Good News

“For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilised world and the rest of the world, to the educated and uneducated alike. So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News.”
Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭14‬-‭15‬ ‭NLT

Paul was a driven man. His encounter with the living Jesus totally upset his world. At that encounter he discovered how wrong he was in persecuting the early Christians, and he was overwhelmed by the love and grace of God, in giving him a second chance. I have met people, or heard about people, in the past to whom the enormity of their sins, when suddenly exposed, when realisation strikes, who find a new purpose in life, and they cannot stop telling other people about what God has done for them. But was Paul unique in his “great sense of obligation” or is this something we all should have?

There are many different ways in which we can serve our Lord and Master, Jesus. He taught much, during His three short years here on Planet Earth, about the Kingdom of God, or, as Matthew put it, the Kingdom of Heaven. When Jesus came to Palestine, birthed as a human being, He brought Heaven with Him, and reminded everyone He met that it was close at hand. Right at the start of His ministry, Matthew recorded, “From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”” (Matthew 4:17). And in the next chapter, early on in His Sermon on the Mount, He reminded His followers about their obligation to be “salt and light” wherever they lived. At that time Jesus brought Heaven closer to earth, after a long disassociation that started with the fall of man in the Genesis account, and, because Jesus is still alive today, the closeness of Heaven remains. We live in a season of God’s grace, and because of that we must take every opportunity to share what Jesus has done for us. We won’t all receive a calling like Paul, to convert the world to Christianity, but in our own living spheres we can serve God faithfully.

Paul’s reference to both the “civilised world and the rest of the world” embraced all peoples everywhere. Anyone who was human was included. And it continues today. Paul may be long dead, but his mission lives on. With world migration so prevalent, more than it has been in any previous period in history, opportunities to share about Jesus are increasing. And we know that once all have heard the Gospel, the end will come. Jesus said in Matthew 24:14, “And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come”. We are not quite there yet, but that event is getting ever closer. God does not want any to be able to say, when they stand before Him, that they were never told about Jesus.

Paul continues to remind his readers that he made no distinction between the “educated and uneducated”. The wonderful thing about the Gospel is that nobody needs a theological degree to understand it. Its message of forgiveness and love, of breathtaking grace, can connect with everyone. But some will ask about babies or those with learning difficulties. I believe that God’s grace extends even to them, with a love and mercy that befits Him. 

We pilgrims must also have a “great sense of obligation“, as Paul did. What else can we have when we know and understand all that Jesus did for us at Calvary. The Good News is just that, and it shines like a beacon in a world riven by huge quantities of bad news. And the more we share it, the closer will come the End Times and the new Heaven and earth we read about in Revelation. Paul was eager in his mission. So must we be while we can.

Dear Father God. The death and resurrection of Jesus is really Good News. We pray for opportunities to share it with those around us. Please open their hearts to receive Your gracious gift, the salvation of their souls. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Roman Fruit

“I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭13‬ ‭NLT

Paul was a worker. He laboured unceasingly in doing what God, through Jesus, had asked him to do, ever since that encounter on the Damascus Road. His desire was to disciple, to teach, to encourage, all to build up the Christians in Rome and see the spiritual fruit that comes from the Holy Spirit start to ripen and mature in their lives. Paul knew it was possible, because he had seen other Gentile Christians blossom in the light of the Holy Spirit.

What spiritual fruit would Paul have expected to see? In several places in his letters, Paul takes on misdemeanours manifesting themselves in the local congregation. For example, in the Corinthian church Paul was concerned about disunity. We read in 1 Corinthians 1:10, “I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose”. In the same church, sexual misconduct was also his concern. We read in 1 Corinthians 5:1, “I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother”. So there was probably some basic “spiritual fruit” potential at the back or Paul’s mind, dealing with issues that he had heard about on the early church grapevine.

On a more positive note, the early Christian church everywhere suffered persecution, and Paul would have encouraged the Christians to respond in a way that amplified the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Gifts such as wisdom, helping them to deal with difficult situations. Or discernment, enabling them to change course perhaps in the face of societal difficulties. But they found out something about persecution that may be foreign to us Western pilgrims. It refines our faith and commitment. There are no half-hearted, lukewarm Christians around when persecution is present. 

So, on arrival in Rome, Paul would have immediately been able to put his spiritual finger on the issues of immaturity that perhaps were present in the Roman church, and he would have encouraged growth in those areas needing his support and teaching. Also, if anyone knew how to live with persecution it was Paul. Paul’s work amongst the Christians in Rome would have been invaluable and life changing to those in the congregation.

