Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Gospel

Jesus gives life to the full

There are so many wonderful things in life. The joy of love, family, satisfaction in hard work, the thrill of the race, or the game, admiring the astonishing beauty of nature, the prospect of a new adventure. It is truly a remarkable world.

Yet in all of these things, there’s always a blemish. And the blemish lies in us and in each thing we experience. For example our own cynicism and doubts prevent us properly enjoying goodness in love and work and family. And, as for the objects of our joy and desire – they always let us down in some measure. So, families fracture and fall out. Children forget their parents and live selfish lives. We chase a project with all our energy only to find it wasn’t worth the chasing.

In every part of life there’s always dissatisfaction. Any number of things can intervene to undermine success… from accidents, to mismanagement, to petty politics, injustice, corruption… even our own boredom, or doubts, or distractions.

The greatest enemy to fulfillment in this life is the knowledge that death awaits. It means that whatever we pursue is futile. Nothing can escape it… even the material universe. Everything must pass away.

If only there were a thread of hope dangling down for us from eternity. In the song, ‘Into my arms’, Nick Cave, the Australian songwriter, speaks of an, ‘interventionist God’ who might prevent his beloved from being harmed. Yet he can’t bring himself to believe that such a good God might exist.

But such a good God does exist and the Bible describes His character and ‘interventions’ in human history in great detail. As creator of the world He made us so that we might relate to Him closely. But since creation we’ve resisted this purpose. Yet no matter how hard we resist, He still loves us and wants us to be with Him. The Bible says that God has ‘planted eternity in the human heart’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Clearly, He meant us to spend it with Him.

When our purpose is eternity with God. How did we ever think we could find it in movies or architecture or holidays or skin cream? Whatever we do apart from God is doomed and destined for disgruntlement.

So give way. Give yourself to God’s ambassador, Jesus Christ, whose mighty intervention on your behalf at the cross means you can have life with God forever. Accept Jesus and the immortal words He offers all people.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  

Prayer: Dear God, I pray that I may have life to the full with You through Jesus.

Bible verse: John 10:10 Jesus: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full“.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

Posted July 2019


A major problem

Last week I climbed Uluru (Ayers Rock) in central Australia. On the way down there was a man who became very unwell around 3/4 of the way up the climb chain. He was being assisted by two off-duty police officers and two off-duty paramedics. This turned into a major problem when he suffered a heart attack. They performed CPR and used a defibrillator to shock his heart back into a survivable rhythm, saving his life. A few hours later the man was carefully moved down the steep face of the rock on a stretcher using ropes and pulleys. He was treated at Yulara Health Centre before being flown to Alice Springs Hospital by the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and then to Adelaide for specialist heart surgery.

This post looks at a major problem faced by a commander in the Syrian army, which is described in the Bible. We will see from this that God can deliver us from our major problem.

Text

Naaman’s problem is described in 2 Kings 5:1-15 (NIV):

1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram [Syria]. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.

Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet [Elisha] who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”

Context

Author – An unknown Jew wrote 1&2 Kings under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Pt. 1:20-21).

Audience – 1 & 2 Kings was written to fellow Jews who were in exile in Babylon.

Content – 1 & 2 Kings is a selective history of Israel from the time of king Solomon (970BC) to the Babylonian exile (586BC). This is about 384 years of history.

When written (or complied) – 1 & 2 Kings was written after the conquest of Judah in 586BC, probably during the Babylonian exile (say about 550BC).

Kingdoms of Israel and Judah – After the reign of Solomon, the Hebrew nation was divided into two kingdoms: Israel was in the north whose capital was Samaria, and Judah was in the south whose capital was Jerusalem. Israel lasted 210 years until it was conquered in 722BC, and Judah lasted 345 years until it was conquered in 586BC. They were conquered because of their idolatry and disobedience of their covenant with God (Dt. 28:32-37, 47-57, 63-64).

Aram (Syria) – Aram was a Gentile nation north-east of Israel whose capital was Damascus. It was an idol worshipping enemy of Israel.

Date of incident – Naaman was healed in about 850BC, which was about three years after the king of Israel (Ahab) was killed in a war between Aram and Israel.

