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“You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings” (1 Corinthians 7:23)

In the last devotional I talked about becoming a new creation and finding my identity in Christ. If we want to become a new creation we need to kill off the old, and remove anything that give us our identity outside of the will of God. If we recognise where our identity lies at the moment then we can see more clearly as Jesus changes us and we become a new creation and take up our identity in him.

I would like to tackle some of the areas of my life in which I have found my identity. Each of these areas have been so much a part of my life that I didn’t even recognise that it was a problem. I thought that it was right for me to take pride in my work, and do my best, and show loyalty and give honour to those I worked for. But I never recognised that I had gone too far. I had become a slave and I didn’t even know it.

When it came to my job, I made so many concessions in my life and sacrificed so many things that it became very unhealthy. And all along I thought I was doing the right thing, and it was killing me. God never intended us to be a slave to earthly masters, indeed in today’s passage he tells us the exact opposite. Yet I never took any steps to free myself.

I believe there were two main reasons for this. Firstly, as I have already mentioned, I was never really aware that the situation had become so serious, and secondly my identity was so intertwined with my work that I was afraid I would simply cease to exist if I gave up my job! It gave me a sense of belonging, it gave me meaning, and I needed money to pay the mortgage, and pay for the cruises I loved and the many other things that money could bring.

But the reality was quite different. Far from making my life happy and giving me an identity, my work made me miserable and was taking my identity away from me. I had become merely a cash cow for the company. I was chained to the grindstone and it was killing me.

This is no exaggeration. Those who know me have been telling me for a long time that I needed to give up my job or I would die. Like you, I thought they were exaggerating too, but now that I look back I can see that if I had kept going the way I was going I certainly would not have lived much longer.

You can’t see it when you are in it, but I urge everyone to try and ascertain it for themselves. Take a step back and look at what gives you identity. If your identity lies in anything other than Christ then it is idolatry which is sin and it will enslaves you “for people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” (2 Peter 2: 19b). Let my testimony be a warning to everyone that if we have our identity in the things of the world, we will be enslaved and die, but if our identity is in Christ we will be set free to live.

“When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” (Romans 6: 20-22)

By God’s grace he has taken from me the very things that have enslaved me. The things that gave me identity, but extracted a heavy toll from my life. What benefit did they really bring me? No, they were leading me to death, and yet all the way I thought they would bring me the joys of life. Instead I have gained a new identity. No money, no job, no corporate belonging, instead I have spiritual riches, a heavenly assignment, and I belong to the body of Christ. Shall I be a slave to the world, or a slave of God? I know which one I would prefer!

Lord help me reap the rewards of holiness and eternal life that come from living with an identity firmly based in you. I once slaved passionately for my work, help me now slave as passionately for you kingdom. Amen.

God Bless,

Matt.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

It has been over a year since I was made redundant from my job and the worse part about these past 12 months has probably been dealing with my own identity. I know it might seem a strange thing to say, but not having any money has not been as big an issue as not having a job.

Now when I wake up in the morning I no longer have any reason to get out of bed. There seems to be very little that motivates me anymore. More than that, the one thing I hate most know is when I have to fill in forms, or when people ask me, “So what do you do for a living?” Everytime I get asked this question I am reminded that from a worldly perspective I have no useful function and I am not contributing to society in the way that everyone would expect from a person of my background.

So it is that over the past 12 months I have had to come to terms with who I am. My identity was very much in the work that I did. I never realised how much I associated myself with my job, and took pride in identifying myself with the company I worked for and the work that I did. Yet now these things are gone I am left feeling empty, useless and alone.

Yet even at the very moment I found out that I had lost my job, even in the shock and numbness that settled on me, I had a small voice in the back of my head that told me ‘This is going to be the best thing that has ever happened to you’. Why? Because now I have the chance to re-invent myself. I can start from scratch and rebuild my life. I can become a completely new person, with a new purpose and a new identity.

This is exactly what we are called to be in this verse. We must put to death our own life and start living for him. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20a). This means that if you are a Christian then your identity must be with him.

No longer can we, as Christians, identity with the company we work for, with the job that we do there, or with the money that we earn. When I get up in the morning, my purpose must be God’s purpose, the things that give me identity must be in Christ. All that I do must be done for him. In short I must be completely sold out to him.

There is no longer a Sabbath in the sense that everyday must be offered to the Lord, not just one day a week. Of course this doesn’t mean I have to undertake full time ministry. I can still work for my living, I can still make money, run a business, and do a job. But in all these things I must be careful that I identity with Christ alone. My reason for going to work is to bring glory to God.

