While I know in my head that Jesus died for all people, sometimes I am guilty of thinking there are people beyond God’s reach. The reprobates; the good-for-nothings. Whether some are predestined to eternal glory and others to eternal damnation is a cruel doctrine. However it holds a grain of truth. The Atonement is universal of that there is no doubt: on the cross Jesus died for the sins of the world. But people always have a choice. We’re not programmed by some cosmic computer with a basic set of instructions. We have freedom within God’s creation to accept or reject divine grace. Therefore, the Atonement is limited. The work Christ did on the cross is exclusively for those who desire to be washed clean in the blood of the Lamb and to come back to the Lord and live. Jesus Himself said: “My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me.” (Jn.10:27).
A dozen or so years ago I’m sure people labelled me as a person very unlikely to become a Christian. They might have been praying for me, but didn’t really believe that God would answer their prayers! I was too emotionally distant, spiritually empty, angry and had too many issues about Christianity. I was very wrong. Slowly, “theological enquiry” – (sorry once a computer analyst always a computer analyst) – I mean discovering the Good News – I began to believe what I was reading. In fact it reached a point where I couldn’t satisfy my spiritual hunger for the Bible. I couldn’t get enough of it. It culminated in me recognising that if there was no perfect sacrifice for sin there would be no forgiveness. If there is no forgiveness of sin there is no hope of eternal life. I heard God’s voice. It made me want to be a minister. What a privilege it is to teach the Word and to preside at baptisms and holy communion. I know one day though, that because of the position I hold in Christ’s Church, I will be judged with greater strictness by the righteousness of God.
God can change the most unexpected people, at the strangest times and in the most unlikely places. A number of people watched Jesus die, but as this passage shows, the centurion realized that he was watching the death of the Son of God. No one is beyond the power of God’s love. No matter how hard, stubborn or difficult they may seem, Jesus loves them and died for them and wants everyone to come to Him.
Whether it’s jogging for 20 minutes or golfing for 4 hours – physical exercise has some value. When we’re on holiday I tend to overindulge. Too many cream teas and snacks here and there. When I get back into the routine of church life, I vow to take more exercise and eat healthier foods. When you see the results in the mirror, and that one’s clerical collar still fist round the neck, you can become quite proud of yourself.
But we’re not just physical beings are we? We have a spiritual life which needs to be nurtured too – as it can so easily become neglected. Paul reminds us that “spiritual exercise is valuable in every way, because it promises life both for the present and for the future.”(1 Tim.4:8). Psalm 119 says how delightful it is to meditate upon God’s Word. It’s like honey to our lips! It makes us wiser than our enemies, keeps us from falling into evil ways and gives us greater understanding than anything else that can teach us.
So it’s worth making a commitment to “tithe” part of our day to God. To have a spiritual workout. To set aside just 20 minutes each morning, or if you’re a night owl, 20 minutes each evening, as devotional time. And in your daily readings don’t be tempted to skip over some parts, especially if the meanings are unclear. Instead, pray for strength to continue, knowing that studying the Bible is worth the time and effort. The more we understand it, the better we can live our lives and bless those around us.
Recently I was helping my children with their maths. They’re learning long division and have difficulty remembering all the steps necessary to find the right answer. Now I’m no mathematician but I know that there’s a standard set of rules to follow. But children know best don’t they! They imagine that they can find the answer by solving the problems in their own way. However, I have to insist that they follow the right techniques. They have to learn to do things my way (and their school teacher’s way for that matter) in order to achieve the correct answer.
Sound familiar? “My ways are higher than your ways.” God says. “Choose my ways rather than following your own foolish plans.” What will we do? Knowing the past, the present, and the future, God has more experience than you or I have could ever have. He knows our heart even when we don’t. He is perfect, infinite in power and knowledge. Through studying the Bible and listening to the promptings of the Spirit, we will see God’s ways become plain. My children have to trust that what they’re being taught is right. Similarly, as God’s children we have to learn, and be less stubborn before we can really trust our heavenly Father too.