A Kingdom Gospel

The gospel as preached by Jesus was the announcement of a momentous event that would change the course of the world forever. The gospel is revolutionary in the truest sense. The event at its centre was the coming of God’s kingdom to earth, with Jesus as its undisputed King. It can be summarised in one profound affirmation:


In today’s devotion, we will look at Christ’s stunning gospel announcement in Galilee in 28AD. We will think through its profound implications for the world, as well the lives of those who accept Jesus as their King.

Luke 4:14-29:

14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.

A staggering broadcast

To grasp the potency of the gospel, we must look to the chief gospeller himself, Jesus of Nazareth. That day in AD 28, in his home town, Jesus broadcast the momentous gospel that God’s kingdom had come to earth. Most stunning of all was his radical commentary in lieu of a sermon,

“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

No ordinary Bible reading

This was no ordinary Bible reading from Isaiah 61:1-2. It also echoed the 700-year old prophecies of Isaiah 58:6 and 42:7, that God’s anointed Servant would “untie the cords of the yoke” and “release from the dungeon those sitting in darkness.” What visceral images of the Messiah’s redemptive power! The Jews who heard Jesus’s reading would have been familiar with their history: how Yahweh had made a way for them through the Red Sea, leaving their Egyptian slave drivers to lie at the bottom of the sea, “never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick” (Isa 43:17).

No ordinary claim

Jesus was making an unmistakable declaration that he was the promised Messiah ushering in a new kingdom: a new dawn of freedom, forgiveness and restoration for the poor and the blind, the oppressed and captives. He was the liberator of his people held in dark dungeons of exile far from home.

“The year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:19) is an allusion to Israel’s 50-year Jubilee, when all debts were cancelled and slaves were freed (Lev 25:8-55). The poor were given a fresh start with a clear slate. “Favour” is the Greek word dekton, which links with “being accepted”. The announcement clearly suggested that Jesus would make sinful people acceptable to God and break the chains of sin. The Jews understood this language of redemption clearly and would have had no doubt that Jesus was pointing to himself as the great Deliverer.

The time is now!

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus proclaims the good news of God, “The time has come. The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15).

But instead of accepting the gospel as good news, it caused great offence to those who did not believe the prophet from next door (Luke 4:28-29), was God’s anointed king (John 8:46-47). Jesus’s claim to be Messiah and Yahweh himself was the ultimate blasphemy for them. It was this stunning confession that ultimately got Jesus condemned by the Jewish rulers, and crucified (Mark 14:6263). It still offends today, as human rebels want to establish their own kingdoms. Apart from being an unambiguous declaration of kingship, it was also a declaration of war.

Jesus bound the strong man

We live in a world at war. The enemy of the King is Satan, the ruler of this world since Genesis 3. In Jesus’ own words, he is the murderer from the beginning, a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44-45). He has held creation and its occupants in captivity to sin, death and brokenness ever since Adam and Eve chose to obey the cunning serpent instead of God. But as far back as Genesis 3:15, God promised that one of Eve’s descendants would crush the devil’s head. Jesus came to do just exactly that.

He started his ministry by driving out a demon (Mark 1:25-26). When accused of working with Satan, Jesus explained that he came to bind the strong man (Satan) so that he, the stronger man, could plunder the strong man’s house (Mark 3:27). Jesus clearly taught that he would judge the ruler of this world and recover what Satan had robbed. But instead of doing it with a spectacle of greatness, Jesus bound the “strong man” when he became a “servant” and died on the cross.

The cross is the bedrock of Christ’s reign

In what seemed like the ultimate defeat and humiliation, Jesus sacrificed his life on a Roman  cross, in the greatest miscarriage of human justice, to establish his reign on earth. It is scandalous that the all-powerful King of the universe should die for his rebellious people, but this is what grace is. Paul says, “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col 2:13-15). The great defeat was the ultimate triumph.

On the basis of his obedience to God, even to the point of death, Jesus bound the “strong man”, Satan himself. Jesus bought us forgiveness and life by obeying God instead of listening to Satan and grasping onto power for himself.

On the cross Jesus reversed the effects of Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden, when they obeyed the serpent and brought death. When Satan tempted Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world, He resisted the enemy because his kingdom was not of this world. Jesus knew that he had to die to redeem spiritual captives (Luke 4:5678). “If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:31-33.) When Jesus returns as King and Judge, he comes to finally destroy Satan and his demons (Rev 20:29-10), and to take his people home.

Infusing the gospel of the kingdom

“Make your bed!” This is the most famous rule of Jordan Peterson’s bestselling 12 Rules for Life –An antidote to chaos. It is another way of saying that before we try to fix others or the world around us, we should attend to the brokenness inside us. In other words, set your own house in order before criticising the world, and start with the small things.