Have we ever noticed our human tendencies to rationalise or fail to focus on the right issues? Where even our pastors teach one thing but, really, we need teaching or guidance on something else? That is where an apostolic visitation can sometimes help; an external prophetic voice is often able to put his or her finger on the important issues affecting a local church and bring a new perspective, turning the church, and all those within it, around and back on track. We pilgrims must always pray that we stay on the narrow path, and don’t get diverted into dead ends and, worse, back on the broad way that leads to destruction. But we must also be thankful for the men and women of God, who He sends our way to help us grow, to bear the spiritual fruit so beloved by Paul.

Dear Father God. You are so faithful. You lead us into green pastures as we follow our Heavenly Shepherd. We are so grateful. Amen.

Frustrated Plans

“I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles.”
Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭13‬ ‭NLT
“I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that many times I have planned to come to you, (and have been prevented so far) so that I may have some fruit [of my labours] among you, even as I have among the rest of the Gentiles.”
Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭13‬ ‭AMP

Paul seemed desperate to get to Rome to visit the Christians there. But he “was prevented until now”. The Amplified version implies that his efforts in planning his visit were still active, but he lacked the opportunity. And the New Living Translation mentions Paul’s desire to see spiritual fruit in the lives of the Roman Christians, as he has observed in others who weren’t Jews.

Do we find the reference to “Gentiles”  mildly offensive, because that is who most of us are in our societies? The use of the word has connotations, perhaps, of a second class of person, the Jews being the first class. And certainly, that was how the Jews of that time viewed those who were not Jewish. But nothing could be further from the truth, as can be seen in the early church that was established and growing throughout the Middle East at that time. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptised into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit”. Through the sacrificial death of Jesus at Calvary, when He died for our sins, God’s grace and forgiveness was extended to all of mankind, should they choose to accept it. As some have said, there is level ground in front of the Cross. God treats everyone equally.

But moving on to Paul’s dilemma about his plans. Do we pilgrims have plans to do some work for God but have been prevented from doing so? Has God said to us that He wants us to do something but we don’t know how to make it happen? Then we are in good company. With Paul, he found a way around the problem by writing a letter. Everything he wanted to do in person was poured out though his pen, extending the reach of his God-given influence beyond what he could have achieved by making the long journey to Rome. But to Paul that was second best. He really wanted to be in Rome, right there with his Christian brothers and sisters.

Sadly, some people with God-given plans, have found themselves unable to fulfil them. and they end up living a life of frustration. Perhaps they have been held up by family pressures, or ill-health, or laziness. Perhaps they have taken a wrong turn in their lives and have become distracted by a relationship or career choice. But God never asks us to do something that we are unable to fulfil. He is not a stern taskmaster treating us as slaves, there to do His bidding. When we receive God’s call, we must submit to Him with the faith and knowledge that he holds all the resources we need to fulfil the task or tasks He has set for us. Paul couldn’t wait to do things for God. His encounter with Jesus was so real that it transformed his life, and he couldn’t wait to complete the plans God had set for him. And neither must we.

What do we do if God asks us to do something, but we’re not sure if it really is a request from God? We pray about it, asking God for confirmation. We seek counsel from other respected and wise Christians, and, if we are still unsure, we put what we feel God has asked us to do on the “back burner”. letting it simmer away in our prayers and meditations, before we take any steps that we would later regret. Remember too, that God is unlikely to ask us to do something outside our natural and spiritual giftings.

Perhaps we feel that God has not asked us to do anything for Him. If that is the case, we open the Bible. A good place to start might be Colossians 3:23-24, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ“. Another useful Scripture is Matthew 28:19, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit“. Such Godly plans might seem a bit uninspiring but often God won’t entrust big plans to us until we can be found faithful in smaller tasks. Luke 16:10, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. We remember that Moses spent forty years herding sheep for his father-in-law before God found him ready for a bigger assignment.

We pilgrims use every opportunity to reach those who need us. If personal contact is not an option, we have social media and even emails or letter writing to keep in touch. And we remember that one day, there will be no restrictions. All of God’s plans will be fulfilled.