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.” (Ephesians 6: 5-7)

Note that even in our everyday work we still need to be doing the will of God from our heart. We need to be in the place God has called us to, and we need to do our work wholeheartedly just as if the Lord himself was our boss. Our reward will not come from our manager, nor from the money we earn or the praise of our colleagues. Or reward will come from the Lord himself.

We must have our identity in Christ. We must re-invent ourselves so that the Lord is in EVERYTHING we do. We must see his purposes in doing our work, in spending time with our families, even in our leisure activities. In everything we do we must be living for Christ. Anything less will leave us a slave to the world. I may have lost my job, but in finding my identity in Christ I have regained my life.

God Bless,

Matt.

“’Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him’” (Mark 16: 6)

As we enter the week of Easter it is important to remember the one critical fact that marks Easter as the single most important event of Christ life. Easter is NOT about the death of Jesus Christ!

It is true that in dying he became the perfect sacrifice for our sin. It is also true that in dying, he took on his body all of our imperfections, sicknesses and diseases. It is also true that when he died the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom, signifying that the ‘holy of holies’ – the very throne room of God – was now open for business to everyone, not just the chief priests.

In Jesus death we see our sins forgiven, and in addition to that we see physical and spiritual healing, and we see a complete restoration of our relationship with God. Jesus himself said at his death that his work was now finished. “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)

So given all this, how can I possibly say that Easter is NOT about the death of Jesus Christ? It’s simple really. It’s about his resurrection not his death. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15: 14)

Why? Because if Christ is did not rise from the dead then – although we can experience all that Jesus achieved on the cross – it has no long term benefits to us. If the Son of God did not rise from the dead then nor will we, and if we don’t have eternal life then Jesus sacrifice has a used by date. It is only good while we are still on this earth.

God is about restoration and new life. Nothing about him is temporary. Hence the greatest work of God is in the resurrection of Jesus and new life God gave him, and offers to us. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1: 3)

On Monday I was diagnosed with severe and advanced Ankylosing Spondylitis. I feel like I am walking around in a graveyard at the moment. All I seem to be aware of is the decay of my body. I am meditating closely on today’s passage and although I can’t begin to comprehend it, I can’t help but feel that in all this disease and illness, I am alone.

But this passage tells me not be afraid. Yes, in all this I am trying to find Jesus, but I am looking in the wrong place. He is not in my death and decay, he is in my health, my new life, and my wholeness. He is risen. He is calling me to rise too.

This Easter I will not remember Jesus on the cross. I will not remember the tomb where he was buried. I WILL acknowledge his sacrifice, but my largest focus will be on his resurrection power, the same power he has given me.

Like Jesus I choose not to wallow in my pain, humiliation and death – although Jesus has been there – I can see where he lay – he is there no more. Instead I will remind myself of his resurrection life, eternal, whole and full of power.

This is Easter! This is my new life! This Sunday I will shout for praise because he is risen, and therefore so am I!

God Bless,

Matt.

“And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’” (Mark 15: 39)

I find this proclamation so odd in many ways. Firstly from my perspective there seems to be nothing remarkable about how Jesus died. The centurion would surely have seen thousands of crucifixions and there didn’t seem to be anything remarkable about this one. Secondly how is it that a centurion could recognise a Son of God when those who knew – the chief priests and teachers of the law – had clearly said he wasn’t? Thirdly, why would he even care?

Here is a man who is paid handsomely (at least twice that of a normal soldier, and some sources claim as much as 20 times). His job is to follow orders rather than to make decisions. He works for the invading army. The sworn enemy of the Jewish people. Many Jews expected that the messiah would in fact rise up against this very army and set them free.

So here he is watching over a rebel who, if he is indeed a king as he claims, is a very threat to the Roman Empire. The very fact that he is standing in front of Jesus means we can safely assume he was the commanding officer who carried out the orders to crucify Jesus. He was the one who watched over his soldiers as they drove in the nails into Jesus hands and feet, and hung him up for public humiliation.

Sure he was just carrying out orders, but he DID carry out those orders without hesitation. It was what he was paid to do, and it is unlikely he would have felt any compassion towards any of the others he was ordered to crucify. If he had I cannot imagine he would have ever been promoted to the lofty position of centurion. All of this, and a gentile too.

