God’s moral law matters

For the past 16 months we have lived under emergency laws made by the Government to protect us from the Covid-19 virus. Most people have kept these laws and recent events have revealed the strong disapproval felt towards those who break them. Ordinary people, who have kept the laws, resent people in power breaking them and demand that they pay the price for doing so.

However, it has also become clear that fundamental moral laws, for example about adultery, are now seen as being of little importance. Breaking a temporary man-made law about social distancing is more serious than sinning against God. The deep pain and distress experienced by marriage partners and children when marriage vows are betrayed is profound and long lasting. The dysfunctional nature of our society, and of many individual lives, can be traced to the fact that we have set aside all the Ten Commandments.

Jesus was fiercely criticised by the religious leaders of his day because he didn’t keep the hundreds of petty rules they had created, called “traditions”. Jesus accused them of hypocrisy because their man-made traditions had become more important than God’s Law. He asked them, “Why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God says, ‘Honour your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you say they don’t need to honour their parents and so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition.”

Only when we face up to our sins against God can we experience his forgiveness. Jesus showed mercy to those who had broken God’s laws. One day the religious leaders brought a woman to him whom they had caught in the act of adultery. They said that according to the Law such women should be stoned to death. Then they asked Jesus, “What do you say?” He replied, “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left with the woman still standing there. Jesus said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. Then Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and leave your life of sin.”


A New Beginning

A New Year is beginning. Starting something new gives us an opportunity to do better. Some people make New Year resolutions. It is good to resolve to change for the better and do things differently from the way we have in the past. When we were in primary school and had made lots of mistakes and crossings out on a page in our exercises book the teacher would tell us to turn to new page. It was good to be able to start again.

We all fail in life and regret many things we have done. We cannot change the past. There are broken relationships, moral failures, dishonest actions and words, bitterness and resentment, and things we intended to do but didn’t. Often we find it difficult to move on and we carry with us the memories of our past failures.

The Bible tells us of a God who is the God of second chances. Many of the great men and women in the Bible made big mistakes and committed serious sins, but God didn’t cast them off and reject them. Peter, who was a leader in the early churches, told Jesus that whatever happened he would never let him down. He said he was ready, if necessary, to die for Jesus. But on the night Jesus was arrested and condemned Peter denied 3 times that he even knew him. Peter wept bitterly and was overcome with the realisation that he had totally failed his Lord in his hour of need.

Early one morning after Jesus had risen from the dead he appeared to his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Three times Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” and three times Peter replied, “Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” In this way Peter was restored to ministry and leadership in the early churches. He always remembered the wonderful way in which the Lord had restored him. It made him more able to help others who, like him, had also failed.

We live in a very unforgiving world. The media highlight the failings of well-known people and sometimes destroy them. God is not like that. In Jesus he offers us the opportunity to put all our past failures behind us and to start again. He gives us hope that the future will, with his help, be better than the past. Let’s pray that 2019 will truly be a new beginning and a Happy New Year!


God forgives and forgets

The death of Margaret Thatcher has stirred strong feelings for and against her and the very great influence she had when she was Prime Minister. She was removed from office not through losing a general election, but by a leadership challenge from her own MPs. Some of her cabinet colleagues played a key role in this and made it clear they thought she should step down. She was deeply hurt by what happened through what she described as “treachery with a smile.” In an interview some years later she said, “I will never forget, I will never forgive.” It is not known whether she reflected on this before she died.

The greatest act of treachery in history was the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot. It was “treachery with a kiss.” Judas was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, the Twelve. It seems he was disappointed that Jesus had not taken political power on a wave of popular support. So he made an agreement with the religious leaders to betray Jesus for 30 silver coins.

While Jesus and his disciples were in the garden of Gethsemane Judas came with a crowd of soldiers and religious leaders. In the darkness he betrayed Jesus into the hands of his enemies with the words, “Greetings Rabbi!” and a kiss. Later when he saw Jesus had been condemned he was seized with remorse. He returned the 30 silver coins and said, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood.” Then he hanged himself.

The response of Jesus to Judas, and to those who plotted to kill him, is very striking. In the upper room, before Judas went out to betray him, Jesus appealed to him not to do it. It was an appeal of love which, tragically, Judas did not heed. The first words Jesus spoke while he hung on the cross were, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

An unforgiving spirit, which dwells on the past and harbours resentment, creates deep inner bitterness. It is good for us all to reflect on our own failings. None of us is without fault. When we become conscious of our own failings we are humbled and are better able to understand the actions of others. It also brings us to the point where, as we realise our own need for forgiveness, we can rejoice in God’s promise in Jesus, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”