It is the same for the gospel. Before Christians can DIFFUSE the world with the fragrance of the gospel (the subject of next week’s devotion), the gospel must first INFUSE our own hearts and minds. It is easy to say that Jesus is King and his kingdom has come to earth, but quite another thing to think and live with this mindset when assaulted by the daily struggles of life.

I can hear you say, “What practical difference can the Kingdom Gospel make to my life today? Isn’t redemption just about going to heaven one day?” Let me try to convince you that it makes all the difference in the world– right now!

Time to bear arms!

Right now, in this world, every Christian is at war. We are in a cosmic war on the side of Christ’s Kingdom against Satan’s kingdom. As the King’s recruits, each of us is called up to serve and bear arms (Eph 6:12)! There is no “peace in our time” even if final victory is certain. There is also no neutral territory. The kingdom of Self is just another province of the kingdom of Satan.

Most of this war is fought on the turf of our hearts. Our enemy is tough and we may get injured on the messy battlefield of life. But if the gospel is a life-saving, health-infusing drip, we need the constant trickle of God’s word into our broken lives to remind us of the truth that we have been set free. Free to serve, free to fight and free to live as the King’s redeemed people (Gal 5:13). Sometimes this drip may be akin to chemotherapy, which destroys the toxic lies of Satan and our sinful nature with painful side effects. But only if the light of Christ the King reigns in our inner world, will we reflect his light in our households, communities, nations and the world.

Let me give three concrete examples of how to infuse the gospel of Christ’s Kingdom in our lives:

1. Resisting dark feelings

Every time you fight feelings of anxiety, hopelessness or shame using the word of God (Romans 8:1), thinking on his promises and lovely things (Phil 4:8), you are standing against the Kingdom of darkness. Every time you turn your eyes on Jesus the King, instead of bowing to your feelings, Jesus is reigning in your heart (Ps 42:11).  Click on Lily Million’s beautiful rendition of the classic song “Turn your eyes upon Jesus”, and fight to live the lyrics.

2. Resisting temptation

Every time you pray against temptation to lust, gossip, be bitter, take revenge, wallow in self pity or criticise, you are choking the power of Satan over you (Eph 4:26-27). When you oppose an addiction or self harm, or when you flee from evil, you are standing firm against the yoke of slavery. You are living as a free person, not entangled by sin (Gal 5:1). Every time you submit yourself to the King and resist the devil, your enemy flees from you (James 4:7). You were not freed by Jesus to remain a captive to the enemy, for “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

3. Resisting disorder

When you forgive, act as a peacemaker, or create order out of chaos in your home, you are agreeing with Jesus’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus is reigning in the small slither of the world you call home.

Before you can diffuse the gospel’s fragrance to the world, Jesus must first reign as King in your own life.

Live it out!

Spiritual blindness and illusions of goodness are much more dangerous than physical shackles or cataracts on the eyes. Jesus gives sight to the blind and preaches good news to the “poor”—those that know they need him. Is your heart like a beggar’s? Do you find it easy to submit and depend on Jesus as King?

If you are not sure you are part of Christ’s Kingdom, this is a matter to be settled! If Jesus is who He claimed to be, he requires a personal response to his gospel (Mark 1:14-15). I implore you to read one of the New Testament Gospels to get a firsthand account of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many were astonished at his teaching and even demons recognized Jesus as “the Holy one of God,” (Mark 1:24), but being part of his Kingdom means bowing the knee to the King.

Are you bearing arms and fighting for the Kingdom of light in your inner world? What daily habits might you consider to ensure the drip of the Kingdom gospel infuses your bloodstream?

Pray Colossians 2:13-15:

Father, today we turn our eyes on your Son, Jesus, who has brought us from the kingdom of death into the kingdom of life. Thank you for freeing us from the chains of sin and death. Thank you that we are forgiven and free indeed. Thank you that every shameful thing we think, say or do has been nailed to the cross and can never rise up to condemn us. Help us, by your Spirit, to fight against the darkness within us and stand firm in our freedom. We praise you as the victorious King. Help us to live as ambassadors of your kingdom in our hearts and homes.

In the name of the king of Kings, Jesus Christ our Lord.


I highly recommended you read:

The Gospel of the Kingdom– Jesus’ Revolutionary Message, by David Seccombe. Click on this link to buy your copy online.

Click here for Lily Million’s rendition of the classic “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.”