Yet in this passage we see him recorded as one of the great witnesses to the events that changed history. Somehow he managed to recognise what everyone else seemed to miss, this was a moment in history when the Son of God had appeared, and they had rejected and killed him. It is no wonder that in Matthew’s gospel he is recorded as being terrified (Matthew 27: 54). It had suddenly dawned on him what he had done.

What was unusual about how he died? Matthew’s Gospel give us a bit more detail. “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.” (Matthew 27: 51-52)

This is truly amazing, and it is difficult to understand what it all means, but clearly this was not a normal death. Luke’s testimony describes it this way “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon” (Luke 23: 44) and then goes on to say “When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.” (Luke 23: 48)

If you have been spending your life like the centurion – a man of power and wealth, content to make a living carrying out orders and doing what he is told – then it is time to take notice. It is as if the centurion himself is begging you to understand ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’, and then asking you to see what terrible things you have done in ignoring Jesus up to this point, then be afraid, beat your breasts in sorrow, and ultimately return to him with a new understanding.

Whatever you do as you read these words, do not ignore this man! Do not fall into the folly of the centurion, but listen to his testimony. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, “For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him…” (2 Corinthians 13:4)

See how he died for you. See what he achieved on the cross, and take note of all that happened. If no other part of this journey we have taken through the gospel of Mark has convinced you that he is the Son of God, then let this most unlikely testimony be the final words that convince you. If you can manage to change your mind-set in the same way the centurion did, then you too will find life in all its fullness, the truth about the many mysteries of life, and the best way to live.

God Bless,

Matt.

“‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ asked Pilate. ‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied.” (Mark 15: 2)

So who is Jesus? Throughout his ministry many people asked him this question. Since these words have been spoken many more have also asked similar questions. It is fair to say that some people just don’t care what the answer is, but he just might be the single most important person in the history of the world, and if that is the case then shouldn’t we at least give a few moments to ponder the question for ourselves.

I believe the answer to this question is simply that Jesus is the way we should live, the truth about how we should live, and indeed life itself. But this statement is of absolutely no use to me if I haven’t first established his authority. Is he my king?

It is easy to ignore Jesus as a King. He certainly didn’t act like a king. Most of the time he was walking around among the poor and ill and outcast from society. He rarely, if ever, laid his head in a comfortable bed. His loyal court was the dust and sands of Israel, his courtiers were fishermen, tax collectors, and an odd assortment of other people.

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53: 2b-3)

But does this make him any less of a king? “This is what the Lord says—the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: ‘Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (Isaiah 49: 7)

Indeed it is his very behaviour, his humility and silence toward those in authority – his gentleness and compassion towards those in need, and his fierce anger and aggression towards those who thought they knew but had got it so wrong – it is these things that help me to see he was truly King of Kings and had nothing to prove to those in authority except to say ‘You have said so’.

Jesus is not going to deny his position just to save his life, but neither is he going to shout it from the rooftops. It was not up to him to claim the title he was due, he knew his Father would do that in his own time. Jesus only compulsion was to keep the commands God have given him. And in doing that it is clear to me that he truly is the greatest of all kings.

“In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6: 13-15)

What was the command that we are instructed to keep in this verse? “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6: 11-12)

This is what it means to be a Christian. If you believe that Jesus truly is the King then, as I mentioned in the last devotional, stop analysing and looking for deeper meanings and proper interpretations. If you do that you are just as likely to completely miss the very thing you need. Accept Jesus at his word, and having taken on board his Spirit, understand what he has asked you to do and then just do it.

God Bless,

Matt.

“They all condemned him as worthy of death.” (Mark 14: 64b)

We saw in the last devotional that everyone left Jesus at his greatest hour of need. Today we see clearly that Jesus was also condemned as being worthy of death. The religious leaders of the day, those in charge of the people of God, the chief priest, had decided not just to ban him, but to kill him!

He was without sin. He only did what was right and was totally obedient and committed to his heavenly father. He had followed all of the law, and even interpreted that law correctly. In regards to his spiritual state there was nothing more he could do to be the best person he could be, yet they said he is not even worthy to stay alive.

It reminds me of a short story I read once were a time-traveller brings Shakespeare back from the past and invites him to attend a course on Shakespeare’s plays. When it came time to sit the first exams he fails miserably and is told not to come back again! It seems that Shakespeare’s ideas about his own writing didn’t agree with everyone else’s ideas about what he wrote, and he was kicked out!

God is the author of life, and he has told everyone the best way to live it, but we as humans think we know better. We take what God has written and we interpret it the way we want to. We delved deeply into the words, analyse the meaning, cross reference it with other passages, tie it back to cultural times and then re-examine it in the light of current social norms.