What happened before? – The incident is preceded by examples of Israel’s sin (idolatry), which was followed by God’s judgment (defeat in battle and death). There are also examples of Israel’s faithfulness, which is followed by God’s reward (victory in battle).

What happened afterwards? – The incident is followed by Gehazi’s (Elisha’s servant) sin (greed), which is followed by God’s punishment (leprosy).

How did God usually communicate to people in those days? God communicated via prophets, whose message is recorded in the Old Testament.

What happened?

Naaman had a major problem – a skin disease like leprosy. This was a serious skin disease that covered his body for everyone to see. As this was incurable, he would have been dismayed and depressed. And he would have felt like someone who had terminal cancer.

But this isn’t the end of the story. The Biblical account describes how, with the help of God, Naaman was delivered from his problem. This involved traveling about 250 km (155 miles) from Damascus to Samaria to receive instructions from the prophet Elisha.

What did it mean then?

What’s the main point?

God healed a Gentile, who was outside the promises given to Israel! All Naaman had to do was to obey the Lord’s message given by Elisha. Jesus explained that when Israel rejected God, a Gentile received the covenant blessing instead (Lk. 4:24-27). For the Israelites, obedience led to physical blessings (Dt. 28:1-14). And disease was one of the punishments for disobedience (Dt. 28:21-22, 27-29). This was a lesson to the disobedient Israelites that they would only receive God’s blessing if they obeyed God.

This shows that God cared for people outside His special people (the Israelites). For example, God also cared for the people of Nineveh who were Assyrians, one of Israel’s enemies (Jon. 4:11). These Gentiles were “without hope and without God” (Eph. 2:11-12). But God’s kindness and grace is shown when He helps those like Gentiles who don’t deserve His help.

What other things did we notice?

There were a chain of people involved in Naaman’s healing: the servant girl-Naaman’s wife-Naaman-the king of Aram (Syria)-the king of Israel-Elisha-Elisha’s messenger-Naaman’s servants. We see that God uses people to carry out His purposes on earth. This includes both the godly (servant girl), and the ungodly (king of Israel). As God intended for Israel, she was a witness to God’s power (1 Ki. 8:41-43). Meanwhile, the king of Israel was worshipping idols.

There was only one way to be healed. Naaman had to overcome his pride and follow God’s instructions to be delivered from leprosy. Naaman thought his cure could be bought with wealth, but Elisha refused payment for what God had done. And Naaman thought that Elisha would heal him in a dramatic way, but it was clear that Elisha was not a healer but God’s messenger. Instead he was healed by the power of God.

After he was healed, Naaman changed from worshipping idols to worshipping the true God. This shows that he knew who had healed him and he was grateful and thankful.

What does it mean now?

What has changed since when Naaman lived?

How has the Bible changed? We now have the New Testament. Since the time of Naaman, Jesus has come and fulfilled the promises in the Old Testament of a Messiah.

Who are God’s people today? They are believers in Jesus Christ who are also called Christians, or the church. They can be from any nation – Jews have no special privileges, and Gentiles have no special barriers. They live under the new covenant given in the New testament, and not under the old one given to Moses. The books of Acts to Revelation in the Bible were written to the early church.

Under the new covenant, God promises spiritual blessings to those who follow Him, and not physical blessings like those in the old covenant (Dt. 28:1-14; Eph. 1:3).

What’s the main point?

What’s our major problem today? Is it poverty? War? Terrorism? Global warming? The economy? Destruction of the natural environment? Overpopulation? Or, inequality? Like Naaman’s disease, these are all physical problems.

The Bible says that the root cause of all these problems is human sin. We have all sinned and the consequence is separation from God (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). So sin is our major problem. It’s all-encompassing. It’s like terminal cancer. And it keeps us from going to heaven, which is God’s perfect place for us. But unlike the other problems, it’s spiritual and not physical.

Naaman was healed after he humbly obeyed God’s instruction. At first, he arrogantly wanted to wash in the rivers of Damascus, instead of washing in the Jordan river in Israel. But after he changed his mind and washed in the Jordan river, he was delivered from the leprosy. Likewise, if we obey God’s instruction in the Bible, God can deliver us from our major problem of sin.

What’s sin?