Dear Father God. You have tasks for us to do and we pray that You will lead and guide us in the right paths. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Personal Contact

“One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.”
Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭10‬-‭12‬ ‭NLT

We look back at the mayhem of the last two years or so, with periods of “lock down” and societal restrictions caused by the Covid pandemic, and realise how much we depend on personal contact. The opportunity to speak to someone face to face. The opportunity to read body language as well as hear words. The times when a vulnerable person needs a kind touch or hug. Yes, technology helps with the video conference apps, but a lonely old person next door or along the street is denied such methods of keeping in touch. There is no substitute for in-person contact. Mankind is wired for social interaction. God planned it that way.

Paul, in his letter, seemed to be desperate to make personal contact with the Christians in Rome. He had heard much about them, snippets of news carried, word of mouth, by travellers making the long journey between Italy and the lands West of the Mediterranean Sea. Businessmen or merchants trading their wares perhaps. There was none of our modern technological aids in those days, and even paper-based media non-existent. And even no social media. How did they manage?

Paul wanted to visit the Roman Christians so that he could “bring [them] some spiritual gift that will help [them] grow strong in the Lord”. What a lovely reason for visiting. What an expectancy that would have brought to the Roman church. 

The people in Rome would have heard all about Paul. His exploits would have reverberated around the Middle East at that time. The stories of miracles and other events encountered on his missionary journeys would have made news in those days. So the idea that he was about to come with a “spiritual gift” would have greatly encouraged them. Life for Christians in Rome at that time wasn’t easy by any means, and any encouragement should have been greatly welcomed and appreciated.

What “spiritual gift” would Paul have brought? He mentioned faith in his letter, but is that what he had in mind? If a man or woman of God was visiting our churches, what “spiritual gift” would we find encouraging? I’m sure we are all at different stages in our spiritual journeys, but God knows what we need. And Paul, through his relationship with God, would have delivered the gift needed in Rome. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul provides a list of spiritual gifts. Gifts such as wisdom, knowledge, healing,  faith, miracles, prophesy, tongues and interpretation. At a God-level, the working of these gifts in people can be transforming, building up faith in the very One who is the Source of the gifts. And in 1 Corinthians 12:11, Paul wrote, “It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.” Paul, through the Spirit, was totally open to be God’s delivery man, equipped to bring to the Roman church what they needed to help them “grow strong”  in their situation.

What spiritual gifts do we pilgrims need? Jesus said, as recoded in Luke 11:11-13, “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him”. God has available to Him the greatest gift of all – the Holy Spirit, and He is unstinting in His willingness to give Him to us. But we have to ask. Is that how we start our days, asking for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit? By not doing so, are we missing out on the greatest gift of all time? How empowering it is to be able to go into our work-a-day lives with the Holy Spirit helping us at every turn. Giving us wisdom when we are faced with a difficult decision or situation. Knowledge when we need enlightenment. We can see an application for every spiritual gift that Paul listed, but we need to ask for the Holy Spirit to be with us, enhancing and building our faith that He will help us in every situation that we meet. We may need to take small, tentative steps, but as we do, our spiritual faith muscles are built up and extend to more and more of the life issues we all encounter. What a wonderful God we serve! A loving Heavenly Father, the Giver of good gifts to His children.

Dear Father God. We are eternally grateful for all You have done for us. We worship You today. Amen.

Public Faith

“Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart by spreading the Good News about his Son.”
Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭8‬-‭9‬ ‭NLT

After the initial greetings, Paul gets into his letter. And straight away he thanks the Christians in Rome for their faith in God. It’s ”being talked about all over the world“, he said. What an accolade! But how could their faith become so public? And what was there about that faith that made other people in the city talk about it?

Here in the UK, faith is often considered to be a very private matter. There is almost an embarrassment with some Christians, if asked a question about their church or what they believe. In the workplace, religion is a no go area for many, and in the lives of some Christians there is no clue that would indicate their faith. Such people behave the same way as everyone else Monday to Saturday, the only difference is that they will disappear into a church building for an hour or so on a Sunday morning, while others head for the golf course or some other activity. Such a faith is hardly what Paul is highlighting here in his message of thanks. And it is also not following what Jesus said in Matthew 10:32-33, “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.” Such Christians may not be denying Jesus “here on earth”, but they aren’t “acknowledging [Him] publicly” either. 

How would we get our faith to become the subject of a public discussion? And to what extent should we? In my daily walks around the West of Fife, I try and take every opportunity to share my faith. Most people in my neighbourhood know what I stand for, regarding the things of God. In the office my fellow workers knew about my faith. But is that enough? A Christianity that is benign and inoffensive is hardly likely to be the subject of discussion. We Christians have a counter-cultural message of salvation that, when superimposed on this devil-controlled world, causes offence. We have a God-sourced opinion about sin and wickedness that those in the world find uncomfortable. Christians everywhere will soon find themselves publicly noticed when they stand up for the Biblical, God-breathed, principles of sexuality, marriage and the sanctity of human life, both before and after birth. And this is just a start. We may not be the sandwich-board evangelists, shouting out an in-your-face message of “turn or burn” or something similar, but there should be something about Christians that publicises the “salt and light” talked about by Jesus in Matthew 5.