A Precious Gospel

flower growing in rock

The small community of gospel believers in the first century was like a fragile flower stubbornly pushing its way through a rock face. An odd medley of race, status and gender, they germinated in a hostile environment and refused to stop sharing the potent message that would change the world. The ‘weak’ community grew from around 20 followers of Jesus in 30AD, to 30 million believers by the 4th century AD. The fragile flower of the gospel could not be thwarted.

Our text today is Romans 1:16-17:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Not ashamed

Paul penned these words at a time when Christians who believed and spread the gospel message were persecuted, crucified, burnt as human torches, thrown to the lions and crucified. The cost of the gospel to these early believers in Rome is well depicted in the 2018 movie “Paul, the Apostle of Christ.” (It is worth watching). The only reason these ordinary men, women and children laid down their lives, instead of being silent or accommodating, is because they knew that it was the most powerful message the world would ever hear.

Felicitas lived in 101-162 AD. She and her seven sons were martyred in Rome. Her efforts to share the gospel with others were noticed by the pagan priests who then notified the Emperor. Before being martyred, she witnessed the death of each of her sons. The authorities gave her the opportunity to recant her witness after each son’s death, but she refused.

You can read more about historical and contemporary Christian martyrs here and here. History gives us perspective and challenges shallow, comfortable Christianity in free countries such as our own.

In Africa, a report by Open Doors claims that there were more recorded killings of Christians due to their faith in northern Nigeria in 2015 than in the rest of the world put together: 4028 out of a worldwide total of 7100 deaths in just one year. It is difficult to imagine the tribulation of these brothers and sisters in Christ on our own continent.

The gospel of Jesus Christ

Jesus prayed 24 hours before his own humiliating crucifixion, “The world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14). From the first century to now, Christians have been shamed and killed because they were not ashamed of the gospel. They lost everything, not because they enjoyed being martyrs, nor because they wanted to belong to a cult (although there is great comfort in community). They willingly died because they knew the gospel was true and too precious to compromise. Here are seven truths that kept them spreading the ancient gospel of Jesus Christ:

1. They were convinced that no other message or religion provides a Saviour to bridge the gap between sinful human beings and a holy God(Rom 3:21-23). They knew that no one but Jesus can forgive sin and make us right with God through grace and not works (2 Cor 5:19Eph 2:8-9). The punishment they deserved had been meted out on God’s own Son (Rom 3:25-262 Cor 5:21).

2. They believed the incarnation—that Jesus, the Nazarene carpenter, who did miracles and spoke with authority and grace, was Yahweh himself in human form. They believed that Jesus had brought God’s kingdom to earth as he had promised through the prophets. Like Thomas and Peter, they recognized Jesus as God’s Messiah, their Lord and Saviour, not just as a moral teacher (Mark 8:27-2829-30John 14:10-11).

3.  They loved people enough to share the good news of undeserved grace. They were willing to take up their own crosses (literally) and follow their Master (Mark 8:34) because they were called to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5:20).

4. They had no doubt that Jesus had risen from the dead, as witnessed by hundreds of people who had seen him (1 Cor 15:1-23-56-7). The resurrection assured them that they too would be raised when Jesus returns to earth in glory, as King and Lord of all (1 Cor 15:23).

5. They believed Jesus’ prophecy that the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations before his Kingdom would come in its fullness (Mark 13:10Matt 24:14). They saw themselves as ‘gospellers’ until his return.

6. They loved Jesus more than life itself, because of his loving sacrifice on the cross. They knew that their hardships were nothing compared to their Saviour’s, momentary sufferings against the backdrop of the new heavens and new earth (1 Peter 1:6-9).

7. They knew that the gospel would triumph over every obstacle until it brings believers into eternal joy in the presence of the God of the universe. The hope of the gospel was worth the ultimate sacrifice.

You will notice that I have deliberately used words like “know”, “convinced”, “certain”, “believed”. That does not mean that these believers were free of doubt, fear and despair. They were just human like us. But they were convinced by the Jesus they had experienced, and the gospel was too precious a gift to dilute its potency. They knew enough to entrust Jesus with their lives.

This was the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it remains just as powerful and precious today.

Revolutionary gospel vs impotent placebo

But today, the word “gospel” is often vaguely linked to ‘good tidings’ or stories about Jesus.

In an age where experience is prized above truth, and belonging above believing, it is easy to lose the revolutionary core of the gospel message.

If we reduce the gospel to platitudes, Jesus’s moral teachings, church programs and rituals, God’s powerful elixir will be diluted. The ‘gospel’ will become a comforting placebo that is impotent to save the lost.