The word ’sin’ can mean different things for different people including the following:

– Something naughty but fun (not too serious – like pornography – even adultery), or
– Something completely normal which religious weirdo’s think is wrong (like dancing), or
– A list of don’ts that an angry fictional God keeps score over, or
– Big ticket moral failures (like murder, theft etc.).

According to the Bible, sin is anything that we think, say, or do that displeases God or that breaks His laws. And it includes not doing what we know we should. Sin is a symptom of humanity’s rebellion against God.

Lessons for us

What’s the application to unbelievers?

Like Naaman, unbelievers have a major problem. It’s called sin. But they can be delivered if they obey God’s instructions by confessing their sin and trusting in Christ’s vicarious payment of the penalty. Like Naaman, there is only one way of deliverance. It’s good to know that God can deliver us from our major problem. But we need to seek His help.

We’re all rebels and God is entitled to hold us to account for our treatment of Him. But judgment isn’t the last word with God. The good news is that, whilst “the wages of sin is death [separation from God]” … “the free gift of God is eternal life [in heaven] through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23NLT). So, while there’s still time, stop and ask Jesus for help.

What’s the application to believers?

Like the servant girl, Christians know about God’s solution to people’s major problem of sin. But do we share God’s way of deliverance with others?

After Naaman was healed, he offered thanks and praise to the real God who delivered him from a major problem. Do we regularly thank and praise God for delivering us from the penalty of our sin?

Written, June 2019

Also see: Continual Thanksgiving


Sin is not as much fun as you think

Why do we sin? Because it’s a chore – of course not! Actually, we do the wrong thing because it’s fun, satisfying or seems too difficult to resist. Why would we bother if it weren’t any of those things? Lowering the car window and letting rip at the stupid person blocking our way… how good did that feel? Revealing that choice morsel of information … everyone in the office deserves to know what happened! Mostly, our sin reveals a lot about the kind of person we really are.

Some years back a newspaper article named seven high profile males (mostly politicians) found to be adulterers. Collectively they had fathered 24 children. The article pondered the damage caused to those 24 lives and the sad ending to public careers.

Why did those men behave so destructively? It’s tempting to excuse their actions by finding fault with sexless or unsatisfying marriages. But let’s not forget the ‘fun’ part. They gave in to what the Bible calls ‘the fleeting pleasures of sin’ (Hebrews 11:25). And even if their marriages were rocky and difficult, was adultery the solution? Had they worked hard, with counsellors, to make their marriages work? Unlikely. But now there was a social stigma to be borne. And not just by them. Wives and children are always caught up as well. Life after sin can be an eternity of regret.

There’s another more important answer to the question, ‘Why do we sin?’ And it’s this. We haven’t taught ourselves to hate what is evil. Are we feeling downcast about sin because we’ve been caught out? There needs to be a better reason. We need to hate evil because it’s evil. And we need to care about pleasing God. If that’s our mindset then, when temptation presents, we’ll feel alarmed, even nauseous at the prospect of betraying God.

There’s a letter in the Bible written by the missionary, Paul of Tarsus to Christians in the city of Rome. It contains a great challenge.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2).

A little later on in his letter Paul writes:

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong [evil]. Hold tightly to what is good (Romans 12:9).

None of us have the strength to do this perfectly. We need God’s help. Let’s pray to Him about this.

Prayer: Dear God, give me the strength to say, ‘No’ to temptation so that I can honor you and protect both myself and those around me.

Bible verse: Romans 12:9 “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong [evil]. Hold tightly to what is good“.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

Posted June 2019


Don’t let Christians put you off Jesus

Suppose there’s a man in a town with a history of shady business practices and fraudulent dealings. He also happens to be a regular church-goer.

Many people where he lives know the man to be shonky and would say they’ve been ‘ripped off’ as would people in other towns. What’s terrible is that some people where the man lives say, ‘If that man is a Christian, then I don’t want any part of Christianity’. And, at one level, their reaction is understandable.

The story raises questions about what it means to be a genuine Christian and what churches and other Christians should do when people say they are Christian but their actions clearly aren’t. You can imagine that the answers aren’t always easy.

Certainly the Bible says that those people whose lives are grossly hypocritical and who refuse to change ought to be excluded from church. But what if they keep calling themselves Christian in the community? Or they just move to another church and start again?

