Your sins shall be white as snow

The snow has come early this year. Just a few flakes at first, but within a few hours the landscape was clothed in a beautiful white blanket, pure and clean. Each of the trillions of snowflakes is unique, carrying the Creator’s signature. As darkness came and the temperatures fell, roads became difficult for those returning from work. Cars were abandoned as people began the long walk home.

The snow reminds us of one of God’s great promises to his people, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” God made this promise to a people who had rebelled against him. They were worshipping other gods, living immoral lives and being dishonest. They were seeking happiness in material things. They knew God’s law, but they wilfully and deliberately went their own way. It was not only individual people who did this, but as a nation they had turned away from the living God. So God spoke to them through his prophet Isaiah and called them to account. He did not immediately bring on them the judgement their sins deserve, but held out the promise of forgiveness and cleansing.

There are real parallels between those people and the way we are living today. Encouraged by politicians and unchallenged by weak church leaders our nation has turned from God. His moral law has been rejected as we have together decided to fulfil the desires of our own hearts. Inevitably we are reaping the painful consequences both personally and nationally.

There are times, however, when we face the reality of how we are living. Like a person who wakes after a night on the town and looks in the mirror, we don’t like what we see. We don’t like what we have become. In the light of who God is we see the tawdry life we are living and the deep stains our sins have left on our God-given conscience. We wish we could go back and change the things we have done, but it is impossible.

God’s solution is deep and real forgiveness. His Son, Jesus, died on the Cross to pay the price of our sin and rebellion. As we humbly confess our sins, and receive him as our Saviour, the scarlet stains of our sins are cleansed and we become as white and pure in God’s sight as the driven snow.

William and Kate are Engaged!

The announcement of the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton was warmly welcomed by most people, although one Church of England bishop chose to comment very unhelpfully on the prospect of them finding lasting happiness. There will be many pressures on them as they prepare for their marriage and life together. The interviews with them revealed two young people very much in love and displaying real maturity. They have won the hearts of many who will be praying that they enjoy a long and happy marriage.

It is encouraging to see a young couple preparing to enter into a lifelong marriage commitment. Marriage is one of God’s gifts to all people. In marriage a man and a woman enter into an exclusive relationship and become “one flesh.” Two people become one as they promise to be faithful to each other as long as they both shall live. There is no closer human relationship. A loving marriage brings deep happiness. An unhappy marriage causes profound pain and unhappiness. Marriage is the essential foundation for a stable society.

The Bible teaches that the role of the husband in the marriage relationship is to be a loving leader. His example and inspiration is the love of Jesus Christ for his church. Jesus “loved the church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy.” Husbands must be ready, like Jesus, to lay down their lives for their wives. The role of the wife is to respond to her husband’s love with respect and a readiness to live for him. The emphasis is not on the rights of the husband and wife but rather the responsibilities each accepts in order to live together in the bond of marriage.

Husbands and wives are not perfect people. We all share the limitations of our sinful human nature. Our actions and words are not always kind and loving. We need God’s help and grace to keep our marriage vows. We must always be ready to forgive and to seek forgiveness when we fail each other.

In this the example of Jesus is a great encouragement to us. He loves us despite our frequent failings and even rebellion. Our love for him deepens as we experience more and more of his love for us. So, too, in marriage as husbands and wives love and forgive each other their love can grow deeper as the years go by.

Aung San Suu Kyi is released

In the past week a number of people have been released from captivity. The Burmese military authorities released the pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, from house arrest. The Nobel Peace Prize winner had been detained for 15 of the past 21 years. Soon after her release she spoke of the need for unity and said that she felt no resentment against the authorities who had imprisoned her. Throughout her imprisonment she has acted with great grace and dignity.

A few days later Paul and Rachel Chandler, who had been held for 13 months by Somali pirates, were also released. It was reported that two factors contributed to their release: the payment of ransoms and the benevolent intervention of the Somali community, both in the UK and in Somalia.

