Alfred Place Baptist Church

1:18-22 Knowing The Faithfulness Of God

2 Corinthians 1:18-22 “But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No,’ but in him it has always been ‘Yes.’ For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

One of the most popular 20th century hymns is “Great is Thy Faithfulness” written by Thomas Obediah Chisholm who died in 1960. There was no special providence that caused him to write those words. They were his personal response to the teaching of the Bible. He was saying in this hymn, “It’s true. God is faithful.” He was a junior school-teacher who had become a Christian when he was 27 years of age. He attempted the Christian ministry shortly after that, but just for a couple of years. It was not his calling, and so he became an insurance salesman remaining in that vocation for the rest of his life. A church member with no dramatic story, and an ‘ordinary’ conversion, he followed the Lord Jesus Christ. One snapshot shows him when he reached his nineties with a wrinkled face and a pair of glasses. He believed in the faithfulness of God, and he wrote a poem about it which has been sung millions of times ever since, and it will go on being sung until the end.

“God is faithful,” our text says, and Thomas Chisholm sings, “Great is Thy faithfulness,” and I am going to say the same thing today. Someone pipes up, “How do you know? Those are the kind of things preachers are supposed to say.” Right, how can we tell? But how do people know anything? Many years ago a question was set for an outstandingly able physics student. He was asked to describe how he would determine the height of a skyscraper with a barometer. He coolly replied, “Tie a long piece of string to the barometer, then lower it from the roof to the ground. The length of the string plus the length of the barometer would equal the height of the building.”

Though the answer was correct it did not display any knowledge of physics, and everyone there knew that. So the student was allowed six minutes in which to provide a verbal answer. For five minutes he sat in silence, unable to decide which of his answers to use. On being advised to hurry up, the student replied that he had thought of five ways in which it could be done, “You could drop the barometer from the roof and measure the time it takes to reach the ground. The height can then be worked out from the formula H=3D0.5g x t=B2 But bad luck on the barometer.

“Or if the sun is shining you could measure the height of the barometer, then the length of its shadow. Then you measure the length of the skyscraper’s shadow. Thereafter, it is a simple matter of proportional arithmetic to work out the building’s height.

“If you wanted to be highly scientific, you could swing the barometer like a pendulum, first at ground level and then on the skyscraper’s roof. The height is worked out by the difference in the gravitational restoring force T=3D2p =D6(l/g).

“If you merely wanted to be orthodox, of course, you could use the barometer to measure the air pressure on the roof and on the ground, and convert the difference in millibars into feet to give the height of the building.

“But undoubtedly the best way would be to knock on the caretaker’s door and say to him, ‘I will give you a nice new barometer if you tell me the height of this skyscraper.”

That student was from Denmark and his name was Niels Bohr, and he went on to great achievements in the field of physics. He won the Nobel Prize in 1922 for the theory of the hydrogen bomb. He became Denmark’s greatest scientist. He died in Copenhagen in 1962, two years after the writer of the hymn, “Great is Thy faithfulness,” had passed away in New Jersey.

How do we know something? The scientist says that we test it in various circumstances, and observe carefully what happens, and if it is repeatable by anyone else – anywhere in the world, for the rest of history – then we know that that theory is indeed a fact. It becomes a scientific law – what is the boiling point of water, what is the speed of light, what figure is pi etc. Christianity is not that different. In particular you examine the life, teaching and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then you also listen to the claims people make who say they know him as their God, individually and when they get together, and you are doing this continually and everywhere because it is important. You are observing and evaluating, and you bring your own life under the implications of what you hear. But you are using your mind, and then you come to certain conclusions about God.

The apostle tells us here, “God is faithful.” In fact he says, “Surely … God is faithful.” The Lord’s faithfulness goes without saying. The God and Father of Jesus Christ being cosmic malice, or as unpredictable as Welsh sunshine? God forbid! “Surely … God is faithful.” This could even be an asseveration, that is, Paul might be making an oath appealing to God as his witness that he is not the kind of man who speaks out of both sides of his mouth. He does not say two different things at the same time: “our message to you is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No'” (v.18). “I am not Mr Facing Both Ways. I call on the faithful and true God as my witness that this fact is so,” he is saying. Whether that is how the verse is to be understood there is no question that Paul declares that God himself is a trustworthy Lord. How do we know that God is faithful? There are three ways the apostle tells us.