Or what if a church or a whole movement of people begin to do things in the name of Jesus that are just plainly at odds with the Bible? History is full of appalling things done in the name of Jesus. Some are well known: the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, people burning each other at stakes. Thankfully, it’s simply not possible to justify these kinds of things from the Bible.

So where does the problem lie? Not with God. The very reason Jesus came to earth was because we’ve got a major issue. It’s called sin. And sin is in every person. We all think, say and do things that we should rightly be ashamed of.

Jesus said this about His coming into the world: God’s light [Jesus] came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil (John 3:19).

What we mustn’t do is use the bad example of some ‘Christians’ as an excuse for not worshipping Jesus and coming into the light ourselves. That’s because the only people who can join the Christian movement are sinners willing to repent. So any person in church will always be a moral failure. Including you!

So yes, Christians should be people who try to live changed lives full of joy and good deeds. All of them will struggle in doing this. And yes, occasionally you’ll find some that seem to be really just pretending. But don’t let Christians put you off Jesus.

Bible verse: John 3:19 “God’s light [Jesus] came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.”

Prayer: Dear God, please help me to leave behind evil works and worship you in the light.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

Posted, May 2019


We all need forgiveness

No matter how interested you are in cricket, it’s Australia’s national game. Indeed, when he was Prime Minister, John Howard, reckoned he had the second most important job in the nation after the Australian cricket captain. If that’s true, then a year ago, in March, we had a crisis of national leadership when our nation’s captain, vice captain and another player were caught tampering with the ball.

One year later, on March 29, 2019, the most severe bans ever handed down by Cricket Australia for on field behavior will come to an end. After a year’s forced absence, former captain, Steve Smith, and former vice captain, David Warner will once more be eligible to play for Australia, New South Wales and their Big Bash teams.

When the ball tampering was discovered the almost universal response from media commentators and the general public was that the punishment needed to be significant. One online poll with over 45,000 responses had 91% saying that Smith should lose the captaincy for good.

All of this shows that most Australians not only don’t believe in winning by any means, but they also do believe in honesty and justice. And they want the consequences of justice applied equally – even if it means losing international competitions because our best players are absent through penalty.

However, if we want justice applied equally to others then we need to be willing to have it applied equally to ourselves as well. And that’s going to be tough. Because if we’re honest we’ll need to admit that we’ve all done things that deserve punishment.

And if we’re brutally honest… we’ll acknowledge that the one person we absolutely must talk to about our wrongdoing is God. After all, He’s our maker. Ultimately, we’re going to have to answer to Him. In the Bible, God makes it clear that, ‘everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard’.

God’s standards are much higher than ours. His standard is perfection. Which means He cannot tolerate evil and will not allow it into heaven with Him.

The good news though, is that if we front up to God now about our failings God is willing to offer an amnesty for the penalty we deserve. Instead of punishing us God promises that our penalty has been dealt with by Jesus at the cross. The Bible puts it this way

“Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God” (1Peter 3:18).

So, take the amnesty. Pray now.

Bible verse: Romans 3:23, “everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard”.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for sending Jesus to take my penalty on Himself at the cross. Please help me to live with you as my Lord.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

Posted, March 2019


Steps to peace with God

The Bible tells us how to overcome the obstacles that prevent us from being reconciled with God. First, we need to recognize God’s purpose for us.

God’s purpose for us is peace and life

God loves you and wants you to experience peace and life – abundant and eternal.

The Bible says:
– “We have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us” (Rom. 5:1NLT).
– “This is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
– “My purpose is to give them [people] a rich and satisfying life” (Jn. 10:10).

So we need to recognize that God’s purpose for us is peace and life. Why don’t most people have this peace and abundant life that God planned for us to have? Because there is an obstacle or barrier in the way. In order to remove the obstacle or barrier, we need to realize our greatest problem.

Our problem is that sin separates us from God

God created us in His own image to have an abundant life. He did not make us as robots to automatically love and obey Him. God gave us a will and a freedom of choice. We choose to disobey God and go our own wilful way. We still make this choice today. This results in separation from God.

