Becoming a steadfast Christian

“When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence… (J.B Phillips translation of James 1:2-4)

Only a masochist gets out of bed in the morning in search of trials and tribulations. But if we live in the real world, trouble will inevitably find us.

“Man is born unto trouble, as surely as the sparks fly upwards” (Job 5:7).

Loss, illness, disappointment and discouragement are like gangsters that ambush us along the road of life, sometimes in unexpected ways. As Christians, trials have the power to rob us of our joy and hope. After many years of facing the same enemies in the ring, you may wonder whether you have the strength to go one more round. Trials may make us question whether God has abandoned or forgotten us. Right now anxiety and despair may be your only constant companions. But the Bible calls Christians to stand on the cliff top and view our trials from God’s perspective. We will see three images emerging in the fog below: First, we see a furnace that tests and proves the genuineness our faith. Secondly, we see a personal trainer exercising our muscles for the marathon of life. Thirdly, we see a painstaking builder putting the finishes and unique trademarks on his beautiful building. The power of perspective changes our response to the troubles we face. If you are a Christian, trials hurt like crazy but they are not pointless. Trials produce faces etched with grace and compassion. They develop spiritual hardiness that cannot be learned in the comfort of a lecture theatre or from a life of ease. They produce believers who do not just call themselves Christians, but cry to God as their “Abba” Father. They produce steadfast Christians. That is why trials are not intruders but friends. Sometimes we only know that the faith we profess is a living flame when the lights are turned off all around us.

Today’s text was written by Jesus’s brother, James, to scattered persecuted Christians in the first century. James 1:2-4 (ESV):

“ Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Our faith in the furnace

Trials are the furnaces into which our Christian lives are poured to test whether they are real or fake. The result is a faith that is more precious than gold and a life that gives praise, glory and honour to our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-9). Being poured into a furnace is not an intrinsically joyful experience, but a painful one. Yet James urges us to ‘regard’ or ‘consider’ that experience as joy. He asks us to change our mindset to trials.

How on earth can we “count it as joy” when all our human instincts are telling us to hide, run, suppress or escape from the pain? My first responses to trouble are always panic, fear or frustration. Joy is the last thing on my mind. How do we get to the place where we no longer resent trials as intruders, but welcome them as friends? (JB Phillips translation).

The power of perspective.

James says that there is power in perspective. When we “consider” the permanent benefits of trials to train, tutor and test us, God will change our response to them. (It’s like my exercise trainer, Coach Kusch on Youtube! She keeps giving me visions of myself in a bikini to motivate me to embrace the burning in my glutes!) Perspective enables us to see hardship as a basis of joy rather than pointless misery. Verse 3 tells us to look at our circumstances in the light of what we know for sure even when it contradicts our feelings or circumstances: “For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” And steadfastness is the only road to spiritual maturity and the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:412). Thinking with the destination in mind reminds us that this is not our home. It makes us realise that whatever suffering we endure now is working for our good. Perspective gives us the capacity to be joyful on even the hardest journey.

What does steadfastness look like? (v 3)

Think of what steadfastness looks like in your Christian life. It has to do with spiritual resilience and hardiness. It is the staying power that will get you to the finish line. It is the perseverance that develops from exercising your muscles of faith consistently day after day. Steadfastness cannot be turned on with a switch of willpower or choice. A steadfast heart is God’s gift when we place our confidence in Him. It comes to us when we stand firm in prayer, trust and obedience even when we feel disillusioned, disappointed and distressed. Don’t we all wish we were steadfast Christians who are not buffeted by every wave of life? Steadfastness can only develop when we submit to the testing of our faith, just as Jesus submitted himself to the cross with his eyes focussed on “the joy set before Him.” Jesus is the only perfectly steadfast man that ever lived.

What’s great about the Bible is that its human writers were not monks writing from ivory towers, but role models of faith lived out imperfectly in the real world. Hebrews 11 gives us an idea of the very flawed ‘heroes’ of faith who have gone before us. The common characteristic of each of them is steadfastness in their faith. They believed the promises of God would someday be fulfilled even though they couldn’t yet see or feel evidence of this. They grew steadfast by trusting in the steadfast love of the covenantal God.

Perfect and complete, lacking nothing (v 4)

A Christian will never be perfect. But mature faith and Christ-like character emerge from the furnace of trials. That’s because self deception and hypocrisy, self righteousness, selfishness and pride— get burnt up in the flames.

Faith and character bloom and bear fruit in the ashes of disappointment and tears, not in the nursery of constant success and happiness.

Those who “lack nothing” are seeking their happiness in Christ above all else. They are filled with the joy of the Lord and enabled to refresh others along the way. Don’t you long to become mature in your faith, lacking nothing?

God’s grace is sufficient for you

Paul was a man who became mature in his faith, yet he suffered more trials than any of us ever will. Paul tells us that he prayed three times for God to remove a ‘thorn’ in his flesh. We don’t know the specifics of his thorn but we know that it was painful, it had its origin in Satan, and God did not remove it in Paul’s lifetime. Yet Paul shows us what it means to “lack nothing” in his response to his thorn:

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Paul responded to his thorn by resting in God’s perfect purposes and grace (Rom 8:28- 29).