1. We know that God is Faithful because Jesus Christ is not the Great Deceiver.

“Our message to you is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ but in him has always been ‘Yes.'” (vv.18&19). Our message isn’t two contradictory things, because Jesus wasn’t two contradictory things. He was not malevolence and holiness, deceit and truth, the light of the world and the black hole. It is Satan’s constant ambition to make us think like that. There was once a fine student here whose father and brother had died with a genetic disease which she also might have inherited – time alone would tell. During her final term her mother also died of cancer. She was orphaned without a brother or a sister. The fiery darts of Satan were thrown at her during that time, and the suggestions were constantly being made to her that God was a force of cosmic malice – a black and malicious deity.

But she had what Paula Yates did not have, a pastor to come to, and when we looked at Christ together, at his life and his teaching, at his whole self-revelation of God, then we rediscovered him to be good and loving and patient and fair. He was one who could always be relied upon. So Paul’s claim is, “we are like him.” Who came first? The Lord Jesus’ messengers or the Lord Jesus? Clearly the Lord Jesus came first and he created the tone for his apostles and their message. The church is his body. He was trustworthy and so were they. In other words, no mighty Yes-Christ could have been preached by Yes-and-No heralds.

So the church must always be straight as it teaches everything the Lord Jesus said. We have no right to modify the words of Jesus, or to interpret them to mean the very opposite of what he said. We may not cause this great claim of his, “no man cometh unto the Father but by me” to mean “but every man may go his own way to God.” We may not call him a child of his time. We are children of our time but not him – he is the Lord of the years. We have one commission and that is to tell it as it is, as the church has taught from the beginning through its great champions and spelled out in its confessions. We mustn’t play games with Scripture. During this last week the Labour party Conference took place, and Simon Hoggart of the Guardian (a Labour paper) did what he did at last year’s conference, he counted the number of sentences in the Prime Minister’s speech which did not contain a verb, and they amounted to a record-breaking 163, Hoggart referred to them as “those phrases which, by omitting a doing word, appear to offer a promise without making a commitment.” Now that is what Paul is discussing here, a subtle message open to opposite interpretations, at the same time ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ The Lord Jesus Christ is utterly different. He is Yes and Amen.

Who is this person Paul preached? “The Son of God” (v.19) is the first phrase Paul uses. God has a Son! That is remarkable in itself, but this is not any God but the God of the Old Testament, the God of Genesis 1:1, the God who was absolutely alone, but who spoke a heavens and an earth into being, the Holy One of Israel. It is he that has always had a Son! I say the following words to you over and over again, that the sons of men are as human as the fathers who begat them, not 95% human but 100% human. So it is with God’s only-begotten Son, he is as divine as his Father. So here we are presented with the infinite, eternal, unchangeable Son of the infinite, eternal, unchangeable Father. If the Father is truth then the Son is truth too. If the Father is light then the Son is light too. If the Father is trustworthy then the Son is trustworthy.

The next phrase Paul uses is “Jesus Christ” (v.19). Now we think of ‘Christ’ there as his second name. Geoff Thomas … Jesus Christ. But ‘Christ’ there is a title, like Prince, or an office, like a Doctor, or a rank, like Captain. ‘Christ’ means ‘anointed’. The Hebrew form is ‘Messiah’ – ‘Jesus the Messiah or the anointed one.’ There were many men called ‘Jesus’ at that time. One is mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, chapter 4, and verse 11, “Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings.” It was a common name, but only one Jesus was God’s eternal Son and was anointed by God. During the Old Testament there were offices like prophets and priests and kings, and part of their inauguration was being anointed with oil.