It is no surprise then that when the Author returns, the people who are most dedicated to know about him, and spend most of their time thinking, discussing, and analysing his words, are the very ones who end up completely rejecting him when he says things that don’t agree with the way they have interpreted them. This is what the chief priests and teachers of the law did.

God comes down to earth in human form, gives the correct interpretation of the law, and shows them the way God really wanted them to live, interpreting the scriptures using the Spirit of the law instead of the letter of the law. Then when the exam comes, as we see in this passage, he is deemed to have failed and not worthy of living!

The only person who could ever truly changed lives, told us the truth, and showed us the way, is now rejected in the worst possible way by ignorant foolish people who have made up their own minds about God. “Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’” When we read this we can come someway to understanding the depths of this rejection.

The amazing thing is that it was us who deserved this rejection and death. When you read through the scriptures it doesn’t take long to realise how badly astray we have gone. Even the first of the Ten Commandments challenges us not to make up any kind of idea or image to replace the true God. Yet here stands a man condemned to death who is more worthy of life than any other.

Even the Roman authorities acknowledged he had done nothing deserving death “Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.’” (Luke 23: 13-16)

Sometimes the best things in life are found by those who don’t think of themselves as experts and who aren’t necessarily searching behind every nook and cranny and looking into the deepest details. Let’s not spend so much time trying to work everything out, and analyse everything in our head. This is the time when we have to go with the Spirit, accept what Jesus says, and just do it!

God Bless,

Matt.

“Then everyone deserted him and fled.” (Mark 14: 50)

There would hardly be a human being on the planet who hasn’t felt abandoned, betrayed or lonely at some point in their life. For some of us it only happens a few times, for others it seems to constantly surround us and taunt us and make us feel useless and unloved. As we saw in the last devotional, despite the fact that Jesus was the truth, the life, and the way, he also went through everything we have been through. After all how could Jesus claim to be the way if he hadn’t walked in our footsteps? How could he claim to be the life, if he hadn’t experience what life is like for us?

One of the most debilitating illnesses is in the mind. It is the illness of loneliness. Humans can suffer many amazing things, both physical and emotional, but the one torture that is the most devastating on a human being is solitary confinement. I remember understanding this vividly when I experience the isolation cells at Port Arthur historical museum in Hobart. It is well worth the visit to see how the early convicts lived, and having experienced the isolation cell they used for the worst offenders, I understood why they had built a mental hospital right next door.

We are all meant to be social creatures, this is why Jesus had twelve disciples, and 72 other followers that he sent out. It is also why he sent them out in pairs. This is why, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” (Genesis 2: 18) He made us, and he understand we need others, especially in our time of need. This is also why he founded the church. Yet here we find in Jesus time of most need, that he is alone.

If it happened to me I know I would be asking, ‘Was it something I did?’ ‘Was it something I said?’ ‘Is it me?’ Jesus is the way the truth and the life, and people are frightened by those who are radical in the way they walk, what they say, and how they live. This is the very reason the chief priests came to arrest Jesus because they felt threatened by what he did and said, and how he lived.

When we truly live as followers of Christ and have his Spirit in us then it should not be surprising we get the same kind of response. Our enemies will attack, and our friends may abandon us. This is devastating. Having to face crucifixion would have been bad enough, but doing it without the support of those he had helped and taught and invested the last three years of his life in, well I can’t really imagine what that would feel like.

When I feel lonely and abandoned I try to remember this passage. It reminds me that Jesus has walked this path before me. He is the trailblazer and I am merely following in his footsteps. He knows what I am going through, and he is the one who can show me the way to turn all my loneliness into something great, something that will give glory to God.

Since Jesus has been through it, you know he won’t say ‘everything’s going to be okay’. Being left by yourself does hurt, it hurts big time, and that is the truth! But it’s not the whole truth. The whole truth is that there is a way out, and you can have a life that is worth living. Jesus will never say ‘It will be okay’ but he will say ‘we will turn this around and make it something worth going through’. His promise is not that we will not experience life, but that we will experience life at its best. The pain is simply something we have to go through, but this pain will make the final goal that much more rewarding. Nothing worth having can be gained without some kind of sacrifice.

Fortunately Jesus has already made that sacrifice for you. He has paved the way. Now he is seated at the right hand of God the father, and has a placed reserved for you, his faithful servants, in eternity. He lifted Jesus up through his loneliness and gave him all glory and honour, ask him to do the same with you.

God Bless,

Matt.

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