It is easy to have faith when everything is going well and our prayers are being answered just as we have asked. But trials force us to practice in real life what we know in theory. Trials show us whether we are women or men of faith. They ask us whether we truly believe that God’s grace is enough for us. Trials break the illusion that we are powerful and in charge. Temptations prove to us that we need the power and grace of Jesus to get us through even a single day. Adversity turns our eyes to look at the face of Jesus.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

If you are overcome with trials of many kinds today, Jesus encourages you to keep your eyes on Him and not on your troubles:

“I have said these things to you, that IN ME you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

Only Jesus is the founder and perfecter of our faith. He showed us perfectly how to face trials of various kinds. He is the point of our lives. His grace is all we need to transform us into His image from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18). Jesus endured the shame of the cross for the joy of purchasing our redemption (Heb 12:2). That’s why we too can face our trials with an attitude of joy.

Read the story of Horatio G. Spafford (click here). He wrote the hymn “It is well with my soul” after a series of the worst tragedies imaginable. (Click here to listen to the hymn). He was not writing from an Ivory Tower or a comfortable couch. Spafford’s story helps us to understand what a steadfast Christian life looks like in reality. He inspires us to focus our eyes on Jesus so that we can see our trials in a different light. He shows us what it means to be confidently rooted in Christ even when his world disintegrated. Spafford’s life is an example of how to live out James 1:2-4 in the sweaty, bloody arena of life. Let the words written by this steadfast Christian on a terrible journey in 1873 sink deep into your soul:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

Worship as you listen to “He will hold me fast”, by Shane and Shane. Click here.

“Like a Rock in the Billows”, by Barney E Warren:

Like a rock in the billows I would stable be,
Till the storm is overpast;
Then I long to harbor, Lord, with Thee,
In my heav’nly home at last

If I trust in Jesus, and obey His word,
If I lean upon His breast;
If I keep low down at His feet, I know
He will give me peace and rest.

Like a rock in the billows I would never yield
To the angry tossing wave;
I would cling to Christ, my sun and shield,
For His pow’r alone can save.

Like a rock in the billows of a boiling sea,
When its waters leap and foam,
I would rest secure, my Lord, in Thee,
Till the trumpet calls me home.

Like a rock in the billows I would fearless stand,
And defy the threat’ning blast;
For the Savior holds me by the hand,
Till the raging storm is past.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds through Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7.

Seeing is believing

The Apostle John was an eye witness to the greatest event in world history. Well, to be accurate, John wasn’t actually inside the tomb when life returned to Jesus’s broken corpse. Nor did he actually witness Jesus sliding out of his grave clothes, taking off the white face cloth from his bloodied head and folding the linen neatly beside him. In fact, those closest to the action were four Roman soldiers who had closed the tomb with the official Roman seal and were guarding it with their lives (Matt 27:64-66). They felt the shudder of the earthquake and saw the angel of the Lord who rolled back the 2-ton stone from the door before sitting on it as if it were a deck chair. I wonder if the guards fainted before or after the angel had rolled back the stone to reveal a dead man walking! Perhaps just the sight of an angel dressed in white with a shining face was enough to shake those tough Roman guards and paralyze them with fear like dead men (Matt 28:2-4). Had John actually been an eyewitness to these events, his own shocked corpse may have been added to the empty tomb!

What John saw

But John was an eyewitness of the risen Jesus shortly after He burst out of the tomb early on Sunday morning. With his own eyes, John saw the empty tomb with the stone rolled away. The moment John saw the strips of linen and the headpiece lying neatly folded in the empty tomb, there was no doubt in his mind. “He saw and believed” (John 20:8). It was a moment of revelation. An epiphany. A point of no return. This is an extract from John’s eye witness account of what happened early on Resurrection Sunday:

John 20:1-10

“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there,and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.”

“Back to their homes”

On the first Resurrection Sunday in history, the disciples just went home! Verse 10 is the typical throwaway comment that only an eye witness mentions. But doesn’t it strike you as an odd response after realising that Jesus’s body was missing from the sealed and guarded tomb? Instead of looking for the risen Jesus, John clues us in on why they just went home: “For as yet they did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9). They were confused and slow to see the truth that was in front of them all along.

Slow to understand

Despite great miracles and Jesus’s prophecies of his death and resurrection, his disciples were slow to grasp the truth (John 20:9).

To be honest, I don’t blame them. After all, the only person who was known to perform resurrections was dead himself and sealed in a tomb. Let’s face it, for intelligent, logical people, resurrection from the dead belongs to the realm of science fiction or madness…or hoax (courtesy of Pastor Lukau!)

Humiliated, hopeless and hiding

The disciples had no idea what Jesus meant when He foretold that He would raise up the ‘temple’ 3 days after it had been destroyed, speaking metaphorically about the “temple of his body” (John 2:1921). After their rabbi was crucified, the disciples were humiliated, hopeless and in hiding. The trauma of the crucifixion was still raw in their minds. Resurrection was the last thing they expected. It is highly unlikely that this scattered, fearful group of disciples with no preconceived idea that Jesus would rise from the grave, could have colluded and fabricated a story of resurrection. From their viewpoint, their story had come to an abrupt end and there was no next chapter.