The Bible says:
– “Everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Rom. 3:23).
– “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

So we need to realize that our choice results in separation from God. But people have tried many ways to remove the obstacle or barrier that separates us from God.

The Bible says:
– “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death” (Prov. 14:12).
– “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, He has turned away and will not listen anymore” (Isa. 59:2).

So none of these ways remove the obstacle or barrier that separates us from God. We need to realize what God has done about our greatest problem because that’s the only way to remove the obstacle or barrier that separates us from God.

God’s remedy for our problem is Christ’s substitutionary death

Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave. He paid the penalty for our sin and  removed the obstacle or barrier that separates us from God.

The Bible says:
– “There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
– “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God” (1 Pt. 3:18).
– “God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Rom. 5:8).

So Christ’s death is the only way to overcome the obstacles so we can experience God’s peace and life. Now that God has done His part, we need to respond by doing our part. We need to respond to God’s remedy.

Our response is to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord

God’s remedy to overcome the obstacle that separates us from God is a gift that can be accepted or rejected. To receive the gift we must trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

The Bible says:
– “Look! I [Jesus Christ] stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (Rev. 3:20).
– “to all who believed Him [Jesus Christ] and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12).
– “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

So the steps you can take for peace with God by trusting in Jesus Christ right now are:
– Admit your need (I am a sinner).
– Be willing to turn from your sins (repent) and ask God to forgive you.
– Believe that Jesus Christ died for you on the cross and rose from the grave.
– Invite Jesus Christ to control your life through the Holy Spirit.

This can be expressed in a prayer:
Dear God. I know that I am a sinner. I want to turn from my sins, and ask for your forgiveness. I believe that Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe that He died for my sins and  that You raised Him to life. I want Him to take control of my life. I want to trust Jesus as my Savior and follow Him as my Lord from this day forward. Amen.

Assurance of salvation

If you followed these steps to peace with God, the Bible says:
– “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).
– Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and He is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand” (Jn. 10:27-29).
– “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Eph. 2:8-9).
– “Whoever has the Son [Jesus Christ] has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life. I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:12-13).

It says “will be saved”, not “might be saved”. Salvation is one of God’s promises. One of the purposes of the Bible is so we can know that we have eternal life. So we can know that we are forgiven and restored because God says it in the Bible.

Acknowledgement

This post is based on information from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Written, March 2019

Also see: Obstacles in life


Obstacles in life

Some of my grandchildren do an Obstacles Course as an after-school activity. And we face many obstacles in life. Today we are looking at the most important obstacles in our lives. These are the ones that come between us and God. This post is based on a message given in Sydney, Australia, by Franklin Graham in February 2019. It’s also on video.

Do you have peace with God? Are things good between you and God? Are things settled between you and God? Do you know Him? Do you know who His Son Jesus Christ is? Jesus Christ came to the earth for a reason. God sent Him on a rescue mission.

The Bible tells us that we’ve all sinned, we’ve all come short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). The penalty of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Yet God so loved you that He sent His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, from heaven to earth for the purpose of taking our sin (Jn. 3:16). Because the penalty of sin is death, the entire human race was born under a death sentence. When the first man and woman (Adam and Eve) sinned, sin came into the world. Sin is disobeying God. It’s breaking God’s law. It’s infected the entire human race. We’re all born in this sin. No one had to teach you how to be bad. No one had to teach each of my twelve grandchildren how to be bad. I’ll tell one of them “Don’t do this”, and then they’ll do it! They’ll do it just to defy you. Where did that come from? It’s the sin nature that we’re all born with.

God created humanity, but we’re separated from Him because of our sin. And God planned to redeem (restore) us by sending His Son Jesus Christ to take the death sentence for you and me. And Jesus Christ came from heaven to earth to take our sin. He died on a cross for you and for me. He was buried for our sins and on the third day God raised His Son to life. If you’ve never trusted in Jesus Christ, I’m going to invite you to do this today by confessing your sin to God, and by asking Him for forgiveness. If you do this God will forgive your sins, give you eternal life, and give you a new beginning in your life. The new start is like hitting a reset button on your life. Many people say, “If I could just start life over again”. Well, you can do that today.

The Bible says, “what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mk. 8:36NLT). Let’s look at a man in the Bible who was on the verge of losing his soul.