Of course, there are positives about Christians that those in the world find attractive and for which people are grateful. For example, most food banks in the UK are run by Christian organisations. Christian charities are extensively glueing together the fabric of society, with benevolent acts, being “good Samaritans” to their friends and neighbours. Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-15, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Are we hilltop or basket lights?

We pilgrims have the opportunity to make our marks on the societies in which we live. By nailing our colours to the masts of our communities, we will become ridiculed, avoided, and even abused. But we know the future. The world economic machine, riddled with sin and wickedness, grinds on towards eternal destruction, but, through God’s grace, we have the counter-cultural words of eternal life. We have the message of hope that is denied to so many by their love of the things of the world. We pray for God’s grace to extend to those we meet, that His love will warm their hearts, and that another child of the enemy will be released from their life of sin into a new life as a child of God.

Heavenly Father. We pray for our friends and families, that Your grace and love will work transforming miracles in their lives. We worship You today. Amen.

Grace and Peace

“And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.”
Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭6‬-‭7‬ ‭NLT

The structure of Paul’s letters is not something we use today. We are more likely to end our missives with sentiments such as “grace and peace”, rather than start them. But why did Paul think the Roman Christians needed these qualities. Both of these words define necessities for the human soul. Without them conflicts within and without us will lead to destruction. Medically, illnesses and conditions like heart attacks and strokes, can be caused by reacting to the situations around us without grace and internal peace.

Take for example a modern phenomenon called road rage. The occurrences of anger that is invoked when another driver behaves in a way that we think is dangerous, or unfair. Such events happen in road works, when another driver thinks he can jump a queue of traffic, cutting in dangerously and forcing another driver to brake suddenly. Without a supply of grace, the driver who thinks he has been wronged may react with anger, resulting in a rise in blood pressure and risking a stroke or some other heart-related ailment. There were no road rage incidents in Ancient Rome but there would have been other occasions where a similar response would have been common.

So what is “grace and peace”? Taking grace first, the Cambridge On-line Dictionary has several meanings, but the one closest to what we’re interested in is “approval or kindness, especially (in the Christian religion) that is freely given by God to all humans“. That definition is for something that theologians refer to as “common grace”, demonstrated by verses such as Matthew 5:45b, “… For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike“. In those terms, there is no advantage to being a Christian – God’s common grace covers all that mankind needs for life, and it extends to everyone. However, there is a much nobler definition of grace, and that extends to God’s willingness to forgive everyone of their sins if they believe in Jesus’s sacrificial death at Calvary. There He took on Himself the sins of mankind, exchanging them for His righteousness. And now those who repent of their sins before the Cross will experience the grace of God. A common acronym is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. So Paul asked that “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” gives us grace. We need it for our continuing relationship with God and we need it for living redemptively with those around us. And more of it, please God!

Similarly, peace is something much needed in our pilgrimages through life. We’re not talking just about peace as being the opposite of war. Again, our dictionary defines peace as being, “the state of not being interrupted or annoyed by worry, problems, noise or unwanted actions“. But this only partially applies to what Paul was talking about. Philippians 4:7 reads, “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus“. Godly peace involves faith in God Himself. A faith that is built on the foundation that God is who He says He is, and that He keeps His promises. A faith that will sustain us through all the trials and tribulations of life. A faith that, through Jesus, we will one day be able to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. Now that is real peace. In John 14:27, Jesus said, “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid“. Now that is real peace. More of it, please God!

Paul, in asking that God gives us grace and peace, was calling down a blessing as essential to the lives of believers as the food we eat. Real soul food that we need for our spiritual lives. Food that will sustain us through our earthly lives. And we need a constant supply of it. Day by day. And the amazing thing is that God’s grace and peace is unlimited. We only have to reach out and accept the gifts so tenderly offered to us by our loving Heavenly Father. Gifts far more precious than any shiny earthly bauble.

Dear Father God. We are so grateful that You know exactly what we need for a godly life, and have made provision for us to receive it. We purchase our soul-food direct from Heaven through the blood of Your Son, Jesus. Thank You Lord. Amen.