Unlikely witnesses

What the disciples had believed about Jesus being God’s promised Saviour was in stark contrast with the mutilated, dead body they saw with their eyes. In fact, it was only women who were brave enough to go to the tomb early on Sunday morning to check on Jesus’ body (Luke 24:1). Women of the first century were not considered credible witnesses. Even the disciples accused Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary (the mother of James) of seeing “a vision of angels” and telling “idle tales”. No one believed their eye witness accounts (Luke 24:10-1123).

Last at the cross, first at the grave

The most unlikely witness of all was Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus had freed from seven demons (Luke 8:2). If John were fabricating a story, this loyal lady was not an ideal witness to put at the scene of the tomb (John 20:1). But just as Mary Magdalene was last at the cross, she is first at the grave.

Mary’s grief is palpable as she stands outside the tomb crying (John 20:11). Imagine her confusion as she sees the ‘gardener’ and asks him where he has put the body. Imagine her joy as she hears Jesus calling her name and finally recognizes Him as her “Rabboni!” Isn’t it just like Jesus’s topsy turvy kingdom to choose Mary Magdalene as the first messenger of the resurrection? Mary is not unlike the Samaritan woman at the well who sees Jesus for who He is and becomes the first missionary to the Gentiles (John 4:39). Jesus speaks her name. Mary sees and instantly believes(John 20:11-18).

Seeing and believing slowly

Some disciples take a little longer to see and believe. They need things explained, and Jesus is always patient with our questions and doubts. On the road to Emmaus, the risen Jesus says to Cleopas and another disciple,

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27).

Despite their knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures, the two disciples could not see that their whole Old Testament was peppered with prophecies of the death and resurrection of God’s Messiah.

Imagine the disciples’ flash of insight as they recalled a picture of their patriarch Abraham and his obedient son, Isaac, carrying a bundle of wood up Mount Moriah… Just like the stooped figure of Jesus walking up Calvary in obedience to his Father, bearing a heavy wooden cross (Gen 22:6;9John 19:17Luke 22:42).

Jesus the ram in the thicket! Jesus the Passover Lamb led to the slaughter! Jesus the atoning sacrifice of Yom Kippur and the scapegoat sent outside the city of Jerusalem to die (Lev 16:1510;21;22Heb 13:12). Jesus the Rock in the Wilderness (1 Cor 10:4)! Jesus the bronze serpent lifted on a pole (Num 21:4-9John 3:14-15)! Jesus the perfect substance of flawed shadows like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Job, Melchizedek, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Jonah, Jeremiah…

Imagine the amazement of Cleopas and his companion as it slowly dawned on them that even Judas’s betrayal of Jesus fulfilled what was written in the Old Testament (Acts 1:16-20). They would have realized that the crucifixion was no mistake but part of God’s great redemptive plan since the beginning of time. How I wish I could have been part of that road trip to Emmaus as the Lord Jesus miraculously turned the lights on little by little!

Suddenly Cleopas and his friend connected the dots and saw Jesus for who He was. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us…while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32)

Their vision finally cleared and their burning hearts believed it. It is the miracle of seeing and believing that every follower of Jesus experiences somewhere on their spiritual journey.

Believing is not blind faith

Faith in Jesus Christ is not a crutch for the gullible and blind. John’s gospel is a cameo of the last three weeks of Jesus’ life through the eyes of a credible witness. It was written for an express purpose. “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31).

Believing Jesus’ resurrection is no small issue of personal preference. Life is at stake.

John asks us to believe his own testimony of the day he saw Christ’s grave clothes and folded face cloth in an empty tomb. John speaks of himself when he says, “He saw and believed” (John 20:8).

The empty tomb, rolled away stone and folded linen cloths were the basis for John’s belief.

It was not blind faith but faith based on what John saw.

Later he was even more convinced when he saw Jesus with his own eyes in the upper room and spent 40 days with Him before his ascension (Mark 16:14). John writes to convince us, who have never seen Jesus with our own eyes, that his resurrection is true (John 20:29).

If the resurrection is not real, Easter Friday is terrible news. In fact, the whole Christian faith is rubbish. Easter is a sick joke, our prayers a waste of breath, and we are naïve, gullible, deluded fools. Worst of all, we have no hope for ourselves beyond the grave. The Apostle Paul thought so too (1 Cor 15:1-20).

But John, Peter, Mary Magdalene, Paul (an enemy of Christians), James (the skeptical brother) and hundreds of other men and women who saw the risen Jesus— knew without a doubt that they were not deluded. They ate and spoke with him. It may have taken some of them longer than others, but when they believed, they were tortured, killed, disowned and exiled because they could not keep silent about what they had seen with their own eyes.

Seeing through their eyes

We too are called to see and believe in Jesus as the risen Lord. Not with our physical eyes, because Jesus is no longer with us, but by coming face to face with the eye-witness accounts of the New Testament. They show us the face of Christ in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. We cannot re-play history, but we can weigh up the credible testimonies of the apostles and offer a verdict of true or false.

We must choose to believe or disbelieve, but there is no middle ground.

I believe!