There is a moving scene in the Old Testament in I Samuel 16 when the prophet arrives in Bethlehem and tells the nervous elders of the city that he had come in peace to make a sacrifice. The people are invited to gather at an altar and Samuel knows that it is one of the sons of Jesse who is going to be the new king of Israel. Jesse summons his son Eliab, but it is not him. Abinadab comes but it is not him, nor is it Shammah. All seven sons pass before Samuel, but the new king is not amongst them. “So he asked Jesse, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’ ‘There is still the youngest,’ Jesse answered, ‘but he is tending the sheep.’ Samuel said, ‘Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.’ So he sent and had him brought. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; for he is the one.’ So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came down upon David in power” (1 Samuel 16:11-13).

The Lord Jesus was also anointed, but not with oil, which was a symbol, but with the reality, the Holy Spirit. When he was baptised by John and his public ministry began the Holy Spirit descended upon him without measure. So he was set apart as God’s anointed one, the promised Messiah. The divinely anointed prophet, priest and king – the Messiah Jesus. But we are not to think that the name ‘Jesus’ is simply the name of his human nature. Even the name ‘Jesus’ is replete with implications of deity. The name means ‘Jehovah saves’, or ‘salvation is Jehovah’. You remember the context in which the name is given. Neither Mary nor Joseph were allowed to choose the name of their first born son. God summoned an angel into his presence and told him to go and break into a dream of Joseph and inform him that this child was to be called “Jesus, because he will save his people from their sin” (Matt. 1:21). Matthew chapter one ends with the phrase, “And he gave him the name Jesus” (Matt. 1:25).

I still remember the warm vigour with which Professor John Murray taught us this truth in a class at Seminary almost forty years ago, and this week I took down my book of notes from that class and I read there these words, “it is the characteristic Old Testament representation that salvation is of the Lord, and the title ‘Saviour’ – which the name ‘Jesus’ implies – is one that God reserves for himself – ‘besides me there is no Saviour.’ Although in the Old Testament on rare occasions human deliverers may be called ‘saviours’, that God is the exclusive Saviour is the more characteristic and uniform note of the Old Testament, particularly in the writing prophets That must be taken into account when we read this word of the angel to Joseph. That very title in the context of Old Testament writers is evidence of the divine function that belongs to this child.”

So the apostle is speaking here of “the Son of God, Jesus Christ” (v.19), and he tells his readers that this was that one who was proclaimed in Corinth. When they arrived in Europe it was the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was the heart of their message. “We have come here to tell you about this remarkable person,” they said. “He has not written any books, but we can tell you many of the wonderful things which he said. He was not a military leader. He did not preach political revolution, but many men and women have already given their lives in bringing his message to others. We were not actually shocked when he began his ministry because God had promised many centuries ago that one day he would send a Messiah into the world. He lived all his life in Israel except for one brief time when he went to Africa, to the country of Egypt, as a baby boy. He was taken there by his parents as refugees from political oppression. His ministry lasted for only three years, and yet what amazing things he packed into that period.”

Then they went on and told them of Jesus’s diagnosis of the human condition, that it is out of the heart of man that our problems come, and that we needed a radical change, a birth from above, which he is able to give us. They told them of his purpose in coming into the world to give his life as a ransom. He was the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sin of the world and reconcile a holy God to rebels. They told them of his death on the cross, his courage and forgiveness under suffering, and how after some days in the grave he rose from the dead, and Paul told them of how others had seen him for a period of forty days and how finally he had met the risen Christ too. They told them about Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit and how he enabled them to live new lives and to speak with this grace and wisdom. It was “the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached.” It was no inconsequential message, indifferently delivered. It was ‘heralded’ – that is the word translated here as ‘preached’ – declared by those conscious they had been sent by the King of Kings, and so it was full of divinity.

Then Paul goes on to remind them that this proclamation was not done in the dark cellars of a mystery cult with drums beating and the heavy smell of frankincense, but in public debates and in synagogues and in the market square of Athens, and finally “among you” in Corinth says Paul (v.19). They had come to this capital city of Achaia six years ago and had preached this message to them. That is the whole basis of his writing to them: “You did not invite us to come. There was no official committee from the city pleading and telling us that you were drawn to the Christian message. You knew nothing at all, and didn’t care, but God sent us to you and we came to tell you plainly these things about the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The message about him came “by me and Silas and Timothy” You see how the apostle is spelling it out? His passion here is to make everything above board, from their very first meeting with him. Should he lose his integrity in their eyes then not only is he done for but Jesus Christ and Christianity too. There was no attempt to deceive, to be less than honest in any way at all. This sincere and true Christ was represented sincerely and truly by his servants Paul, Silas and Timothy. Three very different witnesses but all with the same message.

The Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by those three men was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ so that after they had been there you were even more confused as to who Jesus was and what he did. “In him it has always been ‘Yes'” says Paul (v.19). When the Father’s love for the world meant he had to send his one and only Son to the virgin’s womb, “Yes,” said the Lord Jesus and he came to Bethlehem’s stable. “Born ‘under the law’,” said God. “Yes,” said the Son. When the Father gave him the cup of Golgotha’s pain to drink in Gethsemane and there was no other cup, “Yes,” said the Son and he drank it. When he cried to God, “Why?” and God did not answer him, even then the Son said “Yes,” and entered the dereliction and darkness for us. The Lord Jesus always affirmed God. There is not a leaf of Indian paper you could place between the Son and the Father. They had one mind and one will and one loving purpose.

And when the Son began his pubic ministry at his baptism then the Father spoke and said, “Yes, this is my beloved Son I whom I am well pleased.” And when his three years of ministry were coming to an end and God met with him again on the Mount of Transfiguration God again said, “Yes, this is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” And when he lay in the tomb until the first day of the week cold and dead, God said “Yes, this is my Son who is the Saviour of the world,” and raised him from the grave.

Jesus Christ is God’s everlasting “Yes.” When they were together in eternity, and then when Christ took our frail flesh and lived amongst us, and now in heaven at God’s right hand he has always been God’s great “Yes!” God has had no second thoughts. He has no need to send another Jesus, or even other apostles. All of salvation and life and eternity is in his blessed Son, and in him alone. Christ is the affirmation of God’s love for sinners. So tonight he is saying to you, “Yes,” he is glad you are interested in hearing of his Son. “Yes,” he wants you to know that he has so loved you that he has brought you here to listen to these words of Jesus Christ. “No,” he will not delight in your death in hell but “Yes,” that you come to him and be saved. “Yes,” you may know him as your God tonight, even though your past has been indefensible and your future is hopeless. When he says, “Come unto me”, “Yes,” he means you, personally and particularly, that you are to come just as you are and not tarry until you are better. That is what we preach. Not “Yes” and “No.” “‘Yes’ you may come, but ‘No’ you may not come just yet … not at this moment … not as you are now … “No” you must first change this … and then do that … before you may come.” No! Not that. Not that at all. “Yes,” this is the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and “Yes” you must come to him now. “Believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”

So the first proof that God is a faithful God is the utterly unambiguous straightforward nature of his Son Jesus Christ, who does not baffle, who is not elusive or enigmatic. There are the gospels about him. Read them and learn that the God and Father of Jesus Christ is not an insincere deity. He tells you are in trouble because of your sin, but he can rescue you through Christ if you come to him.

2. We Know that God is Faithful because He Never Fails to keep His Promises.

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God” (v.20). When man fell God brought judgment, but also promise. Death came into the human race, and man was driven out from the Garden into a groaning world, but God also said that through the seed of the woman Eve one would be born who would bruise the serpent’s head.

Generations later God met with Abram in Ur of the Chaldees and told him that through his offspring all the nations on earth would be blessed. So the line of the promised seed of the woman was narrowed down to one family alone. From Abraham through his son Isaac – who was not his oldest son – and then though Jacob, who was not Isaac’s first-born, and then through Jacob’s fourth son Judah – bypassing eleven brothers. Eleven generations later Samuel comes to Bethlehem and anoints one of Jesse’s youngest sons David. From this kingly line God says he will raise up a righteous Branch. So the Messiah comes from a line taken directly through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Jesse and David, not through any other of the families of mankind.