I have seen this firsthand in some church services I have attended, most notably, my son’s school confirmation. It made me sick to the stomach how the gospel was barely mentioned as the foundation for twenty young boys’ serious confession of faith. After hours of ritual and ceremony, they were pronounced “good Christian gentlemen” without a hint of the essential Biblical truths which make our faith so precious. It bore no resemblance to the robust, costly faith of these ancient saints and, quite frankly, was a mockery to our Saviour’s precious sacrifice.

The true gospel as preached by Jesus, the apostles and the early church in Acts, was the announcement of a momentous event that would change the course of the world forever. The gospel is revolutionary in the truest sense. The event itself was the coming of God’s kingdom to earth, with Jesus Christ as its undisputed King. The gospel can be summarised in one profound affirmation:


In next week’s devotion, “A Kingdom Gospel”, we will look at Jesus’ stunning gospel announcement in Luke 4:18-29. The following week we will examine the great commission of Matthew 28 in “A Fragrant Gospel.”

Live it out!

Are we sometimes slightly ashamed of the gospel for fear of offending people who disagree with us?

Do we truly understand that the gospel is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes?”

Is there a cost for us in following Jesus and being a ‘gospeller’ in the environment God has placed us?

Do we look and pray daily to find common ground with people in their brokenness and alienation, to point them to Jesus?


Father, I know that your Son will one day return to this earth in glory, with the angels. Help me to keep a constant vision of that day in my mind, so that I will not be afraid to lose myself for the sake of the gospel. Do not let me be ashamed of you in my generation, so that you will not be ashamed of me when you return as King. I seek to honour and please you alone. Thank you for the precious gift of the gospel. (Mark 8:34-38). There is no other name–Jesus Christ our Lord.


Worship the Lord Jesus with this beautiful reminder of the gospel by Andrew Paterson, Is he worthy?



Who but God?

Quis ut Deus? When I was growing up, my dad loved to quote the Latin motto of his old school in the KZN Midlands. Translated as the Hebrew name Mi-Cha-El, it means, “Who but God?” In simple English, “To whom will you compare God?”

What I didn’t realize until much later, was that this rhetorical question is rooted in one of the most moving chapters of the Bible. It takes my breath away every time I read these verses from Isaiah 40.

Isaiah 40:12-21

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
13 Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord,
or what man shows him his counsel?
14 Whom did he consult,
and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
and taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?
15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
16 Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

18 To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
19 An idol! A craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and casts for it silver chains.
20 He who is too impoverished for an offering
chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
to set up an idol that will not move.

21 Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
23 who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25 To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name;
by the greatness of his might
and because he is strong in power,
not one is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.”

Setting the Scene.

Isaiah 40 is primarily a word of comfort and encouragement for the people of Jerusalem, who will endure a holocaust and captivity in Babylon within 150 years. Their exile ensued from abandoning Yahweh and persistent idolatry (Isa 39:5-7). Written 700 years before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah 40bursts with gospel language. It begins with an announcement of Yahweh’s plan to build a highway between himself and his people. Isaiah sketches a scene of massive earthworks in the wilderness to reveal God’s glory to “all flesh” (Isa 40:5), not just to the people of Jerusalem. The voice that cries out is a momentous proclamation known in the ancient world as a “gospel”. Let us backtrack to the opening verses:

Listen! (Isa 40:1-6)

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
    that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord‘s hand
    double for all her sins.

3“Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,

“Prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

6 A voice says, “Cry!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
    and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
    when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    but the word of our God will stand forever.”

An eternal song of redemption

Even without knowing the historical context, we hear strains of a song that resounds throughout the Bible. It serenades us with God’s tenderness and mercy (Isa 40:1-2); his promise to pardon and pay for sin (Isa 40:2), humanity’s weakness (Isa 40:6-8) and God’s extraordinary rescue plan (Isa 40:3-7) through his everlasting word (Isa 40:8). It is the ancient echo of a Redemption plan much grander than anything God achieved for the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. But who exactly is this God?

To Isaiah, God is incomparable. Idols and the world’s most powerful people are mere grasshoppers, transient grass and chaff beside the everlasting God, the creator and ruler of all (Isa 40:18-20222324). Their achievements are wilting flowers alongside God’s word, which stands forever (Isa 40:8).

Suddenly Isaiah’s mood swings.

In the most tender words, Yahweh, the mighty King becomes the Shepherd of his people:

“He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young” (Isa 40:11).

It is the sovereign Lord himself who “comes” (Isaiah 40:10) with power to rescue and strengthen his flock. To tend. Gather. Carry. Lead. As a parent, these gentle, intimate verbs choke me up.

Let the Redeemed of the Lord tell their story.