Privilege and Authority

“Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey Him, bringing glory to His name.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Paul is making a bold statement here. Because of his position as an Apostle he claims to have a God-given authority “through Christ”. Is that an assumption on his part or does he really have a mandate? The answer is that he received a clear mandate from Jesus at their encounter on the Damascus Road (Acts 9), an encounter that was so dramatic that it totally changed his life. To the extent that in Galatians 1:1, Paul said of himself, ” …I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead.” That’s a mandate that nobody will mess with or deny him!

In today’s verse, Paul also used the word “us” rather than “me”. Paul therefore must have been writing this letter as part of an apostolic team, but the exact nature of who was in the team is lost in the mists of time. Regarding who originally established the early church in Rome, tradition has it that the foundations were laid by Christians, probably new believers, travelling there, perhaps on business, or on returning home – we do know that some Jewish visitors from Rome heard Peter’s Acts 2 sermon. (Acts 2:10). The Apostle Peter also is credited with having an influence on the nascent Roman church.

In his letter, Paul said it was a privilege to share his message, his Good News, with the Gentiles, the non-Jews, wherever he went. And he did so with every opportunity that he had at his disposal. By all accounts he was a confident and persuasive preacher, and won many an argument with the Jews he found in places he visited. But his real heart, his real mission, was to see the Gentiles converted to be followers of Jesus. And that to him was a privilege. Notice that his message wasn’t to tell the Gentiles what God had done for him, but what God had done for them. A difference in emphasis, but one we should note because it makes the sharing of the Good News more personal and relevant.

This verse finishes with the goal of Paul’s message to the Gentiles – “that they will believe and obey Him, bringing glory to His name.” Paul’s aim was not to have a cosy chat about theology with a few like-minded people. He was fired up with an urgency to get people into God’s Kingdom, and in the process, giving God the glory.

As we read this verse, we note that Paul said he was an Apostle. But surely the job description he wrote was more that of an Evangelist. The two roles can overlap but, as we see in many places throughout Paul’s letters, his heart was in establishing and nurturing churches, an Apostle’s goal.

We pilgrims too, in a sense, are Apostles and Evangelists in that we are tasked with serving our Master, Jesus, in sharing the message of the Good News of what God has done for us. It is important that we follow up our testimonies with encouraging new believers to become part of a Bible-believing, God-fearing, local church. And if there’s not one, then perhaps we should start one. That was how the early church was established. We read in Acts 2:46, “They worshipped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity”. Jesus confirmed such an approach when He said in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them”. If Jesus is with us, we cannot fail! Today, we call such Christian gatherings house churches. Not a modern phenomenon at all – the concept was well established before our ornate and vast church buildings and cathedrals were built.

So, pilgrims everywhere, go for it! “What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31). Who indeed! In Acts 2 there was a day when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the early disciples caused absolute mayhem. People came running to find out what was going on. And at the end of Peter’s sermon we read, “Those who believed what Peter said were baptised and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all“. But before we talk down such events, we must remember that Peter was just a fisherman. Not a learned Bishop, or professor of theology. He was nobody special except for one thing – he had met Jesus. We pilgrims have met Jesus too. Haven’t we?

Dear Father God. We thank You for all You have done. We thank You for extending Your grace and love to all mankind. We reach out to You today, in praise and worship. Amen.

The Good News (2)

“God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. The Good News is about His Son. In His earthly life He was born into King David’s family line, and He was shown to be the Son of God when He was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Romans 1:2-4 NLT

So what is this Good News Paul was talking about? Here we are right at the beginning of a long letter, and he starts to talk about Good News. As we follow his thinking we find an amazing thread that starts in Genesis and is still there in Revelation. And it doesn’t even end there. The Good News about Jesus is simple but costly. And one word sums it up – love. God’s love. But there’s a journey involved in how to get here.

We have to start with God and His character. He is a God of love of course, but He is also a God who hates evil. Of course, He’s our Provider. Our Shepherd. And many other things that are contained within the character belonging to the Person who created the universe, our planet, and everything within it. But there can be a problem for many, because they want to extract those features in God’s character that they like, but reject those that they don’t. Deuteronomy 7:9-10 reads, “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. But he does not hesitate to punish and destroy those who reject him”. People like the bit about God’s unfailing love, but are not so keen on the punishment and destruction side of God’s character. God is a God of purity and holiness, and within Him, or near Him, there can be no evil. One day He will have to judge all mankind to separate the righteous from the wicked. Two of Jesus’s parables worthy of note – the Wheat and the Tares, and the Sheep and the Goats. But we read in John 3:36, “And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.” In Revelation 20, we will find out what will happen to evil, sin and wickedness at the end of time.