Then the promises of God get more particular. “The sceptre will not depart from Judah … until he comes to whom it belongs” (Genesis 49:10). When was Christ born? Just before the government of Judah collapsed with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Then a promise was that the child would be born in a certain small town: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel” (Micah 5:2). Again, this is exactly where Christ was born, not the Bethlehem 70 miles north of Jerusalem in Zebulon, but the one in Judah. God’s promises are yes in Christ.

But there are more promises, in fact those which speak of the coming of the Messiah have been calculated as numbering 332. “They cover such matters as his family’s social status, his lifestyle, his general demeanour, his teaching and his extraordinary powers. Even more surprisingly they included minute details of the events surrounding his death. The prophets said that he would be forsaken by his followers, betrayed for thirty pieces of silver (which would then be used to buy a potter’s filed), wrongly accused, tortured and humiliated (in response to which he would not retaliate), executed alongside common criminals, and put to death by crucifixion (a form of execution never carried out by the Jews). They also said that at the time of his death he would pray for his executioners, none of his bones would be broken, his body would be pierced, and people would cast lots to see who would get his clothing” (John Blanchard, “Why Y2K?”, p.50, Evangelical Press, 1999). God made all those promises, but see what Paul states in our text, “no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (v.20).

Consider one more promise that is made in Psalm 16 and verse 10, where the promised Messiah is thinking of his resurrection and speaking prophetically to God and saying, “you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.” Peter tells the crowd in Jerusalem at Pentecost those words: Christ is risen and lives as God promised. It is another ‘Yes’ promise in Christ. Why is the fulfilment of this promise particularly important? Because it is the foundation for the message Paul brought to the Corinthians. All that the Greek philosophers had been offering them were those words of Aristotle, “Death is a dreadful thing, for it is the end.” One thinks of Samuel Johnson at the end of his life getting feeble-minded and muttering often those words of Shakespeare from “Measure for Measure”

“Ay, but to die, and go, we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot”. (Act 3, Scene 1).

Then Paul had met the great living One who had been dead, and he knew that death no longer said, “Yes” in triumph over every one who perished. God now had the last word in Christ, and this becomes the foundation for his message. Peter said, God “has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Pet. 1:3). The glory of that is this, that the resurrection does not belong to the world of Greek mythology, nor the realm of ideas, nor the sphere of doctrines. It did not take place on Mount Olympus or in Narnia. It belongs to the sphere of facts, to a certain geographical location on the Damascus road where Paul met the risen Christ. It belongs to the empty tomb where a degree of longitude and a degree of latitude cross one another in Jerusalem, and the garden, and the upper room which had a lock on the door, and the dusty hot road to Emmaus, and a fishbake in the early morning at the side of a lake, and a remote hill in Galilee. Christ triumphed over that death which is coming day by day nearer to each one of us.

There were those great cosmic empires of heaven and hell. There was that apparent and momentary triumph of hell over the forces of light and God. There were those few days in which the Son of God lay cold and dead in the tomb. That is where the living Son of God lay. That is where incarnate wisdom and love had ended. Where now are the promises of God? Then God raised him from the dead, because he had made a promise to bruise the serpent’s head. He would not let the Holy One see decay. So God kept his promise and routed the powers of hell and vindicated incarna te love. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, rose, and that is the great guarantee of our resurrection, and its glorious model. That is the seed of our resurrection, and it seems to me that in moments when one stands on the precipice of doubt and unbelief, that we must come back here, time and again, to this empty tomb and the eruption into history of the faithful God, who makes and keeps all his promises. He has vindicated his Son, who has thus become the Yes of confirmation of what his Father promised in Eden and through Abraham and David.

So, says Paul, “through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God” (v.20). We experience the faithfulness of God only through Jesus Christ. We become the beneficiaries of his faithful promises through being joined to Christ by faith, and thus we can echo back our ‘Amen’ to God “through him.” So God is being glorified all over the world today as the church makes the resurrection of Christ its doxology.

Christ is risen! Henceforth never
Death nor hell shall us enthral,
We are Christ’s, in Him for ever
We have triumphed over all;
All the doubting and dejection
Of our trembling hearts have ceased:
‘Tis the day of resurrection,
Let us rise and keep the feast

Christ is risen! Hallelujah!
Risen our victorious Head!
Sing his praises! Hallelujah!
Christ is risen from the dead.