Isaiah 40 resonates deeply with me because it reminds me of a time many years ago when God opened the curtains of my heart to reveal a glimpse of who he is and who I am. It dawned on me that the Lord is incomparable (Isa 40:25) and the things I was living for were empty froth (Isa 40:17-19) and toppling idols (Isa 40:20). He lifted my eyes to see the stars he knows by name (Isa 40:26). He pierced through my ignorance and arrogance to show me that He alone is the Holy One, Judge of all mankind (Isa 40:14), ruler of the universe (Isa 40:22-23).

God took me on a journey back to the beginning and shone his spotlight on my useless idols. But then He switched his beam onto the gospel and Jesus’ sacrifice to pay for my sin. Psalm 107 says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—those he redeemed from the hand of the foe.” This is my story of redemption:

Can I really trust God?

When I was seven years old I became a Christian. I walked with God for many years at school, but when I went to university at 18, I was like a chicken finally released from the coop, desperate to be free and independent! I didn’t realize it at the time, but the deep question I’d never fully answered in my own heart was, “Can I really trust God to make me happy and give me the good life I want?” Although I was a believer, the enemy’s lies took root and eventually led me to a decision to enjoy varsity on my own terms without the interference of God. I was well and truly captured by the “hand of the foe” like my ancestors in Genesis 3. I never doubted God’s existence, but to my shame, I told him that I did not want to be a half-hearted hypocrite. I prayed to God to leave me alone to discover my own way. I was too busy enjoying myself to feel the full loss of the friendship with God I had always enjoyed. Living as a hedonist provided ample distractions from the realities of life for three years. I was stone deaf to the words of God (Isa 40:21).

At 21, I completed my undergraduate degree. My friends and I planned a holiday in Zimbabwe, which included a trip to Hwange National Park, a canoe trip from Kariba to Mana Pools, rounded off with a 21st birthday party in Harare (that I would attend alone.) As we travelled from one beautiful spot to another, the quiet of the bush started to press in on me and gave me a wistfulness I had suppressed for a long time. I felt strangely alien from the friends and banter around me. It left me feeling hollow and sad. What I craved most of all was to pray, but I knew I had no right to approach the God I’d rejected and despised. Since I’d walked away from him, I could surely not change my mind.

By the time we started paddling on the Zambezi, I began to sense the wonder of God’s creation in the wide open spaces teeming with life, and smells and sounds that are unique to the continent we call home. The first three days were scorching but uneventful. We paddled in a steady rhythm through peaceful valleys, watched birds, ate mealie meal and baked beans beside the river and slept under a trillion bright stars. I saw how the heavens wordlessly declare the glory of God and display his handiwork (Psalm 19:1).

Then suddenly, on the second day, the peace was broken. It honestly felt like all hell broke loose! First, a massive crocodile rammed into my single canoe, dug his teeth into the plastic and tried to turn it over. I’m no croc whisperer, but it was evident that the giant reptile was trying to pull me out of the boat. Even after being hit by many paddles, the croc continued to trail my canoe until I paddled safely to shore. The next day was almost as bad! I paddled between a mother and baby hippo and came face to face with the fiercest maternal love I have ever witnessed! I suspect I could have been ground to dust in an instant by one snap of those jaws.

At night we set up camp beside the river, but one night we were awoken from sleep by loud trumpeting and the stomping of a herd of elephant at close quarters. As I peeped out the tent, I saw their vast tree trunk limbs stepping carefully around us! I felt like a grasshopper.

That was the night I couldn’t help myself praying to God. It wasn’t for help or safety. I felt strangely safe, as though the God who had always known me was watching over me and pursuing me with kindness. I just told him the truth– that I would like to walk with him again, but my guilt was too great. I told God that I did not expect him to take me back, because I had made my choice to turn my back on him and I must bear the consequence of that decision. It was not a dramatic prayer but just a simple cry from the heart. I did not ask him for anything, as I feared I had committed the unpardonable sin and had forfeited that privilege.

My adventures were far from over when I left the Zambezi River. As I was driving alone in my car at the end of the paddling trip, a whole herd of Impala appeared in the road ahead of me. The large male impaled my windscreen with his horns! As I stopped the car to inspect the damage, I saw the bleeding impala lying mangled and dying in the dust.

Behold the Lamb of God.

As I sat in the dust with the bleeding impala on my lap, I saw in my mind a picture of Jesus dying on the cross, along with the title John the Baptist gave him—“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). It wasn’t a vision or audible voice, just a thought. But the message was unmistakably clear to me:

“Jesus has died for you, just as surely as this innocent impala has died because of you. Jesus gave up his life to pay for your sin—your rejection, your contempt, your unfaithfulness—all of it. It cost Him everything to forgive you. Don’t despise his sacrifice any longer.” It was a powerful object lesson that I’ve never experienced before or since that day.