The release of these people is good news. The stories stand out against the background of the troubles afflicting so many people in the world today. They also remind us of some of the key themes in the good news of God’s gracious intervention into our world through his Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus suffered and was shamefully treated by both the secular and religious powers of his day. He was denied justice and condemned to death. Throughout his sufferings he was calm and gracious and, even when he was on the Cross, prayed “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

His died, not because he had done wrong, but for the sins of the world. He stood in our place and endured the punishment our sins deserve. He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. He paid the price of our sins. He satisfied the righteous demands of God in order that all who trust in him as their Saviour may be forgiven and go free.

Each one of us is a prisoner to our sinful nature. We do not have the power to change our lives for the better. Our whole lives bear witness to the fact that we have broken God’s law. In Jesus Christ we can find forgiveness and the strength to live a new life. He said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” As one hymn says, “Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.”

Nicky’s Story

Last week my wife and I went to a wedding in Killarney. It was a joyful occasion as the families and friends gathered to share the day with the happy couple. On the Sunday we went to a small church in a nearby town. Towards the end of the service a man told us how he had recently become a Christian. Nicky, who is now in his 40’s, was born with a serious physical handicap. He has never been able to walk and has limited use of his hands. He has always needed a wheel chair and now has an electric wheel chair which gives him the freedom to go to get around on his own.

Nicky told us that his early life had been very difficult because he was treated badly and was never able to do the things his friends did. In order to survive these experiences he became hard and told himself that it didn’t matter what other people thought of him. His life continued to be a difficult. Inside he was hurt and angry. He had attended church from time to time, but God meant nothing to him.

A few months ago he met a Christian who spoke to him about Jesus Christ and told him that through Jesus he could be forgiven and start a new life. Nicky started thinking about what the Christian had told him but continued his old life. Then 3 weeks ago he realised he needed to know God and went to talk to the Christian. That day he prayed and received Jesus Christ as his Saviour and Lord. He said, “For the first time in my life I knew that if I died that day I would go to heaven!”

Nicky has begun a new life. He knows that there are many things that still have to change. He still needs his wheel chair and daily life is not easy, but inside he has become a new man. The anger has gone. He knows real joy and peace because he has experienced God’s love for him in Jesus. He reads the Bible every day and is learning more about God. He knows that his future is certain. One day he will see God in heaven and will live forever in his presence. Then he will have a new body and an overwhelming sense of God’s love for him.

Jesus destroyed the devil’s work

Last Sunday evening I saw a number of children dressed in Halloween costumes calling at houses for “trick or treat”. Some of the children were very young and were accompanied by their parents. It was the first dark evening after the clocks had been put back and these little ones and their parents were identifying themselves with the power of evil. No doubt they saw it as just innocent fun, but it is a sign of the spiritual naivety of our society.

The power of evil is very real. The Bible tells us that the reason why Jesus Christ came into this world was “to destroy the devil’s work.” The devil opposed Jesus from the moment of his birth until he died on the Cross. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he experienced a period of intense temptation by the devil over a period of 40 days. Jesus triumphed over the devil during this period and throughout his life. By his death on the Cross he won the decisive victory over sin, death, hell and the devil.

The evidence for the devil’s work is only too plain in our society today. Faced with the many temptations he presents to us we fail again and again. The lives of many people are spoilt, and even destroyed, by drink and drugs, greed, gambling, sexual immorality, violence and terrorism. At every point the moral law of God is denied and undermined and the tragic consequences in people’s lives of this new “freedom” is only too easy to see. We are told that there is no need to say no to any pleasure we want and the late night scenes in city centres bear eloquent testimony to the consequences. Nothing the devil offers is free. He seeks only to steal, kill and destroy.

By contrast, the power of Jesus Christ transforms lives. In the Gospels we read of a man called Legion who was possessed by many evil spirits. He had succumbed to the powers of evil and they were destroying his life. He lived in the tombs and cried out day and night, cutting himself with stones. No one could subdue him or help him.
One day Jesus came to where Legion was and commanded the evil spirits to come out of him. Legion’s life was transformed as Jesus set him free. Jesus still sets people free today by destroying the devil’s work in our lives.