Amen! Such words of resurrection hope are spoken and sung by the whole church all over the world through Christ, as they have been for the last two thousand years, to the glory of the God who raised Christ, the God who is faithful. He keeps his promises.

3. We Know that God is Faithful because He Enables us to Stand Firm in Christ.

God is not like the starter in a race, getting us to our marks, and firing the pistol, and then wandering off and having nothing more to do with us. He doesn’t mutter, “Now it’s all up to you.” He is with us throughout the entire Christian marathon. “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (vv.21&22). How is it that Thomas Chisholm came to believe that God is faithful, so that he wrote, “Great is Thy faithfulness”? How is it that Paul, Silas and Timothy all affirmed that? How is it that many of us believe in the faithfulness of God? Is it because we were more religious than others? Holier? Better people? Not at all, it is because God has helped us to stand firm in Christ.As the apostle says here, “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ” (v.21).

Paul has been telling them of the hardships he had suffered, that he was under such great pressure that he despaired of life. But he is still going on trusting God and doing this work. Why does he not cave in? Why is he not lying on the floor wallowing in self-pity? What is the explanation for his whole heroic bearing? “God makes us stand in Christ,” he says, “and he is the same God who makes you stand firm in Christ too.” Think of the branch of a vine, how slender and weak it is by itself. But joined to the vine – in the vine – it is a fruit-bearer. So too Paul and Silas and Timothy are helpless alone. Without Christ they can do nothing, but in Christ “they stand firm.” We firmly believe the promises of God in Christ. We get the benefits of those promises as we abide in Christ. The verb ‘stand fast’ is in the present tense. We are going on standing firm, day by day in Christ. This is our present privilege and obligation. Then the tenses of the verbs change into the past as Paul describes three divine acts of pure vertical sovereign grace, which God has done to all his people:-

i] “He anointed us.” God himself did this. He did not send a prophet like Samuel to do it, it was He himself who came to Corinth of the Gentiles, right in the neighbourhood of the temple of Artemis, and there he anointed with his Spirit us – Paul stands in solidarity with the whole Corinthian congregation – “we have been anointed by God”, he tells them. As long promised by the prophet Joel the anointing would be upon indiscriminate, upon daughters as well as sons, young men and old men, mere maid-servants and man-servants – those on the lowest rungs of the social ladder – let not one slave think his rank prevents his enjoying this privilege, Gentiles as well as Jews, the Spirit would come upon them, and then they would all declare the wonderful works of God. The Mosaic longing that all God’s servants would be prophets was at last fulfilled.

Paul here is underlining the new covenant priesthood of the mere believer, the prophetic and kingly nature of every single Christian. God has anointed us in regeneration. There is not one single Christian who is unanointed, who is not a priest and a prophet and a king. That is the wonderful status of the mere Christian. The apostle Peter can speak to similar Gentile strangers and pilgrims scattered all through Asia Minor and he can say to them, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” (1 Pet. 2:9). That has given us the right of access to God. We can hurry into his presence in the name of Jesus and cry “Abba Father” to him and he will give us his undivided attention. There was a time when only the anointed High Priest on the Day of Atonement could enter into the Holy of Holies one day a year, but we can enter at any time and remain there with God for as long as a heart can desire, because God has anointed us as priests in Christ.

I say that every Christian is an anointed Christian. If you heard Peter sitting at one side of the Antioch congregation and refusing to eat with the Gentile members of the church then he was not proving that he was unanointed but he was showing to what depths a Spirit-anointed member of Christ’s church could fall. So none of us may take our privileges for granted – “take heed you who stand lest you fall” – and each of us must cry to God, “Help me to stand firm in Christ.” I will not minimize your privileges in Christ. I will take them and scourge you with them if you are not standing firm. Every Christian has become a member of the fellowship of the Anointed – the Messianic community, the anointed ones who are in the Great Anointed One. The is how God makes us stand firm. He gives us Holy Spirit anointing. How wonderful his faithfulness.