The Holy Spirit was like Isaiah’s “voice in the wilderness” shouting the gospel into my heart, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. Don’t run away from Him—Run to Him.”

In repentance and rest is your salvation (Isaiah 30:15).

As much as the Holy Spirit drew me to Jesus, I knew I had a choice to make. I could either choose rest and repentance in Jesus, or I could run from him again. I realised that the gospel of grace was being offered to me that day, just as it was on the day I first became a follower of Jesus Christ. The love of the Shepherd-God (Isaiah 40:11) swept over me as I cried and confessed my sin and prayed for forgiveness beside the road. I received only God’s compassion and healing in return for my guilt. It was the first time I truly understood God as my good Father and realised the horrendous offence of my rebel heart. I finally knew the answer to my question,

“Can I really trust God to make me happy and give me the good life I want?”

The emphatic answer is in Isaiah 40:272829-31, which you can read for yourself.

To end the story, I finally got back in my beaten up car, which now had no functional windscreen wipers or fan, and a badly cracked windscreen. I drove through a massive storm, barely able to see the road ahead of me, with a strange sense of peace—even when I realized I was running out of petrol! As I kept driving with the reserve tank on empty, I saw a perfect rainbow arching over the road ahead of me. It was just another tangible reminder of the God who is faithful to his covenant and saved his friend Noah and his family from the flood. I had no fear, as I knew his love for me was rooted in eternity. Foreknown…loved…before I was even born. A small problem with fuel was no challenge for my God who conspired with creation to draw me to himself!

One more miracle awaited me as my car started sputtering. I was free-wheeling down the hill when I saw the entrance to a small inn where I was able to harbour for the night. I had just enough money in my wallet to pay for a room and the couple who owned the inn happened to be Christians. They befriended me, prayed with me and arranged for my car to be repaired at no cost. I will never forget their kindness in helping a lost girl on her way back to God. When I woke up the next morning, it was the dawn of a new day – a new personal understanding of God’s sovereignty and his unfailing love. The ultimate irony is that I am now married to a crocodile farmer from Zimbabwe! Our livelihood comes from the same river where I was pursued by Gods kindness twenty-eight years ago.

Live it out!

If you feel lost, unworthy or fearful to come to God, know for sure that the gospel is for you. It is good news for those who know they have nothing to offer but their own weakness, shame and emptiness. The gospel is for those who know their need of a Saviour. Be sure of this:

“A bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out”(Isaiah 42:6).

“How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. (Isa 30:19). “The Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted (Isa 30:26).

Becoming whole is the work of a lifetime. God’s sovereignty and our choices are like two parallel lines of a railway track. Faith and obedience go hand in hand. Grace is required every step of the long and windy road. It has taken decades for the Lord to free me of some useless trinkets and idols I have clung to, and his redemptive work will continue until he takes me home.

I hope you have not been bored by my story of redemption! It has been good for me to remember the day I held a dead impala in my lap and saw my Saviour there.

This song “Rebel heart” by Lauren Daigle echoes the prayer of my heart as someone who has been forgiven and freed from much.

Pray Isaiah 40:27-31:

Lord, thank you that my way is not hidden from you and that you defend my cause. Thank you that you are the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, the all-knowing and all-powerful ruler. Thank you that you give strength to weary and weak sinners like me. I come to you today in my frailty and put my hope in you. I pray for your grace to renew my strength today. I ask for fortitude to soar above the troubles I am facing, to run the race you have set out for me without stumbling or fainting.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Chosen by God (2) (Three big questions)

ladder to the clouds

Fate…chance…karma…natural selection.

There are many human explanations for the good, the bad and the ugly threading their way through life. None comes close to the doctrine of predestination, and its twin, providence, interwoven throughout the Scriptures. But do these doctrines make any difference to our lives?

Does it really matter?

Last week on The God Walk, we left off in Romans 8:28-30. Let’s re-read it carefully:

“28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

We know” is a strong assurance of truth. It is not about how we feel or what we think on a particular day. The Bible says that Christians can know certain things for sure. Our text roots our confidence in five actions that God has performed for us, events that link together like the rungs of a ladder. It reminded me of Jacob’s ladder to heaven.

  • God foreknew us
  • God predestined us
  • God called us
  • God justified us
  • God glorified us.