I believe Jesus rose from the dead beyond all reasonable doubt. I believe He conquered every enemy of God when He died on the cross and rose as King of the universe, the Root of David, the Lion of Judah! (Rev 5:5) I believe Jesus is the Lamb who died to ransom people from every tribe and language and nation, appointing us to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God (Rev 5:9-10). And I long for the day when I will see with my own eyes, hear with my own ears and stand with the thousands upon thousands of people and angels worshipping the Lamb on the throne! (Rev 5:11;12;1314) The greatest prayer of my heart today is that you will be there too.

Live it out!

  • Have you looked at the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection and do you believe it is true? If you are sceptical, you owe it to yourself to investigate this for yourself. Here are two places to start: Lee Strobel’s testimony and video The case for the resurrection and Frank Morison’s book Who moved the Stone? (click on the links). Jesus requires us to know the reason for the hope we have and to share it. Who will you share the gospel with this Easter?
  • Pray for eyes of unbelieving friends and family to be opened to see and believe in Jesus as their Lamb and Lord. No one can see it unless Jesus shows it to us.


Thank you, Jesus, for opening my heart and mind to the truth that you really died and rose to life again. Thank you that you are my own Saviour, not only at Easter but all year round. Like those disciples on the Emmaus road, please give me a burning heart to return to my friends and tell them that you have risen, that I know you and that you are our only hope. Give me the courage and the words to convince them of this truth. Thank you that you are my substitute Lamb and also the Lion of Judah who rules over the universe and will one day judge justly. Thank you that your body was broken on the cross to make me whole and that you rose again to give me life—- Life that is full, free and forever. Give me eyes to see you more clearly and a warm heart to love you more dearly each day.

In Jesus’ name Amen.

Worship and meditate on the cross this Easter!

Listen to Andrew Peterson’s Prologue and Volume 1 and 2 of The Resurrection Letters. His lyrics are amazing. Click on these links:

Elizabeth Cecelia Douglas Clephane  (1830 – 1869) was a Scottish songwriter who wrote this beautiful hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.” Spot her Old Testament references as you meditate on the meaning of Easter.

Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day.

O safe and happy shelter, O refuge tried and sweet,
O trysting place where Heaven’s love and Heaven’s justice meet!
As to the holy patriarch that wondrous dream was given,
So seems my Saviour’s cross to me, a ladder up to heaven.

There lies beneath its shadow but on the further side
The darkness of an awful grave that gapes both deep and wide
And there between us stands the cross two arms outstretched to save
A watchman set to guard the way from that eternal grave.

Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.

I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by to know no gain or loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.

A Curse, a Cry, a Curtain.. and a Convert

The day Jesus died was not a dark night but a dark day. At noon the sun disappeared and the sky grew dark in Jerusalem. This strange darkness is mentioned by secular historians like Thallus, Phlegon, Africanus and Tertullian.

Just as the night skies were lit up by a bright star and choirs of angels on the night of Jesus’ birth, God turned off the sun’s light on the day His Son died. Without a doubt, the darkness was an ‘act of God’ in the truest sense.

The darkness was real and not a metaphor. It was the ominous sign of God’s curse on Jesus as He bore all human sin and rebellion as our substitute. Then came Jesus’s anguished cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It silenced the mockery of the priests and hushed the insults of the passers-by and the criminals being crucified alongside Jesus. Then came another divine intervention. The temple curtain was ripped in two from top to bottom.

What was so striking about those three hours that caused a hardened Roman centurion to confess, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” What did the soldier see in Jesus that changed him so radically to make this stunning confession?

Mark 15:25-39

And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.

33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.”36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

The day the sun went down

There is no naturalistic explanation for the three hours of midday darkness recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke (Mark 15:33). Even secular historians agree that it happened. For example, Phelgon, a Greek historian in 137AD wrote:

“In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (ie, AD 33) there was the greatest eclipse of the sun and it became night in the sixth hour of the day so that star even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia and many things were overturned in Nicaea.

The problem with Phelgon’s naturalistic explanation is that an eclipse could not have caused the darkness. Jesus was crucified the day before Passover and eclipses do not occur during the full moon. The fact of the darkness is not in doubt from a historical point of view, just its cause.

The three hour darkness on the day of Christ’s crucifixion reminds us of the ninth plague when an ominous darkness settled over Egypt for three days preceding the death of the Egyptian firstborn sons. It was a sign of divine judgment to come.

Exodus 10:22  “So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days.”

Yahweh himself entered the darkness of Egypt to liberate his people who were sheltered by the blood of the lambs they had sacrificed and eaten the previous night. That was the first Passover when the angel of death passed over the Israelite homes.

The curse of the cross

As darkness hung over the cross on the Friday before Passover in 33AD, the religious Jewish leaders must have felt an eerie nudge from the prophet Amos who, in 750BC, had foretold God’s judgment on Israel for their rejection of Him. Darkness was the portending sign:

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
    “I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your feasts into mourning
    and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on every waist
    and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son
    and the end of it like a bitter day.” Amos 8:9-10

Was this first Easter Friday not a ‘bitter day’ when God the Father made the sun go down at noon in mourning for His only beloved Son?

The curse reversed

Even the Roman centurion realized that the crucifixion was no ordinary death. On the cross, God’s beloved Son died as the perfect Passover sacrifice. Through his death, Jesus reversed the curse that Adam and Eve brought upon creation when they refused to live under God’s rule (Gen 3:1017-19). Paul reminds us that only Jesus is qualified to redeem us from the curse of God’s judgment.

