Yes, the healing of the cripple being the proof of it. It was done in Jesus’ name, so Jesus was the bullet in the pistol that fired off that blessing too. So these Jews were now living in the time when they could see for themselves what that blessing to Abraham would look like.

And what it would look like is in the last verse in Acts 3: “When God raised up his servant” – when Jesus was resurrected, in other words – God’s purpose in sending him from this point on was “to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways,” starting with the Jews but extending to everyone else too. 

So this was how the great blessing to Abraham and the restoration of all things would happen, by a great healing, pictured by the crippled beggar, from everything that evil has crippled us with. It is now Jesus’ job to scour out every bit of evil that has infected this world, and each of us personally.

And this is why Jesus is such a blessing, because our history and our own experience has proved beyond any shadow of doubt that we cannot scour out this evil ourselves. Until Jesus was resurrected we were lumped with evil, suffocated by it, unable to ever subdue it. But now we can experience in the most personal terms being healed of evil’s effects and influence by the resurrected Jesus. 

The restoration of all things began, then, with the miraculous healing of a cripple, but it continues every day with the miraculous healing of us cripples too.    

How do those who reject Jesus come to see him as a blessing?

Following on from the last blog, and the need for those who rejected Jesus the first time he came to realizing he is, in fact, the greatest blessing they could possibly have so that the next time he comes they totally welcome him rather than reject him, how do they reach that point

How do any of us reach that point for that matter? From either not knowing about Jesus at all, or not wanting to know anything about him – and for some even hating the mention of his name – what creates that change of heart toward him? 

Paul, for instance, wanted to wipe Christianity out. He admitted to being “the worst of sinners,” because of his outright blasphemy and violent persecution of Christians (1 Timothy 1:13 and 16). Could you find a more evil man in all human history so deserving of eternal torment in hell than Paul? No? Good, because he now becomes the perfect example of someone who can and did reach that point of seeing Jesus as a blessing, and not an object to hate.

So what happened to get Paul to that point? Fortunately, Paul himself answers that for us. First and foremost, verse 13, “I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” It was mercy based on Luke 23:34 when Jesus, hanging on the cross, asked his Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And Paul was just such a person. He had no idea he was venting his fury on Jesus when making life hell for Christians. And even if someone had told him that’s what he was doing he wouldn’t have believed it. “Ignorance and unbelief” on his own admission had blinded Paul to any acceptance of personal blame for his actions, or that he was committing a hate crime against his Creator. 

But that made him into the perfect explanation for what, at heart and core, Jesus came for and longs for. Jesus “came into the world to save sinners,” 1 Timothy 1:15. That does not take away from, or dilute, the clear fact that Jesus fully accepted we humans deserve hell and destruction (Romans 9:22) and that justice demands no sin goes unpunished (Romans 3:25), but his Father had sent him to save us, not condemn us (John 3:17). And being his Father’s beloved Son he shared his Father’s desire, 1 Timothy 1:14, to pour out his grace abundantly by filling Paul with faith and love. And this is what transformed Paul from rejecting Jesus to seeing Jesus as a great blessing. It was, and could only be, by God’s doing.

But is that fair that God did that for Paul but not for others who reject Jesus and deserve hell? But God’s reason for it was to set Paul up as an example, or better put a gigantic billboard, that Jesus’ patience is “unlimited,” verse 16, a point well worth noting for those who believe God has a ‘deadline’ for sinners to repent, or else. 

Because why else would someone come round to seeing Jesus as a blessing? Why would anyone contemplating “believing on Jesus and receiving eternal life,” verse 16, follow that up if all they see and hear of Jesus are his dire threats to the religious and political leaders of his day, and not what he did for Paul, the very “worst” of them? 

That’s why it’s so important that we give a full and clear description of Jesus, that he’s all for justice, oh yes, but all for mercy too. He is his Father’s Son, sent by the Father to demonstrate and reveal God’s undying love for humanity. How? Through the worst and biggest monster of all time, Paul, who would have destroyed Christianity in its infancy if given the chance to. 

And in seeing that, with God’s help, it dawns on people, buried in their ignorance and unbelief, that there really is a living Being above all this mess who loves us that much. He may be invisible to us, yes, verse 17, but he also makes himself real through the faith and love he fills us with for his Son, so that we can truly see him as the greatest blessing ever bestowed on us humans.