Last week we looked at God’s sovereignty and what it means to be chosen, called and foreknown, the first 3 rungs of the ladder. In the next few weeks we will look at what it means to be justified and glorified. But at this stage you may be thinking, “If God has done everything for me in salvation, then surely there is nothing left for me to do? I may as well fall asleep under the ladder until the angels carry me up to heaven!” This leads to three important questions:

  1. If God’s purposes are supreme, why pray or evangelise? God will do it anyway.
  2. If God’s purposes are supreme, how can I have free will?
  3. Is God unfair in choosing some and not others?

#1 Why evangelise or pray if only God can save?

If it is up to God to change a stony heart to flesh, does that mean we should passively let go and let God?

Church history answers this question. The New Testament leaders and authors firmly believed and wrote about predestination, yet they set the world alight with their evangelistic efforts and fervent prayers. They were martyred for their activities, not their passivity. They understood that God uses human agents to take the gospel invitation to the whole world and that God commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30); to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ and to love others (1 John 3:23). They did not wonder who was chosen and who wasn’t when they took their message to the world! Peter in his sermon at Pentecost begged everyone who was listening to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38). John wrote, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). No invitation could be more certain, inclusive and comprehensive than that. We are not God and cannot presume on the state of another person’s heart. But God’s purposes for salvation are made known to us:

God has ordained that His name will be great among the nations (Rev 7:9Mal 1:11Isa 62:6-7). This is what God has purposed and predestined from all eternity! Every believer is called by God to play a role in this great redemptive plan for men, women and children from every nation under the sun. There is a confluence between our call as chosen people of God, and Jesus’ Great Commission to go into all the world and make disciples (Matt 28:18-20).

Those who are called by Jesus are sent out by Jesus.

Acts 18:9-10 gives me courage when I’m timid to share Jesus with others. Paul is facing opposition to the gospel in Corinth and the Lord himself addresses him in a vision:

“Do not be afraid; keep on speaking and do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”

This verse should pierce our hearts! The Sovereign God has chosen many people in our city too. In Africa and in all the nations of the world. That is his sovereign purpose which cannot be thwarted. The Holy Spirit will prepare hearts to receive Jesus. It’s not up to our persuasive powers. At the same time, God calls us to action, not complacency. We must actively reach out, speak up, implore, persuade, appeal (2 Cor 5:20) and invitethe lost to come to Jesus, just as the Lord himself does (Isa 55:3). We must support missions. The Great Banquet of heaven is big enough for everyone, and ordinary Christians like you and me are sent to invite people on the highways and byways of life. Jesus, the Son of God himself, stands at the door of hearts and knocks, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20).

You may be as timid as me. But if we are comfortably sleeping at the bottom of the proverbial ladder, God calls us to wake up from our slumber! (Eph 5:14Rom 13:11-14) We are called to stand strong, watchful and firm in the faith (1 Cor 16:13); to pray fervently (Col 4:2) to actively wrestle against evil (Eph 6:12); to prepare our minds for action (1 Peter 1:13-14);  to be doers, not just hearers of God’s word (James 1:22-25); to do the work of an evangelist and fulfill our ministry (2 Tim 4:5). God’s sovereign call and our efforts work hand in hand.

#2 Does God’s sovereignty negate free will?

It seems logical to a western 21st century mindset, that if God ordains everything, humans cannot have free choice. Thus, no one is guilty for their actions. But this reasoning is based on disjunctive (either-or), thinking. The Bible affirms conjunctive (both-and), thinking. Like a railway track with two parallel lines, the Bible sees both God’s sovereignty, and human responsibility, as true at the same time. We cannot grasp the gospel fully until we recognise the tension between these apparent contradictions—known as an antimony. Three Biblical instances illustrate this antimony effectively:

  • Genesis 50:19-2019 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Joseph’s story is the classic illustration of providence in the life of a believer. God used the brothers’ evil deeds and worked them for His good purposes. But Joseph’s brothers were not God’s robots and God did not make them commit evil. They were responsible for their lies and betrayal, and Joseph affirms God’s sovereignty in judgment (v19). What they did was evil, not good. If the brothers were not responsible, they would not have needed to repent.

  • Acts 4:27-2827 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

If we only read verse 27, it would seem that Jesus died because of a conspiracy between the Jewish and Roman leaders. They bear the guilt for Jesus’ death. But in verse 28, Luke makes the stunning statement that Jesus died as a result of God’s decision taken in advance. This is an example of how human will and God’s predestined purposes are mutually compatible. God’s sovereignty does not override free will or exonerate evildoers. That would make nonsense of the concept of sin—the very reason why Jesus needed to die on the cross in the first place. We would not need the gospel if God’s sovereignty negated our free choices.

  • Mark 3:1313 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.