“For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law”…13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Gal 3:10;13-14)

Jesus became cursed in our place, so that every sinner may receive the blessing given to Abraham, through faith in Him. His willing death reversed the curse.

A cry and a curtain

(Mark 15:343738).

The centurion at the cross must have often heard the agonized shouts of condemned men, but Jesus’s cry was different. Mark records his actual words in Aramaic to heighten the intensity of Christ’s anguish as He was separated from His Father for the first time in all eternity. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This was a precise echo of David’s divine abandonment a thousand years before (Ps 22:1).

Jesus’s God-forsaken cry and the ripped curtain go to the heart of why Jesus died:

The essence of sin is that we forsake God. We reject His rule over our lives and disbelieve his word, just as Adam and Eve did. As a result of our sin, we are God-forsaken and alienated from Him, just as Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden. The temple curtain was the symbol of that separation. The curtain blocked sinful people from approaching God’s presence in the Holy of Holies. But when Jesus died and took the punishment for sin instead of us, God ripped this curtain from top to bottom to make a bold statement.

Jesus is the rip in the curtain!

This is how Hebrews explains it:

“…we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body” (Heb 10:19-20).

 “But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb 9:11-12).

The last word

God had the last word to the chief priests and Pharisees by tearing the curtain and opening up the way to the Holy of Holies.

The Jewish leaders had refused the offer of God’s Son and were desperate to see Him dead and buried before their Passover celebrations began. By ripping the curtain in half, God put an end to that Passover in 33AD, and also to their temple rituals forever. God’s message was loud and clear:

“My Son is the pure, perfect Passover Lamb who laid down his life for sinners. He is the final High Priest–the only sinless mediator between me and all who trust Him as Saviour. His broken body and blood is the ‘tabernacle’ not made with human hands. His death buys eternal redemption for sinners dressed in his perfect robes of righteousness. My Son has ripped open the barrier, so that anyone who believes in Him can approach me boldly. My Son has finished His work and fulfilled everything the temple and prophets pointed to. I forsook my Son on the cross so that believing sinners may never be God-forsaken again! The time for temple rituals and sacrifices is now over! The old has passed and the new has come (2 Cor 5:17). All I want is you—your whole life– for that is how you worship me (Rom 12:1-2). Put your faith in the Messiah I have provided and you will never be separated from me again. You will be my Temple (1 Cor 6:19), I will be your Father, and you will live with me forever!” *

A convert

The centurion who stood vigil at the cross somehow caught a glimpse of its stunning significance and confessed his belief out loud:

“Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Who knows what happened to this centurion, but his conversion is as remarkable as the thief who hung on the cross beside Jesus (Luke 23:40414243). By recording the centurion’s confession of faith, Mark sends us a powerful message:

Jesus is the Saviour of every undeserving sinner who calls to Him, no matter what you have done or where you have been. The only condition is that you look to the perfect Passover Lamb as your own Saviour and Lord.

Easter is good news for every sinner who has repented and believed in Jesus, the Son of God. Otherwise, Easter is nothing more than a season of empty rituals, just as the Passover was to the religious leaders of Jesus’s time. They trusted in their own righteousness and did not think they needed God’s Passover Lamb. They refused to walk through the torn curtain into the embrace of  God the Father.

Without personal faith in Jesus, Easter will give you false comfort. If you have not received Him as your own atoning sacrifice, you will go to your death alone and alienated from God. Only Jesus can cover for us as we walk into eternity. Jesus is the gap in the curtain that invites us to fellowship with God today, tomorrow and after the grave. I will end our devotion with Jesus’s own question to Martha at the death of his friend, Lazarus. He speaks to each of us too:

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26 

Do you live today with full assurance that you will live forever?

*Roydon Frost explains how Jesus is better in every way than what went before:

Led like a lamb

“All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.” (Isa 53:6)

“To (Jesus) all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)

Behold the Lamb!

John 1:29

I know God, because God first made himself known to my dad five years before I was born.

Not that I inherited my faith, but my father’s life after his conversion made Jesus real and beautiful to me from a young age. My dad was an indifferent agnostic until he encountered Jesus Christ when he was 25. This conversion radically altered his destiny and that of my mother, four children and 13 grandchildren. I have no doubt that future generations will continue to be the blessed beneficiaries of my dad’s spiritual rebirth in 1964. But what strikes me most about his conversion story is the faithful efforts of an Anglican pastor in a little mining town called Carletonville. Warwick Seymour didn’t just tell my dad the gospel in an abstract way. He took my dad by the hand and showed him from the whole Bible why Jesus appeared on earth and why He is the Saviour. My dad thought he could earn God’s favour by being more good than bad. For many months, Rev Seymour spent an entire evening every week patiently walking through Old Testament stories and symbols with my dad one by one: Abraham and Isaac (Gen 22); The Passover in Egypt (Ex 11 and 12); the sacrifices and the Scapegoat (Lev 16). They read Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 together and many more prophecies like it. Eventually Rev Seymour got to the New Testament and pointed my dad to Jesus as the fulfillment of the substitute lamb—the spotless Lamb that God provided to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The Holy Spirit took the scales off my dad’s eyes:

“For me it was the transforming revelation. Jesus was the substitute—the ultimate, final, complete, perfect and irrevocable substitute lamb.(Branded by Grace by Chippy Brand: p74).