There is this dichotomy between those who love God and those who reject Him. There is no middle ground. One way will lead to eternal life with God in Heaven, and the other to eternal life with the devil in hell. A stark and sobering choice. 

But here is the bit where God’s love prevails. He realised that mankind was incapable of living to a standard of holiness and purity that matched His. And He devised a plan before the creation of the world, that would involve His only Son and a remedy for sin. This plan, having been implemented, was the Good News that the Apostle Paul kept banging on about. A plan riddled with love and grace.

So what was God’s plan? The most famous verse in the Bible sums it up. “For 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.” (John 3:16). And we see how events panned out during the thirty or so years that Jesus was on this planet. It started with His birth to a young peasant girl in Palestine, conceived by the Holy Spirit. God’s only Son, Jesus, was born. And the climax was when Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross at a place called Calvary, thirty or so years later. There, He took on Himself all the sins of mankind. So in response, God could look at those of us who have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus and believed in Him, and instead see us as being righteous and sinless. That has to be Good News! But the Good News doesn’t end there. On the third day after His death, Jesus was raised from the dead, resurrected to be able to return to Heaven. And we read in Hebrews 1:3b, “… When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honour at the right hand“. And we read in Hebrews 7:25b, “…. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf”. 

Paul devoted his life to telling any who were listening (and many who didn’t) about why the News of God’s plan was Good. There is coming a time of judgement. How that will happen is clearly shown in the vision given to John, the one which he wrote down in the Book of Revelation. Jesus went on to talk about judgement in John 3:17-19. “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil“. We read the story of the End Times in Revelation, the episodes of plagues and natural disasters, all imposed on mankind to grab their attention and encourage them to make the right choice. But sadly, and inexplicably, “people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil”. 

Like Paul, we pilgrims must devote every opportunity to share the Good News. There is no other way, because “He is Jesus Christ our Lord“.

Dear Father God, we thank You that there is Good News to share in a season of bad news. Please bring our way those who you want to hear it, and we ask for the boldness to tell our stories of Good News, as Your Spirit leads. In Jesus name. Amen.

The Good News (1)

“God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. The Good News is about His Son. In His earthly life He was born into King David’s family line, and He was shown to be the Son of God when He was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Romans 1:2-4 NLT

Paul didn’t waste any time in declaring what his mission was all about. It was telling everyone, whether they wanted to listen or not, the Good News of how God had touched mankind with something unprecedented. God had never done anything like this before, and will never do so again. His gracious contact with His creation included an offer so good, so life-changing, that Paul was just bursting to share it with everyone he met. And as we know from the stories of his missionary journeys in the Book of Acts, the outcomes, in terms of his personal wellbeing, were not always the best.

We live in an era of bad news. For some reason people seem to prefer to read or hear about bad things, rather than good things. And so many people I meet very easily drop into a pessimistic mindset – take this as an example. I said to someone the other day that it was a nice morning, and it was, because the sun was shining and birds singing. But the response was that it was nice at the moment but that it was going to rain later. For some reason a significant number of people generally don’t seem to want to live in a positive environment. If things are going well for them, they view this as a temporary state preceding something bad coming down the road. For these people, the light apparently at the end of the tunnel turns out to be the lamp on the front of an oncoming train.

But Paul genuinely must have been a very positive person, because he carried within him the Good News about Jesus. It was just bursting to get out. There would have been no idle chatter with Paul. Every comment, every conversation, would have been turned around to point to Jesus. We pilgrims, living in this technical age, where gadgets abound, find ourselves in a complex society that has shifted its focus away from the things of God. And in the process society has found that life has become the poorer. Joy a scarce commodity. Happiness transient. So we, like Paul, must propagate the Good News. We have an unprecedented opportunity through our access to various forms of media, to reach those around us. Yes, we may invite some abuse from FaceBook trolls. Yes, we may find ourselves ostracised in our workplaces, schools or elsewhere. Don’t forget – people generally don’t want to hear good news, especially, the Good News. But, like Paul, we must persevere, to fulfil our service to our loving Master, Jesus Himself.

Dear Lord. In You we have the Source of Good News. The Source of Joy. We are so grateful. Please bring our way opportunities to reach the hurting, cynics and sceptics around us with the purity of Your Good News.