A new start

Jesus entered Jericho and made His way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.

When Jesus came by, He looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” He said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.

Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man [Jesus] came to seek and save those who are lost [like Zacchaeus]” (Lk. 19:1-10).

Jesus was passing through Jericho, which is in the Jordan valley about 27 km (17 miles) from Jerusalem. The Romans put a tax collecting office there because it was on a route between Syria (Iraq) and Egypt. Zacchaeus was a tax collector for the Romans who were a foreign occupying government. Zacchaeus was a Jew who worked for the Romans. His people, the Jews, saw  Zacchaeus as a traitor. He was working with the enemy. So they didn’t like him. And as a tax collector he was corrupt. He was a corrupt public official. Nobody likes corrupt public officials. They are despised. The Jews couldn’t do anything about it because the Romans were in power. The Romans didn’t care if Zacchaeus overtaxed people. And that’s what he did. He charged too much. He would give the Romans what they required, but would charge the person a little more and put the extra in his pocket. The Bible says that he was “very rich”. And he was despised, the people called him “a notorious sinner”. He was hated. He was a cheat, and a liar. He sinned against his people.

When Jesus was passing by, Zacchaeus wanted to see who He was. He’d probably heard a lot about Jesus. He’d raised the dead. Given sight to the blind. The deaf could hear. Sick people were healed. He just wanted to see who Jesus was. And when Jesus travelled there were always many people following Him. There was a commotion. It sounded exciting. Zacchaeus wanted to see who He is. But Zacchaeus was short. And Jesus was passing by. And Jesus is passing by you as you read this post. If you’re not sure that your sins have been forgiven. If you’re not sure that you have peace with God. You can be forgiven today. You can hit that reset button on your life. You can start your life over again. If you’re willing to put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

Obstacles to a new start

So Zacchaeus just wanted to see who Jesus was. But there were obstacles. He was short. And there was a big crowd. He was probably up on his tip-toes. He wanted to look over the top of their heads, but he couldn’t do it. It makes you feel that you’re little in the eyes of God. It makes you feel as though your life isn’t important to Him. That you’re somehow insignificant. But you’re important to God. You have a soul. You have a spirit. God made you and created you. And He loves you. And God wants to have a relationship with you. He wants to talk to you. He wants you to talk to Him. But sin is a barrier between us and God. Sin has to be removed because you can’t have a relationship with God with sin in the way. God loves you. You’re important to Him. The Bible says that “this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son [Jesus Christ], so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

What obstacles prevent you from being reconciled with God? What are the obstacles that prevent you from coming to Christ today? Zacchaeus had that crowd – he couldn’t see over their heads. What’s your obstacle? Sin prevents us from coming to God. Sin blocks the way. Sin is breaking God’s laws and standards. All of us are guilty. I’m a sinner. When I was 22 years old I prayed to God confessing my sins. I trusted that Jesus died to take the penalty for my sins. When I was growing up I didn’t want God running my life. I just wanted to have fun. And I thought that the more fun that I could have the better life could be. But I found out that the harder that I tried to have fun, the more empty my life became. And I finally got to the place in my life where I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired. And you might feel like that. So I prayed, “God I have sinned. My life is upside down in such a mess that I don’t know where to go or what to do. Today I surrender. I want to turn from my sins. I believe that Jesus is your Son. I believe that He died from my sins. I believe that you raised Him to life. I want to trust Him. I want Him to forgive me. I want a new beginning. A new start. If you just take the pieces of my life, you can have it”. When I prayed that prayer, I meant it. And God forgave me, He’ll do the same for you. We’re all sinners. We’ve all lied (said something deceitful)? We’ve all stolen (taken something that doesn’t belong to us). We’ve all coveted (wanted something that someone else has). If you’ve lied, God will forgive you. If you’ve stolen, God will forgive you. If you’ve coveted, God will forgive you. If you’re guilty of sexual sins, God will forgive you. We’re all guilty and under a death sentence. But God has provided an escape and that’s through the cross. Because Jesus took our sins to the cross, He paid the debt for us.