That day my dad was “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from (his) forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:18-19).”

Lest we be distracted by treasure hunts, Easter eggs and Lenten vows, this is the essence of Easter:

Jesus is our perfect substitute Lamb.

Led like a lamb

In 700BC, the prophet Isaiah foretold the life, death and resurrection of the suffering servant God promised. Here he describes him as a silent lamb ‘led to the slaughter’:

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:6-7)

Surely this silent lamb is Jesus, whose story is told in the four gospels of the New Testament? Listen to Matthew’s account of him in chapter 27:

“Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed… (Matt 27:12-14)

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.” (Matt 27:27-31)

But unlike every other Old Testament lamb that went before him, Jesus was a willing sacrifice. Unlike the Passover lamb that was slain and the Scapegoat that was sent out into the wilderness bearing the sins of the people, Jesus allowed himself to be led to the cross without compulsion or fight. He submitted to his Father’s will even though he knew it would  cause him indescribable physical and spiritual agony. Even to the point of being forsaken by his Father, “smitten by God and afflicted” (Isa 53:4Ps 22:1-2Matt 27:46). As the Son of God He was far from defenceless, yet he chose to be as meek as a lamb. He refused to use his divine power to defend himself (Matt 26:52-54) so that his righteousness could be proclaimed “to a people yet unborn, that he has done it” (Ps 22:31John 19:30Heb 10:10121418). He was the Son of God but also the Son of man.

Is Jesus just another powerless victim?

“But so what?” you might ask. “Other innocent men and women have been executed for crimes they didn’t commit. Through wars and oppression, many people have been slaughtered like defenceless lambs. Many have died as martyrs. What makes Jesus’s death so special that we get the whole Easter weekend off to celebrate it? Aren’t Christians morbid to replay Christ’s death over and over again like the movie Groundhog day?”

On Good Friday we recall the historical events surrounding Christ’s crucifixion in 33AD in Jerusalem. Here are three reasons why Good Friday is more than just a public holiday for  Christians:

  1. We remember that Jesus is our substitute.

Jesus’ death is unique because He died to be our substitute lamb. He died in our place. Christianity does not make sense unless we understand substitution. Easter is a gory farce if Jesus died merely to set an example of how to be a gracious martyr. There is nothing romantic or glorious about martyrdom.

Substitution is not something our culture generally mentions much, except perhaps on the sport’s field, but the Bible tells us that the essence of sin is that men and women substitute ourselves for God (Rom 1:21;23). We worship ourselves instead of God. We place ourselves on the throne where only God deserves to sit. We claim the authority that belongs only to God.

When God willingly sacrificed himself on the cross, He put himself where you and I deserve to be. He accepted the punishment that belongs to us alone.

This is what Christ’s substitution looked like in Isaiah’s words:

“He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities…(Isa 53:5). The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all…(Isa 53:6b)…his soul makes an offering for guilt… (Isa 53:10b)….he bore the sin of many and makes intercession for the transgressors.”

For many Jewish people, the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the nation of Israel which has suffered unjust persecution in its history. But the prophecy is about more than just suffering. How can any human being or nation bear the sins of others or make an offering for guilt? Only God Himself can intercede on behalf of sinners.

And that is exactly who Isaiah’s ‘suffering servant’ is: God in the flesh. He is Jesus, the God-man that John the Baptist pointed to when he said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

  1. We remember our atonement.

‘Atonement’ is defined as making amends for a wrong or paying compensation or restitution. It is a concept humans understand instinctively. People seek redemption by atoning for past mistakes or regrets. Guilt may lead us to make a great sacrifice to repay or atone for a misdeed. Atonement is a major theme in books like Disgrace, The Light Between Oceans, Atonement and The Kite Runner. Many authors create Christ-like heroes whose deaths liberate others. One of the most moving historical novels is The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, set during the German occupation of France in World War 2. The main character, Isabelle Rosignol, joins the French resistance and develops a plan to help downed Allied airmen to escape over the mountains into neutral Spain. After successfully leading dozens of airmen to safety, operating under the code name “Nightingale”, she is caught and tortured. To rescue her, her father Julien falsely claims to be ‘the Nightingale’ and surrenders himself. He is shot while Isabelle watches. The scene is tragic but moving, as Julien stands in for his daughter to save her life. The analogy breaks down, but it is a glimpse of what atonement is about.

The problem is that no human being can offer true atonement. Not for ourselves or on behalf of anyone else. Each one of us is a sheep that has gone astray, turning to our own way (Isa 53:6). We do not follow the Shepherd of our souls and we have all sinned against a holy God, who cannot allow sin into His heaven. Just as Adam and Eve forfeited their home, peace and life in Eden, we forfeit ours because we have wandered like rebel sheep. Paradise is lost.

The good news about Good Friday is that Jesus, the perfect God-man, is the only One qualified to pay the debt we cannot pay ourselves. The Lamb of God offers us full, final, ultimate atonement, and there is nothing we can do to add to this (Heb 9:28). Just as Jesus promised the believing thief on the cross “paradise”, He offers every rebel sheep an eternal home with Him. In a grand twist, the slaughtered Lamb becomes the Good Shepherd of those who trust in Him for themselves (John 10:11-18).