ii] “He set his seal of ownership on us” (v.22). There is a document of ownership of houses and businesses and merchandise and lands. The owner pours warm wax onto the document and puts his own unique seal upon it. Those things are legally his, and nobody else’s. The seal is a mark of authenticity. You are the document, and the seal is God. He has confirmed that those who have put their trust in Christ belong to him by setting his seal upon them. “Saul of Tarsus is now mine! The Philippian jailor is now mine! Lydia is now mine!” When God regenerates he sets his seal of ownership on us. “These are mine,” he declares. He is not ashamed that such derelicts are his. God is so faithful towards us.

The seal is not a spiritual experience. It is the Holy Spirit himself which is the free gift of God to us. We have not worked for it. We have not earned it. We have not agonized until this is ours. We have not had to prove ourselves faithful for a long time and then we have discovered that it has been enough and God has sealed us. It has nothing to do with our bringing the sealing on ourselves, “He set his seal of ownership on us.” It is because he is faithful and he has committed himself to taking us as his own: “I know all about them, that those Corinthians will start bragging in their different leaders, and start saying that there is no resurrection, and falling into sin, and tolerating massive wickedness in the congregation, but those people in Corinth are yet mine. I have set my seal upon them.”

Does that mean we can do what we like because we have been sealed by God? No way. Remember what was written to the Ephesians, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephs. 4:30). You have him. You’ve been sealed by him. Then do not grieve him.

iii] He “put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (v.22). This is another picture from the business world. We know it today. “You want a top of the range computer system?” The advertisement asks. “You can take it now if you pay a meagre deposit. You do not need to pay the rest until next year. Just put down the deposit and it will be yours.” They are not lying. You pay the deposit and that desirable item becomes legally yours.

So what do we pay God to have him? Or what down-payment do we make? That is not the picture at all. It is not the deposit that we have scraped together in order for the desirable object to become ours. It is rather God who has paid the deposit. From all that the world has to offer of rich and noble and smart and beautiful people, God has looked and loved and chosen us – the weak and despised things of the world – the nobodies. He has made us his own, and this is another confirmation that we are indeed his. He has paid the deposit guaranteeing that we are his. The deposit is God himself. The cost to God is God himself, sent into the hearts of sinners. It is there that this earnest has been deposited. Do we Christians have him? Of course. What true believer does not? If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his. The Spirit he has given us is a further persuasion, a down-payment that means that our ownership is most certainly the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We belong to Jesus, with all that that infers. He has guaranteed to us that heaven is to come, and glory is to come, and likeness to Christ is to come, and a new heavens and a new earth is to come.

“Now I belong to Jesus.
Jesus belongs to me.
Not for the years of time alone
But for eternity.”

What blessings now, and hope in the future. Another life of the Beatle John Lennon has been published and extensively reviewed this week. At the end of his life Lennon lived with Yoko Ono in a luxury apartment in New York, a home which was full of violence, drugs and gloom. He records who he had met Paul Macartney and his wife Linda the night before – remember how in the thiry years of their marrriage the Macartneys were apart for only one night – and Lennon writes in his diary: “Out with Paul and Linda. Boring. All they talk about is ‘how well they are.’ Really overbearing, self-satisfied and dumb.” Then he writes a letter to his cousin Leila in England in January 1979: “I’m 40 next year – I hope life begins – that is, I’d like a little less trouble and more – what?” At the end of the following year he was shot dead. Imagine having all that money, being so unhappy, not thinking that life had yet begun, but not knowing what else there was for him to do or where to go to find the elusive abundant life.

Do you see that why Thomas Chisholm wrote, “Great is Thy faithfulness”? He had simply met with the Jesus Christ who never baffles or perplexes. He had come to Christ and he had found him to be faithful to all he said. He had read the promises of God in his word about the Messiah who would come and he found that God always kept his promises. Then all through his Christian life God had helped him to stand firm by giving him the indwelling Holy Spirit as the anointing one, the sealing one and the guaranteeing one who is our deposit for what glories are to come.

1st October 2000 GEOFF THOMAS