You may say, “There’s lots of religions in the world”. This is not about a religion. It’s about a relationship with the one true God. You can have that today. But you have to be willing to accept it by faith. The Bible says, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Even if you’ve kept all the laws, you were still born into sin. And the penalty of sin is death. Now Zacchaeus had this big obstacle. And you’ve got a big obstacle without Jesus Christ. Because the only way that you can come to God is through faith in Him. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father [God] except through me” (Jn. 14:6). There’s not many roads to God – there’s only one and that’s through the cross of Jesus Christ. Because He’s the one who paid the debt of sin. No one else paid the debt of sin in all of history, only Jesus. None of the religions claim to take your sin. Only Jesus Christ has taken your sin. If you put your trust in Him today, He will forgive your sin. But you have to come by faith.

Now Zacchaeus had this big obstacle. That crowd was in his way. Something was missing in his life. And he was searching. But he probably didn’t know what he was searching for. When Jesus was coming, he wanted to see who Jesus was. I think something was drawing him. When God made and created us, He created a vacuum in everyone that could only be filled by God Himself. The Bible says that “He [God] has planted eternity in the human heart [mind]” (Eccl. 3:11). And when we come into a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ He comes in and fills that void in our lives.

Overcoming the obstacles

Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was. He was pretty resourceful, so he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed up a sycamore-fig tree. So he was sitting up there like a monkey just waiting for Jesus to pass by.

Zacchaeus had a great job. He had a licence to steal! He could just overcharge people and the Romans wouldn’t do anything about it. So he had a pretty good job. He had plenty of money. He was successful. Although no-one liked him, that didn’t seem to bother him too much. Maybe you’ve been able to get all the things in life that you have wanted. The career that you’ve studied and worked for. The toys that you’ve always wanted. Maybe the family that you’ve wanted. But something’s missing. There’s a vacuum inside that you’re trying to fill with things. People sometimes try to fill it with work, drugs, alcohol, or sex. But it doesn’t fill the void that only God can fill. Jesus can give you purpose today. He can give you meaning. If you’re willing to trust Him.

So Zacchaeus is in that tree and here comes Jesus. And the Bible says that Jesus stopped. And He will stop for you today. And the Bible says that Jesus looked up and saw Zacchaeus. And He sees you today. He knows everything about your life. He loves you. He made and created you. And Jesus comes to Zacchaeus and He sees Zacchaeus and He calls him by his name. He knows your name today. He called Zacchaeus. And God is calling some of you. You are thinking, this is something that I need to do. I need to get this right today.

Jesus called Zacchaeus by name. And then He said the call is urgent, “Zacchaeus! Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today”. And the Bible says that Zacchaeus responded immediately. He “quickly climbed down” from the tree. He could have sat there thinking, I’ll just wait until the next time that Jesus comes by and maybe I’ll have lunch with Him then. But Jesus wasn’t coming back to Jericho again. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. He was on His way to the cross to die for you and me. He wasn’t going to come back that way again. Zacchaeus wouldn’t have another opportunity. He had to make a choice either to obey Jesus or to keep sitting in the tree and ignore Him. But he responded immediately. And when he climbed down from the tree, He called Him Lord. I think he was converted by the time his feet hit the ground. He called Jesus, Lord.

Now the people began to gripe and complain. “Can you believe that Jesus is going to go to this guys home?”. There was gossip going on. And Jesus heard it. And Zacchaeus heard it. Zacchaeus said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”. That money didn’t mean anything to Zacchaeus anymore. He’d found something worth a lot more. He’d found the Lord Jesus Christ. And Jesus said, “I want to come to your house to stay today”. Jesus wants to come into your life and He wants to stay in your life today. Zacchaeus obeyed, and Jesus came into his house. He wasn’t hindered by the people’s criticism, grumbling and griping. We are all sinners. We are all guilty. We all deserve God’s punishment. But God loves you and He’s holding out His Son the Lord Jesus Christ and if you’ll put your faith and trust in Him, God will forgive you. If you’re not sure your sins are forgiven, then confess that you are a sinner. Say you are sorry and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and that you  want to trust Him as your Savior.

To do this follow the “Steps to peace with God”.

Acknowledgement

This post is based on a message given in Sydney, Australia, by Franklin Graham on 24 February 2019. This event was sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. It’s also on video.

Written, March 2019

Also see: Steps to peace with God