  1. We remember the gifts of Good Friday

The first free gift of Good Friday is eternal life for those who believe (Rom 6:23b). There is nothing insignificant about the great exchange. We give him our sin and death. He gives us his righteousness and life. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21).

Because of Good Friday we also have the free gifts of forgiveness and peace with God.

“Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace” (Isa 53: 5b).

He paid the penalty that our past, present and future sin deserves.

“Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant make many to be accounted righteous.” (Isa 53:11John 12:27John 17:1-5). Those who believe are free from blame, condemnation, judgment and the curse of death forever.

If you have been redeemed by Christ, there is nothing more to fear in this world or the next. Thank Jesus right now for each one of the wonderful gifts of Good Friday.

If you have never experienced Christ’s redemption, what is stopping you from taking up the great exchange and grasping the gifts of Easter for yourself? Without atonement from the Lamb of God, how do you hope to stand before God in judgment? (2 Cor 5:10Rom 14:121 Cor 4:5) In what or whom are you trusting for atonement?

As we approach Easter, let us drink deeply of the truth that in Jesus’s death, death has been swallowed up in victory (1 Cor 15:54).

Click on this link and listen to the song “Forever” as you think about the Lamb of God and the victory of Good Friday.

Holding onto truth like a hummingbird

Col 2:6-7Col 3:15-16

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.  16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 

1 John 2:24:

As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you.

To grow up as a Christian, we need to be like a hummingbird, not a dragonfly. We need to hover over the truth, to drill down deep and drink from its rich nectar. Meditating and musing over Scripture is essential for spiritual nourishment. We cannot just skim over truth, picking up little tidbits of information like a dragonfly snatches flies. It is one thing to believe in the truth of the gospel but we will only grow to maturity when we “work the truth down until it affects the heart” (Timothy Keller). We need to linger longer over truth if we want it to change us.

Holding onto truth is one of the signs that God’s Spirit is alive and active in us. Sanctification is not about constantly seeking new experiences or signs from God, but about reminding ourselves of what we already know and allowing the Spirit to make this truth real in our lives. As John puts it, “See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you (1John 2:24).” “Just as you were taught…” writes Paul (Col 2:7). It is not a new story, but the old story that will anchor us in shaky times.

Rooted and built up in Him

Paul tells us to walk in Christ, to be rootedestablished and built up in Him, to allow the word of Christ to settle and find a permanent home in us; to constantly remind ourselves and each other of the truth we share; to sing the truth of the gospel aloud with thankful hearts (Col 2:6-7Col 3:15-16). The word of Christ is so easily lost in the clutter and endless activity of our lives. It takes discipline to meditate and muse over God’s truth, but the “peace of God (that) will rule our hearts” is incomparable reward (Col 3:15).

Peace is sadly lacking in our world. Technology trains us to skim over the surface like a dragonfly, darting from one dopamine distraction to another. It is urgent for Christians to carve out a time of stillness in our day, to sip on God’s word like a hummingbird, and pray silently without distraction. We need to remind ourselves consistently of God’s truth or it will slip through the cracks of our burdened minds.

The Rock

T.S Elliot describes the 20th century aptly in his poem, “The Rock.” Its message is even more poignant in 2019 as we reap the whirlwind of technology:

The endless cycle of idea and action,

Endless invention, endless experiment,

Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;

Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;

Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.

All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,

All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,

But nearness to death no nearer to GOD.

Where is the Life we have lost in living?

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Wisdom lost in knowledge

As much as it is a blessing to have access to great Christian minds at the click of a mouse, it is easy for Christians to have knowledge of words, but ignorance of the Word. We must ask ourselves, “Are we gaining knowledge but losing wisdom?”

85 years have passed since TS Elliot wrote The Rock. The internet age has moved us beyond wisdom and knowledge—to mere information. We must ask ourselves whether all this information is not making us more ignorant of what the Bible actually says than ever before.

Endless invention

Elliot speaks of endless invention, endless experiment. Novelty and sensation rule in our post-truth world.

Screens are full of fake news, fake identities, fake reality shows and fake celebrities worshipped by gullible fans. “Right” is whatever feels right to me and “wrong” does not exist. Christians are not immune. What passes for Christian teaching is often self-seeking anecdotes, spectacular stories, emotive slogans, motivational parables, comforting words and a notable absence of Scripture. “Self” takes centre stage and God is made in man’s own image. The plain Word of God is too dated and dull for hearers accustomed to endless invention.

God’s voice

But the Bible is God’s voice to us! Do we actually believe this? Through Biblical text, the Holy Spirit awakens us to what God is really like. God’s word is an accurate mirror to expose our sin. It is a surgeon’s scalpel to peel back the truth of our bankrupt, desperate state. It is a compass to direct us to the only person who can rescue us from death and draw us back to our Father. From Genesis to Revelation, the Holy Spirit narrates God’s truth to us, showing us exactly how to know Him, grow up as His child and prepare to enter His heaven when we die. Without Scripture, man’s words are mere opinions that cannot keep us stable in shaky times. They have no power to save us, give us inner peace or keep us firm to the end (Heb 3:14Mark 13:13). They may even deceive us and lead us astray (Rom 16:18). Man’s endless invention is no gospel at all (Gal 1:6-7).