You may have noticed it, but this is an extraordinary statement made by Mark. Jesus is the sovereign God-man calling those he desires. It is as though he has an invite list. Yet, the invitees  are still responsible to cometo Jesus. Jesus does not force them to come against their will, but He makes them willing to come! In this verse, we see a convergence of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, just as two streams would converge into one river. It is not a contradiction to say that we come to Christ because He calls us. God’s sovereignty makes our choice possible.

Spurgeon gives a helpful comment:

“I see in one place, God in providence presiding over all, and yet I see, and I cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions, in a great measure, to his own free will…That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory, but they are not. The fault is in our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other.”

Timothy Keller’s article is useful if you would like to explore this question further.

#3 Is God unfair in choosing some and not others?

In my experience, this is a major stumbling block to receiving Christ, and it has been a hard question for me too. I cannot do justice to this question in a devotional like this. If you are grappling with your own faith in the fairness and goodness of God, or know someone who is, read these John Piper articles and teaching labs on Desiring God as a starting point.

I would also encourage you to prayerfully read chapters 9, 10 and 11 of Romans, where Paul deals with this specific question, especially as it relates to ethnic Israel and the true children of Abraham. Then read Job 38-42, an extraordinary interaction between Job and God. Job is seeking to explain his horrific, unjust suffering. At the heart of all our struggles with God are two basic questions: Can I trust God? Is God good? They were Job’s questions too.

God is no pocket pet–Job’s story.

I must warn you that the answers God gives in Romans and through Job’s virtual tour of the universe, do not sit comfortably with our culturally moulded views! Essentially, they are blunt reminders that God is the Creator of the universe and we are his creatures. He is the Potter and we are the clay. The Bible is unapologetic about this. We are not in a position to question God’s judgments, mercy and compassion. We cannot understand his purposes and do not deserve his mercy (Rom 9:15-21Rom 11:33-34). Like Job, our accusations against God are words without knowledge (Job 38:2). Like Job, we have no idea of the complexities of our own planet, let alone what is going on in the spiritual realm. Job never did see the front of the tapestry in his lifetime, but perhaps now, from the vantage point of heaven, he has eyes to see the thousands of men and women who have read his testimony of unwavering faithfulness in the face of unjust suffering. Even today, Job stands as a lighthouse to us. Perhaps this is a small glimpse into the ‘good’ that God works from evil. God’s greatly beloved servant Job, had no idea of his divine calling. And nor do we.

To a sceptic, it may seem like a cop out to mention the inscrutable wisdom of God. But if there is one thing I am learning from the God walk, it is that the triune God will not be domesticated by human beings. When my children were small, they used to collect toys called “Puppy in my Pocket.” The Lord Jehovah is not our pocket pet! He is wild and untameable (Job 41). As the beavers told the Pevensey children,

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Not safe, but good.

God is not safe, but He is good. I can tell you that, without a shadow of doubt.

His immense love and graciousness is beyond question. The greatest chapter on election also reminds us that the message of salvation is for allwho believe (Rom 10:11), for all who call on the name of Jesus (Rom 10:13). It is not just for a select few insiders.

Yes, we need Gods’ Spirit to breathe life into our dead hearts, but we also need to open our hearts to him.

Sincerity and heredity are simply not enough.

We are responsible for our own choices. God respects our choices and never forces his way into self-hardened hearts. “We are responsible for our rejection of the Gospel, but we are not responsible for our acceptance of it.” (Martin Lloyd Jones)

Live it out!

  • If it is God’s heart for everyone to come to repentance and be at peace with him (2 Peter 3:8-10), do you have the patient, compassionate heart of God? Do you love the lost as Jesus did?
  • Are you trusting God today with your life, whether you are rich or in debt, healthy or sick, happy or grieving, loved or rejected? Do you know for sure you are in God’s good hands, or are you still in the grip of blind fate or destiny?
  • Can you patiently wait on the Lord? Or do you prefer to take things into your own hands?


Lord, give me faith to pray “Thy will be done”, while also walking through the doors you call me to enter. Give me the courage to trust and obey even when I don’t know what lies on the other side of the door. I am often blinded by the fog of being human. Father, keep me pressing forward in faith, confident of what I hope for and certain of what I cannot see. Through door after door, into unknown vistas, keep my eyes fixed on Jesus.

Your will be done…not my own. Melt my will and plans into yours, like sugar in a steamy cup of tea. May the result be a life that is always hot, and always sweet.

In Jesus’ name,


Join me in the last devotion in this series Chosen by God, based on Isaiah 40. I will tell my personal story of redemption to illustrate the confluence of God’s sovereignty and free choice.

Meditate on the goodness of God with this amazing music video by Andrew Patterson.