See his face first

Robert Murray McCheyne was a Scottish pastor who died of tuberculosis in 1892, at the age of 29. In his seven year ministry, McCheyne had an extraordinary influence on Scotland and brought many people to Christ. We would know nothing of this godly young man were it not for his friend, Andrew Bonar who recorded his letters, poems and sermons in a biography. It is good for us to look beyond our own self-centred culture to see a man after God’s own heart, dependent on the Holy Spirit, a real shepherd of God’s people who meditated on the truth of God’s word before he did anything else. Here is a snapshot of McCheyne’s character and priorities:

Above all things, cultivate your own spirit,” he wrote to a fellow-minister. “Your own soul is your first and greatest care. Seek to advance in personal holiness…I ought to spend the best part of the day in communion with God. It is my noblest and most fruitful employment.” It was M’Cheyne’s constant aim to avoid any hurry which prevents “the calm working of the Spirit on the heart. The dew comes down when all nature is at rest, when every leaf is still. A calm hour with God is worth a whole lifetime with man …For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ…I ought to pray before seeing any one… I feel it is far better to begin with God, to see His face first, to get my soul near him before it is near another.”

Four practical ways to meditate on God’s Word (from Psalm 77).

  1. Ask questions (Ps 77:5-9). Asaph the Psalmist writes, “My spirit made a diligent search…” You and I can ask ourselves: “What difference does this make to my life? In whom am I trusting? Have I forgotten this truth? Am I living in the light of this truth?” God can handle our questions and they recalibrate our thoughts and feelings to reflect the truth.
  2. Argue your case before God. Appeal to his character and promises. (Ps 77:10.) Remind God of his names, his love and his goodness until you are sure it is true. Wrestle with God.
  3. Recall God’s great deeds. (Ps 77:13-20.) Muse on what God has done for you in the past to give you hope, strength and victory in the present. Like Asaph, preach the truth to your shaky heart. Remind yourself of his steadfast love and faithfulness to all generations. Meditate on all that Jesus’ death achieved and pray back these truths to God. Give thanks for his resurrection and ascension; his specific kindnesses to you and answered prayers. Name your blessings one by one. By mentally circling around God’s greatness through meditation, we reverse the obsessive cycle of anxious thoughts that often trouble us.
  4. Memorize “Fighter verses!” God’s truth is your best weapon of war. Write down and memorize verses that speak directly to your heart. As you memorize truth and say or sing it aloud, it will become part of you. It will seep deep into your heart’s engine room. This year I discovered a phone app called “Fighter verses” which helps you learn and meditate on one verse per week. It is a brilliant tool that every Christian should use! Click here to find out more about Fighter Verses.

Tell me the old, old story

Long before the internet or fancy apps were invented, John and Paul wrote on ancient scrolls to remind the first Christians of the simple message proclaimed by Jesus and passed on by the apostles. It is a true story of sin and redemption that goes back to the beginning of time. It is so clear that even a child can understand it. My grandmother loved listening to the ancient hymn, “Tell me the old old story” when she was 100. She instinctively knew that this ‘old story’ was the only truth she could hold onto as she hobbled into eternity, as frail as a little bird. Because she believed this true story and put her trust in its main character, Jesus, it brought my gran nearer to death but also nearer to God. The Hymn tells the truth of who Jesus is—his divine glory and his love for us. It tells of who we are and God’s remedy for our hopeless condition. Best of all, it tells the simple truth that humanity desperately needs to hear:

“Christ Jesus makes thee whole.”

Hover like a hummingbird over the words as you listen to this great Hymn, Tell me the Old Old Story. I pray that none of us would think we are beyond the rich nectar of the true gospel story.

Tell me the old, old story,
Of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory,
Of Jesus and His love;
Tell me the story simply,
As to a little child,
For I am weak and weary,
And helpless and defiled.

Tell me the old, old story,
Tell me the old, old story,
Tell me the old, old story,
Of Jesus and His love.

Tell me the story slowly,
That I may take it in—
That wonderful redemption,
God’s remedy for sin;
Tell me the story often,
For I forget so soon,
The “early dew” of morning
Has passed away at noon.

Tell me the story softly,
With earnest tones and grave;
Remember I’m the sinner
Whom Jesus came to save;
Tell me the story always,
If you would really be,
In any time of trouble,
A comforter to me.

Tell me the same old story,
When you have cause to fear
That this world’s empty glory
Is costing me too dear;
And when the Lord’s bright glory
Is dawning on my soul,
Tell me the old, old story:
“Christ Jesus makes thee whole.”


Father, help me to meet with you before I meet with anyone else. I need to hear your voice early in the day before I am distracted by the loud voices of the world around me. I want to linger longer over the old story so that it shapes my heart and my mind. Then I will live to please you. Help me to see the Bible as the rich source of truth it is – your very words to me. Lord Jesus, you loved people enough to tell them the truth about themselves. Help me to love others enough to point them to you, the only Saviour. Give me courage to read the Bible with my friends. My precious Lord Jesus, thank you that you are my Rock, my Root, my Redeemer, my Friend. Help me to remain in you moment by moment until I see you face to face. In Jesus’ name Amen.